Toward A New Cold War? Hidden Imperial Continuities and Future Prospects

13/06/14 0 COMMENTS

Largely United States (US)-provoked events that could lead to regional and even global war are unfolding in Eastern Europe, sparking talk in the reigning US media-politics culture of a “new Cold War” and a return of “great power conflict” between the “democratic” United States and “autocratic Russia.” At the same time, significantly US-generated developments are sparking regional tensions and related conflict between the US and the rising power China in East Asia. It’s an apt moment to reflect on how it all relates to what Washington has really wanted and done in (and to) the world beneath ritual US claims of benevolent and democratic intent during this and the last century.

 I. THE COLD WAR MYTH

“Democrats versus Communists

A good place to start is with the real Cold War, something very different from the official US version that still rules in the dominant, elite-shaped US public memory. .Like tens of millions of (United States of) Americans, I was born into a nation caught up in the great national Cold War myth. According to the reigning fairy tale, constructed by Washington’s imperial planners and disseminated across the national political, media, educational, intellectual, and civic landscape, the Cold War was a great global partition and conflict (never fully “hot” because of the threat of “mutually assured nuclear destruction”) between two roughly equal global superpowers – the “free market” capitalist and “democratic” United States and the “socialist” Soviet Union.

This narratives rules to this day. For example, a December 2013 Washington Post column bearing the title “China and Russia Bring Back Cold War Tactics” recalled the Cold War era as “The world divided into two… haves, democrats versus communists” (editorialist Ann Appelbaum).

The Cold War was caused, prevailing US doctrine and conventional wisdom held, by the fierce global aggression of Soviet Russia, driven by its “socialist ideology” to conquer the world by any and all means. The United States’ role was purely defensive: to contain the relentlessly expansive and subversive Soviet beast and protect the world from totalitarian communism, which had replaced Nazi Germany and its Japanese fascist ally as the great menace to world liberty after World War II. Uncle Sam was the great defender of global freedom, democracy, peace, justice, and “national security,” all gravely endangered by scheming and brutal expansionists in Moscow.

 Soviet “Socialism”

The legend had little to do with reality. Whatever the claims of its ruling elite, the Soviet Union was not remotely socialist in the authentic sense of the word: workers’ control and popular democracy for the common good. Soviet Russia was an authoritarian state-capitalist and bureaucratic despotism that had little to do with Karl Marx and other 19th century leftists’ dream of capitalist class society being replaced by “an association, in which the free development of each is the conditions for the free development of all” – a “true realm of freedom” beyond endless toil and necessity and “worthy of [homo sapiens’] “human nature..”As US Marxist economist Richard Wolff notes, early Soviet non-capitalist experiments in which workers were “both the producers and the appropriators of surpluses” were quickly “abandoned under multiple pressures.” Further:

“Soviet socialism – and increasingly socialism in general – came to be redefined in terms of what actually existed inside Soviet industrial enterprises. There, hired workers produced surpluses that were appropriated and distributed by others: the council of ministers, state officials who functioned as employers. The Soviet Union was actually an example of state capitalism in its class structure….by describing itself as…socialist, it prompted the definition of socialism to mean state capitalism.”

Along the way, the Soviet Union quickly descended into a top-down political tyranny whose harsh dictatorial reality – replete with dungeons and mass political executions – was far removed from genuine socialism’s democratic, grassroots, and popular-participatory ideals.

US “Democracy”

The United States, for its part, was no democracy during the official Cold War period (1947 to 1991). It was a state-capitalist corporate plutocracy managed by and for a revolving door “power elite” comprised of big business executives, military officials and political elites both elected and unelected. Representatives of the majority working class populace and civil society were granted a distinctly secondary role in the making of policy and the shaping of political and popular opinion. As the great American philosopher John Dewey observed in 1931, US politics and policy were little more than “the shadow cast on society by big business.” He rightly predicted things would stay that way as long as “business for private profit” controlled the nation’s means of finance, production, and communication – a forecast that proved accurate through the Cold War era and to the present day.

It might seem at first that Dewey spoke too soon. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, a significant reduction in overall economic inequality (though not of racial inequality) and an increase in the standard of living of millions of working class Americans occurred in the United States. This “Great Compression” occurred thanks to the rise and expansion of the industrial workers’ movement (sparked to no small extent by Communists and other radical left militants), the spread of collective bargaining, the rise of a relatively pro-union New Deal welfare state (on whose left margins Sinclair would push during the 1930s), and the democratic domestic pressures of World War II and subsequent powerful social movements. Still, core capitalist prerogatives and assets – Dewey’s “private control” and “business for profit” – were never dislodged, consistent with New Deal champion Franklin Roosevelt’s boast that he had “saved the profits system” from radical change. The gains enjoyed by ordinary working Americans were made possible to no small extent by the uniquely favored and powerful position of the United States economy (and empire) and the remarkable profit rates enjoyed by U.S. corporations in the post-WWII world.

When that position and those profits were significantly challenged by resurgent Western European and Japanese economic competition in the 1970s and 1980s, the comparatively egalitarian trends of postwar America were reversed by the capitalist elites who had never lost their critical command of the nation’s core economic and political institutions. Working class Americans have paid the price ever since. For the last four decades, US wealth and income have been sharply concentrated upward, returning to pre-Great Depression levels, marking a New or Second Gilded Age that is directly traceable to a number of regressive and plutocratic policies that have nothing to do with any shift right in the populace and in fact run contrary to majority progressive opinion that has little real influence on the making of US policy domestic or foreign.

The US before, during, and since the Cold War proper has shown little resemblance to a nation under genuine populace governance. Its ruling class has been no more eager to see real democracy and popular sovereignty – the ultimate nightmare of the nation’s late 18th century Founders, truth be told – break out in the US (or anywhere else) than the Soviet elite was interested in granting power to ordinary workers and citizens in Russia.

One Superpower (USA), One Deterrent (USSR)

This key similarity aside, there was a critical difference in the foreign policy records of the two Cold War “superpowers.” Cold War  US Cold War mythology inverted reality in stark Orwellian fashion when it came to which side was the aggressor and which was the deterrent. The Soviet Union’s significant military interventions beyond its borders took two, very geographically limited and primarily defensive forms:

* Repeated incursions into Eastern Europe (East Berlin 1948, Budapest 1956, and Prague 1968), along the path taken by Western European forces to invade and almost destroy Russia once in the early 19th century (Napoleon’s army) and twice in the last century (the Kaiser’s army during World War I and Hitler’s army during World War II).

* The invasion of Afghanistan directly on Russia’s southwest border in response to an anti-Soviet Islamist counterrevolution fueled there by the US in the late 1970s.

In addition, the Soviet Union sometimes provided military and other “assistance to targets of Western [primarily US] attack and deterr[ed] the worst of Western [primarily US] violence” (Noam Chomsky in 1991). Examples included Soviet assistance to the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s and beyond, the Vietnamese independence struggle in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Marxist state of Angola in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Soviet Union was in fact an evil, tyrannical empire. In that sense it was a perfect foil for United States’ leaders attempt to create a new great global enemy after the defeat of Nazi Germany and fascist Japan. Still, it was nothing like the aggressively expansionist global force the US claimed it was in the wake of World War II.

Things were very different when it came to the United State and the world, curiously enough. “On the US side,” the leading anti-imperial US intellectual Noam Chomsky noted as the Cold War came to an end, foreign “intervention was worldwide, reflecting the status attained by the US as the first truly global power in history.” I do not have time or space to list all the examples of this worldwide intervention here, dear reader, but a good, well-documented place to start is the seventeenth chapter, titled “A Concise History of US Global Interventions, 1945-Present,” in William Blum’s book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Common Courage Press, 2005). (Another useful introduction: pages 63-76 in Ward Churchill’s meticulously documented book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality [AK Press, 2003].) As Blum noted in the introduction to his book, “Between 1945 and 2005 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the U.S. has caused the end of life for several million people and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.” Blum counts more than 60 significant U.S. interventions —- some catastrophic on a truly massive scale (“more than a million dead” in Vietnam [a low estimate!-P.S.] thanks to the US War on Indochina, half a million to a million killed with US support by an Indonesian dictator in the mid 1960s, hundreds of thousands of workers, peasants, activists and intellectually butchered by US-equipped /-funded/-trained Washington proxies in Latin America from the 1960s through the 1980s) — on all continents during the Cold War proper. Blum also counts more than 20 instances in which the U.S. used money and other means to distort elections in foreign nations including rich countries like Italy and Japan.

“To Maintain This Disparity

US foreign policy during the Cold War had nothing to do with advancing democracy or liberty abroad. As numerous key US planning documents reveal over and over again, the goal of that policy was to maintain and if necessary install governments that “favor[ed] private investment of domestic and foreign capital, production for export, and the right to bring profits out of the country” (Chomsky).. Given the United States’ remarkable possession of half the world’s capital after WWII, Washington elites had no doubt that US investors and corporations would profit the most. Internally, the basic selfish national and imperial objectives were openly and candidly discussed. As the “liberal” and “dovish” imperialist, top State Department planner, and key Cold War architect George F. Kennan explained in Policy Planning Study 23, a critical 1948 document:

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. … In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. … To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. … We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

The harsh necessity of dispensing with “human rights” and other “sentimental” and “unreal objectives” was especially pressing in the global South, what used to be known as the Third World and is now commonly referred to as the “developing world” (home to “developing countries”). Washington assigned the vast “undeveloped” periphery of the world economic (capitalist) system – Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the energy-rich and thus strategically hyper-significant Middle East – a less than flattering role. It was to “fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market” (actual State Department language) for the great industrial (capitalist) nations (excluding “socialist” Russia and its satellites and notwithstanding the recent epic racist and fascist rampages of industrial Germany and Japan). It was to be mercilessly exploited both for the benefit of US corporations/investors and for the reconstruction of Europe and Japan as prosperous US trading and investment partners organized on properly capitalist principles and hostile to the Soviet bloc.

“Democracy” was fine as a slogan and benevolent, idealistic-sounding mission statement when it came to marketing this core, underlying ultra-imperialist US policy at home and abroad. Since most people in the “third” or “developing” world had no interest in neocolonial (and actually “under-developmentalist”) subordination to the rich nations and subscribed to what US intelligence officials considered the heretical “idea that government has direct responsibility for the welfare of its people” (what US planers called “communism”), Washington’s real-life commitment to popular governance abroad was strictly qualified, to say the least. “Democracy” was suitable to the US as long as it outcomes comported with the interests of US investors/corporations and related US geopolitical objectives. It had to be abandoned, undermined, and/or crushed when it threatened those investors/corporations and the broader imperatives of business rule to any significant degree. As US president Richard Nixon’s coldblooded National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger explained in June 1970, three years before the US sponsored a bloody fascist coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected Left president Salvador Allende: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

 “Americans’… Dilemma”

This authoritarian Cold War arrogance was nothing new in US foreign policy. As veteran New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer in his book Overthrow (2006), a bestselling account of the United States’ history of deposing foreign governments from the toppling of Hawaii’s monarchy in 1893 through Washington’s overthrow of democratically elected governments in Nicaragua (1910) and Honduras (1911) and its removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq in 2003-04:

“expansion presented the United States with a dilemma that has confronted many colonial powers. If it allowed democracy to flourish in the countries it controlled, those nations would begin acting in accordance with their own interests rather than the interests of the United States, and America’s influence over them would diminish. Establishing that influence, though, was the reason the United States intervened in those countries in the first place. Americans had to choose between permitting them to become democracies or maintaining power over them. It was an easy choice.”

There are two critical provisos worth making to Kinzer’s observation. First, ordinary Americans beneath the power elite have never really been meaningfully consulted in the making of US foreign policy. They’ve never been given serious “choices” on how to handle “the United States’…dilemma.”

Second, “the interests of the United States” is really a nice-sounding euphemism for “the profits of the US imperial ruling class” something Kinzer probably knew when he wrote his book. Overthrow includes\d the following useful passage:

“‘All that his country [the US] desires is that the other republics [in the Americas] shall be happy and prosperous,’ [US president] Theodore Roosevelt declared, and they cannot be happy and prosperous unless they maintain order within their boundaries, and behave with a just regard for their obligations toward outsiders.’…The ‘outsiders’ toward whom Latin Americans were supposed to behave properly were businessmen from the United States. Countries that allowed them free rein were considered friendly and progressive. Those that did not were turned into pariah states and targets for intervention.”

“War is a racket.” So wrote Smedley J. Butler, a decorated Marine general who recalled functioning in essence as “a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers” during numerous early twentieth-century deployments in Central America and the Caribbean. The militarism that he coordinated enriched a select few wealthy Americans, Butler reflected, not the mostly working-class soldiers on the front lines. “How many of the war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them,” Butler asked, “dug a trench?”

Kinzer’s “American dilemma” and Butler’s ‘racket” predated the Cold War, explaining US imperial interventions over and against popular opposition and resistance in Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, and elsewhere from the late 19th century through the last century’s “interwar” period.

“National Security”

As for the claim that Washington wages the Cold War to protect US “national security,” that too was a fairy tale. Speaking to the Left Forum in New York City last year, Chomsky mentioned six episodes which show that protecting (United-States-of) Americans and the world from thermonuclear holocaust was hardly a top priority for U.S. policymakers during the Cold War:

 

* 1950, when Washington rejected an offer from the Soviet Union to ban intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) equipped with nuclear warheads.

* 1952, when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin made a remarkable offer: the reunification of Germany with democratic elections on the condition that the nation be de-militarized (the offer was quickly and quietly dismissed and forgotten by Washington).

* Late 1950s, when Soviet chief Nikita Khrushchev offered a sharp matching reduction of offensive weapons – a significant cut of the Cold War arms race. The Eisenhower administration ignored the offer. The Kennedy administration rejected it to the point of undertaking a major nuclear weapons increase – one reason (along with a desire to protect the Cuban Revolution from imminent U.S. invasion) that Khrushchev placed nuclear missiles in Cuba.

* October 1962: US president John F. Kennedy’s refusal, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, to accept Khrushchev’s conciliatory offer to take nuclear missiles out of Cuba if the U.S. publicly removed such missiles from Turkey while promising not to invade the Caribbean island nation. This refusal demonstrated Kennedy’s determination that a global holocaust was preferable to a public demonstration that another nation would deter US power…

* 1973: Henry Kissinger took the world to nuclear alert to tell the Russians to “keep out” of the Middle East at the end of the Arab-Israeli War.

* 1983: simulated air and naval attacks and the deployment of deadly Pershing missiles in Europe produced a major nuclear war scare, bringing Russia to the brink of a pre-emptive strike.

 

But for the careful actions of two Soviet military operatives twenty-one years apart – Soviet Navy officer Vasili Arkhipov (who vetoed his fellow submarine commanders’ decision to launch a tactical nuclear torpedo against surrounding US Navy forces in the mid-Atlantic on October 27, 1962) and Stanislov Yevgrafocih Petrov, lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Force (who ignored a false radar signal indicating a US missile attack on September 26, 1983) – it is likely that Washington’s reckless Cold War nuclear policy would have led to obliteration.

 “A Tacit Arrangement”

During the Cold War era, Soviet tyranny (real enough in Russia and Eastern Europe) and the myth of aggressive Soviet global expansionism served four great and related politico-ideological functions for America’s corporate and imperial power elite. First, it provided a convenient and frequently exploited way for Washington to justify its repeated and often quite massively destructive policies and actions to deter and crush popular governance, social democracy, and self-determination abroad. The real US agenda was sold to the US populace and the world as protecting foreign peoples against the nefarious world-domination schemers in the Kremlin. The internally acknowledged real enemies – independent nationalism, democracy, and social justice in the global periphery above all – were wrapped in overarching false historical flag of Soviet-directed “International Communist Conspiracy, seeking no less than control over the entire planet, for purposes which had no socially redeeming values” (in the sarcastic words of William Blum). As Chomsky observed as the Soviet empire was falling apart in 1991, “In crucial respects, then, the Cold War was a kind of tacit arrangement between the Soviet Union and the United States under which the US conducted its wars against the Third World and controlled its allies in Europe, while the Soviet rulers kept an iron grip on their own internal empire and their satellites in Eastern Europe – each side using the other to justify repression and violence in its own domain.” US planners just happened to consider pretty much the entire world outside the Soviet bloc its domain.

Second, Cold War US nationalism and the Washington-concocted specter of Soviet-communist expansion/subversion justified the repression of US activists and intellectuals who had played key roles in sparking and expanding the US labor movement and US social democracy during the 1930s and 1940s. The “McCarthyite”/(J. Edgar) Hoover-ite purge and intimidation of US communists and other radicals and independent thinkers was critical to the preservation of core capitalist managerial, financial, and political prerogatives across the long “New Deal Era” (1935-1974) of anomalously downward wealth and income distribution (“the Great Compression”). The generally regressive outcomes of those prerogatives (historically speaking – see Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century [2014]) would return with a vengeance over the last 15 years of the Cold War era, continuing into the current New Gilded Age of savage US economic disparity and plutocracy – an age when six Walton heirs possess as much wealth between them as the bottom 40% of Americans while the top 1% owns as much as the bottom 90% along with a comparable share of the nation’s “democratically elected” officials.

Third, the “Soviet menace” was useful to Washington for corralling other rich capitalist nations – primarily Western Europe and Japan – to cower together under the economic and national security umbrella of the great global protection-racketeer Uncle Sam, and for justifying the United States considerable and ongoing intervention in the political affairs of those nations in the post-WWII era.

 For “A Permanent War Economy”

Fourth, the mythical Soviet menace provided justification for the massive military spending that key US power elites saw as the best way for government to stimulate demand and sustain the corporate political economy without fueling threats to business power and the persistently unequal distribution of wealth. It was widely understood in elite business circles and beyond that the Great Depression had signaled the need for government to play a critical “Keynesian” role in sustaining “effective demand” if the modern corporate-oligopolistic system was not to return to crisis and stagnation. The issue was what kind of effective demand the government should most directly underwrite: demand for social goods and services benefitting the working class majority or demand for military goods and capacities in service to the imperial project and the domestic class hierarchy? Business Week explained in February 1949 the economic elite’s preference for guns over butter when it comes to government stimulus. It observed:

“There’s a tremendous social and economic difference between welfare pump-priming and military pump-priming. . . . Military spending doesn’t really alter the structure of the economy. It goes through the regular channels. As far as a businessman is concerned, a munitions order from the government is much like an order from a private customer. But the kind of welfare and public works spending that [liberals and leftists favor]. . . does alter the economy. It makes new channels of its own. It creates new institutions. It redistributes wealth. . . . It changes the whole economic pattern.”

As Chomsky noted in the early 1990s, elaborating on Business Week’s post-WWII reflections in explaining why there would be no “peace dividend” (no major shift of resources from military to social spending) in the United States ever after the demise of the Soviet bloc:

“Business leaders recognized that social spending could stimulate the economy, but much preferred the military Keynesian alternative—for reasons having to do with privilege and power, not ‘economic rationality.’. . . The Pentagon system[’s] . . . form of industrial policy does not have the undesirable side-effects of social spending directed at human needs. Apart from unwelcome redistributive effects, the latter policies tend to interfere with managerial prerogatives; useful production may undercut private gain, while state-subsidized waste production (arms, Man-on-the-Moon extravaganzas, etc.) is a gift to the owner and managers, to whom any marketable spin-offs will be promptly delivered. Social spending may also arouse public interest and participation, thus enhancing the threat of democracy; the public cares about hospitals, roads, neighborhoods, but has no opinions about the choice of missile and high-tech fighter planes.”

It was with these sorts of considerations in mind, perhaps, that former and future General Electric president and serving War Production Board executive Charles Edward Wilson warned in 1944 about what later became known as “the Vietnam syndrome”—the reluctance of ordinary citizens to support the open-ended commitment of American troops and resources to military conflict abroad. “The revulsion against war not too long hence,” Wilson cautioned fellow US industrialists and policymakers in an internal memo, “will be an almost insuperable obstacle for us to overcome. For that reason, I am convinced that we must now begin to set the machinery in motion for a permanent war economy.”

II. THE “POST-COLD WAR ERA”

“With Soviet Deterrence a Thing of the Past”

None of which is to deny that US planners in the Cold War era would not have been happy to see the Soviet Union collapse. They worked hard to produce that downfall or some very good imperial reasons that had nothing at all to with a desire to defend or spread freedom and democracy around the world – quite the opposite. Here again, Chomsky’s reflections as the Cold War proper round to a halt (with Soviet surrender) are useful:

“the Cold War had significant elements of North-South conflict (to use the contemporary euphemism for the European conquest of the world). Much of the Soviet empire had formerly been quasi-colonial dependencies of the West. The Soviet Union took an independent course, providing assistance to targets of Western attack and deterring the worst of Western violence. With the collapse of Soviet tyranny, much of the region can be expected to return to its traditional status, with the former higher echelons of the bureaucracy playing the role of the Third World elites that enrich themselves while serving the interests of foreign investors…But while this particular phase has ended, North-South conflicts continue. One side may have called off the game, but the US is proceeding as before — more freely, in fact, with Soviet deterrence a thing of the past.”

