Seven Things

25/07/14 0 COMMENTS

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24

First published on ZNet , July 10, 2014

“It’s a Little Private”

Sometimes the smallest news items speak volumes, if you let them.  Last April, for example, a 10-year-old girl named Charlotte Bell was at the White House for its annual “Take Your Daughter and Son to Work Day.”  During a ceremony in the White House East Room, Charlotte raised her hand to say something to Michelle Obama, who was taking questions from a raised platform.  Charlotte walked up to the First Lady and said that her dad had been out of work for three years and needed a job.  Charlotte handed Mrs. Obama an envelope containing her father’s resumẻ.

The First Lady was taken aback but recovered well. She said, “Oh my goodness” took the envelope and gave Charlotte a big hug.  Then Mrs. Obama sat down and delivered a coup de grace.  “It’s a little private,” she said, “but she’s trying to help her Dad.”  At the end of the ceremony, the First Lady started to leave without the envelope. Charlotte made her pick it up.

The First Lady had, I think, two reasons for privatizing (so to speak) the matter of Charlotte Bell’s father’s long-term unemployment.  The first was a matter of political calculation.  The latest US job growth numbers had been “disappointing” and the Republicans had used the data to accuse Barack Obama yet again of economic mismanagement (as if the US president single-handedly determined US employment levels from one month to the next). Polls showed that President Obama faced widespread disapproval of his performance in “handing the economy.”  In that context, Mrs. Obama hardly wished to give publicity to another US citizen – e pluribus unum (one of many) – having trouble finding decent work (or any work at all) in “the world’s richest nation.”

The second reason for Mrs. Obama to call father Bell’s long-term joblessness a “private” matter is less obvious but more important.  The First Lady, I strongly suspect, was expressing her internalization of the dominant bourgeois and national common sense holding that one’s poverty and/or lack of remunerative employment in the purported great US “land of opportunity” reflects one’s own personal failure and inadequacy. Joblessness is understood as a symptom of individual and even moral failure in the reigning US ideology.

Surplus People and the Rational Irrationality of Capitalism

Here’s a useful translation for Michelle Obama’s “It’s a little private” comment: “Oh my goodness, this poor little girl has a lousy daddy; she sure is a dear to try to help out her sad sack of a father out while we all keep quiet about the millions of Americans who have been turned into surplus people by contemporary US capitalism.”

Charlotte Bell’s father may or may not be lazy, dissolute, dishonest, and/or whatever terrible thing one might want to call him.  I doubt he is any of these things, but I do not claim to know anything substantive about his personal or employment history.

I do, however, know seven things beyond the shadow of a doubt.  I know first of all that capitalism – what Michelle’s husband like to calls “the free enterprise system” (making sure to remind us that this system has brought us “a prosperity that’s unmatched in human history”[1]) – generates mass structural unemployment by its very nature, irrespective of what the US president or Charlotte’s father (or anyone else) wants. As sociologists Charles and Derber and Yale Magrass noted two years ago:

“An economic neutron bomb is exploding in the nation…an explosive…that has the peculiar characteristic of killing people while preserving property…[since] money can be made without [US] workers…At the heart of this problem is the calculation by elites that they can make more profit by radically reducing reliance on US workers and US infrastructure, using instead foreign workers or replacing workers with robots or other new technology, while relying on infrastructures in other nations…In the end, this reflects something deeply irrational but central to US capitalism.  The core concern of corporate elites is profit, not jobs.  And if more profits can be made by shifting production abroad, elites will take that path….This reflects the way globalized corporate capitalism works today and shows that the very problems it creates cannot be fixed within capitalist boundaries.” [2]

The problem of surplus labor, hence “surplus people,” is nothing new in the history of capitalism. The profit system has been rendering workers redundant, de-skilling and displacing labor for centuries.  Capitalism has always generated and relied on what Karl Marx called a “reserve army of labor” – a significant mass of unemployed and under-employed people whose often desperate existence helps the employer class keep the “active [employed] army” of workers profitably disciplined through the threat of replacement and the fear of being thrown into to the vast miserable lumpen-proletariat. Capitalism is not a full-employment program – quite the opposite.