Here we should add that while the Soviet Union’s “really existing [state-capitalist] socialism” was never a genuinely popular workers’ and citizens’ alternative to capitalism, it had for decades demonstrated that a giant society could in fact industrialize, urbanize, and otherwise modernize (not to mention militarize), providing employment, income, health care, education, and other social services for tens of millions even after it had “abolished private capital” (Piketty). and while maintaining autonomy from western capitalism and its controlling centers. The “demonstration effect” of independent Soviet development – the most genuine “Soviet achievement” alongside the USSR’s assistance to movements and governments under Western, primarily US assault – was no small threat to the western and US bourgeoisie. As the American left commentator Doug Henwood notes (in a recent review of Piketty’s previously mentioned volume), “the USSR…for all its problems, was living proof that an alternative economic system was possible.” (“Alternative” to the command of private capital, that is, but not to capitalist production and work relations or labor processes).

The crumbing of the Soviet master “domino” was no small ideological victory for the classically bourgeois, privately owned state capitalism of the US-led West. It was also a great economic and military-strategic victory for the commanding heights of that West, whose multinational corporations and banks were now free to invest in, buy from, and sell to the Russian and Eastern European market like no time since before the Bolshevik Revolution. The Western Cold War military alliance – the fake-defensive North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – was now free to expand US and western war-making power eastward in tandem with the enlargement of the economic sphere. The US had no intention of honoring US president George H.W. Bush’s promise to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move “one inch to the east” if the Russians agreed to dismantle the Soviet system. Anyone who doubts the accuracy of Chomsky’s judgment that only “one side [the USSR] called off the [Cold War] game” while the other side (the USA) would “proceed…as before …more freely in fact, with Soviet deterrence a thing of the past” needs only review the record of US/Western-imperial and aggression since the collapse of Russia’s “Marxist” state. The criminal record includes two massive US. military assaults on Iraq (the second one a multi-year occupation, practically colonialist at the outset); US regime-change bombings of Libya and Serbia; US- sponsored coups in Haiti, Honduran and Ukraine; U.S. sponsorship of mass death squad killings in Columbia; an ongoing deadly US invasion of Afghanistan (2001 to present); am ongoing drone-bombing campaign that has killed untold thousands across the Muslim world; an attempted US-sponsored coup in Venezuela (2002); US. support for right wing unrest seeking regime in Caracas (2014); an arch-Orwellian “anti-terror” torture, kidnapping, assassination and secret detention program that spans the world; the deployment of deadly US “special forces” in more than 100 “sovereign” nations across the planet; the expansion of a giant surveillance and spying network at home and abroad; continuing routine US interference in other nations’ elections; and…again, the list is too lengthy for this essay. Two sections below I will mention some critical examples of post-Cold War US imperialism in Eastern Europe – actions that were unthinkable when “the world’s only superpower” (Blum) and “the first truly global power in history” (Chomsky) met deterrence from a great Eurasian power that had done the most to vanquish the Nazi Third Reich: Soviet Russia.

New Pretexts

There was a downside to the Soviet collapse for Washington’s “foreign policy” (imperialist) establishment: the loss of the easy pretext of “containing” and “rolling back” international “communism” as justification for imperial US policies and practices around the world – and for the still gigantic US “defense” budget, which accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending and pays for more than 1000 US military installations located in more than 100 “sovereign” nations around the world. As it turned out, US war and intervention planners and propagandists have found it easy enough to fill the public relations gap. They’ve inflated and exploited the menace posed by terrible new “evil others (most of whom have in fact been genuinely evil), creating a host of new officially designated Hitlers and “rogue” authoritarian enemy regimes from Noriega’s Panama to Milosevic’s Serbia, Saddam’s Iraq, Iraqi “insurgents,” the Ayatollahs’ Iran, neo-Stalinist North Korea, Osama bin-Laden’s al Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Taliban, Libya’s Quadaffi, and Assad’s Syria. The latest leading global bad guy is Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, a former “friend of the west” turned terrible “state-capitalist” imperialist and bully, though the US is also stoking the flames of anger at “state-capitalist” and “imperial” China, also accused by Washington elites of trying to “start a new Cold War.”

Thanks in part to 9/11 and its aftermath – including two criminal US wars of imperial invasion in two Muslim nations (Iraq and Afghanistan) and a US war “on” (of) terror across the energy-rich and predominantly Muslim Middle East – Islamism has emerged today as the closest match to the role that “communism” played as the official enemy of “democratic” US global benevolence in the Cold War era. This shift aside, the astute Left journalist and filmmaker John Pilger noted last fall that:

“The name of ‘our’ enemy has changed over the years, from communism to Islamism, but generally it is any society independent of western power and occupying strategically useful or resource-rich territory. The leaders of these obstructive nations are usually violently shoved aside, such as the democrats Muhammad Mossedeq in Iran and Salvador Allende in Chile, or they are murdered like Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. All are subjected to a western media campaign of caricature and vilification – think Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, now Vladimir Putin.”

And let us not forget that the US was fully capable of such vile imperial propaganda and hypocrisy well prior to the Cold War and indeed prior to the existence of the Soviet Union. Long before the alleged global threats of communism (Cold War era) and Islamism (in the post-Cold War era and specially since 9/11/2001), US imperial policymakers and their propagandists in government and the press demonstrated considerable skill and capacity when it came to manufacturing and exploiting Evil Other pretexts (Indian “savages,” Spanish “barbarians,” British/French/German imperialists, Latin America’s “unruly children” and “dictators,” Filipino “criminals” and “insurgents” and so on) to justify Washington’s noble, freedom-advancing interference and intervention abroad.

No US Empire in “Mainstream” Coverage of the “Great Game” in Ukraine

Here is a useful observation from John Pilger last October: “Countries are ‘pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world,’ wrote Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, in 1898. Nothing has changed.”

One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the readiness of the United States corporate and so-called “mainstream media” (MSM) to report and comment on how Washington plays the “great game” in strict accord with the ideological and propagandistic requirements of US-imperial establishment.

The early 2014 Ukraine crisis provides a perfect example. The US “MSM” coverage and commentary is childish at best. As far as one could tell from what “mainstream” US talking heads and press agents reported, the crisis came down to the big mean imperial bully Vladimir Putin and his Russian gangster-thugs attacking poor and nice Ukraine and trying to carve it up. There was no imperial U.S. bully anywhere to be found in the official “MSM” story. The basic theme was as follows: “Bad Putiin! Good U.S. and Good U.S.-backed Ukraine!! What can and must Captain America do to protect Ukraine and Europe from That Dastardly Fiend in the Kremlin?!” According to the leading New York Times columnist and multi-media super-pundit David Brooks on the “Public” Broadcasting System’s Newshour last April 18th, “The main show [in the Ukraine crisis] is in Vladimir Putin’s brain. It’s just one person who matters here. And the brain is pretty aggressive…In our response, we really need a psychiatrist…a psychological campaign.”

Recall the previously mentioned title of a recent Washington Post column: “China and Russia Bring Back Cold War…”

Never mind clear evidence that the U.S. State Department played a critical role in engineering a coup that put a right-wing anti-Russian government in power in Kiev in mid February of 2014. Never mind Russia’s long history of being disastrously invaded (from the Mongols through Napoleon and Hitler) on its Western border. And never mind the United States’ recent history of humiliating, surrounding, and otherwise threatening Russia, a history that includes:

 

  • pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to construct an Eastern European “missile defense system” that Russia naturally viewed as en attempt to check its ability to deter a Western nuclear assault.
  • Expanding the Western military alliance the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to include seven Eastern European nations including the former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
  • Invading Iraq without United Nations authorization and over Russian protests.
  • Supporting anti-Russian and pro-Western protests and political movements in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.
  • Extending NATIO Membership Plans to Georgia and Ukraine
  • Backing 2013 and 2014 Kiev street demonstrations demanding Ukraine move into the European Union and a plan to shift Ukraine out of Russian economic bloc and into the EU

The fairy tale coverage had nothing to with reality, as usual. The real story behind the Ukraine crisis, unmentionable outside of officially marginalized US media outlets, was nicely captured by left US analyst Mike Whitney onCounterpunch last April:

‘Russia is not responsible for the crisis in Ukraine. The US State Department engineered the fascist-backed coup that toppled Ukraine’s democratically-elected president Viktor Yanukovych and replaced him with the American puppet Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former banker. Hacked phone calls reveal the critical role that Washington played in orchestrating the putsch and selecting the coup’s leaders. Moscow was not involved in any of these activities. Vladimir Putin, whatever one may think of him, has not done anything to fuel the violence and chaos that has spread across the country.’

‘…Putin’s main interest in Ukraine is commercial. 66 percent of the natural gas that Russia exports to the EU transits Ukraine. The money that Russia makes from gas sales helps to strengthen the Russian economy and raise standards of living. It also helps to make Russian oligarchs richer, the same as it does in the West. The people in Europe like the arrangement because they are able to heat their homes and businesses market-based prices. In other words, it is a good deal for both parties, buyer and seller. This is how the free market is supposed to work. The reason it doesn’t work that way presently is because the United States threw a spanner in the gears when it deposed Yanukovych. Now no one knows when things will return to normal.’

‘The overriding goal of US policy in Ukraine is to stop the further economic integration of Asia and Europe. That’s what the fracas is really all about. The United States wants to control the flow of energy from East to West, it wants to establish a de facto tollbooth between the continents, it wants to ensure that those deals are transacted in US dollars and recycled into US Treasuries, and it wants to situate itself between the two most prosperous markets of the next century. Anyone who has even the sketchiest knowledge of US foreign policy– particularly as it relates to Washington’s “pivot to Asia”– knows this is so. The US is determined to play a dominant role in Eurasia in the years ahead. Wreaking havoc in Ukraine is a central part of that plan.

‘US policy…has nothing to do with democracy, sovereignty, or human rights. It’s about money and power. Who are the big players going to be in the world’s biggest growth center, that’s all that matters…Washington does not want a peaceful solution. Washington wants a confrontation. Washington wants to draw Moscow into a long-term conflict in Ukraine that will recreate Afghanistan in the 1990s. That’s the goal, to lure Putin into a military quagmire that will discredit him in the eyes of the world, isolate Russia from its allies, put strains on new alliances, undermine the Russian economy, pit Russian troops against US-backed armed mercenaries and Special Ops, destroy Russian relations with business partners in the EU, and create a justification for NATO intervention followed by the deployment of nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory’

According to the a retired German Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jochen Scholz in an open letter to Neue Rheinilche Zeitung in early April, Washington’s basic aim was “to deny Ukraine a role as a bridge between Eurasian Union and European Union….They want to bring Ukraine under the NATO control” and destroy all chances for “a common economic zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok.”’

 “To Rule the World”

Whitney’s and Scholz’s analysis would strike “mainstream” reporters as scandalously cynical, anti-American, and “conspiratorial.” In fact, Whitney’s and Scholz’s take perspective on U.S. goals is richly consistent with the longstanding US. post-Cold War national defense doctrine, passed on from Bush 41 through Clinton 42 and Bush 43 to Obama 44. The doctrine holds that there shall emerge no economic and/or military rival to dominant U.S. power on the global stage. It was formulated with particular and special reference to oil- and gas-rich Eurasia and threats posed to US global hegemony by a resurgent Russia and a rising China. In a review of the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance Documents for the 1990s and early 21st century, journalist David Armstrong nicely summarized the core ambition behind the doctrine in Harper’s in January of 2003: “The plan is for the United States to rule the world. The overt theme is unilateralism, but it is ultimately a story of domination. It calls for the United States to main its overwhelming military superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and foes alike. It says not that the United States should be more powerful or must powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful” (emphasis added).

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, consistent with that doctrine, US.-led NATO Enlargement has surrounded Russia with nuclear missiles, nuclear bombers and military bases. NATO has expanded significantly in Eastern Europe in abject defiance of the United States’ promise to Gorbachev. “The US is planning to place American troops on Russia’s Ukraine border” and “American warships “within sight of Russian ports,” Pilger reported last April. “Since Washington’s putsch in Kiev — and Moscow’s inevitable response in Russian Crimea, to protect its Black Sea Fleet — the provocation and isolation of Russia have been inverted in the news to the ‘Russian threat.’”

“No Rival Power” Means China Too

As for China, the only country capable of economically overtaking the U.S., Pilger noted that:

‘On 24 April, President Obama will begin a tour of Asia to promote his “Pivot to China.” The aim is to convince his “allies” in the region, principally Japan, to re-arm and prepare for the eventual possibility of war with China. By 2020, almost two-thirds of all US naval forces in the world will be transferred to the Asia-Pacific area. This is the greatest military concentration in that vast region since the Second World War….In an arc extending from Australia to Japan, China will face US missiles and nuclear-armed bombers. A strategic naval base is being built on the Korean island of Jeju less than 400 miles from the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai and the industrial heartland of the only country whose economic power is likely to surpass that of the US.  Obama’s “pivot” is designed to undermine China’s influence in its region. It is as if world war has begun by other means.’

‘Obama’s defence secretary, “Chuck” Hagel, was in Beijing last week to deliver a menacing warning that China, like Russia, could face isolation and war if it did not bow to US demands. He compared the annexation of Crimea with China’s complex territorial dispute with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. “You cannot go around the world,” said Hagel with a straight face, “and violate the sovereignty of nations by force, coercion or intimidation.” As for America’s massive movement of naval forces and nuclear weapons to Asia, that is “a sign of the humanitarian assistance the US military can provide.” …The United States is pursuing its longstanding ambition to dominate the Eurasian landmass, stretching from China to Europe: a “manifest destiny” made right by might.’

 III. GAME OVER

The Blame-China Syndrome

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the relative indifference of US planners to the security and continued existence of Americans and humanity. The terrible jetliner attacks on US citizens that took place on September 11, 2001 were a predictable (and significantly predicted) form of “blowback” (a CIA term) from the United States’ provocative, imperial and mass-murderous role and presence in the Middle East. (I personally expected a larger and deadlier Islamist assault, radioactive in nature).

It’s hegemony over survival, as usual, as far as Washington is concerned. Uncle Sam’s wildly irresponsible nuclear weapons record lives on, in current U.S. nuclear policy regarding North Korea (whose nuclear blustering has been provoked by simulated U.S. military attacks, including a mock nuclear bombing), Pakistan (a nuclear power with whom the U.S. risked war in May of 2011), China (threatened by the Pentagon’s provocative “turn to Asia”), and Iran (the U.S. brazenly rejects commonsense efforts to turn the Middle East into a nuclear-free zone).

Yet while the threat of nuclear war continues to hang over humanity, another and possibly graver danger looms: anthropogenic global warming (AGW) which threatens to foreclose a decent and livable future for human beings and other living things if it is not significantly contained and rolled back (if I might use US cold War language) within the next 10-20 years. Regarding climate change, which poses an ever more imminent threat of human extinction, Washington delights now in blaming China. China, the U.S, says, is now the major culprit behind AGW since its carbon emissions have more than doubled since 2001 and it now spews more carbon into the atmosphere than any other nation.

This is a smokescreen designed to cloak the United States’ primary culpability for the monumental wrong of petro-capitalist-ecocide – a transgression that will dwarf all previous crimes if allowed to run its exterminist course. Consider:

 

  • The U.S. remains far and away the world’s largest carbon-emitter on a per-capita basis. Individual U.S. citizens generate an average of 20 tons of carbon emission per year, nearly 4 times the rate of the average Chinese citizen.
  • No nation has spewed more accumulated carbon into Earth’s atmosphere in the industrial era than the United States—an historical reality that neither China nor India will breach anytime soon.
  • No nation has invested more heavily and powerfully in the political, ideological, and military promotion and defense of the at once carbon- and growth- addicted profits system than the United States.
  • The U.S. is headquarters of the corporate carbon-industrial-complex’s giant lobbying and propaganda war on the increasingly dire findings of modern climate science – including those of NASA.
  • No national government has done more to deep-six increasingly desperate international efforts to reduce global carbon emissions than that of the United States – a record that has continued with depressing vengeance through the supposedly “green” Obama presidency.
  • The U.S. investor class leads the world when it comes to global investment in the fossil fuel industry. While most of the world’s new coal plants are being built in China and India, much of the financing comes from Wall Street. Since 2006, for example, J.P. Morgan Chase has invested $17 billion in new coal plant construction abroad. Citbank added $14 billion during the same period. As Sadie Robinson noted nearly five years ago in England’s Socialist Worker, “Simply looking at China’s emissions as a country obscures the role that the West plays in creating them. China’s rising emissions are largely due to the rapid expansion of coal-fired power stations. This is directly linked to the fact that many Western companies have effectively outsourced their emissions to China. They have rushed to open manufacturing plants in China to take advantage of lower operating costs…. And these plants are largely powered by coal…. The West has also played a role in boosting China’s emissions by using it as a cheap source of goods.

A recent Rolling Stone report is titled “How the U.S. Exports Global Warming” According to Rolling Stone writer Tim Dickinson, “America’s oil and coal corporations are racing to position the country as the planet’s dirty-energy dealer—supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels. Much like tobacco companies did in the 1990s—when new taxes, regulations and rising consumer awareness undercut domestic demand—Big Carbon is turning to lucrative new markets in booming Asian economies where regulations are looser. Worse, the White House has quietly championed this dirty-energy trade”

“A Fossil Fuel Renaissance”

Thanks in large part to new drilling technologies and global energy corporations’ expanded search for new hydrocarbons beneath land and sea, a leading German environmental economist with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently noted that “we are in the middle of a fossil fuel renaissance.” That is a remarkable statement with the potential to be something like a farewell reflection on homo sapiens (along with an untold number of other species). As evidence mounts yet higher that irrefutably anthropogenic climate change resulting from the excessive burning of hydrocarbons poses a grave and ever more imminent existential threat to humanity and other life on Earth, we are in the middle of a fossil fuel renaissance.

Nowhere is that more true than in the U.S., where Obama boasts of a new age of so called “national energy independence” thanks in great measure to the sudden and vast expansion of domestic production of shale oil and carbon-rich natural gas (much of which is simply being combusted into the air the extraction frenzy) through the eco-cidal practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). According to a recent terrifying report:

“Thanks to the success of [the petroleum industry] …in pushing the frontiers of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ to access reserves of oil trapped in shale formations, notably here in Texas and North Dakota, America is poised to displace Saudi Arabia as the world’s top producer. With that could come a hobbling of OPEC and unforeseen shifts in US foreign policy….So rapid has been the change in its energy fortunes that even some experts, as well as policy-makers in Washington, are struggling to keep up. Nor are we just talking oil. So much natural gas is being released by the shale also that for now outlandish quantities of it are simply being burned off into the atmosphere.”

“The Greatest World Danger”

This all matches a key finding in Pew’s 2007 Pew Global Attitudes survey. In 34 of 37 countries where the public was asked “which country has done the most to hurt the world’s environment?,” majorities or pluralities named the United States.

That sentiment is certainly no less widespread—and no less accurate—in the Age of Obama than in the Bush-Cheney years. The Obama administration has worked effectively to repeatedly undermine efforts at coordinated global reduction of greenhouse as emissions. “The Obama administration wants to be seen as a climate leader, but there is no source of fossil fuel that it is prepared to leave in the ground,” says Lorne Stockman, research director for Oil Change International. “Coal, gas, refinery products—crude oil is the last frontier on this. You want it? We’re going to export it.”

Two years ago, trumpeting the Keystone XL Pipeline in Cushing, Oklahoma, the supposedly “green” US president Barack Obama declared the following with great satisfaction:

“Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

To encircle a dying Earth, that is. “We are drilling all over the planet – right now,” Obama added to applause.

By Chomsky’s estimation, Obama’s remarks in Cushing amounted to “an eloquent death knell for the species.”

Eco-cide is no small misdeed in global eyes. “Pollution and environmental” problems were identified in the 2007 Pew poll as the “greatest world danger” (above nuclear proliferation, AIDS and other infectious diseases, religious and ethnic hatred and income inequality) by the public of a large number of nations including Canada, Sweden, Spain, Ukraine, China, and India, 2007 Pew Global Attitude Survey).