The End of (United States of) “American [Labor Market] Exceptionalism

The second thing I know for certain is that a deep sea change has taken place in the US labor market over the last four plus decades – a change that makes it absurd to blame US individuals for their joblessness or under-employment. What’s new in US workers’ job prospects during the ongoing Neoliberal era (1970s to the present) is a fundamental transformation in the relationship between the US labor supply and employers’ demand for workers in the United States. In the US from its origins through the 1960s, the majority white working class enjoyed – over the long run (and with all due respect for terrible depressions in the 1870s, 1890s, and 1930s) – a “remarkable run” (Richard Wolff) of remunerative employment and rising real wages.  The keys to this worker-favorable situation were the remarkable productivity and profitability of US capitalism (a reflection among other things of exceptional national advantages including abundant natural resources, vast scale, giant ocean borders, and a conducive climate) and a chronic shortage of labor relative to available land and employers’ needs (US Southern cotton growers solved their labor shortage with black slavery and [after the Civil War] neo-slavery).

This comparatively favorable situation for (white) working class Americans (rarely if ever mentioned in discussions of “American exceptionalism”) came undone in the 1970s and 1980s.  As real, high-productivity competitors to US capitalism revived in Europe and Japan, the demand for US workers fell thanks in part to the computerization and automation of work and the export of millions of formerly “American jobs” to countries where workers could paid far less. As the left US economist Richard Wolff notes, “The export of US manufacturing jobs took off… followed by the export of service-sector jobs – so-called outsourcing – a trend that has continued to the present” (with help from investor-rights “free trade” agreements).  Along with this came the entry of millions of women into the workforce and a giant new wave of immigration to the US, mainly from Latin America, primarily Mexico and Central America (where significantly US- and global capitalism-imposed misery drove millions to seek jobs in the north). Under these new labor market pressures, the “American Dream” of steady work and a constantly rising standard of living collapsed for the US working class majority – a twist of fate that the dominant neoliberal ideology has told working people to blame on themselves, personally and privately. [3]

The Job Gap

The third thing I know beyond doubt is that there are many more Americans seeking work than there are decent or even low-wage jobs job openings in the US today.  Conventional conservative and neoliberal US wisdom holds that people are unemployed or under-employed because they are too lazy and unmotivated to work, to move to where “good jobs” are, and/or to upgrade their skills in accord with employers’ needs.  The ideology blames the jobless themselves, considering  them too indolent, too slothful, too “welfare”-coddled, and/or just too plain stupid to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”  But where are all these good jobs in the US (home by the way to the stingiest welfare state amongst rich nations)? As former US State Department official Peter Van Buren, author of Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent, recently noted on TomDispatch.com:

“Move to where to do what? Our country lost one-third of all decent factory jobs – almost six million of them – between 2000 and 2009, and wherever ‘there’ is supposed to be, piles of people are already in line. In addition, many who lost their jobs don’t have the means to move or a friend with a couch to sleep on when they get to Colorado. Some have lived for generations in the places where the jobs have disappeared. As for the jobs that are left, what do they pay? One out of four working Americans earn less than $10 per hour. At 25%, the U.S. has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the developed world. (Canada and Great Britain have 20%, Japan under 15%, and France 11 %.)…One in six men, 10.4 million Americans aged 25 to 64, the prime working years, don’t have jobs at all, a portion of the male population that has almost tripled in the past four decades. They are neither all lazy nor all unskilled, and at present they await news of the uncharted places in the U.S. where those 10 million unfilled jobs are hidden.”

For many Americans, even finding low-paid retail work is next to impossible. Van Buren provides a chilling factoid from Washington DC – capital city of the US “land of opportunity” (“this magical place,” as Barack Obama once descried the US):

“How hard is it to land even a minimum-wage job? This year, the Ivy League college admissions acceptance rate was 8.9%. Last year, when Walmart opened its first store in Washington, D.C., there were more than 23,000 applications for 600 jobs, which resulted in an acceptance rate of 2.6%, making the big box store about twice as selective as Harvard and five times as choosy as Cornell….Telling unemployed people to get off their couches (or out of the cars they live in or the shelters where they sleep) and get a job makes as much sense as telling them to go study at Harvard.”[4]

Think about that: the unemployed of the nation’s capital are more likely to be admitted to Harvard than to be hired at Wal-Mart, a company that functions as a giant sales platform for multinational and “American” corporations that have systemically moved production jobs out of the US to lower-wage regions of the world capitalist system. There’s some shining context for Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s recent observation that “we have 20 million Americans who would like a full-time job and can’t get one.” [5]

Okay, former manufacturing workers and frustrated Wal-Mart applicants: go get some training and higher education to develop those high skills that employers are in such great need of, right? In the spring of 2014, Van Buren notes, the US graduated more than 1.6 million Americans with brand new bachelor’s degrees.  Many of those graduates (many of whom are carrying significant college tuition debt) are already working in low-wage, non-benefit jobs (Starbucks baristas, waiters/waitresses, bar-tenders, telemarketers, retail clerks, and so on), joining the vast army of savagely under-employed – a great mockery to the widespread notion that the main labor market problem facing the US economy is a “skills gap.”

Patching Up the Drunk Driver, Leaving the Guy He Hit Bleeding in the Street

The fourth thing I know for sure is that no tiny part of the current abysmal state of the US job market can be traced to the parasitic shenanigans of the nation’s grotesquely opulent financial elite. The nation’s financial overlords crashed the national and global economy, throwing millions out of work and destroying ordinary households’ savings and lives across the land, in 2007 and 2008.  They perpetrated this deed through the proliferation of reckless financial “weapons of mass destruction” that pumped billions of dollars into the already overstuffed coffers of the upper-reaches of “the 1%” as they generated a bubble whose inevitable bursting created an epic economic mess whose consequences live on today.

The fifth thing I know without a hint of uncertainty is that the federal government under the fake-progressive presidency of Barack Obama44 [5A] (a record-setting recipient of Wall Street election funding in 2008) has followed in the footsteps of George Bush43 by rescuing the reckless financial few who threw millions out of home and job while exacting no real penalty on those wildly irresponsible elites and offering the working class majority nothing (or close to itP to compensate them for their losses. Along the way, Bush and Obama have “given people everywhere” what William Greider called in the spring of 2009 “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.”  US citizens have “watched Washington run to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe.  They [have] learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it”[6] – and little for the rest, the so-called “99 percent,” left to ruefully ask, “where’s our bailout”?

Stiglitz prefers an at once legal and medical metaphor. Noting that the “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions were able to “pay back” the federal government the bailout money they got after the crash only because of a “shell game” whereby the US Federal Reserve lent them hundreds of billions of dollars at zero interest. As Stiglitz recently told Bill Moyers:

“What we did was analogous to we take the perpetrator, the guy who was the drunk driver to the hospital, but we leave the guy that has been hit on the street. And then we say, oh, by the way, you [leading financial institutions] don’t have to pay for any damage that you’ve done. So even after [the Wall Street firms] paid back the government the real question is who’s responsible for all the damage that’s been done to our economy? The people have lost their jobs…that lost their homes? The banks haven’t paid back a cent of that liability. And that’s a real corporate responsibility.”[7]

Ironically enough, Charlotte Bell’s dad worked on the Obama campaign in 2012 and had recently sought policy work in the corporatist, Wall Street-captive Obama White House.

No Shortage of Necessary Work

The sixth thing I know to be indisputably true is that there is no shortage of important tasks for the United States’ millions of “surplus people” to perform in return for decent wages in a time when humanity is faced with the urgent ecological necessity of drastically reducing Greenhouse gas emissions. 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.”[8]

Those who worry about the conflict between concern for jobs and concern for the environment in public opinion might want to reflect on the fact that 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.

As Derber and Magrass note, “Surplus people…are ‘surplus’ only within a system that has made them so.  A more rational and sustainable economy, organized on the basis of human need and social rationality, could employ all Americans.”[9]

It’s More Than a Little Public

The seventh thing I know with supreme confidence is that it is completely dysfunctional to keep the question of how the profit system generates mass structural unemployment and under-employment “private” – removed from full and honest public conversation.  The joblessness and under-employment that capital imposes masses of people is a giant, fundamentally public issue with gigantic implications for the common good. It deserves broad public discussion on the path to saving livable ecology and providing socially useful, economically remunerative, and environmentally essential employment for millions who are ready and willing to work for themselves and others.