 “Licking Their Lips”

Consistent with Stockman’s observation and global concerns over the US environmental record, the current US-provoked Ukraine Crisis has the politically powerful producers of domestic US oil and gas “licking their lips.” They argue that, in Naomi Klein’s words, “The way to beat Vladmir Putin is to flood the European market with fracked-in-the-USA natural gas,” undermining Europe’s dependence on natural gas energy exports from Russia – something that requires passing laws to undo restrictions on the export of domestic US gas and oil. Klein calls this “knack for exploiting crisis for private gain the shock doctrine…. during times of crisis, whether real or manufactured. …elites are able to ram through unpopular policies that are detrimental to the majority under cover of emergency.” So what if climate scientists warn of the potent planet warming powers of methane, highly concentrated in natural gas, or if coastal U.S. communities don’t want high-risk natural gas export ports built in their environs? “Who has time for debate? It’s an emergency!…Pass the laws first, think about them later” (Klein)

Democratic Restructuring or Game Over

Yes, the “great game” of empire lives on, as in previous centuries. But AGW is a game ender for all. “There is,” to quote one of the many environmental posters that bobbed outside the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit that Obama put to death (with some help from advance National Security Agency briefings on other nations’ bargaining positions), “No Planet B.”

Fortunately, solutions exist. Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson and University of California-Davis research scientist Mark Delucchi have shown that humanity could convert to a completely renewable-based energy system by 2030 if nations would rely on technologies vetted by scientists rather than promoted by industries. Jacobson and Delucchi’s plan to have 100% of the world’s energy supplied by wind, water, and solar (WWS) sources by 2030 calls for millions of wind turbines, water machines, and solar installations. “The numbers are large,” they write, “but the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle: society has achieved massive transformations before. During World War II, the U.S. retooled its automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft, and other countries produced 486,000 more. In 1956, the U.S. began building the Interstate Highway System, which after 35 years extended for 47,000 miles, changing commerce and society.”

An obvious early and top demand for popular forces to make on the US power elite is the massive slashing of the giant Pentagon budget and the redirecting of resources form endless war, war preparation and empire to making the tools and processes humanity needs to transition into a fossil fuel-free future. Whether such a great transformation can occur alongside the persistence of the profits system is perhaps an open question though my strong sense is that serious efforts to save livable ecology will require moving beyond the confines of capitalism. It’s “[eco-]socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky.” As the great Hungarian Marxist philosopher Istvan Meszaros put things in 2001 “Many of the problems we have to confront – from chronic structural unemployment to major political/military conflicts…as well as the ever more widespread ecological destruction in evidence everywhere – require concerted action in the very near future…We are running out of time… The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself” (emphasis added). Nowhere is this truer than in the United States, the leading threat to peace on/and Earth.

Never has the duty of social and democratic rebellion, reform, and revolution weighed more heavily on the shoulders of US workers, citizens, intellectuals, and activists. We all have a great burden of personal and collective responsibility to organize for what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified near the end of his life as “the real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters: “the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

Paul Street can be reached at paul.street99@gmail.com. His next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014: http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810)

Those Who Have Put Out The People’s Eyes (Z Magazine June 2014)

11/06/14 0 COMMENTS

Z Magazine (June 2014).

 

street titleIt is no accident that many United States citizens seem bewildered when it comes to current events. It’s hard to make sense of a complex world when huge swaths of reality are denied serious and honest coverage and commentary in the nation’s reigning corporate “mainstream media” (“MSM”). It’s not for nothing that I have placed quote marks around the word “mainstream” when talking about dominant corporate media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and CNN. During the Cold War era, we never called the Soviet Union’s state television and radio or its main newspapers Pravda and Izvestia Russia’s “mainstream media.” I see no reason why we should consider U.S. corporate media outlets any more “mainstream” than Pravda or Izvestia when they are just as dedicated as the onetime Soviet outlets to advancing the doctrinal perspectives of their host nation’s reigning elite—and far more effective.

Urban Crime and Weather Extremes

Take the urban, predominantly black and Latino crime and violence that is a staple item on evening television news across metropolitan America. The highly detailed and lurid reports of inner-city bloodshed evoke middle-class horror and support for a harsh “law and order” politics that have helped make the United States the world’s mass incarceration leader. The causes of that violence are a non-story. Reporters never make elementary connections between the carnage that is all too common in the nation’s ghettoes and barrios and the savage abandonment and oppression of those communities by corporations and the police state. Chronic structural unemployment, shredded social services, under-funded and authoritarian schools, discriminatory hiring practices, racial profiling by the criminal justice system, persistent residential hyper-segregation by race and class—these and other serious problems plaguing the nation’s poorest neighborhoods are not “news.” Violence in those neighborhoods—a symptom of unmentionable injustice and oppression—is the story that “sells.”

An analogous omission mars the nightly local weather reports. Delivered with the latest high-tech measurements and graphics, these dazzling segments on the evening news now regularly tell of new record meteorological extremes—stifling heat waves, terrible droughts, giant rain and snow falls, high-intensity storms, deadly floods, shocking forest and brush fires, and deep-freeze “polar vortexes” resulting from altered northern jet streams. The reports are detailed and often sensational, like the crime news. But, again, the cause of what’s being reported—the “new” extreme weather “normal”—is a non-story. Television weatherpersons never connect their news to Earth scientists’ finding that decades of capitalist economic growth based on the relentless and wasteful exploitation of carbon-rich fossil fuels have warmed the world’s climate in ways that raise the real specter of human extinction in the not so distant historical future. Anthropogenic—really capital-o-genic—climate change is the weather news’ elephant in the room, the giant explanatory factor that simply can’t be mentioned.

These “MSM” omissions are evident beyond the nightly news, of course. As media and urban studies scholar Stephen Macek showed in his important book Urban Nightmares: The Media, The Right, and the Moral Panic Over the City (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), Hollywood, advertising, and television “entertainment” media have for decades joined the nightly news in portraying post-industrial U.S. cities as dangerous zones of moral decay. Grossly inflating the perceived menace of the inner-city, television series like “Law and Order” and movies like Batman, Predator 2, Colors, New Jack City, Judgment Night, Falling Down, Dangerous Minds, The Substitute, Lean on Me, 187, Death Wish, Eye to Eye, and (more recently) Gran Torino portray the urban poor as a deadly “underclass” amalgam of sociopaths, gang-bangers, drug addicts, drug lords, welfare-cheats, murderers, and lunatics. They say nothing substantive about the societal forces and ruling class actions that generate poverty and misery across the nation’s truly disadvantaged urban communities. The recommendation flowing from this vicious depiction is clear: mass arrest and imprisonment of poor Blacks and Latinos.

In 2012, viewers of the Discovery Channel (Disney) saw a remarkable seven-part series on global warming that contained graphic high-definition images of vast swaths of melting ice breaking off in Antarctica. Titled The Frozen Planet, the documentary presented dramatic pictures of imperiled polar bears, penguins, and seals, all dealing with the consequences of climate change. There was something important left out of the series, however. By their own admission, The Frozen Planet’s producers steered clear of the inconvenient truth of why the planet is warming. Addressing causation would have upset powerful petro-chemical corporate interests and other parts of the carbon industrial complex and its financial backers, who could be counted on to withhold advertising dollars and retaliate in other ways, so the documentary’s makers chose to play it safe. As Bill McKibben observed, “It was like doing a powerful documentary about lung cancer and leaving out the part about cigarettes.”

The Ukraine Crisis Upside Down

Street1When it comes to unmentionable elephants in the room, there’s nothing like foreign affairs news and commentary in U.S. “MSM.” Dominant U.S. communications authorities’ regular deletion of America’s violent and imperial “rogue superpower” role on the planet (the basic reason that the world’s citizens have long identified the United States as the leading threat to peace and security on Earth) make it difficult for ordinary Americans to reflect reasonably on the often sensational and violent foreign events that regularly blaze across “mainstream” television screens and newspapers.

The early 2014 Ukraine crisis provides a perfect example. The U.S. “MSM” coverage and commentary is childish at best. As far as one could tell from what “mainstream” talking heads and press agents reported, the crisis came down to the big mean imperial bully Vladimir Putin and his Russian gangster- thugs attacking poor and nice Ukraine and trying to carve it up. There was no imperial U.S. bully anywhere to be found in the official ‘MSM’ story. The basic theme was as follows: “Bad Putiin, Good U.S., and Good U.S.-backed Ukraine. What can and must Captain America do to protect Ukraine and Europe from That Dastardly Fiend in the Kremlin.” According to the leading New York Times columnist and multi-media superpundit David Brooks on the “Public” Broadcasting System’s Newshour last April 18, “The main show [in the Ukraine crisis] is in Vladimir Putin’s brain. It’s just one person who matters here. And the brain is pretty aggressive…. In our response, we really need a psychiatrist…a psychological campaign.”

Never mind clear evidence that the U.S. State Department played a critical role in engineering a coup that put a right-wing anti-Russian government in power in Kiev in mid February of 2014. Never mind Russia’s long history of being disastrously invaded (from the Mongols through Napoleon and Hitler) on its Western border. And never mind the United States’ recent history of humiliating, surrounding, and otherwise threatening Russia, a history that includes:

  • Pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to construct an Eastern European “missile defense system” that Russia naturally viewed as an attempt to check its ability to deter a Western nuclear assault
  • Expanding the Western military alliance the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to include seven Eastern European nations including the former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
  • Invading Iraq without United Nations authorization and over Russian protests
  • Supporting anti-Russian and pro-Western protests and political movements in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine
  • Extending NATO Membership Plans to Georgia and Ukraine
  • Backing 2013 and 2014 Kiev street demonstrations demanding Ukraine move into the European Union and a plan to shift Ukraine out of Russian economic bloc and into the EU

street-2The fairy tale coverage had nothing to with reality, as usual. The real story behind the Ukraine crisis, unmentionable outside of officially marginalized U.S. media outlets, was captured nicely by left analyst Mike Whitney: “Russia is not responsible for the crisis in Ukraine. The U.S. State Department engineered the fascist-backed coup that toppled Ukraine’s democratically-elected president Viktor Yanukovych and replaced him with the American puppet Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former banker. Hacked phone calls reveal the critical role that Washington played in orchestrating the putsch and selecting the coup’s leaders. Moscow was not involved in any of these activities. Vladimir Putin, whatever one may think of him, has not done anything to fuel the violence and chaos that has spread across the country.’

“…Putin’s main interest in Ukraine is commercial and 66 percent of the natural gas that Russia exports to the EU transits Ukraine. The money that Russia makes from gas sales helps to strengthen the Russian economy and raise standards of living. It also helps to make Russian oligarchs richer, the same as it does in the West. The people in Europe like the arrangement because they are able to heat their homes and businesses market-based prices. In other words, it is a good deal for both parties, buyer and seller. This is how the free market is supposed to work. The reason it doesn’t work that way presently is because the United States threw a spanner in the gears when it deposed Yanukovych. Now no one knows when things will return to normal.

“The overriding goal of U.S. policy in Ukraine is to stop the further economic integration of Asia and Europe. That’s what the fracas is really all about. The United States wants to control the flow of energy from East to West, it wants to establish a de facto tollbooth between the continents, it wants to ensure that those deals are transacted in U.S. dollars and recycled into U.S. Treasuries, and it wants to situate itself between the two most prosperous markets of the next century. Anyone who has even the sketchiest knowledge of U.S. foreign policy, particularly as it relates to Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’, knows this is so. The U.S. is determined to play a dominant role in Eurasia in the years ahead. Wreaking havoc in Ukraine is a central part of that plan.

“U.S. policy…has nothing to do with democracy, sovereignty, or human rights. It’s about money and power. Who are the big players going to be in the world’s biggest growth center, that’s all that matters…. Washington does not want a peaceful solution. Washington wants a confrontation. Washington wants to draw Moscow into a long-term conflict in Ukraine that will recreate Afghanistan in the 1990s. That’s the goal, to lure Putin into a military quagmire that will discredit him in the eyes of the world, isolate Russia from its allies, put strains on new alliances, undermine the Russian economy, pit Russian troops against U.S.-backed armed mercenaries and Special Ops, destroy Russian relations with business partners in the EU, and create a justification for NATO intervention followed by the deployment of nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory” (Mike Whitney, “Is Putin Being Lured into a Trap?” Counterpunch, April 15, 2014).

According to the retired German Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jochen Scholz in an open letter to Neue Rheinilche Zeitung in early April, Washington’s basic aim was “to deny Ukraine a role as a bridge between Eurasian Union and European Union…. ‘They want to bring Ukraine under the NATO control and destroy all chances for a common economic zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok’. ”

No Rival Power

Whitney’s and Scholz’s analysis would strike “mainstream” reporters as scandalously cynical, anti- American, and conspiratorial. In fact, Whitney’s and Scholz’s perspective on U.S. goals is richly consistent with the longstanding U.S. post-Cold War national defense doctrine, passed on from Bush 41 through Clinton 42 and Bush 43 to Obama 44. The doctrine holds that there shall emerge no economic and/or military rival to dominant U.S. power on the global stage. It was formulated with particular and special reference to oil-and gas-rich Eurasia and threats posed to U.S. hegemony by a resurgent Russia and a rising China.

street extra-5Since the demise of the Soviet Union, consistent with that doctrine, U.S.-led NATO Enlargement has surrounded Russia with nuclear missiles, nuclear bombers and military bases. NATO has expanded significantly in Eastern Europe in abject defiance of the United States promise to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that the U.S.-directed alliance would not move “one inch to the east.” The U.S. is planning to place American troops on Russia’s Ukraine border and American warships “within sight of Russian ports,” John Pilger reported. “Since Washington’s putsch in Kiev—and Moscow’s inevitable response in Russian Crimea, to protect its Black Sea Fleet—the provocation and isolation of Russia have been inverted in the news to the ‘Russian threat,’” Pilger added. As for China, the only country capable of economically overtaking the U.S., Pilger noted that: “On 24 April, President Obama will begin a tour of Asia to promote his ‘Pivot to China.’ The aim is to convince his ‘allies’ in the region, principally Japan, to re-arm and prepare for the eventual possibility of war with China. By 2020, almost two-thirds of all U.S. naval forces in the world will be transferred to the Asia-Pacific area. This is the greatest military concentration in that vast region since the Second World War…. In an arc extending from Australia to Japan, China will face U.S. missiles and nuclear-armed bombers. A strategic naval base is being built on the Korean island of Jeju less than 400 miles from the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai and the industrial heartland of the only country whose economic power is likely to surpass that of the U.S.. Obama’s ‘pivot’ is designed to undermine China’s influence in its region. It is as if world war has begun by other means.”

“Obama’s defense secretary, ‘Chuck’ Hagel, was in Beijing last week to deliver a menacing warning that China, like Russia, could face isolation and war if it did not bow to U.S. demands. He compared the annexation of Crimea with China’s complex territorial dispute with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. ‘You cannot go around the world,’ said Hagel with a straight face, “and violate the sovereignty of nations by force, coercion or intimidation.” As for America’s massive movement of naval forces and nuclear weapons to Asia, that is ‘a sign of the humanitarian assistance the U.S. military can provide.’ …The United States is pursuing its longstanding ambition to dominate the Eurasian landmass, stretching from China to Europe: a ‘manifest destiny’ made right by might’’’ (John Pilger, “The Strangelove Effect,” JohnPilger.com, April 18, 2014).

None of this U.S.-imperial aggression and expansion received remotely serious coverage and reflection in U.S. “MSM.”

Deleting Uncle Sam’s Role in Venezuela

street-3Neither has the critical role the Obama administration played in fomenting and backing the campaign of right-wing protest that began last February against the socialist government of oil-rich Venezuela. In direct violation of Venezuelan law, the Washington agencies the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development have given more than $14 million in Venezuelan opposition groups between 2013 and 2014 (Eva Golinger, “The Dirty Hand of the National Endowment for Democracy in Venezuela,” Postcards From the Revolution, April 23, 2014, www. chavez code.com). That outlay reflects the administration’s embrace of the longstanding Washington doctrine holding that Latin American nations must gear their domestic societies and external relations around the needs of U.S. investors and military planners, not the wishes of their own populations. That doctrine— and the significant extent to which U.S. interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs violates Obama’s claim (in his statements against Russia’s seizure of Crimea and China’s claim to various islands and waters in the East China Sea and the South China) to uphold “the principle of national sovereignty” (regularly violated also by Obama’s drone war programs and his ubiquitous global surveillance and Special Forces deployments)—received no serious attention from U.S. “MSM” in its reporting and commentary on the Venezuelan crisis. The crisis has been transmitted in standard fairy tale mode, as if the Empire to the North had no special interests or involvement in the politics of Venezuela, home to the world’s second greatest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia.

Licking Their Lips

Meanwhile, as U.S. “MSM” complained that Putin threatened to “turn off the flow of the Russian natural gas to Ukraine,” the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund used the crisis to impose austerity and related privatization measures that will push Ukraine further into economic depression while creating giant profits for “voracious investment banks and private equity speculators [who] will make out like bandits skimming billions of dollars in plunder off the distressed and vulnerable country” (Whitney, “Is Putin Being Lured?”). Along the way, producers of domestic U.S. oil and gas were “licking their lips.” They argued that, in Naomi Klein’s words, “The way to beat Vladmir Putin is to flood the European market with fracked-in-the-U.S.A natural gas,” undermining Europe’s dependence on natural gas energy exports from Russia—something that requires passing laws to undo restrictions on the export of domestic U.S. gas and oil.

Klein calls this “knack for exploiting crisis for private gain the shock doctrine….during times of crisis, whether real or manufactured…elites are able to ram through unpopular policies that are detrimental to the majority under cover of emergency.” So what if climate scientists warn of the potent planet warming powers of methane, highly concentrated in natural gas, or if coastal U.S. communities don’t want high-risk natural gas export ports built in their environs? “Who has time for debate? It’s an emergency!… Pass the laws first, think about them later” (Naomi Klein, “Why U.S. Fracking Companies are Licking Their Lips Over Ukraine,” the Guardian,  April 10, 2014).

The “shock doctrine,” on display in the Ukraine crisis as in numerous other places and times over recent decades (see Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 2007) is another doctrine that cannot be mentioned in “mainstream” news coverage and commentary.

Given these and other standard Orwellian deletions and inversions in that coverage and commentary, it is understandable that large numbers of normally intelligent Americans experience significant difficulty following current events with clarity and understanding. The primary responsibility for this difficulty lies with U.S. media and political elites, who love to complain about the supposed deep stupidity and ignorance of “the electorate”—the corporate-managed ex-citizenry (see Mark Leibovich, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral in America’s Gilded Capital,New York, 2014). “Those who have put out the people’s eyes,” John Milton once wrote, “reproach them for their blindness.”

Z

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Paul Street’s next book, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm, September 2014): http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810

Climate of Corporate-Orwellian Absurdity

16/05/14 0 COMMENTS

ZNet, May 14, 2014. The corporate-Orwellian absurdity of the Barack Obama administration never ceases to inspire awe. In recent years, Obama has tried to rally the Democratic Party base by claiming that he is a friend of working people in their struggle for higher wages and benefits. He has also worked to position himself as a friend of a natural environment endangered by climate change resulting from excessive carbon emissions.

Never Mind

Never mind that Obama has never lifted a finger for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in this country, or for other measures desperately needed by the nation’s working class majority – like single-payer national health insurance.

Never mind that Obama’s “biggest climate legacy” so far is “the U.S. passing Russia and Saudi Arabia in oil and gas production” (environmentalist Bill McKibben[1]).

Forget Obama’s almost singlehanded undermining of binding global carbon emission limits at the 2009 global climate summit in Copenhagen.[2]

Obama is no “green president,” unless we take “green” to mean corporate cash. His “all of the above” energy policy takes state-capitalist green-washing to a new level. It includes eager support for the militantly eco-cidal practice of hydraulic fracturing, which significantly increases the extraction of fossil fuels while polluting and otherwise endangering the nation’s fresh water supplies.

Wal-Mart, of All Places

But I digress. Last week, right after the White House released its latest quadrennial National Climate Assessment, Obama spoke on behalf of clean energy in front of a Wal-Mart supercenter that recently added some solar panels in Mountain View, California.

It was a fascinating choice of venues in light of the president’s pro-worker and pro-ecology pretenses.

Walmart has a long and notorious record as a low-wage and anti-union employer. It has played a critical leading role in the destruction of US manufacturing jobs by serving as a giant sales platform for goods produced in China and other cheap-labor zones of the world capitalist system.

At the same time, as environmental and economic researcher Stacy Mitchell noted at Huffington Post, Walmart is “one of the biggest and fastest-growing climate polluters on the planet.” It ranks behind only Chevron as Earth’s leading carbon-emitter. To make matters worse, the “big-box retailing revolution led by Walmart and other big chains has dramatically increased the amount of energy we’re using to schlep consumer goods across the country and into our homes.” Over the last four decades, Mitchell reports, citing the latest academic research, the amount of energy spent in the circulation of American retail commodities has risen more than 400 percent (overall US energy use rose just 45 percent during the same period). Why this remarkable increase in the carbon footprint of retail goods movement? Mitchell explains:

Aided by government subsidies and favorable zoning policies, the explosive growth of [Walmart] and other [chains] like it has radically transformed retailing, changing both how goods are distributed and how people shop for them….One of the biggest changes has been a sharp increase in the number of miles Americans drive for shopping. Growth in shopping-related driving has far outpaced increases in driving for all other purposes. “The retail industry has consolidated, going from about nine stores per thousand residents in 1970 to less than four per thousand residents in 2009,” [one recent] study explains. “This phenomenon … began with the rise of the department store and concluded with the widespread presence of Big Box retail.” Fewer stores per capita means most people have to drive…further to get what they need. U.S. households now log an average of 2,200 miles more a year to shop than they did in 1969.’

‘Another big change has to do with how much further our stuff is trucked within the U.S. The growth in “stuff miles” is likely a result of the fact that Walmart and other large chains have driven manufacturing overseas.” “Imported goods arrive in the U.S. at ports, which may be further from their final destination than were the domestic production facilities of earlier decades”…Some 40 percent of the goods that arrive by ship in Southern California, where Walmart is by far the largest importer, are bound for stores east of the Rocky Mountains. Thanks to the deregulation of trucking and the just-in-time delivery model Walmart pioneered, most of these goods will be shipped by truck, rather than train, even though rail is far less energy-intensive.’[3]

Walmart hardly makes up for this terrible climate record by adding some solar panels to some of its stores.

 “To  Destroy the Prospects for Decent Existence”

Speaking about the new Climate Assessment on the “Public” Broadcasting System’s Newshour last week, Obama’s science adviser John Holdren ruefully observed that while most US citizens now understand that climate change is real and human-generated, they do not see reducing it as a top priority compared to other issues that are more pressing in their view: jobs, “the economy,” crime and immigration.[4] The polling data shows that’s he’s correct[5], no small problem given the fact that climate change is “the number one issue of our or any time” (philosopher John Sonbanmatsu).

Holdren is right to be concerned. If global warming isn’t properly addressed within the next generation, then very little else is going to matter. To quote some of the environmentalist posters that have bobbed outside the doomed global climate summits of recent years: “There’s No Economy on a Dead Planet; There is No Planet B.”

Still, the White House’s climate report contributes to the opinion problem that Holdren bemoans in two key ways. First, it drastically understates the threat posed by anthropogenic global warming (AGW).Here’s the boldest statement I could find in the document’s “overview” – the National Climate Assessment’s key document for public consumption:

“Climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways. Certain types of extreme weather events with links to climate change have become more frequent and/or intense, including prolonged periods of heat, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. In addition, warming is causing sea level to rise and glaciers and Arctic sea ice to melt, and oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide. These and other aspects of climate change are disrupting people’s lives and damaging some sectors of our economy.”[6]

All true, but “disrupting people’s lives [with nasty weather] and damaging some sectors of the economy” isn’t even in the ballpark when it comes to capturing the depth and degree of the environmental crisis, led by AGW. In a recent essay expressing horror at Obama’s call for the endless of expansion of oil and gas production, Noam Chomsky observes that “for the first time in history, human beings are now poised to destroy the prospects for decent existence and much of life.” Further:

“The rate of species destruction today is at about the level of 65 million years ago, when a major catastrophe, probably a huge asteroid, ended the age of the dinosaurs, opening the way for mammals to proliferate. The difference is that today we are the asteroid, and the way will very likely be opened to beetles and bacteria when we have done our work…. Today, many geologists add a new epoch [of Earth history] the Anthropocene, beginning with the industrial revolution, which has radically changed the natural world. ..One effect of the Anthropocene is the extraordinary rate of species extinction. Another is the threat to ourselves. No literate person can fail to be aware that we are facing a prospect of severe environmental disaster, with effects that are already detectable and that might become dire within a few generations if current tendencies are not reversed.”[7]

This judgment might sound extreme but it is well-supported in a growing mountain Earth and life science data that raises the very real specter of human extinction if and when terrible “tipping points” like the large-scale release of Arctic methane (a potential near-term context for truly “runaway global warming”) are passed. Ocean acidification (a change in the ocean’s chemistry resulting from excessive human carbon emissions) is attacking the very building blocks of life under the world’s rising seas. All indications are that three-fourths of the planet’s existing stock of fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we going to avert catastrophe.

Correction…No Policy Recommendations”

Second, Obama’s National Climate Assessment makes no policy recommendations whatsoever on how to stop Homo sapiens from exterminating itself and other life forms in the not-so distant historical future. Behold this bracing correction that “liberal” Democratic cable network MSNBC had to make at the bottom of a Web report bearing the misleading title “The Loudest Climate Change Wake-Up Call”:

“CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said the 2014 climate assessment report includes policy recommendations for how to mitigate climate change. It does include data on climate change mitigation, but makes no policy recommendations.”[8]

No policy recommendations. Zero. The silence is unsurprising given the president’s fierce commitment to expanded Greenhouse gassing in the highly deceptive name of “national energy independence.”

Solutions

Whatever could we do? Chomsky is right to note that “While indigenous people are trying to avert the disaster…the race toward the cliff is led by the most advanced, educated, wealthy, and privileged societies of the world, primarily North America.”[9] Still, two highly educated Euro-North Americans – Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson and University of California-Davis research scientist Mark Delucchi – have shown that humanity could convert to a completely renewable-based energy system by 2030 if nations would rely on technologies vetted by scientists rather than promoted by industries. Jacobson and Delucchi’s plan to have 100% of the world’s energy supplied by wind, water, and solar (WWS) sources by 2030 calls for millions of wind turbines, water machines, and solar installations. “The numbers are large,” they write, “but the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle: society has achieved massive transformations before. During World War II, the U.S. retooled its automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft, and other countries produced 486,000 more. In 1956, the U.S. began building the Interstate Highway System, which after 35 years extended for 47,000 miles, changing commerce and society.”[10]

Holdren, Obama, and others who worry about the conflict between concern for jobs and concern for the environment in public opinion might want to reflect on the fact the many millions of workers would be employed in the socially and ecologically useful (indeed necessary) work of manufacturing, operating, and maintaining “millions of wind turbines, water machines, and solar installations” – along with numerous other tasks related to the environmental reconversion of the US and global economy that “much of life” (including humanity) requires. Some may recall that simultaneously advancing the “two-fer” goals of (a) environmental reconversion and (b) massive job creation was the core policy project of Van Jones – Obama’s early “Special Adviser for Green Jobs.” What kinds of jobs? Jones described the remarkable employment opportunities in his bestselling 2007 book The Green Collar Economy:

‘When you think about the…green economy, don’t think of George Jetson with a jet pack. Think of Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and a lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to fix America. Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts for hybrid buses or wind turbines…If we are going to beat global warming, we are going to have to weatherize millions of buildings. Install millions of solar panels, manufacture millions of wind turbine parts, plant and care for millions of trees, build millions of plug-in hybrid vehicles, and construct thousands of solar farms, wind farms, and wave farms. This will require…millions of jobs… And don’t think of green collar workers as laboring only in the energy sector…we will also need workers in a range of green industries: materials reuse and recycling, water management, local and organic food production, mass transportation and more.’

Much of the work involved in seriously “greening” economy and society can’t be out-sourced (ala Walmart) since, as Jones noted “it involves making over the sites where we work and live and altering how we move around. That sort of work is difficult or impossible to send abroad.” You can’t pick up an office building, send it to China to have solar panels installed, and have it shipped back.[11]

Jones was kicked out of the “green” (-washed) Obama administration in September of 2009 after the FOX News crowd made bizarre neo-McCarthyite accusations that he was some kind of Communist-Black Nationalist-9/11 conspiracy theorist.

Eco-Cidal Times

Corporate media functionaries deserve part of the credit for climate change’s deadly status as a low priority in U.S. public opinion. They cite polling data on environmental indifference again and again but never stop to examine their own central roles in pushing the issue to the margins. What if “mainstream” talking media heads, pundits, and everyday reporters (including weather reporters) regularly and relentlessly told the full story on the risks posed by AGW? What if they also reported the real and do-able policy alternatives to fossil fuel exterminism and the many benefits – including the creation of millions of socially useful (to say the least) jobs – of acting to rescue the ecological commons for future generations ?

In one of his regular appearances on the Big Carbon-funded “P”BS’ Newshour last week, the insufferable Republican super-pundit and New York Times columnist David Brooks visibly sneered at the notion that anything might come from government reports on climate change. Since “the political process is not even close to getting at this,” Brooks announced, “we have to wait for some technological advance, some scientific advance, some innovation.” The recently divorced Brooks quickly moved on to a topic he found more inviting and relevant – National Basketball Association MVP Kevin Durant’s recent public homage to his mother and what the athlete’s comments said about the importance of family values.[12]

Has Brooks (an abject lapdog of corporate and imperial power) ever done a column or made a media appearance in which he honestly discussed the seriousness of the threat posed by AGW and the existence of solutions like the one proposed by Jacobson and Delucchi? Of course he hasn’t – he’s a lapdog of corporate and imperial power (I just wanted to say that a second time).

Even his liberal Times counterpart columnist Paul Krugman has little to say about the matter anymore, after writing more than four years ago that “In a rational world, the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern.” [13]

Serious media minds know when to move on.

Last week, the “liberal” Times last week ran an 8-page “energy supplement” that waxed euphoric about the magnificent prospects Americans can expect to enjoy as the world’s leading producer of fossil fuels. The nation’s “newspaper of record” did so with barely a passing grunt of alarm for what expanded US greenhouse gas production might mean for the fate of livable ecology.

 “Cast Your Vote”

Still, it doesn’t get much more pathetic than the following poll question that the Obama fans and de facto Democratic Party media operatives at MSNBC put at the bottom of their aforementioned Web report:

‘How Should We Address Climate Change?’

* ‘By taking an everything at once approach’

* ‘Doing a cost-benefit analysis of business regulations’

* ‘It’s not clear that we should act on climate change’

*  ‘Not sure.’

‘ Cast Your Vote’ [14]

Seriously? That’s the full spectrum of “voting” options on climate change? No way to vote for “undertake giant public program to move completely off fossil fuels and on to renewable sources by 2030”?

Is it really that bad over at the cable network that poses as the “left” wing of US “mainstream” (corporate) media?

Yes, it is.

Invisible Candidates with Actual Solutions

Speaking of casting votes, the last presidential election included a candidate – the officially semi-anonymous Jill Stein of the Green Party – who advocated a “Green New Deal” that “would end both the economic crisis and the climate crisis in one fell swoop.” As Stein elaborated last year, the Green New Deal:

‘would create 25 million jobs in green energy, sustainable agriculture, public transportation and infrastructure improvements—as well as jobs that meet our social needs, including teachers, nurses, day care, affordable housing, drug abuse and violence prevention and rehabilitation. It would be funded by scaling back the oversized military budget to year 2000 levels, adopting a Medicare-for-All insurance system that would save trillions of dollars, requiring Wall Street gamblers to pay a small (0.5 percent) sales tax, taxing capital gains as income, and taxing income more progressively. These key provisions of the Green New Deal enjoy majority public support in poll after poll….The Green New Deal addresses the concocted deficit/debt problems by solving the bigger, underlying crises of an unraveling economy and accelerating climate catastrophe.’ [14]

Imagine that. If Americans voted on policy alone – without all the private election funding and advertisements, major party machinations, highly personalized candidate marketing, and corporate media filtering – I have the distinct impression that the Green Party would sweep the polls. Under the currently reigning unelected dictatorship of corporate and financial money, the only candidate and party that were actually serious about saving society and ecology might as well not have run. Stein got 0.36% of the vote.

Such is the harsh plutocratic reality of “corporate-managed democracy” (Alex Carey) in the United States, once described by former US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (during a speech endorsing George W. Bush’s right to invade Iraq if God wanted him to) as “the beacon to the world of the way life should be.”

Paul Street is author of “Capitalism: The Real Enemy,” in Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, eds., Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA (New York: HarperCollins, 2014) and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014).

 

 

Selected Endnotes

1. Quoted in Neil Resnikoff and Jane Timm, “The Loudest Climate Change Wake-Up Call,” MSNBC (May 5, 014),

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/obama-unveils-major-climate-change-report

2. Sources include George Monbiot, “Requiem for a Crowded Planet,” The Guardian, December 21, 2009; Peter Brown, “Obama: Washington Liberal, Copenhagen Conservative,” Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2009; Christian Schwagerl, “Obama Has Failed the World on Climate Change,” Spiegel Online, November 17, 2009, atwww.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,661678,00.html

3. Stacy Mitchell, “Wal-Mart is the Last Place Obama Should Be Making a Clean Energy Speech,” Huffington Post, May 9, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacy-mitchell/walmart-is-the-last-place_b_5294305.htm

4. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/white-house-report-warns-climate-change-will-directly-influence-lives-americans/

5. Rebecca Rifkin, “Climate Change Not a Top Worry in the U.S.,” Gallup Politics, March 12, 2014, http://www.gallup.com/poll/167843/climate-change-not-top-worry.aspx

6. http://www.globalchange.gov/

7. Noam Chomsky, “On the Edge,” ZNet, May 11, 2014 http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/on-the-edge/

8. Resnikoff and Timm, “The Loudest Climate Change Wake-Up Call.”

9. Chomsky, “On the Edge.”

10. Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, “A Plan for a Sustainable Future,” Scientific American(November 2009),http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf)

11. Van Jones, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems (New York: Harper, 2009), 10-11.

12. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/shields-brooks-primary-points-mainstream-gop-politics-climate-policy/

13. Paul Krugman, “Cassandras of Climate,” New York Times, September 27, 2009. The science-fiction fan Krugman has in recent years half-jokingly proposed an interesting idea for pulling the US economy out of stagnation: prepare for an alien invasion. “If you actually look at what took us out of the Great Depression,” Krugman told MSNBC in 2012, “it was Europe’s entry into World War II and the US buildup that began in advance. . . . So if we could get something that could cause the government to say, ‘Oh, never mind those budget things; let’s just spend and do a bunch of stuff.’. . . My fake threat from space aliens is the other route,” Krugman said before a laughing crowd. “I’ve been proposing that.” In 2011 he told CNN about a Twilight Zone episode in which “scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace,” adding that “this time. . . we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus.” It is curious that Krugman felt compelled to humorously concoct the fantastic and futuristic imagery of an alien space invasion to make the case for replicating the governmental stimulus that World War II military spending provided to end the Great Depression. Home- and human-made existential threats to survival seem sufficient to the stimulatory task. How about saving the planet for livable habitation by putting millions to work on ecological retrofitting and clean energy? Tackling climate change and other environmental ills in a meaningful way means putting many millions of people to work at all skill levels to design, implement, coordinate, and construct the environmental retrofitting of economy and society—the ecological reconversion of production, transportation, office space, homes, agriculture, and public space. A positive historical analogy is staring us in the face. Consistent with both Jones’s reference to “Rosie the Riveter” and Krugman’s understanding of what ended the Great Depression, it is World War II, when the United States taxed its rich like never before, reconverted its economy, and put millions to socially useful work, producing what the country and the world needed at the time: weapons and other goods to defeat fascism. As Chomsky notes, “Surely the US manufacturing industries could be reconstructed to produce what the country needs, using its highly skilled work force—and what the world needs, and soon, if we are to have some hope of averting major catastrophe. It has been done before, after all.During World War II, industry was converted to wartime production and the semi-command economy. . . ended the Depression.” Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (Chicago: Haymarket, 2010), 96. There is no mythical extraterrestrial menace required. “Spaceship Earth” presents its own urgent social and ecological justifications for massive public works programs and investments. And if science-fiction alien invasions are required, then a far better citation is John Carpenter’s They Live (1987), where the space invaders are already here, wearing corporate suits and changing the climate (“acclimatizing us to their atmosphere”) in the name of free enterprise. See Paul Street, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014).

14. Resnikoff and Timm.

15. Jill Stein, “Obama Budget Throws American People Under the Bus and Gives the Rich a Free Ride,” A Green New Deal for America (April 11, 2013), http://www.jillstein.org/obama_budget

 

The Age of Obama and the Vindication of Ralph Nader

16/05/14 0 COMMENTS

ZNet, May 2, 2014.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that I have only just recently watched An Unreasonable Man (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492499/), the excellent film documentary about the life and career of Ralph Nader. The movie was released in 2007, after all. What can I say? I don’t watch a lot of movies. But this one was very much worth viewing, however belatedly, and I want to record five reflections on the documentary and Nader’s extraordinary contribution to American history in the context of the Age of Obama – a period that grants rich validation to Nader’s decision to challenge the nation’s major corporate party duopoly.

 

“A Record That Would Have Been the Envy of Any Modern American President”

First, An Unreasonable Man is useful viewing for anyone who wants to understand how Ralph Nader became a big name in American public life long before his notoriety as a “spoiler” presidential candidate. The list of Nader’s accomplishments on behalf of consumer and worker rights and citizen’s democracy in the 1960s and 1970s is remarkable. As public interest historian David Bollier notes in the documentary, Nader during these years “built a legislative record as a private citizen that would have been the envy of any modern president.” The record includes:

 

* The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act

* The Occupational Safety and Health Act

* The National Automobile Highway Traffic Safety Act

* The Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act

* The Consumer Product Safety Act

* The Safe Water Drinking Act

* The Clean Water Act

* The Nuclear Power Safety Act

* The Clean Air Act

* The Freedom of Information Act

* The Whistleblower Protection Act

Working Within the System

Second, I am struck by the historical absurdity of criticizing Nader for refusing to work within the American political system. Working assiduously within that system was the essence of Nader’s activism for the first two-plus decades of his career. He and his big cadre of activists prolifically compiled reports, talked to mainstream journalists, raised funds, lobbied legislators, drafted legislation, supported bills, and formed mutually supportive relationships with a number of major party politicians, chiefly Democrats. Nader jumped major party ship only after Washington and the Democrats moved so far right under the influence of Big Business that such “reasonable” activism no longer garnered policy victories for consumers and citizens.

Nader kept his efforts within the two-party system as long as it was capable of granting popular gains. Even after stepping outside the duopoly, his focus has been fairly traditional, seeking basic reforms to protect consumers, workers, citizens and the environment – democracy and the common good – against rapacious corporate power and concentrated wealth.

 

Two Ugly Haters

Third, belated congratulations are due the documentary’s makers for giving the mean-spirited red-baiting liberals Eric Alterman and Todd Gitlin free reign to assassinate themselves in blaming Nader for the failure of Al Gore’s miserably centrist presidential campaign in 2000. Alterman (who has also been a vituperative critic of Noam Chomsky and the late Alexander Cockburn) and Gitlin come off as bitter, sputtering haters in An Unreasonable Man. They do this entirely on their own. If they’d used half the energy they spent spewing contempt at “spoiler” Ralph to push Gore to run the sort of elementarily populist campaign that would have handily defeated George W. Bush, they might have seen a different election outcome in 2000.

Racist Voter Disenfranchisement Oddly Ignored

Fourth, I think it’s a shame that An Unreasonable Man says nothing about the critical role that the ethnic cleansing of blacks from Florida’s voting rolls played in Bush’s victory. The filmmakers are correct to note that Gore ran a terrible, conservative campaign through no fault of Nader’s, losing even his own home state (Tennessee) and the incumbent president’s (Arkansas). They are right also to observe that other candidates and parties (including even a marginal Marxist-Leninist sect) received enough votes to tip the official final Florida count in Bush’s favor. Still, as Greg Palast and others have shown, Florida’s Republican Governor Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State Katherine Harris ordered local elections officials to scrub nearly 100,000 voters from the registries on the grounds that those voters were felons. Most of these voters were black and Democrats and most were actually legally entitled to vote in Florida. That certainly cost Gore far more than Bush’s 537-tally margin in Florida.

A Blunt Lesson About Power

Last but not least, I am struck by how completely the Age of Obama has (like the corporate-friendly Clinton era) validated Nader’s decision to challenge the major party duopoly. Look what happened in the years 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010. First, the Democrats took the U.S. House of Representatives (in the fall of 2006). Two years later, they took the White House and the Senate, riding a giant wave of popular disgust at the abject plutocracy, imperialism, and racism of the Bush-Cheney regime and the G.O.P. By the end of January of 2009, the Democrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, achieving their newfound power in the outwardly progressive but carefully elite-calibrated names of “hope” and “change” and the promise of universal health insurance (also the keywords and top policy pledge of corporate Democrat Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign). Nader ran in 2008 (I registered one of his six votes in Iowa City’s “progressive” 24thprecinct), but with no possible real or imagined “spoiler” impact amidst the great, purportedly progressive Obama tsunami.