Along the way, such a public discussion would save a large number of US citizens from depression and suicide.  They have shamefully been made to feel individually responsible for what is actually a social problem rooted in economic change based on the anti-social imperatives of capital.

Paul Street is an independent Left political commentator, author and historian in Iowa City, IA.  His next book is They Rule: The 1%v Democracy (Paradigm Publishers, 2014)

 

Notes

1. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Crown, 2006), 149-150.

2. Charles Derber and Yale Magrass, The Surplus American: How the 1% is Making Us Redundant (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012), 3-6.

3. Richard Wolff, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012), 37-42.

4. Peter Van Buren, “A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts,” TomDispatch.com (June 3, 2014), http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175851/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren%2C_a_rising_tide_lifts_all_yachts/#more

5. “Stiglitz Calls for Fair Taxes,” Moyers & Company (May 30, 2014), http://billmoyers.com/episode/joseph-e-stiglitz-let%E2%80%99s-stop-subsidizing-tax-dodgers/

5A Paul Street, “The Pretender,” ZNet (June 8, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-pretender/

6.  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

7. “How Tax Reform Can Save the Middle Class,” Moyers & Company (June 6, 2014), http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-how-tax-reform-can-save-the-middle-class/

8. 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

9.  Derber and Magrass. The Surplus American, 3.

The White United States’ Real Founding Father: Lord Dunmore

25/07/14 0 COMMENTS

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24

First published on ZNet, July 4, 2014

Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America (New York University Press, 2014)

How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty amongst the drivers of Negroes?

Samuel Johnson, 1775 

 

“The Moral Equal of Our Founding Fathers”

On March 8, 1985, the right-wing United States President Ronald Reagan spoke in glowing historical terms about the Contras, the murderous counter-revolutionary force funded, trained, and equipped by the US to overthrow the popular Sandinista revolution and government in Nicaragua. “They are our brothers, these freedom-fighters,” Reagan told the Conservative Political Action Conference, “and we owe them our help. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers,” Reagan added, “and the brave men and women of the French Resistance.”

Reagan’s comments irked liberal and left-liberal US opponents of Reagan’s Central American policy.  That policy involved the US providing training and funneling money, weapons, and other supplies to right-wing death squads across the region. The death toll was staggering: more than 70,000 political killings in El Salvador, more than 100,000 in Guatemala, and more than 30,000 murdered in the US proxy “contra war” on Nicaragua.

 “He Has Excited Domestic Insurrection Amongst Us”

It was absurd, of course, for Reagan to identify the Third World-fascist Contras with the anti-fascist French resistance.  But what most rankled many US liberals and progressives was the belief that Reagan had badly maligned the United States’ purportedly noble Founders by associating them with reactionary terrorists doing the CIA and White House’s illegal and dirty work in Central America.

This liberal/left indignation was historically naïve. Reagan was (unwittingly) on to something when he linked the bloody and noxious Contras to the rich and powerful white North Americans (the “Founding Fathers”) who led the early US republic’s break-off from Britain.  Forget for a moment that popular democracy even for whites was the Founders’ worst nightmare and that they crafted a government designed to make sure that the common people, those with little or no property, could not exercise any real power (for details, see Paul Street, “Democracy Incapacitated,” Z Magazine, July/August 2014, 28-30). Recalling that slavery was the main source of capital accumulation and proto-national wealth in late colonial British North America, look at this curious, rarely noted line in the Declaration of Independence’s (DOI’s) list of grievances against King George: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” Here the “royal brute” was accused of advancing social upheaval from the bottom up (“domestic insurrection”) in the New World – an instructive complaint, symptomatic of the “American Revolution’s” counter-revolutionary nature.