What did it all deliver for the American people in the way of progressive change? The liberal-left commentator William Greider put it very well in a March 2009 Washington Post column titled “Obama Told Us to Speak But is He Listening?”: “People everywhere learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They have watched Washington run to rescue the very financial interests who caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend – when the right people want it” (emphasis added).

And nothing, or close to it, to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people (soon to be known as “the 99 %”), who never crashed the economy but who suffered most from the economic collapse and were left to ask “Gee, where’s my bailout?

From the beginning, as predicted by Nader and many of us on the officially marginalized Left, “our first black president” has belonged to Wall Street and corporate America. He was really and above all just the nation’s next green president – green as in big money, not environmental concern. Consider his first year in the White House – a study in the triumph of corporate-imperial conservatism. With its expansion of the monumental bailout of hyper-opulent financial overlords, its refusal to nationalize and cut down the parasitic financial institutions, its passage of a health “reform” bill that only the big insurance and drug companies could love (consistent with his chief-of-staff Rahm Emmanuel’s advice: “ignore the progressives”), its cutting of an auto bailout deal that raided union pension funds and rewarded capital flight, its undermining of global carbon emission reduction efforts at Copenhagen, its refusal to advance serious public works programs (green or otherwise), its green-lighting of escalated strip mining and hazardous deepwater oil drilling, its disregarding of promises to labor and other popular constituencies (remember the Employee Free Choice Act?), its appointment of a Deficit Reduction Commission “headed [in economist Michael Hudson’s words] by avowed enemies of Social Security” (Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton chief of staff Erskin Bowles), and numerous other betrayals of its “progressive base” (the other side of the coin of promises kept to Obama’s record-setting corporate and financial backers), Obama’s “change” presidency quickly epitomized the power of what Edward S. Herman and David Peterson call “the unelected dictatorship of money.”

 

Questions for Seriously Progressive Democrats

All of which reminds me of some good questions Ralph Nader suggested for seriously progressive Democrats to ask “their” party in June of 2001:

* “Are your differences with Republicans tweaking at twigs or going to the trunk or roots of the issues? The [deregulatory] Citigroup banking legislation of 1999 comes to kind. So does the so-called Freedom to Farm Act and the notorious Telecommunications Act of 1996.”

* “Are your basic differences in position papers or party planks backed up by an intensity of advocacy, and expenditure of political capital, a willingness to turn off funders?”

* “Does the party have a clear commitment, by its actions, to a pro-democracy agenda?”

* “How does the party react to its own progressive wing?”

 

“He Wanted to Help Us Out, to Quell the Mob”

In his important book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind told a remarkable story from the early spring of 2009. Three months into Barack Obama’s supposedly progressive, left-leaning presidency, popular anger at Wall Street was intense and the nation’s leading financial institutions were weak and on the defensive in the wake of the financial collapse and recession they had created. The new president called a meeting of the nation’s top 13 financial executives at the White House. The banking titans came into the meeting full of dread. As Suskind notes:

“They were the CEOs of the thirteen largest banking institutions in the United States…. And they were nervous in ways that these men are never nervous. Many would have had to reach back to their college days, or even grade school, to remember a moment when they felt this sort of lump-in-the-throat tension.”

“As some of the most successful men in the country, they weren’t used to being pariahs… [and] they were indeed pariahs. The populist backlash against the financial sector—building steadily since September—was finally beginning to cause grave discomfort on Wall Street. As unemployment ballooned and credit tightened, the country began to look inward, toward the origins of the panic and its disastrous consequences.”

In the end, however, the frightened captains of high finance left the meeting pleased to learn that Obama was firmly in their camp. For instead of standing up for those who had been harmed most by the crisis—workers, minorities, and the poor—Obama sided unequivocally with those who had caused the meltdown. “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” Obama told the nation’s top bankers. “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help…I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…. I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.”

For the banking elite who destroyed millions of jobs in their lust for profit, there was, as Suskind put it, “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’”

As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t—he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

“When the bankers arrived in the State Dining Room, sitting under a portrait of a glowering Lincoln,” Suskind notes, “Obama had them scared and ready to do almost anything he said…. An hour later, they were upbeat, ready to fly home and commence business as usual.”

The administration’s corporatist record has continued well into Obama’s second term.I will spare readers all the details here (feel free to consult my articles posted since mid 2010 on my Web site www.paulsteet.org for an at least partial running record).

 “Can the [Democratic] Party Defend the Country Again the Extreme Wing of the Republican Party?”

Which brings me to another one of Nader’s 2001 questions for progressive Democrats: “Can the party defend the country against the extreme wing of the Republican Party? The events of the 1990s,” Nader commented, “would seem to answer a resounding ‘no.’”

So would the events of the current millennium! Ever since the epic mid-term election victories of the “Tea Party”-energized Republicans in late 2010, of course, Democrats and their many “liberal” supporters have been blaming those dastardly Teapublicans for blocking the president’s “progressive agenda” to lift up the nation’s hard-working majority against the wealthy Few. But that agenda is a marketing myth, rolled out for quadrennial electoral purposes, consistent with the formerly left Christopher Hitchens’ onetime (in a study of the Clintons) description of “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism. That elite is most successful,” Hitchens elaborated:

“which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently ‘elitist.’ It’s no great distance from Huey Long’s robust cry of ‘Every man a king’ to the insipid ‘inclusiveness’ of [Bill Clinton’s] ‘Putting People First,’ but the smarter elite managers have learned in the interlude that solid, measurable pledges have to be distinguished by a ‘reserve’ tag that earmarks them for the bankrollers and backers. They have also learned that it can be imprudent to promise the voters too much.”

Had the Democrats actually made policy and otherwise behaved in accord with their purportedly progressive views – views sincerely held by the nation’s working class majority – the GOP would never have scored so well in 2010. The Democrats have nobody to blame but themselves and their deep pockets funders for their abject failure to act in alignment with majority wishes – a failure that creates a vacuum of popular anger that skilled and well-funded right wing media and political operatives are always ready to exploit.

Why do many respectable pollsters give the incredibly unpopular arch-plutocratic and revanchist Republican Party a serious shot at taking back the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2014? The dismal de-mobilizing dollar Democrats’ cringing captivity to American politics “bankrollers and backers” and their state-capitalist “reserve tag” must be counted as a major part of the explanation. As Nader noted in 2001, “Harry Truman observed long ago that faced with a choice between two conservatives, the voters will opt for the real thing.”

I’ve seen it again and again all my politically cognizant life in the U.S. Every two and especially every four years, the Democratic Party tells leftists and progressives to get in line behind the party’s candidates so as not to be “spoilers” – misguided and self-righteous folks who value moral and ideological purity over the properly practical and pragmatic necessity of keeping the nefarious Republicans out of elected office. In one scenario, acted out in 1980, 1984, 1988, and (with some help from Jeb Bush and the U.S. Supreme Court) 2000, the Democrats run such a mealy-mouthed, business-compromised, and otherwise inadequate campaign and candidate that the Republicans prevail. In the other scenario, as in 1976, 1992, and 2008, corporate-friendly Democrats take the White House only to govern so conservatively as to alienate and demobilize their own base and open the door to the ever more hideously reactionary Republicans again.

As wealth and power have continued to concentrate further upward regardless of which major business party holds the White House and Congress – bringing us to a New Gilded Age of astonishing, mutually reinforcing inequality and plutocracy – the stern Democratic Party command that liberals and lefties must not be “spoilers” starts to sound like the boy who cried wolf. Remember: in the parable, the wolf does come, but the boy’s record of insincerity means that he is unable to rally a defense.

“To Destroy the Multitude” – Sound Familiar?

We’re screwed either way. The two business parties today are very much as Upton Sinclair described them in 1906: “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Listen to this passage from Ignatius Donnelly’s speech to the People’s Party national convention on July 4th, 1892:

“We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized…The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. …”

“The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down….The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty…”

“We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them….Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform….They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires…” (emphasis added)

Does this not sound hauntingly familiar today, very much like a statement the Occupy Movement might have issued before it was crushed by a coordinated federal campaign of repression directed by the viciously corporate-neoliberal and arch-imperial Obama administration?

No Stand for Social Progress

No wonder millions of registered voters sit out the quadrennial big money-major party-big media-candidate-centered “electoral extravaganzas,” which have become “yet another method of marginalizing the population” (Noam Chomsky on the eve of the 2004 elections). As New Deal president Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote in a letter he drafted to be read to the Democratic National Convention in 1940 when he learned that his party’s conservative delegates were scheming to deny him the progressive Henry Wallace as his running mate:

“The Democratic Party has received the support of the electorate only when the party, with absolute clarity, has been the champion of progressive and liberal policies and principles of government. The party has failed consistently when through political trading and chicanery it has fallen into the control of the those interests, personal and financial, which think in terms of dollars instead of in terms of human values…until the Democratic Party…makes overwhelmingly clear its stand in favor of social progress and liberalism, and shakes off all the shackles of control fastened upon it by the forces of conservatism, reaction, and appeasement, it will not continue its march to victory.”

The Democratic Party made no such stand even at its liberal “Great Society” peak in 1965-66, when the briefly waged “War on Poverty” was quickly demoted to a skirmish, sacrificed to the massive taxpayer expense of Washington’s criminal “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Chomsky’s term at the time). Fully fundable in prosperous post-WWII America, A. Phillip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King’s social-democratic 1966 Freedom Budget for All Americans would have ended poverty and provided a decent living for all Americans in 10 years. It was killed in its cradle without even a side glance of regret by the supposedly liberal and progressive Democratic Party, something that opened the door for the resurgent reactionary Republican Party of Richard Nixon (a Keynesian social-democrat compared to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) and then, above all, Ronald Reagan. “If the Freedom Budget had been successful,” the socialist scholars Paul Le Blanc and Michael Yates have recently reminded us, “a majority of voters would not have responded positively when to candidate Ronald Reagan’s challenge to Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter when the conservative hopeful asked the American people, at the conclusion of a televised 1980 debate: ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go buy things in the stories than it was four years ago?’” The “Reagan [counter-] Revolution” that ensued escalated the trend towards harsh inequality and plutocracy, already well underway in the Carter years.

If the systemic change required to end poverty, lessen inequality, and preserve livable ecology was unthinkable to Democrats at the corporate-liberal height of the New Deal era (the mid-1960s), it is pointless to pursue those objectives through alliances with Democrats in the current New Gilded Age, when both of the dominant business parties have moved to the right of the populace. If the Age of Obama has not made that clear once and for all, then perhaps nothing else will.

The harsh reality is hardly the fault of Ralph Nader, led by his experience in the neoliberal era to the logical conclusion that promising one’s vote in advance to the corporate Democrats only helps push the whole political order further to the business-directed starboard – to the delight of ravenous corporations and right-wing Republicans alike, with disastrous consequences for the common good and what’s left of popular governance.

 Paul Street’s next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, September 2014,www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810). Street predicted the abject corporatism (and imperialism, objective white- supremacism, police-statism, and eco-cidalism) of the Obama administration in many early publications, including most notably Barack Obama and the Future of America of American Politics(Paradigm, June 2008).

The Sterling Affair and White Self-Congratulation

16/05/14 0 COMMENTS
The Deeper Racism Lives On

The Sterling Affair and White Self-Congratulation

It’s so easy for liberal white Americans to prove their supposed anti-racism. All they have to do is express their horror at the vile racist comments of openly bigoted white men like Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and renegade Nevada tax mooch and cattle rancher Clive Bundy.

Sterling got banned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) two days ago after being caught on videotape telling his partly Black girlfriend it was okay for her to sleep with Black people but that she should not bring Black folks like NBA legend Magic Johnson to Clippers games. Now Sterling can look forward to the distinct possibility of Johnson becoming one of the Clippers’ next owners.

After leading an armed right-wing rebellion against the Federal Bureau of Land Management, Bundy was heard saying that “nigras” were better off under chatter slavery since at least then they had work picking cotton.

Both men have earned condemnation across liberal America with their comments.  Great, but I’m not all that impressed.

American racism goes a lot deeper than the personally prejudiced racist sentiments of white people. One of the big flaws behind the ubiquitous notion that the United States has become a color-blind, post-racist society is the failure to distinguish adequately between personal prejudice and the deeper ongoing problem of societal and institutional racism.

White racial prejudice is still very much alive in the U.S., to be sure – and not just among a small handful of curmudgeonly Caucasian crackpots like Sterling and Bundy.  I heard a shockingly large number of white male suburbanites call into a Chicago sports talk radio to express basic if qualified support for Sterling two days ago. I was reminded of the ridiculous comment made by a white friend’s father years ago: “what more do the Blacks want? They’ve got the NBA!”

Barack Obama lost the aggregate white vote to hideously unattractive rich white Republicans in both 2008 and 2012. In 2012, barely 40% of whites voted for Obama, including just a third of white men and less than 45% of white women. Much of his success in winning enough whites to prevail has been contingent on his being considered “not all that black” (“black but not like Jesse [Jackson]”) and running a distinctly “post-racial” campaign on the model of a Deval Patrick, Edward Brooke, or Colin Powell.

Still, anti-Black white prejudice has been significantly defeated and discredited in the dominant national media and politics culture for decades now. Again and again in recent years, we’ve seen white public personalities suffer considerable reputational damage for making racist comments, real or perceived. The nation’s public culture is rife with integrated imagery in its advertising, entertainment sector, political life and more. Even the Republican Party makes sure to pack their convention stages with an abundance of Black speakers and nearly every corporate and college brochure is loaded with images of racial “diversity.” No aspirant to public office dares question the nation’s official commitment to racial equality and equal opportunity.

Prominent public media business and political figures play with fire when they are perceived as embracing the explicit racial bigotry and legal segregation of the past. Witness the case of former U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), held up for public ridicule in 2005 because he indirectly embraced segregation in terms that are mild compared to the racist rhetoric common among southern white politicians in the 1960s and 1970s.

A technically Black U.S. president (no matter how “de-racialized”) would have been completely unthinkable because of the degree of white prejudice forty years ago.

The deeper, covert level of societal racism, however, has not been defeated – not by a long shot. It involves the more impersonal and invisible operation of social and institutional forces and processes in ways that “just happen” but nonetheless serve to reproduce Black disadvantage with or without prejudiced sentiments on the part of the institutional actors. These processes are so ingrained in the social, political, and institutional sinews of capitalist America that they are taken for granted – barely noticed by the mainstream media and other social commentators. This deeper racism includes:

* Widely documented racial bias in real estate and home lending that complement, reflect and empower the general reluctance of whites to live next door to Blacks, all of which combine with disproportionate Black poverty to keep Blacks out of the metropolitan area’s highest-opportunity communities.

* The proliferation of expensive, taxpayer-financed suburban roads and related residential and office and retail developments constructed on behalf of mainly white suburbanites far from the predominantly Black inner city, which subsidizes white flight and takes critical needed economic resources and opportunities yet further from those who are most in need of it.

* The funding of schools largely on the basis of local property wealth, which tends to favor whiter school districts over Blacker districts, an especially big issue in Illinois, where per-student funding rangers from more than 20K per kid in the affluent northern Chicago suburb Lake Forest to less than 7K per kid in many predominantly Black and poor south Chicago suburbs.

* Excessive use of high-stakes standardized test-based neo-Dickensian “drill” and grill curriculum and related zero-tolerance disciplinary practices in predominantly Black public schools.

* The hyper-concentration segregation of Black children into segregated ghetto schools where underequipped teachers have to deal with oversized classes in badly underfunded schools where most of the kids are dealing with multiple steep barriers to learning that come with extreme poverty and its effects.

* Rampant and widely documented “statistical” race discrimination in hiring, firing, promotion and job-training.

* The racially disparate “War on Drugs” and the related campaign of mass Black imprisonment and criminal marking, so ubiquitous than 1 in 3 adult U.S. Black children are saddled with the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record.

This deeper level of racism is more intractable, as Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders sensed when they came to the more “liberal” urban North in 1966. It is carried out by elites (including some Black Americans) who would never publicly utter racially prejudiced comments and who commonly declare allegiance to Civil Rights ideals.

It’s interesting and instructive in this regard that Donald Sterling’s fall has happened because of some audio capturing his privately held racist beliefs, not because of his long- documented history of racially discriminatory real estate practices. In 2009, Black Agenda Reportcolumnist Margaret Kimberly notes, “the Sterlings were forced to pay $2.7 million due to discriminatory housing practices against Black and Latino tenants in apartment buildings they owned in Los Angeles. It was the largest such judgment paid in a housing case at that time.”  (Amazingly enough, “None of this mattered to the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP,  which honored Sterling with a humanitarian of the year award in 2009 and was prepared to give him a lifetime achievement award before the scandal was revealed” – see M. Kimberly, “The Lessons of Clive Bundy and Donald Sterling,” BAR, April 30, 2014.)

Former NBA star Kevin Johnson told reporters that the NBA’s decision to ban Sterling is “a statement of where we are as a country. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional basketball player worth millions of dollars or a man or woman who works hard for their family,” Johnson elaborated. “There will be zero tolerance for institutional racism no matter how rich or powerful.” There were two problems with this statement.  The first difficulty with is that Johnson unintentionally suggested that professional basketball players don’t work hard for their families (many do).  Second, and more to the point of this essay, institutional racism, whose worst consequences fall on poor and working class Blacks people of color (it really does matter if you are a wealthy Black star worth a fortune or if you are a property-less member of the Black “underclass”) is not what may cost Sterling his sports franchise (he is suing to prevent the NBA action): private prejudice caught on tape is what did the trick.

But here comes the hard part – the nub of the matter of why I don’t get excited about recurrent feel-good race dramas like the public shaming and punishment of Donald Sterling.  This split decision – real (if incomplete) liberal victory over prejudice combined with continuing progressive defeat on societal and institutional racism – is tricky. It’s not about glass half-empty versus glass half-full. For the deeper institutional and societal racism has more than simply survived or outlasted the explicit, public racism and the prejudice of the past. It is ironically and perversely deepened by civil rights victories and the discrediting of open bigotry and private prejudice insofar as these elementary triumphs encourage the illusion of racism’s disappearance and the related notion that the only barriers left to African-American success and equality are internal to the Black community. It just feeds the widespread majority white sentiment that racism no longer poses any serious or substantive obstacles to Black advancement and equality in the U.S. anymore. “Look, see, we don’t put up with that racist stuff anymore! They took his team away just for some stupid comments he made! Christ, we even elected a Black president.  Enough about racism already! Move on!”  And so it goes as the institutionally racist U.S. Supreme Court validates the white majority’s constitutional right to close the door of higher education yet tighter on minority youth by voting at the state level to ban affirmative action in college and university admissions.

For those who like to think that racism no longer fundamentally mars and mangles the U.S Black experience and America’s pretense of democracy, it is gratifying to see noxious bigots like Donald Sterling humiliated and sometimes even stripped of their playthings (in his case perhaps an NBA franchise) because of racist sentiments. But for those of us who remain concerned with the deeper systemic racism that inflicts special pain on poor and working class Blacks, it gets tiresome to see white America congratulating itself for dropping racial slurs from acceptable public discourse, outlawing lynch-mobs, letting Blacks sit in the front of the bus, and claiming to honor the legacy of Dr. King and other Civil Rights heroes. The most distressing thing about the Sterling fiasco is the way it provides white America yet another opportunity to pat itself on the back for advancing somewhat beyond primitive prejudice while digging the hole of the deeper institutional racism yet deeper.

Paul Street is the author of many books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).  His next volume is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy(Paradigm, September 2014, )

 

 

Beyond the Deep State (Z Magazine May 2014)

02/05/14 0 COMMENTS

Z Magazine (May 2014).  According to a recent much-discussed online essay by the former long-time top Republican and Congressional staffer, Mike Lofgren, for the liberal talk show host and political commentator Bill Moyers, popular governance is a myth in the United States. There are, Lofgren writes, two U.S. governments in and around Washington DC. The first government is the more “visible” one, focused on the pronouncements and parliamentary maneuvers of elected officials and their staffs in the Capitol (Congress) and, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House. It constitutes “the traditional Washington partisan politics” that is “theoretically controllable [by the populace] via elections.”