Rebellious Slaves and the Balance of Terror

The reference to North America’s indigenous people as pitiless barbarians who slaughtered without distinction was vicious slander.  More than misrepresenting Indian culture and warfare, it anticipated Orwell by projecting onto Native Americans the genocidal practices the white North American settlers repeatedly used against the indigenes they ruthlessly murdered again and again

But go deeper. The reactionary reality of the DOI emerges more clearly when you realize what many of the leading North American colonists hoped to do with the land they wanted to seize from Jefferson’s “merciless Indian savages.” As the prolific historian Gerald Horne suggests in his recent book The Counter-Revolution of 1776Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America (New York, 2014), the (seemingly minor) line in the DOI quoted above reflects a central, fundamentally counter-revolutionary motivation behind the fateful decision to break off from England: a sense that the slave system on which North American fortunes depended could not survive except through secession from the British Empire.

As Horne shows, the expansion of a largely slave-based colonial economy across the New World during the 17thand 18th centuries had caused a serious problem for England, Spain, and France.  Slaves came to outnumber Europeans in the colonial world. Africans in the Americas took notice of their demographic preponderance and recurrently revolted against their masters, forcing Old World authorities to invest ever-rising resources in repression.  The colonizers tried to lure and (mainly through impressment) force enough Europeans to the colonies to sustain a balance of racial power and terror that would suppress slave rebellion.  They failed.

To make matters worse from the Europeans’ perspective, Africans in the New World were empowered by increasing rivalry between the colonial empires. Great conflicts in Europe developed between the colonizers: the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and the Seven Years War (1756-1763). These wars became global affairs in which colonial holdings switched hands between the great powers. They could not be waged in the Caribbean and South America without giving weapons to Blacks, and Black soldiers had to be freed if they were to going to bear arms in European wars.

By the mid-18th century, as intra-European warfare further eroded the profitability of colonial enterprises, the colonial powers were looking for ways to accommodate their Black populations. In the Caribbean, Blacks were incorporated into colonial regimes. European rivalry had given rise to a new class of free Blacks Africans eager and equipped to fight in well-ordered military units against slavery and its remnants wherever they could be found. Hard-line resident British planters in Barbados shut down their operations and moved to North America, where the white/black ratio was less threatening.

The Path to Slaveholder Secession

White North American slave-owners and northern merchants who profited from the lucrative slave economy owners were not pleased with these developments. They experienced numerous slave revolts even in their part of the British Empire.  Examples included major Black rebellions in Manhattan (1712, 1741) and South Carolina (the Stono Uprising, a mass 1739 uprising that included the massacre of dozens of settlers) – only the best known incidents. White North American colonists across the 18th century reported numerous incidents of slaves poisoning their masters, plotting insurrections, taking over ships, and setting fires.  “Black insurrectionists” were commonly said to be in league with the hated imperial rivals France and Spain. Horne notes that “one historian has observed as early as the 1760s that ‘every white person in the eastern counties [of Virginia] knew of a free person that had been killed by a slave’ [and that]…‘individual whites had nightmares about waking up amid slaves or feeling the first spasms of a stomach contorted by poison’” (Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776, p. 237).  Between 1756 and 1763, the white settlers of North America “endured a remarkable spate of slave plots driven by the flux brought by the Seven Years War” (Horne, 237).

The settlement of that war played a pivotal role putting the US colonist-Founders on the road to secession (“Independence”). After its victory over France – following a war in which “London made extensive use of armed Africans” in the New World (Horne, 187) – the British government decreed a limit to the colonists’ territorial expansion on the North American mainland. The royal Proclamation of 1763 conflicted with the colonists’ insatiable lust for fertile land to plant and harvest cash crops with Black slaves – land inhabited by Jefferson’s “merciless Indian Savages.”  Had the settlers been forced to remain within England’s confines, they feared, Black population growth would generate a “Caribbean” situation in North America. Their dread of black rebellion was enhanced by the constant influx into North America of black slaves infected with the “Caribbean virus” (resistance) – this thanks to the liberalization and dramatic expansion of the global slave trade in the 18thcentury.

There followed two further great steps on the path to the North American slaveholders’ secession – to American Independence. In the famous June 1772 Somerset case (Somerset v Lewis of 1772, 98 ER 499), the British court ruled that chattel slavery violated English common law. The application of Somerset to the thirteen British colonies would have meant an end to the slave machine that fed the coffers of the Yankee mercantile elite and fueled the wealth of New England (see below) while it created a wealthy landed aristocracy in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The British judge responsible for the decision (William Murray Mansfield) became a special target of white colonists’ denunciation over the next four years.

The next landmark came in November 1775, when Lord Dunmore, the royal Governor of Virginia, offered to liberate and arm North American slaves to squash the anti-colonial rebellion under way since the Tea Act of 1773.  With this action, Dunmore “entered a pre-existing maelstrom of [colonial] insecurity about slavery and London’s intentions” (Horne, 222). Across the future US South in the spring of 1775, elite colonists were consumed with fears of a slave insurrection allied with the British, Spanish, and/or Native Americans. “Lord Dunmore’s proclamation effectively barred any possibility of rebel reconciliation with London” (Horne, 234) as the colonists “now confronted Africans armed by London” (Horne, 237).

The Somerset decision and Dunmore’s edict irrevocably joined London with Abolition in the minds of the white colonists. The latter provided the decisive white rallying point for what historian Thelma Wills Foote accurately called “a white settler revolt” and “the white American War for Independence” – fought in no small measure to preserve and expand black chattel slavery.  Independence emerged from “the state of the mind of the rebels” who already by early 1775 “coming to believe that a London-African combine was mounting against them, leaving secession – a unilateral Declaration of Independence – as the only way out” (Horne, 227, emphasis added). Two months before Dunmore issued his proclamation, rebels in South Carolina hung and cremated a free black man, Thomas Jeremiah, for saying that if England sent troops to repress the colonists he would join them.  Over the objections of South Carolina’s royal colonial governor, Jeremiah was tried and found guilty of “exciting the Negroes to an insurrection” (Horne, 226). “Even before the Dunmore proclamation,” Horne shows, “colonists were up in arms in light of alleged attempts by the crown to incite the Africans against them.”

When Dunmore issued his edict, there was no turning back from white independence, leading Horne to ironically but properly call Lord Dunmore a leading US “Founding Father.”

It is hardly surprising that North American slaves identified the cause of Freedom with London, not the rebels.  Tens of thousands of those slaves and a large number of free blacks naturally “joined the redcoats” (Horne, 246).

Exceptional White Triumph in North America

The colonists’ triumph over London “brought about the reassertion of slaveowner control over the enslaved black population in the new republic” (Foote, quoted in Horne, 244). The North American slave system tightened and expanded in subsequent years.  The color line between white and black was drawn with harsher lines than ever before in the “land of liberty.” Horne reflects on immediate and long-term consequences that does not jibe very well (to say the least) with the dominant national sense (shared even by many left historians) of the American Revolution as a democratic, forward-leaning development:

“there is a disjuncture between the supposed progressive and avant-garde import of 1776 and the worsening of conditions of Africans and the indigenous that followed upon the triumph of the rebels. Moreover, despite the alleged revolutionary and progressive impulse of 1776, the victors went on from there to crush indigenous politics, then moved overseas to do something similar in Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines, then unleashed its counter-revolutionary force in 20th-cetury Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Angola, South Africa, Iran, Grenada, Nicaragua and other tortured sites too numerous to mention” (Horne, 248).

The white North American settlers’ counter-revolution was a great slavery success – at least until the Civil War, when another white secession and military necessity compelled Abraham Lincoln to follow in Lord Dunmore’s footsteps by liberating and arming black slaves.

The “American paradox” (US historian Edmund Morgan’s term), whereby “the Age of Liberty” was also “the Age of Slavery,” was not limited to colonial North America and the United States.  As the historian Greg Grandin reminds us, “the paradox can be applied to all of the Americas, North and South…What was true for Richmond [Virginia] was no less true for Buenos Aires and Lima – that what many meant by freedom was the freedom to buy and sell black people as property” (Greg Grandin, Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, New York, 2014, emphasis added). But consider this: of the 10 to 16 million Africans who survived the brutal Middle Passage to the New World, two-thirds ended up in Brazil or the West Indies. But by 1860, approximately two thirds of all New World slaves lived in the US South. In the US alone among the new Western Hemisphere Republics of the 19th century, slavery flourished rather than faded – until its destruction in the Civil War.