The “Diversionary Marionette Theater”

The second state, which has “taken over America,” is “another, more shadow, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists” in the nation’s capital. It “operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.” It constitutes what Lofgren calls the Deep State: “a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country…connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose.” The chief components of this Deep State  include:

    • The Department of Defense
    • The Department of State
    • The Department of Homeland Security
    • The Central Intelligence Agency
    • The Department of the Treasury, included “because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions, and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street”
    • The White House, which “coordinates all [the above] agencies via the National Security Council“
    • A “handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan” where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted
    • A “kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees”
    • A giant network of “private” defense and intelligence firms (e.g., Blackwater, Booze Allen Hamilton, Haliburton, etc.) who together employ “854,000 contract personnel with top-security clearances” (more than the number with such clearances employed directly by the federal government) and whose chiefs often take top government positions (fittingly enough since they are almost entirely dependent on government business)
    • Silicon Valley, whose high-tech companies “do the NSA’s bidding” despite their executives’ sham “libertarian” pose, in return for Washington’s indulgence of their obsession with intellectual property rights
    • Wall Street, “which supplies the cash that [through election funding, lobbying and more] keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater” while its executives enjoy “de facto criminal immunity” and its strategically placed representatives in government advance the financial sector’s policy agenda (de-regulation, taxcuts for their rich and their corporations).

“The Ultimate Owner”

street-extraWho is the biggest player of all? Capital. “It is not too much,” Lofgren writes, “to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than that it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career that is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice— certainly beyond the dreams of a salaried government employee…. The corridor between Manhattan and Washington is a well-trodden highway for the personalities we have all gotten to know in the period since the massive deregulation of Wall Street: Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, and many others.”

Examples are not limited to top government staff “connected with the purely financial operations of the government.” Take former leading and legendary U.S. General David Patraeus, whose perceived skills at peddling Deep State influence garnered him a highly rewarding position at a giant Wall Street private equity firm (KKR) after he left “public service” in disgrace. As Lofgren notes, “the membrane between government and industry is highly permeable.” The pay grade is much, much higher in “industry,” or, more commonly, in finance.

Running Beneath Surface Deadlock

While elected officials and other politicians caught up in the Wall Street-funded “marionette theater” of Washington’s highly visible partisan politics are typically said to be engaged in “ideological warfare,” Deep State operatives like Patraeus, Summers, Rubin, and (former Bush 43 and Obama 44 Defense Secretary) Robert Gates “are careful to pretend that they have no ideology. Their preferred pose is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise.” That is total nonsense since, “they are deeply dyed in the hue of the official ideology of the governing class, an ideology that is neither specifically Democrat nor Republican. That ideology combines the Washington Consensus: financialization, out-sourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodi- fying of labor, with 21st-century ‘American Exceptionalism: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground and to ignore painfully won international norms of civilized behavior.” In other words, to use terms Lofgren does not employ in his essay, neoliberal state capitalism and aggressive military empire at home and abroad and the victory of the right hand of the state over the left hand of the state.

Pundits and politicians alike commonly decry the “broken,” “gridlocked,” “crippled,” and “dysfunctional” nature of the highly visible politics and policy that define the official government—the one whose horrid partisan paralysis is a regular item on the nightly news. They do so with no small reason for, “in the domain that the public can see.” Congress is, in fact, hopelessly divided and Congressional Tea Party Republicans who owe no small part of their position to partisan gerrymandering, are deeply and powerfully dedicated, making it impossible for Barack Obama to implement even his centrist, business-friendly “domestic policies and budgets.” The strategy amounts to “congressional nullification” of the executive branch on matters like health care and immigration policy.

But, Lofgren darkly notes, beneath this partisan deadlock at the surface parliamentary level, the corporatist Deep State is running quite smoothly, thank you very much. On one hand, the nation’s bridges, railroads, highways, and electronic grid are rotting away. Vast swaths of the populace have been rendered permanently jobless and poor, the social safety net torn to shreds along with public infrastructure. Cities have gone bankrupt, across the nation, especially in the Midwestern rustbelt, with no relief. The “ordinary, visible parliamentary institutions of self-government” have “decline[ed] to the status of a banana republic amid the gradual collapse of public infrastructure.” On the other hand, the Deep State under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have managed, somehow, to spend trillions of taxpayer dollars on right hand state policies that include a massive global and domestic empire of Orwellian electronic surveillance, repeated foreign interference, invasion, and occupation, drone warfare, secret prisons not to mention —Lofgren does not—the colossal bailout of the “too-big-to-fail” Wall Street firms, whose top managers stand above the law even after plunging millions into poverty and even as the federal government regularly imposes life-without-parole sentences on alleged small time drug-dealers.

Street-DeepAs Lofgren notes, Obama may be stymied on numerous measures of milquetoast domestic reform, but he has easily “summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there.” Further: “At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 million to keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least £100m to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to, that country’s intelligence.

“Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing 13 people. During that same period of time, the government spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of 17 football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have coined. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single trace of your electronic life…. [and] Since 9/11, 33 facilities for top-secret intelligence have been built or are under construction [in and around Washington D.C.]. Combined, they occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons—about 17 million square feet.”

But there’s no contradiction or paradox here. This is the Deep State winning, advancing corporate and financial and military empire and inequality at home and abroad, entrenching the neoliberal (a word Lofgren avoids, mistakenly in my opinion) victory of the right hand over the left hand of the state.

None of this is about conspiracy. “The state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight,” Lofgen notes, “and its operatives act mainly in the light of day.” This more subterranean, under-the-radar state, churns along without serious criticism beyond the occasional remarkable rebellions of people like Edward Snowden because, Lofgren believes, it has become so deeply entrenched in the normal institutional and occupational life of Washington as to become something almost like background noise for educated and “properly adjusted” people in and around Washington. It is the air that the nation’s capital breathes and (no small matter) the source of income for hundreds of thousands of operatives. And, as Upton Sinclair once said, in a passage Lofgren quotes, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it” (Mike Lofgren, Anatomy of the Deep State, Moyers & Company, February 21, 2014m http://billmoyers. com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/).

Some Things Left Out/to Add

Street-KerryThere is plenty for any serious Left commentator or activist to find fault with in Lofgren’s essay. When he talks about recently rising signs of rebellion against the Deep State, he mentions the activism of Snowden and of the “Tea Party Wahabbists” who have chosen to interrupt the flow of taxpayer dollars the Deep State requires. He has nothing to say about the Left-led Occupy Movement that arose after the debt-ceiling crisis that disgusted Lofgren (and millions of other Americans) to expose and challenge the bipartisan plutocracy, only to be crushed by the national and security surveillance state and by militarized local police department directed by mainly Democratic mayors across the country. He makes no reference to the left and progressive activists who worked to help defeat Obama’s effort to launch a Deep State air war on Syria, or to the liberal and left environmentalists who have forced Obama to delay the ecocidal Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Occupy, it should be noted, reflected an actual popular uprising, a grassroots social movement, however short- lived—something rather different from the corporate- backed Astroturf Tea Party phenomenon. Unlike “the Tea Party,” it was unattached to either of the major political parties and it was uninterested, for the most part, in electoral politics, reflecting a basic underlying agreement with Lofgren’s sense that those politics are a diversionary theater managed by Wall Street funders and corporate consultants.

The environmental crisis, “the number 1 issue of our or any time” (John Sonbanmatsu) is missing from Lofgren’s essay, despite its pressing urgency and its intimate relationship to the problem of corporate and military rule. Other and related issues intimately linked to the power of the aforementioned interrelated dictatorships that go unmentioned in Lofgren’s essay include:

  • racism, sexism, mass and racially disparate incarceration, the prison-industrial complex
  • the deep evisceration of the American labor movement
  • the emergence of a New Gilded Age of shocking economic inequality, chronic overwork
  • the broader capitalist war on American workers’ living and work standards
  • the pervasively arch-authoritarian and soul-numbing tyranny of the American workplace (where most working-age Americans spend the lion’s share of their waking hours)
  • corporate and military control of American education (K-PhD)
  • the basic and longstanding contradiction between capitalism (dedicated to the concentration of wealth and [hence] power) and to private profit
  • democracy deeply (and truly) understood (dedicated to equal power and influence for all and to the common good)
  • the pervasive dissemination of a neoliberal capitalist ideology and culture that attacks the very notion of democratic solidarity and resistance on the part of citizens and workers while reducing everyone’s status, wealth, and power to a matter of “personal responsibility.”

street extra-5Washington’s Deep State is real and terrifying, to be sure. Still, it should never be forgotten that the authority structures most regularly confronted and experienced by most ordinary Americans are found in everyday workplaces, schools, prisons, public and private bureaucracies, streets, councils, churches and other often militantly and multiply hierarchical locations across the nation. Listen, for example, to the following account of work under the relentless control of totalitarian bosses and technologies at Amazon’s giant U.S. warehouses, which bear the unapologetically Orwellian name of (no joke) “Fulfillment Centers”: “….at all Amazon’s centers…the cult of the customer…provides the rationale for the extreme variant of scientific management whose purpose, as at Walmart, is to keep pushing up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at or near poverty levels….

“As at Walmart, Amazon achieves this with a regime of workplace pressure, in which targets for the unpacking, movement, and repackaging of goods are relentlessly increased to levels where employees have to struggle to meet their targets and where older and less dexterous employees will begin to fail. As at Walmart, there is a pervasive ‘three strikes and you’re out’ culture, and when these marginal employees acquire too many demerits (‘points’), they are fired…. Amazon tags its employees with personal sat-nav (satellite navigation) computers that tell them the route they must travel to shelve consignments of goods, but also set target times for their warehouse journeys and then measure whether targets are met…. All this information is available to management in real time, and if an employee is behind schedule she will receive a text message pointing this out and telling her to reach her targets or suffer the consequences. At Amazon’s depot in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Kate Salasky worked shifts of up to 11 hours a day, mostly spent walking the length and breadth of the warehouse.

“In March 2011, she received a warning message from her manager, saying that she had been found unproductive during several minutes of her shift, and she was eventually fired. This employee tagging is now in operation at Amazon centers worldwide….others work on assembly lines packing goods for shipping….Machines measure… whether the packers [are] meeting their targets for output per hour and whether the finished packages met their targets for weight and so had been packed ‘the one best way.’ But alongside these digital controls there [is] a team of [Frederick Winslow] Taylor’s ‘functional foremen’…watching the employees every second to ensure that there was no ‘time theft,’ in the language of Walmart. On the packing lines there [are] six such foremen, one known in Amazonspeak as a ‘coworker’ and above him five ‘leads,’ whose collective task [is] to make sure that the line kept moving. Workers [are] reprimanded for speaking to one another or for pausing to catch their breath…after an especially tough packing job.

“The functional foreman…record[s] how often the packers [go] to the bathroom and, if they [do] not [go] to the bathroom nearest the line, why not…in the manner of Jeremy Bentham’s nineteenth-century panopticon, the architecture of [an Amazon] depot [is] geared to make surveillance easier, with a bridge positioned at the end of the workstation where an overseer [can] stand and look down on his wards. However, the task of the depot managers and supervisors [is] not simply to fight time theft and keep the line moving but also to find ways of making it move still faster. Sometimes this [is] done using the classic methods of scientific management, but at other times higher targets for output [are] simply proclaimed by management, in the manner of the Soviet workplace during the Stalin era…. Beyond this poisonous mixture of Taylorism and Stakhnovism, laced with twenty-first-century IT, there is, in Amazon’s treatment of its employees, a pervasive culture of meanness and mistrust that sits ill with its moralizing about care and trust—for customers, but not for the employees. So, for example, the company forces its employees to go through scanning checkpoints when both entering and leaving the depots, to guard against theft, and sets up checkpoints within the depot, which employees must stand in line to clear before entering the cafeteria…shrinking the employee’s lunch break from thirty to twenty minutes, when they barely have time to eat their meal” ( Simon Head, “Worse Than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s Sick Brutality and Secret History of Ruthlessly Intimidating Workers,” Salon, February 23, 2014).

Clearly, one does not have to go to the Washington metropolitan area to see proto-dystopian American corporate-neoliberal arch-authoritarianism in plain sight action. You can start with any number of local and regional workplaces, schools, courthouses, and prisons.

street-extra4One omission in “Anatomy of the Deep State” seems particularly glaring. How do we comprehend the Deep State’s success in cloaking its existence and advancing both the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” and the “American exceptionalist” Empire Project without factoring in the powerful role of the giant media conglomerates in Manufacturing Consent (Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman) and “taking the risk out of democracy” (Alex Carey) by filtering current events and shaping popular perceptions in accord with the needs of business and policy elites? Among the many ways corporate media plays this key propagandistic and ideological role is played is to focus citizens’—perhaps at this point I should say “‘ex-citizens’—sense of “politics,” the only politics that matters, on the recurrent time-staggered and candidate-centered major party big money elections that Lofgren so hauntingly and accurately describes as “diversionary marionette theater”—purchased by Wall Street. This project of demoting the citizenry to a corporate-“managed electorate” (as Sheldon Wolin put it in his 2008 book Democracy Incorporated) misses the fact that, as Noam Chomsky noted ten years ago, “the personalized quadrennial [electoral] extravaganzas…[are] only a small part of politics.” A much bigger and more relevant part of the politics that ought to matter is to build and expand “forces for change that come up from the grass roots” to “shape policy in a progressive direction” on the model of the U.S. labor, civil rights, peace, and women’s movements of the past (Noam Chomsky, Interventions).

At the very least, the top owners and managers of the vast, simultaneously Orwellian and (Aldous) Huxlean corporate and entertainment media complex deserve honorary mention among the permanent Deep State ruling class that runs the county in service to elite interests beneath and beyond the carefully stage-managed “marionette theater” of purportedly popular elections. It’s not for nothing that the New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent, Mark Leibovich, included top media operatives and owners among those he described as the deeply entrenched and corporate-captive establishment that runs and profits from Washington beneath and beyond the partisan political theatre in his bestselling bookThis Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking in America’s Gilded Capital (2013).

Cadres Needed More

Could Lofgren’s imagined “figure with the serene self-confidence to tell us that the twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas” help spark and sustain such a renewed rank and file social movement—one that picked up and built on Occupy’s focus on corporate power and plutocracy—and indeed even on capitalism? Perhaps. Still, we should never forget the egalitarian wisdom behind the great early 20th century American socialist Eugene Debs’ determination to “rise with, not from the masses,” informed by Debs’ belief that “if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out.” Grassroots organizational cadre would seem the more urgent requirement, not inspirational leaders, who can of course be assassinated or perhaps executed with relative ease by Deep States with resources like those Lofgren describes. One leader—not unlike what Lofgren imagines—emerged in the 1960s only to meet the assassin’s bullet he had expected for many years: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Beyond Capitalism?

street-extra-2One could certainly raise other and related questions about Lofgren’s essay. Isn’t “financialization” really just an aspect of the deeper disease called capitalism, the same system that has (quite logically from its own profit-seeking imperatives) shifted production from the U.S. rustbelt to China and other lower-wage pars of the world economy? What’s so great about manufacturing, which involves, after all, the systematic extraction of surplus labor from workers wherever it is practiced? How does the deep U.S. state today differ from the deep U.S. state of, say, the years in which C. Wright Mills wrote The Power Elite (1956), a sweeping study of U.S. corporate, political, and military elites and the revolving door power structures that shaped American policy and society beneath the surface play of electoral politics in early Cold War America? Key differences can be found relating to the significantly increased globalization and transnational character of capital in the neoliberal era—a subject that receives little attention in Lofgren’s essay but lay at the heart of another former system insider’s book: David Rothkopf’s Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008).

What does Lofgren wish to see emerge across the U.S. after his imagined defeat of the Washington-centered Deep State on the model of the Soviet’s bloc’s disappearance in the 1990s? Democracy and social justice–real popular sovereignty and policy in service to the common good—are not going to emerge on the basis of contemporary capitalism (the Russian and Eastern European experience is certainly not very encouraging in that regard). Neither is livable ecology.

A return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, whose current fecklessness Lofgren bemoans, seems less than fully desirable, as that document was designed precisely to ensure that (to paraphrase leading U.S. founder John Jay’s statement of the desirable state of affairs in the young American republic) the country would be run by the people who owned it.

Defectors and Insiders Are Needed

Still, Lofgren has done a great service to those of us on the officially marginalized Left who believe (I would prefer to say “observe”) that the United States has become an abjectly authoritarian and corporate-managed imperial plutocracy. It’s not for nothing that leftists during the last great American democracy upsurge (the 1960s) preferred quoting departing U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to citing the (prematurely deceased) radical sociologist C. Wright Mills when noting the existence of a powerful and sinister military-industrial-complex pulling strings behind the façade of American democracy. Or that left anti-imperialists and anti- corpora- tists love to quote the one-time decorated U.S. Marine General Smedley J. Butler on how he was in essence as “a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers” during numerous early 20th-century deployments in Central America and the Caribbean. Or that we take special delight in citing John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004), a former U.S. corporate “economic consultant” who told how he was employed to help the U.S. and its financial sector impoverish “developing nations,” cheating them out of trillions of dollars while inducing them to structure their economies around the needs of rich nation investors. Not to mention Daniel Ellsburg or the ongoing Snowden surveillance revelations, which have rattled Deep State bones like nothing in recent memory.

There’s nothing like evidence from those who have worked in, or, at least (as in Lofgren’s case) somewhat near, the belly of the Deep State beast. Part of what makes Leibovich’s book useful for serious progressives is that it is penned by a self-confessed member of the Washington business, politics, and media “Club.” Such sources are much more difficult for elites and power- worshippers to dismiss than a Mills, a Howard Zinn, a Michael Parenti, or a Noam Chomsky, which is no small part of why they catch a special kind of hell from the power centers they can no longer serve when they go public with uncomfortable truths. My criticisms aside, Lofgren deserves our thanks for not going quietly from the corporate-captive U.S. government—and for deepening his critique of the system as his time away and the perspective afforded by distance grows.

Imagine Book Talk

25/04/14 0 COMMENTS

 Transcript of a talk delivered at a book signing event for Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, edited by Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith (New York: HarperCollins, 2014). The event took place before a full house on Tuesday, April 22 (Earth Day) at Prairie Lights Books in downtown Iowa City, Iowa. For reasons of time, the sections in brackets below were not read. 

Good evening on this beautiful Earth Day in the year 2014. Currently in the United States even as more than 16 million children live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level[1], six Waltons, six Wal-Mart heirs, possess as much wealth between them as the bottom 40 percent of Americans[2]. The 400 richest Americans, the Forbes 400, have as much wealth between them as the bottom half [3]. The Occupy-anointed 1 percent owns as much as the bottom 90 percent [4]. It probably owns an equal share of the nation’s elected and other public officials.

According to the great American philosopher John Dewey in 1931, politics in the United States was little more than “the shadow cast on society by big business.” It would stay that way, Dewey predicted, as long as “business for private profit” controlled the nation’s means of finance, production, and communication.[5]

“We must make our choice,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote ten years later. “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”[6]

Dewey and Brandeis’ words seem almost mild today in the New Gilded Age we are currently enduring the U.S. “Since the 1970s,” Noam Chomsky has observed, “[Dewey’s] shadow has become a dark cloud enveloping society and the political system. Corporate power, by now largely financial capital, has reached the point that both political organizations, which now barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.”[7]

On issue after issue, public opinion is irrelevant (or close to it) in the realm of policy. The majority favors universal health insurance on the single-payer model, a major reduction of economic inequality, the privileging of job creation over deficit-reduction, a major increase in the minimum wage, the removal of private money from public elections, major government action to protect the environment, and so on. But so what? Who cares? “The 1%” and its giant investment firms and corporations say no and what it says goes. “They own the place,” to quote US Senator Richard Durbin[8] on why Washington made no serious attempt to put Wall Street under popular control after the nation’s leading financial institutions pushed the national and global economy over the edge.

[As the incisive yet-liberal commentator William Greider noted in a 2009 column titled “Obama Told Us to Speak, But Is He Listening?”: “People everywhere [have] learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They have watched Washington run to rescue the very financial interests who caused the catastrophe. They [have] learned that government has plenty of money to spend – when the right people want it.” And little for the rest of us, the wrong people, who never crashed the economy but who suffered most from economic collapse and who were left to ask ruefully “where’s my bailout?[9] ]

Welcome to the wonderful world of capitalism being capitalism and returning over the last four decades to its long-run historical norms: savage inequality and abject plutocracy.