Part of the explanation for that disjuncture is the natural reproduction of slaves under the “paternalist” regime of the US South.  Another aspect is the remarkable expansion of cotton slavery across the US South in the first half of the 19th century, intimately related to the eaely industrial revolution in England and Europe.  A final piece is the white settlers’/slaveholders’ Counter-Revolution of 1776.  The break-off slayed the specter of British Abolition and opened up vast new swaths of land for genocidal theft from the continent’s original inhabitants and the deployment of new slave cash-crop production armies.

Northern Investment in Slavery 

It wasn’t just the slave-owners of the southern North American colonies and early US who had a strong vested interest in the survival and expansion of slavery. “Freedom”-loving New England, in many ways the spiritual and ideological cradle of Independence, was thoroughly embroiled in the system of black bondage.  As the historian Lorenzo Greene noted 46 years ago, slavery “formed the very basis of the economic life of New England; about it revolved, and on it, depended, most of her other industries.” Grandin elaborates on the New England economy at the end of the 18th century:

“The expansion of slave labor in the South and into the West was still years away, but slavery as it then existed in the southern states was already an important source of northern profit, as was the already exploding slave trade in the Caribbean and South America.  Banks capitalized the slave trade and insurance companies underwrote it. Covering slave voyages helped start Rhode Island’s insurance industry, while in Connecticut some of the first policies written by Aetna were on slaves’ lives.  In turn, profits made from loans and insurance policies were plowed into other northern businesses.  Fathers who made ‘made their fortunes outfitting ships for distant voyages’ left their money to sons who ‘built factories, chartered banks, incorporated canal and railroad enterprises, invested in government securities, and speculated in new financial instruments’….The use of slave labor in the North was ending [by the late 1790s], but throughout New England there were merchant families and port towns – Salem, Newport, Providence, Portsmouth, and New London among them – that thrived on the [slave] trade.  Many of the millions of gallons of rum distilled annually in Massachusetts and Rhode Island were used to obtain slaves, who were then brought to West Indies and traded for sugar and molasses, which were boiled to make more rum to be used to acquire more slaves.  Other New Englanders benefitted more indirectly, building the slave ships, weaving the ‘negro cloth’ and cobbling the shoes to dress slaves, or catching and salting the fish used to feed them in the southern states and Caribbean islands (Grandin, Empire of Necessity, 79-80)

“Our Revolution…Alarmed at One Common Danger”

Ronald Reagan is hardly the only US president to have been fond of wrapping his administration in the supposedly glorious legacy of the US Founders and their “American revolution.” Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Address asked Americans to remember how “In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: ‘Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

For this writer at least, it was disturbing to hear the nation’s first black president citing the white War for Independence as an example of how “we” Americans united against “one common danger.” The new republic’s snows and soils and forests and tobacco, rice, and cotton fields had long been stained with the blood and tears of Native Americans and black slaves. Many North American slaves, free blacks, and indigenous people found and acted on good reasons to favor the British over the colonists in the war between England and the rising new racist and settler-imperialist slave state. England, after all, had put some limits on the pace at which the North Americans could steal the land the ruin the lives of the nation’s original inhabitants and turn western frontiers into sites for the ruthless exploitation of enslaved blacks.  The British promised freedom to slaves who turned against their masters during the imperial settlers’ war of national slavery liberation. Sadly, the fate and struggle of the early republic’s black and red victims foretold the future struggles of Asians, Latin Americans, and Middle Easterners caught on the wrong side of the United States’ “freedom”-loving guns, alliances, and doctrines as the “infant empire” grew to toxic and deadly maturity and lethal senility.

Historian and journalist Paul Street is the author of many books, including They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy(Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810)

Democracy Incapacitated

28/06/14 0 COMMENTS

Z Magazine (July-August 2014).  As the United States’ giant, globally unmatched, and racially hyper-disparate mass-incarceration regime exploded in the 1970s and 1980s, the reigning U.S. penal doctrine underwent a significant change. It shifted from the goal of “rehabilitation” to the objective of “incapacitation”—from prisoners’ societal redemption, restoration, and re-entry to their punitive disablement and exclusion.