One difference today merits special mention on Earth Day and every day in an age of escalating environmental crisis. It is that Dewey’s shadow and Chomsky’s dark cloud now threatens not merely democracy and economic equality but life itself. With its deep sunk cost investment in deadly fossil fuels and its cold, bottom-line disregard for livable ecology, the contemporary profits system demands constant growth to meet the competitive accumulation requirements of capital, the employment needs of an ever-expanding global proletariat, the sales needs of corporations, and governing officials’ need to appear to be creating jobs and development. As Joel Kovel notes in the second chapter of Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, capitalism is based on the “eternal expansion of the economic product,” the “conver[sion of] everything possible into monetary value.” The problem is that “the Earth we live on is finite, and its ecosystems have evolved to accommodate to that finitude.” Capitalism is wired in its very institutional DNA to “destroy the integrity” of the natural systems upon which we and other species “depend… for food, energy, and other resources.” As the environmental historian Richard Smith has written: “Socialism? Economic democracy? Call it what you like…Either we save capitalism or we save ourselves. We can’t save both.”[10]

When I was graduate student in U.S. history, some American historians seemed obsessed with the question “Why No Socialism is the U.S.?” That question was technically mistaken and remains mistaken to this day. [The Socialist Party of Eugene Debs won nearly a million votes, 6% of the presidential ballots cast in 1912. During the early 20th century, that party held hundreds of elected offices primarily in state and local government across the country. Along with left anarchists, syndicalists, populists and laborites, socialists of various stripes have played key roles in sparking and sustaining important and influential grassroots social movements in American history from the industrial workers movement of the 1930s to the Civil Rights Movement to the 1950s and 1960s to the global justice movements of the 1990s and the remarkable Occupy rebellion of 2011. A number of highly influential Americans have been socialists, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (the nation’s greatest moral leader of the last century), Helen Keller, Albert Einstein (the greatest scientist of the last century), the great environmentalist Barry Commoner, the great black intellectual leader and NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois, the great black labor leader A Phillip Randolph, and the great novelists Jack London, Upton Sinclair and Kurt Vonnegut. Currently there’s a self-described socialist in the U.S. Senate named Bernie Sanders; you may be seeing him here in Iowa next year. An open Marxist named Kshame Sawant recently won election to the City Council in Seattle. And a Pew survey three years ago found that young Americans aged 18 to 29 had a more favorable response to the word socialism than to the word capitalism…imagine that!]

The more appropriate question is not why no socialism in the U.S. but why have we so little in the way of an independent socialist movement in an ever more plutocratic, autocratic, and eco-cidal society that is full of good and progressive people who are hungry for substantive democratic and egalitarian change – for radical change. Imagine Living in a Socialist USA is dedicated to the idea that at least one part of the explanation for that weakness is the excessive reluctance of leftists to paint a picture what a genuinely democratic form of socialism might look like in the U.S. You’ve heard the standard elite charge that people on the left carp and complain about what is wrong, but fail to offer solutions. But as Chomsky noted in 2006, “there is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘they present solutions and I don’t like them.’”[11]

Buy and read this volume. In one social and policy area after another you will find welcome and overdue post-Cold War antidotes to the depressing neoliberal message that there is no alternative to corporate and financial rule, no alternative to Dewey’s shadow, no alternative to Chomsky’s dark cloud, no alternative to the amoral and authoritarian profits system. Nonsense: there’s an alternative and here’s some of what it might look like.

[That’s one message in Imagine. There’s another, frankly dark message that needs to be taken to heart on Earth Day and every day – a message summarized in the title of Kovel’s chapter. “The Future Will be Ecosocialist,” that title reads, “Because Without Ecosocialism There Will Be No Future.” As Michael Smith writes in Imagine’s introduction, paraphrasing the great Marxist philosopher Istvan Meszaros, it’s “socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky…We are running out of time.”]

With all the cheap right wing talk we’ve been hearing for years about how Barack Obama and other top corporate-friendly Democrats are “socialists,” it’s time we gave a hearing to some actual real-life socialists on their vision of a genuinely democratic, just, egalitarian and sustainable USA. They’ve come all the way from New York City, crossing not just the Hudson River but – imagine – the Mississippi River – to be with us tonight. Please join me in welcoming two of the driving forces behind Imagine Living in a Socialist USA: Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith!

Selected Endnotes

Paul Street (paul.street99@gmail.com) is author of “Capitalism: The Real Enemy,” in Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, eds., Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA (New York: HarperCollins, 2014) and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014).

 

 1. National Center for Children in Poverty, “Child Poverty” (2014), http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

2. Tampa Bay Times, “Bernie Sanders Says Walmart Heirs Own More Wealth Than Bottom 40 Percent of Americans,” PolitiFact.com, July 31, 2012, www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jul/31/bernie-s/sanders-says-walmart-heirs-own-more-wealth-bottom-

 3. Truth-O-Meter, “Michael Moore Says 400 Americans Have More Wealth Than Half of All Americans Combined,” Journal-Sentinel PolitiFact Wisconsin, March 2011, www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/mar/10/michael-moore/michael-moore-says-400-americans-have-more-wealth-

 4. Nicholas Kristof, “America’s Primal Scream,” New York Times, October 15, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-americas-primal-scream.html?_r=0

 5. John Dewey, “The Need for a New Party,” New Republic (March 18, 1931), http://www.newrepublic.com/article/magazine/104638/the-need-new-party

 6. Quoted on the Web site of Brandeis University at http://www.brandeis.edu/legacyfund/bio.html and in Harvard Magazine (March 2011) at http://harvardmagazine.com/2011/03/quotable-harvard. The original source in the latter is Labor, October 14, 1941.

 7. Noam Chomsky, “American Decline: Causes and Consequences,” Alakhbar English, August 24, 2011, http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20110824.htm

 8. Ryan Griffin, “Dick Durbin: Banks ‘Frankly Own the Place,’” Huffington Post, May 30, 2009, www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/20/dick-durbin-banks-frankly_n_193010.html

 9. William Greider, “Obama Told Us to Speak but Is He Listening?,” Washington Post, March 22, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/19/AR2009031902511.html

10. Richard Smith, “Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism,” Real World Economic Review, issue 53, June 26, 2010, reprinted with revisions at Truthout (January 15, 2014), http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21215-beyond-growth-or-beyond-capitalism

11. Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 262

 

Beyond the Carbon Death Knell

25/04/14 0 COMMENTS

 

 First published on ZNet, April 17, 2014

“We Cannot Afford to Lose Another Decade”

According to the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released last Sunday, the problem of anthropogenic global warning (AGW) is at a critical stage thanks to years of relative inaction by the governments of the world. Unless there is a major worldwide move off fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources over the next fifteen years, the IPCC warns, environmental catastrophe will occur. The consequences of not switching include collapse of the world’s ice sheets, drastic increases in sea levels, massive disappearance of forests, inability to grow food supplies, and mass extinction of planet and animal species. It’s not a pretty story.

Thanks to the foot-dragging of the world’s nations, global greenhouse gas emissions rose twice as fast in the first decade of the 21st century as in the last decades of the 20th century. According to Ottman Eddenhofer, professor of climate change economics at the Berlin Institute of Technology and co-chair of IPC Working Group III, “We cannot afford to lose another decade.”

If the stalling continues, the IPCC notes, trillions of dollars will be invested over coming years in power plants, trucks, cars, and buildings that rely on deadly fossil fuels.[1]

 An Alternative Path

We don’t have to go down that exterminist path. Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson and University of California-Davis research scientist Mark Delucchi have shown that humanity could convert to a completely renewable-based energy system by 2030 if nations would rely on technologies vetted by scientists rather than promoted by industries. Jacobson and Delucchi’s plan to have 100% of the world’s energy supplied by wind, water, and solar (WWS) sources by 2030, calls for millions of wind turbines, water machines, and solar installations. “The numbers are large,” they write, “but the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle: society has achieved massive transformations before. During World War II, the U.S. retooled its automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft, and other countries produced 486,000 more. In 1956, the U.S. began building the Interstate Highway System, which after 35 years extended for 47,000 miles, changing commerce and society.”

In the “interim,” Jacobson and Delucchi project, “certain forms of WWS power will be significantly more costly than fossil power.” In the longer term, however, nothing could be costlier than continuing on the present path. As the environmentalist slogan says, “there is no economy on a dead planet.”

A bigger obstacle to environmental reconversion than interim cost and scale is the political power of the fossil fuel corporations and their financial backers. Legislators and other policymakers who want to save a livable planet “must find ways to resist lobbying by the entrenched energy companies.”[2]

 “A Fossil Fuel Renaissance”

Beyond the power of fossil fuel interests, with their deep sunk cost investment in the carbon-gassing of Earth, two great Western beliefs (both significantly underwritten by the carbon-industrial complex) inhibit action towards the WWS conversion. The first belief holds that scientific wizards will invent technologies to remove carbon from the air before it’s too late. No such technologies are remotely on the horizon. There is no justification for banking humanity’s future on such science fiction dreaming.

A second obstacle to the deep green energy conversion is the belief that a scarcity of fossil fuels will lead to the development of alternatives in time to stave off disaster. The belief is utterly false. Thanks in large part to new drilling technologies and energy corporations’ expanded search for new hydrocarbons beneath land and sea, Eddenhofer notes that “we are in the middle of a fossil fuel renaissance.”[3]

That is a remarkable statement with the potential to be something like a farewell reflection on homo sapiens, along with thousands of other species. As evidence mounts yet higher that irrefutably anthropogenic climate change resulting from the excessive burning of hydrocarbons poses a grave and ever more imminent existential threat to humanity and other life forms on Earth, we are in the middle of a fossil fuel renaissance.

Nowhere is that more true than in the U.S., where, President Barack Obama boasts of a new age of so called energy independence thanks in great measure to the sudden and vast expansion of domestic production of shale oil and carbon-rich natural gas (much of which is simply being combusted into the air the extraction frenzy) through the eco-cidal practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). According to a recent terrifying report:

 “Thanks to the success of [the petroleum industry] …in pushing the frontiers of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ to access reserves of oil trapped in shale formations, notably here in Texas and North Dakota, America is poised to displace Saudi Arabia as the world’s top producer. With that could come a hobbling of OPEC and unforeseen shifts in US foreign policy….So rapid has been the change in its energy fortunes that even some experts, as well as policy-makers in Washington, are struggling to keep up. Nor are we just talking oil. So much natural gas is being released by the shale also that for now outlandish quantities of it are simply being burned off into the atmosphere.”[4]

A Suspect Endorsement From a “Copenhagen Conservative”

In Washington, the Obama administration claims to welcome the recent IPCC report. Obama’s science adviser John Holden praised the IPCC for “highlight[ing] the stark reality” on humanity’s need “to limit climate change to less than catastrophic levels.”[5]

Holden’s statement should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. During his first year in the White House, the supposedly “green” president almost singlehandedly destroyed initially hopeful efforts to set binding global carbon emission restrictions at the world climate summit in Copenhagen. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama was a “Washington liberal” but “a Copenhagen conservative,” functioning as “the conservative stalwart in Copenhagen” by “supporting the least-aggressive steps, advancing the conservative position of opposition to strict world-wide limits on emissions that ask much more of developed nations than of poorer countries.”[6]

 “An Eloquent Death Knell for the Species”

Obama’s energy policy has been richly consistent with the Wall Street’s Journal’s approving description four years ago. The eco-cidal highlights of that policy include an expansion of offshore drilling, embrace of the myth of clean coal, signing off on the epidemic plague of hydraulic fracturing, building coastal export platforms for Liquefied Natural Gas, and opening up the federal strategic oil reserve to counter Russian power in the European energy market. Two years ago, trumpeting the Keystone XL Pipeline in Cushing, Oklahoma, the supposedly “green” Obama declared the following with great satisfaction:

“Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”[7]

 To encircle a dying Earth, that is.

“We are drilling all over the planet – right now,” Obama added to applause.

By Noam Chomsky’s estimation, Obama’s remarks in Cushing amounted to “an eloquent death knell for the species.”[8]

“There is,” to quote one of the many environmental posters that bobbed outside the Copenhagen summit that Obama put to death (with some help from advance National Security Agency briefings on other nations’ bargaining positions[9]), “No Planet B.”

 On Bended Knee

It is true that the current administration has increased the nation’s investment in renewable energy sources and made some halfway decent initiatives on fuel efficiency and the like. But these greenish measures are small parts of Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy – a policy that includes significant increase of fossil fuel production and subsidies for the insanely dangerous nuclear power industry.

Pretending that they make Obama’s energy record progressive is like imagining that you sent your child off to school with a healthy lunch after packing an organic tofu snack to go along with a double bacon baloney sandwich, a flask of bourbon, and a package of Hostess Ho-Ho’s.

I do not know why so many American environmentalists continue to approach the nation’s current petroleum- and coal-captive, corporate-eco-cidal administration on bended knee, continuing to address it in a respectful tone – as if the White House was run by people who genuinely care about the fate of the Earth. I guess it’s because that administration is headed by a supposedly progressive, technically black Democrat[10] who occasionally says nice green-sounding things to keep part of his party’s liberal and progressive base hopefully on board. I doubt the environmental movement would be so polite if the nation’s leading figurehead was a richer and more explicitly pro-business white male named John McCain or Mitt Romney. This partisan and identity-politicized reluctance to seriously challenge Big Carbon’s deep pockets reach in the executive branch before Clinton II or Bush III helicopters into the oil-blackened White House.

If the world can’t afford to lose another decade, it certainly can’t afford another decade of left-environmental uselessness in the USA, still very much the leading contributor[11] to anthropogenic (really capitalismogenic[12]) climate change – the greatest specter haunting humanity in the 21st century.

Paul Street is author of “Capitalism: The Real Enemy,” in Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, eds., Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA (New York: HarperCollins, 2014) and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014). Street will read from Imagine along with Debby and Michael Steven Smith at Prairie Lights Bookstore in downtown Iowa City on Tuesday, April 22nd (Earth Day) at 7pm.

 Selected Notes

1. Justin Gillis., “United Nations Climate Panel Warns Speedier Action is Required to Avert Climate Disaster,” New York Times, April 13, 2014.

2. Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, “A Plan for a Sustainable Future,” Scientific American (November 2009), http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf

3. Gillis, “United Nations Climate Panel.”

4. David Usborne, “Fracking is Turning the United States into a Bigger Oil Exporter Than Saudi Arabia,” The Independent (UK), March 11, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/fracking-is-turning-the-us-into-a-bigger-oil-producer-than-saudi-arabia-9185133.html

5. Gillis, “United Nations Climate Panel.”

6. Peter Brown, “Obama: Washington Liberal, Copenhagen Conservative,” Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2009. According to the leading environmental activist and writer George Monbiot, “The immediate reason for the failure of the [Copenhagen] talks can be summarized in two words: Barack Obama. The man elected to put aside childish things proved to be as susceptible to immediate self-interest as any other politician. Just as George Bush did in the approach to the Iraq war, Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal which outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation; either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.” George Monbiot, “Requiem for a Crowded Planet,” The Guardian, December 21, 2009.

7. Barack Obama, “Expanding Our Oil and Gas Pipeline Infrastructure,” Cushing, Oklahoma, March 22, 2012, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/03/22/expanding-our-oil-and-gas-pipeline-infrastructure

8. Noam Chomsky, “Prospects for Survival,” ZNet (April 2, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-prospects-for-survival/

9. Oliver Tickel, “How the US Undermined the Copenhagen Climate Summit,” Counterpunch (March 31, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/31/how-the-us-undermined-the-copenhagen-climate-summit/

10. Who has, it is important to note, been a disaster for black America and the cause of racial equality. For details and sources, see Paul Street, “Obama Ticket Prices and the Invisible Ruling Class,” Black Agenda Report (March 11, 2014), http://blackagendareport.com/content/obama-ticket-prices-and-invisible-ruling-class; Paul Street, “No Favor to Black America,” ZNet (April 5, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/no-favor-to-black-america/

11. Paul Street, “Uncle Sam: Biggest Threat to Peace on/and Earth,” Z Magazine (March 2014); Paul Street, “The Blame China Syndrome,” ZNet (August 16, 2013), http://zcomm.org/zcommentary/the-blame-china-syndrome-by-paul-street/

12. John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “The Planetary Emergency,” Monthly Review (December 2013),http://monthlyreview.org/2012/12/01/the-planetary-emergency; John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Planet (New York: Monthly Review, 2010); Richard Smith, “Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism,” Real World Economic Review, issue 53, June 26, 2010, reprinted with revisions at Truthout (January 15, 2014), http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21215-beyond-growth-or-beyond-capitalism; Joel Kovel, Chapter 2: “The Future Will be Ecosocialist Because Without Ecosocialism There Will be No Future,” in Francis Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, IMAGINE Living in a Socialist USA (New York: Harper Collins, 2014); Paul Street, “Why I am an Ecosocialist,” Open University of the Left (December 14, 2013), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buHmNaTGanU&feature=c4-overview&list=UUIZ_969hFecsMFl7N7ERP3Q

 

Avoiding the Capitalist Apocalypse

25/04/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on ZNet, April 12, 2014.

 The French economist Thomas Piketty’s magisterial, marvelously cross-disciplinary, and audaciously titled volume Capital in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Harvard University Press, 2014) contains an interesting statement on its very first page. “Modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge,” Piketty writes, “have made it possible to avoid the Marxist apocalypse but have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality – or in any case not as much as one might have imagined in the optimistic decades following World War II.” (Capital in the Twenty-First Century, p.1).

Who is Piketty’s (or his translator’s) “one” here? Certainly not a Marxist who was familiar with his or her hero’s (Karl Marx’s) analysis, according to which capitalism naturally tends towards the concentration of wealth and income.

 “The Marxist Apocalypse” That Wasn’t

And what is “the Marxist apocalypse” that hasn’t happened, exactly? Piketty means the growing division of Western industrial society between a wealthy bourgeoisie on one hand and a vast property-less proletariat, leading (in Marx’s vision) to international working class and socialist/communist revolution – what Piketty calls “Marx’s dark prophecy.” (Capital in the Twenty-First Century, p.9)  

He is of course correct that the European and North American socialist revolution Marx dreamed of didn’t happen in the late 19th or 20th centuries. Neither did proletarian immiseration on the scale that Marx predicted [1] – at least not in the core Western countries at the center of capitalist development.

But why call Marx’s dialectical divination “apocalyptic” and “dark”? “In the place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms,” Marx proclaimed in 1848, “we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the conditions for the free development of all.” For Marx and many socialist, communist, and left anarchist fellow revolutionaries of the mid and late-19th century, workers’ revolution – the overthrow of private capital and its vicious, amoral profits system and the replacement of the capitalist ruling class by the democratic reign of the associated producers and citizens in service to the common good was hardly a catastrophe. To the contrary, it was for them the dawning of the end of the long human pre-history of class rule, ushering in the possibility of a world beyond exploitation and the de facto dictatorship of privileged owners – a “true realm of freedom” beyond endless toil and necessity and “worthy of “human nature.” [2]

 The Capitalist Apocalypse That Is

Piketty is free to call this dream naïve, unrealistic, impractical, and ill-conceived, of course. Still, his word choices “dark” and even  suggest a certain elite bias. It’s always been the ruling classes who have most particularly found Marx’s ideas destructive and catastrophic, for obvious reasons. 

But have we really avoided “Marxist apocalypse” in the years since Marx wrote. Forget for a moment the cataclysmic wars, imperial policies, abject plutocracy, and misery of the 20th and early 21st centuries, terrible problems that Marxist and other radical intellectuals and activists are quite willing and able to root in the system of class rule called capitalism – with great justification. Forget the global pauperization that has spread like something out of The Communist Manifesto in the neoliberal era[3], however much the rich nations may have avoided Piketty’s notion of “Marxist apocalypse.”

 The Common Ruin of the Contending Classes

Put all that aside for a moment, if you can, and reflect on the growing environmental catastrophe that now poses a genuine threat of human extinction in the not-so-distant historical future. Marx suggested a different and actually apocalyptic alternative to proletarian revolution in the Manifesto: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”[4]

Can there by any serious doubt in the current age of accelrating and very clearly catastophic climate change that “the modern economic growth” that Piketty praises for having kept “the Marxist apocalypse” at bay threatens to bring about “the common ruin of the contending classes” – indeed the ever-increasing degradation and final destruction of life on Earth – precisely because it is taking place under the command of capital? More than merely dangerous, uncomfortable, and expensive, anthropogenic global waming threatens the world’s food and water supplies. It raises the very real specter of human extinction if and when terrible “tipping points” like the large-scale release of Arctic methane (a potential near-term context for truly “runaway” warming) are passed. The related problem of ocean acidification (a change in the ocean’s chemistry resulting from excessive human carbon emissions) is attacking the very building blocks of life under the world’s great and polluted seas. Thanks to climate change and other forms of toxic human intervention in global ecosystems, we most add drastically declining biodiversity – a technical phrase for the massive dying off of other species – to the list of “ecological rifts”[5]facing humanity and other living and sentient beings in the 21stcentury. 

The findings and judgments of the best contemporary earth science are crystal clear. As the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (UK) concluded last year: “Today, in 2013, we face an unavoidably radical future…We either continue with rising emissions and reap the radical repercussions of severe climate change, or we acknowledge that we have a choice and pursue radical emission reductions: No longer is there a non-radical option. Moreover, low-carbon supply technologies cannot deliver the necessary rate of emission reductions – they need to be complemented with rapid, deep and early reductions in energy consumption.”[6]

Sadly, however, the Tyndall scientists failed to raise the question of the deeper social-systemic cancer behind the spreading disease of human-generated climate change. The disease is capitalism[7], for whose masters and apologists the answer to the venerable popular demand for equality has long been “more.” The answer is based on the theory that growth creates “a rising tide that lifts all boats” in ways that make us forget about the fact that a wealthy few are sailing luxuriantly in giant yachts while most of us are struggling to keep afloat in modest motorboats and rickety dinghies. 

As Le Monde’s ecological editor Herve Kempf noted in his aptly titled book The Rich Are Destroying the Earth(2007), “the oligarchy” sees the pursuit of material growth as “the solution to the social crisis,” the “sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment,” and the “only means of getting societies to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them. . . . Growth,” Kempf explained, “would allow the overall level of wealth to arise and consequently improve the lot of the poor without—and this part is never spelled out [by the economic elite]—any need to modify the distribution of wealth.”[8] 

“Growth,” the liberal economist Henry Wallich explained (approvingly) in 1972, “is a substitute for equality of income. So long as there is growth there is hope, and that makes large income differentials tolerable.”[9] 

Of course, growth is more than an ideology under the profit system. It is also a material, economic imperative for investors, managers, workers, and policymakers caught up in the disastrous competitive world-capitalist logic of what John Bellamy Foster calls “the global ‘treadmill of production.” Capitalism demands constant growth to meet the competitive accumulation requirements of capital, the employment needs of an ever-expanding global class or proletarians (workers dependent on wages), the sales needs of corporations, and governing officials’ need to legitimize their power by appearing to advance national economic development and security.[10] This system can no more forego growth and survive than a person can stop breathing and live. It is, as Joel Kovel notes, a system based on the “eternal expansion of the economic product,” and the “conver [sion of] everything possible [including the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil and plants] into monetary [exchange] value.”

“The Earth we live on,” Kovel notes, “is finite, and its ecosystems have evolved to accommodate to that finitude. Therefore, a system built on endless growth is going to destroy the integrity of the ecosystems upon which life depends for food, energy, and other resources.”[11] 

Consistent with this harsh reality, the system’s leading investors have invested massively in highly wasteful advertising, marketing, packaging and built-in-obsolescence. The commitment has penetrated into core processes of capitalist production, so that millions toil the world over in the making of complex electronic (and other) products designed to lose material and social value (and thus to be dumped in landfills) in short periods of time.[12]

Along the way, U.S. capital has invested huge amounts of fixed capital in the existing fossil fuel-addicted energy system – “sunk” capital investments that make giant and powerful petrochemical corporations and utilities all too “rationally” (from a profit perspective) resistant to a much needed clean energy conversion. As leading environmental author and activist Bill McKibben explained in his 2010 book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet:

 “Sunk costs…it’s a phrase we need to know if want to understand why all the big companies are not jumping aboard the clean energy train. The journalist Paul Roberts figured earlier in the decade that ‘the existing fossil fuel infrastructure, from power plants and supertankers to oil furnaces and SUVs,’ is worth at least $10 trillion, and scheduled to operate anywhere from ten to fifty more years before its capital costs can be paid off. If we shut it down early, merely to save the planet, someone will have to eat that cost. Given such ‘serious asset inertia,’ no owner or investor in a power plant is likely to accept the write-down without a ‘nasty political fight’” (emphasis added).[13]

 “Everything Else We’re Talking About”

Speaking of the growing climate disaster, the world’s leading left intellectual Noam Chomsky observed two years ago that “if …this catastrophe isn’t …averted “ than “– and in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter.”[14]

Piketty would seem to almost sort of agree a little bit, maybe. In a brief sub-section of his book, in prose scarred by the overly technical spirit of the elite academic and policy world, he writes the following: “The second important issue on which [capital accumulation] questions have a major impact is climate change and, more generally, the possibility of deterioration of humanity’s natural capital in the century ahead. If we take a global view then this is clearly the world’s principal long-term worry.”

Imagine “tak[ing] a global view.”! That would seem to be the view to take when it comes to planetary ecology, yes?

“Degradation of natural capital” is econo-speak for eco-cide.

Piketty’s statement comes on page 567, like a tiny afterthought near the end of Piketty’s giant tome, on the volume’s mere three pages that focus in any way on the leading specter haunting humanity in the 21st century, brought to us courtesy of capital. Perhaps it is not so welcome and wonderful that capitalism avoided Marx’s “specter…haunting Europe” in 1848.

Paul Street is the author of many book. His latest: They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810)

 Selected Endnotes

1. “The modern laborer….sinks deeper and deeper….He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.” Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (1848), end of Section 1, titled “Bourgeois and Proletarians.”

2. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 3: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole (New York: International, 1967), 820.

3. Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2006).

4. Marx, Communist Manifesto, beginning of Section 1.

5. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on Earth (New York: Monthly Review, 2010), 14-15. 

 6. Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, “The Radical Emission Reduction Emission Reduction Conference, December 10-11, 2013,” http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/radical-emission-reduction-conference-tyndall-centre-event-confronting-challenge-climate-change 

 7. See the incisive reflections of historian Richard Smith in “Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism,” Real World Economic Review, issue 53, June 26, 2010, reprinted with revisions at Truthout (January 15, 2014), http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21215-beyond-growth-or-beyond-capitalism 

 8. Herve Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007), 70, 73. 

 9. Wallich is quoted in William Greider, Come Home America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country (New York: Rodale, 2009), 202. 

10. John Bellamy Foster, “Global Ecology and the Common Good,” Monthly Review (February 1995), read online at http://clogic.eserver.org/3-1&2/foster.html 

11.Joel Kovel, “The Future Will be Ecosocialist Because Without Ecosocialism There Will be No Future,” Chapter 2 in Francis Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, IMAGINE Living in a Socialist USA(New York: Harper Collins, 2014), 27-28 

12. John Bellamy and Brett Clark, “The Planetary Emergency,” Monthly Review, Vol. 54, Issue 7 (December 2012), http://monthlyreview.org/2012/12/01/the-planetary-emergency  

13. Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (New York: Time Books, 2010), 55. 

14. Noam Chomsky, “The Plutonomy and the Precariat,” (May 8, 2012) http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175539/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky,_a_rebellious_world_or_a_new_dark_age/

 

No Favor to Black America

25/04/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on ZNet, April 5, 2014. 

The reluctance of many white liberals and progressives to engage in serious criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama no matter how coldly corporate-neoliberal [1] and imperial [2] he shows himself to be, has been quite pronounced.  Among the factors that explain that reluctance, one that deserves mention is certainly the fact that many of those whites think they are doing Black Americans some kind of benevolent favor by supporting the nation’s first technically Black (or first half-white) president.

White progressives and liberals should drop that presumption. The business-friendly and militaristic record of the Obama administration stands well to the right of progressive policy views that have long held strong majority support from Black Americans, the leftmost ethno-cultural segment of the U.S. electorate. At the same time, the president’s center-right policy record has inflicted disproportionate pain on the Black community, which has seen its wealth and income levels decline both absolutely and relative to white America across the Age of Obama. Along the way, finally, the Obama administration has proven to be a disaster for Black politics and consciousness and for the cause of racial equality.

Off the Table

For useful reflections on this last point, a good place to start is the Black Columbia University political scientist Frederick C. Harris’s important and engaging book The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014 [2012]), recently re-issued in paperback. Harris’ academic turf is modern U.S. Black politics.  He covers key parts of that terrain with keen historical understanding, situating the Obama phenomenon and presidency in the context of the longstanding intra-Black debate about “whether Black voters should organize into a cohesive, independent bloc to promote both targeted and universal policies, or pursue a more race-neutral approach, working together with other racial minorities as well as like-minded whites.”

As Harris shows, Obama’s ascendancy represents the triumph of the “race-neutral” argument in the post-Civil Rights era. Obama has been careful to distance himself from the considerably more race-conscious Black activists and politicians whose past struggles paved the way for his success. In doing so, he has embraced a “de-racialized” white-pleasing political and policy rhetoric that “surrenders to the false notion of a color-blind society where race no longer matters” and to the related “idea that policies that help everyone – what is described by policymakers as universalism – will trickle down to meet the systematic needs of Black communities and that targeted policies toward minorities – which lack the political will of the majority – should be taken off the table” (Harris, Price of the Ticket, p. x).[3]

Ironically yet fittingly enough given these surrenders, the nation’s first technically Black president has “spoke[n] less on issues of race than any other Democratic president since 1961” (Harris, xii).  By Harris’s account, “Obama’s ascendancy to the White House actually signals a decline of a politics aimed at challenging racial equality head-on”(Harris, xviii) – this even as Obama has taken risks to support minority constituencies on issues like LGBT and immigrant rights.

Obama’s race-neutral presidency has been consistent with his first and historic presidential campaign. As Jesse Jackson, Sr., observed at the height of the 2007-08 primary season, none of the Democratic Party contenders other than John Edwards raised issues of importance to minorities and the poor – a criticism that brought Jackson a public rebuke from his son, a post-Civil Rights Congressman in the race-neutral mode (Harris, 33). As Harris notes, “The housing foreclosure crisis that disproportionately hit communities of color, growing levels of Black unemployment, the persistence of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the Black population, and the War on Drugs that sends large numbers of Blacks to prison for nonviolent offenses.  These issues would not be substantially engaged by Obama or any of the other Democratic candidates, except John Edwards, whose campaign focused on economic inequality and racial justice” (Harris, 140).

 

“Personal Failure, Not Societal Barriers”

Along the way, Obama has shown himself more than willing to reinforce the notion that poor Blacks are the victims less of societal oppression than of their own supposed bad values, behavior and culture.  He has shamed many Blacks for their failure to take advantage of the great opportunities supposedly afforded them in “this magical place called America,” where Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s racial anger is supposedly now inappropriate and ungrateful. Harris gives an example (one of many that could be cited) from a speech Obama gave before a predominantly Black audience in Beaumont, Texas in February of 2008 – a speech in which the future president from Hawaii and Harvard Law went into mock southern-Black dialect to blame parents for making their children fat and lethargic with poor nutrition choices (“Popeye’s [fried chicken] for breakfast”).  As Harris notes:

“During Obama’s jousting with the audience, the candidate neglected to mention social and economic barriers that may account for parents’ allegedly poor decisions – limited food choices in Black poor and working-class neighborhoods and the high price of fresh food compared with the cheap cost of fast food. Nor [did] Obama mention the difficulties of single parents working full time and short on time to prepare meals or the oversaturation and marketing of fast foods in minority neighborhoods.  To Obama, bad eating habits….are a reflection of personal failings, not societal barriers” (Harris, 100-101)

 “The Real Audience is White”

Harris could have mentioned numerous other moments before and since the future president’s Popeye’s Speech when Obama felt compelled to scold Black people on their own supposed personal responsibility for their own poverty. “It’s obvious by now,” Ishmael Reed noted in 2008, “that Barack Obama is treating Black Americans like one treats a demented uncle, brought out from his room to be ridiculed and scolded before company from time to time.” [4]

Last Spring, Obama spoke to the graduates of historically Black Morehouse College, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the left Black writer Margaret Kimberly noted at the indispensable Black radical zine Black Agenda Report: “The poor graduates were not only forced to sit in a driving rain but were also insulted by …president [who] felt compelled to point out that there are Black people who make excuses, and don’t take care of their kids, and make bad choices…As in 2008, the Black people in the audience were part of the stage setting for the real audience, which was totally white.”

When Obama talks down to Black people [5], Kimberly notes, “the audience in his presence [may be]…Black,” but “the real audience [is] white. The political slang is ‘dog whistling.’ Just as there are sounds which can be heard only by the canine ear, there are messages tailor made for specific constituencies, though they appear to be made for others.” [6]

 “A Price Not Worth its Sacrifice”

Harris is critical of race-neutral “universalism’s” claim to benefit Black communities. “Policies that help everyone – what can be described as a trickle-down approach to eradicating poverty and social inequality – are not,” Harris argues (correctly by my estimation), “enough to correct the deep-rooted persistence of racial inequality” (Harris, x, xviii, xx).

Harris is unimpressed also with the Black political class, which has accepted the president’s silence on race as a price worth paying in return for the symbolic gratification granted by a Black family’s presence in the White House. Harris disagrees. “One day,” his book concludes, “the question will be asked – years if not decades from now – whether the sacrifices of previous generations were worth the rise of a ‘race-neutral’ Black president, whose ascendancy was made possible by their efforts.  As it stands now, the price has not yet proved worth its sacrifice, to the memory of those lost in battle, nor for those who still sit at the very bottom of society, still believing and hoping in the possibilities of change.” (Harris, 192)

Those who remain most woefully uncompensated are precisely those Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. refused to leave behind in his dedication to “a continuous struggle to pursue equality” (Harris, 192) that challenged “the ‘triple evils’ of racism, poverty, and militarism” (191).  Harris therefore finds that “the monument to Martin Luther King, Jr., on the National Mall – and the many comparisons of President Obama to the civil rights leader – disturbs memory [even as it]…makes great history” (190).

An Absent Ruling Class

Harris’s book is not without serious flaws. He is far too quick to accept the term “universalism” in the context of the Obama phenomenon, missing the fact that the militantly neoliberal Obama’s policies have been crafted above all to serve the (very predominantly white) wealthy Few. His narrative on Obama’s ascendency makes no reference to the Caucasian corporate, financial, and imperial establishment elements that seized on Obama as a perfect vehicle for carrying out their selfish and authoritarian agenda under the guise of progressive change and democratic hope in the wake of the long national Cheney-Bush nightmare.  Ruling class members and operatives provided the money, connections, celebrity, and media attention and approval without which Obama’s rise was unimaginable. They did so only after subjecting Obama to a thorough vetting in which they found him highly amenable to the task of serving their narrow, undemocratic interests. [7]  Assured of his deeply conservative, privilege-friendly, and “market”- (really corporate-) friendly essence, they found Obama’s technical Blackness, his brief stint as a “community organizer,” and his technically Muslim ethnic nomenclature nicely suited to the project of giving the American System a fake-democratic “brand makeover” at home and abroad.  The re-branding was urgently required following George Dubya Bush’s all too transparently plutocratic, racist, and imperialist performance, scarred by the club-footed invasion of Iraq and the Katrina atrocity among other clumsy blunders.[8]

Along the way, the U.S. power elite has derived no small degree of “divide-and-rule” satisfaction as a first technically Black presidency has fed identity-based fissures in majority working class America and fueled racial and related partisan deadlock. The “deep state” financial and corporate elite continues to pillage society and the commons behind the scenes of the big business-financed and highly racial identity-politicized major party “marionette theater” that passes for democratic politics in Washington and across the nation’s fifty state capitols.[9]

None of this essential top-down history is remotely present in Price of the Ticket. Also conspicuous in its absence from Harris’s volume is any serious discussion is the neoliberal corporate ideology that Obama soaked up from his Big Business,  academic, and foundation world  sponsors over years of immersion in elite, corporate-funded, corporation-serving, and predominantly white institutions like Columbia University, Harvard Law, the University of Chicago, the Hamilton Project, the Joyce Foundation, and a Democratic Party that has been moving far and ever further to the “market”- (corporate- and Wall Street-) friendly right since the 1970s.

Two Additional Ticket Prices

Another big piece missing in Harris’s useful book is a different but related cost of the Obama presidency for the cause of racial equality. I am referring to the significant extent to which Obama’s ascendancy has reinforced the false majority white sentiment holding that racism no longer poses any serious barriers to Black advancement and equality in the U.S. today – and that the only remaining obstacles to Black progress are internal to Black communities, Black culture, and Black individuals. What greater symbol could our political culture grant to the white-pleasing myths of post-racialism and post-racism than the election (twice) of a “first Black president?” Obama’s presidency has all too predictably been a last nail in the coffin of many white Americans’ already well-withered willingness to acknowledge their country’s continuing, cumulative crimes of savage racial oppression.

That ugly nail also deserves mention as a “price of the [Obama] ticket.” So, sadly enough, does the terrible role that the identity-politicized Obama delirium has played in moving Black Americans’ historically leftward opinions to the right on key issues including militarism and government surveillance[10] (we can except that rightward drift to disappear when “the first Black president” departs) – an unpleasant topic that receives no direct attention inThe Price of the Ticket.

Still, Harris’s book should be essential reading for any Caucasian who clings to the notion that they are doing some kind of favor for Black Americans and the cause of racial equality by supporting that deeply conservative scolder of working class Black people  Barack Obama. They are doing no such thing.

Paul Street was Research Director of the Chicago Urban League between 2000 and 2005. He is the author of numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman&Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); and They Rule: the 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Selected Endnotes

1. Useful sources include Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Crown Business, 2012); Ron Suskind, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (New York: Harper Collins, 2011); Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010, Chapter 1: “Business Rule as Usual”); Rodger Hodge, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (New York: Harper, 2010); Mark Weisbrot, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty is the Complete Opposite of ‘Free Trade,” The Guardian, November 19, 2013,  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/19/trans-pacific-partnership-corporate-usurp-congress

2. For an especially nauseating recent example, see Paul Street, “Disgust Yes, Disappointment No,” ZNet(April 2, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/disgust-yes-disappointment-no/.  For deeper context, see “‘Obama Has Kept the Machine Set on Kill’ –Journalist and Activist Allan Nairn Reviews Obama’s First Year in Office,” Democracy Now! (January 6, 2010),http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/6/obama_has_kept_the_machine_set; Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013); Street, Empire’s New Clothes (Chapter 2: “Empire’s New Clothes: Deeds and Words in Obama’s Foreign Policy”).

3. For many details on Obama’s race-neutral presidency during his first year in the White House, see Street, Empire’s New Clothes, 131-144.

4.Ishmael Reed, “Obama Scolds Black Fathers, Gets Bounce in Polls,” Counterpunch (June 24, 2008),http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/06/24/obama-scolds-Black-fathers-gets-bounce-in-polls/

5. Reverend Jackson has opined that Obama deserves castration for this nasty habit.  See Harris, Price of the Ticket, 33.

6. Margaret Kimberly, “The Obama ‘Dog Whistle,’” Black Agenda Report (May 22, 2013),http://Blackagendareport.com/content/freedom-rider-obama-%E2%80%9Cdog-whistle%E2%80%9D

7. See Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine,” Harper’s (November 2006); David Mendell, Obama: The Promise of Power (New York: HarperCollin, 2007), 247-48; Paul Street,Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008), xix-xxiv.

8.Street, Barack Obama and the Future, xxiv-xxxi; Liza Mundy, “A Series of Fortunate Events: Barack Obama Needed More Than Talent and Ambition to Rocket From Obscure State Senator to Presidential Contender in Three Years,” Washington Post Magazine, August 12, 2007.

9. Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” Moyers & Company, February 21, 2014,http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/; Paul Street, “The Deep State and Beyond,” ZNet, March 1, 2014, http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-deep-state-and-beyond/

10. The Black left writer Glen Ford last January: “In yet another example of African American moral and political deterioration in the Age of Obama, a new Pew Research poll shows Blacks are more in favor of NSA spying on Americans than are whites or Hispanics. Moreover, the data indicate that Blacks are probably more likely to favor prosecution of Edward Snowden for his NSA spying revelations, than are other ethnic groups…Back in September, polling history was made when Black Americans were more in favor of air strikes against Syria than whites and Hispanics – the first time, ever, that African Americans were ranked as the most bellicose of any  major ethnicity in the United States…Something ugly has happened to Black America since 2008, eroding – if not reversing – the progressive Black historical consensus on issues of peace, civil liberties and social justice that has prevailed since pollsters began soliciting Black opinion. One must conclude that, either Black progressivism was a much shallower political current than previously believed, or that the presence of a Black president has been such a shock to Black consciousness, so profoundly disorienting, that it has grievously distorted collective Black perceptions of reality. The African American worldview has been mangled beyond imagining.” Glen Ford, “Black Madness Under Obama: African-Americans More Pro-NSA, Anti-Snowden Than Whites and Hispanics,” Black Agenda Report (January 22, 2014), http://www.Blackagendareport.com/content/Black-madness-under-obama-african-americans-more-pro-nsa-anti-snowden-whites-and-hispanics

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