Incapacitation is a common police and military term. It describes what those vested with the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence are often expected to do to officially designated criminals and enemies. The consequences are often fatal for those on the wrong side of U.S. local, county, state, and federal state guns, grenades, bombs, missiles, artillery shells, drones, bayonets, tasers, SWAT team and Special Forces raids, roadblocks, electric chairs, poison gas vents, and lethal injection syringes. Death is the ultimate “incapacitation.”

The old criminal justice doctrine (rehabilitation) was premised on the notion that most inmates could be “redeemed” and returned to “productive” engagement in civil society. The new doctrine (incapacitation) abandoned that “naïve” liberal sentiment. It said the nation’s growing millions of ex-citizens behind bars or otherwise under criminal supervision (probation, parole, home confinement, electronic monitoring, etc.) was essentially irredeemable. The main and proper goal of the criminal justice system was to “protect society” from the nation’s hopeless criminal class by disabling the incorrigible miscreants.

….by Capitalism

Disturbingly enough, the concepts of incapacitation and disablement apply shockingly well to the U.S. power elite’s basic attitude and policy towards the U.S. citizenry and towards that elite’s longstanding ultimate nightmare: popular governance and sovereignty—also known as democracy. Listen to U.S. Marxist economist Richard Wolff’s take on how and why U.S. domestic policy shifted well to the regressive, corporate-neoliberal right, leading to the dramatic upward distributions of U.S. wealth, income, and power over the last generation. That shift had nothing to do with a movement toward ideological alignment with big business and the rich on the part of the broad populace. As Wolff noted in his widely read book, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Haymarket, 2012), “The last three decades of U.S. politics did not see a change of political opinion from more left to more right. Rather, what happened was a relative withdrawal from politics on the part of those social groups that favored social-welfare and income-redistribution policies (the New Deal ‘legacy’) and a relative increase in the participation of business and the rich, who used their money to shift the tone and content of U.S. politics [to the right].” Working- and lower-class participation in politics, already constricted by the 1970s, declined significantly under the pressure of stagnant wages, rising working hours, and increased levels of household debt. These burdens “all combined to leave working families with less time and energy to devote to politics—or indeed to social activities and organizations in general” (Wolff).

As described by Wolff, the “relative withdrawal from politics” on the part of the working and lower classes wasn’t about choice. It was about incapacitation—a loss of the “time and energy” required for meaningful civic engagement. It was also about the top-down incapacitation of organized labor, which had provided the main institutional vehicle for capturing and acting on workers’ shared economic and political aspiration in the U.S. for many years.

The decline in popular engagement occurred as U.S. labor unions’ long and steep decline of membership and effectiveness accelerated under employer assault while soaring profits and wealth gave the rich massive resources to invest in capturing the nation’s political and policy processes.

By Wolff’s account—accurate by my estimation—we are dealing with fundamental contradictions between capitalism and democracy. The richer they get, the more the wealthy corporate and financial few are incentivized to influence politics: “Rising economic inequalities are always a concern to those at the top because of the risks of envy, resentment, and opposition.

“There is always the possibility that the economically disadvantaged will seek to use political means to recoup their losses in the economy. The 99 percent might turn to politics to negate the economic gains of the 1 percent. Thus it became—and remains—more important than ever for the 1 percent to use their money to shape and control politics” (Wolff).

The problem is systemic. As Wolff elaborates: “we must question the very possibility of democracy in a society in which capitalism is the basic economic system. A functioning democracy would require that all people be provided with the time, information, counsel, and other supports needed to participate effectively in decision-making in the workplace and the local, regional, and national levels of their residential communities.

“The economic realities of capitalism preclude that for the overwhelming majority of workers, in stark contrast to corporate directors, top managers, their professional staff, and all those with significant incomes from property…. Only a highly mobilized and coordinated organization of the workers could hope to secure the financial resources that might begin seriously to contest the political power of capitalists’ money by combining very small contributions from very large number of donors. This possibility has sufficiently concerned capitalist interests that they have devoted enormous resources to sustaining opposition to workers’ organizations. That opposition helped to produce the last fifty years’ decline in U.S. union membership as a percentage of workers and of political parties seeking to represent workers’ interests against those of capitalist.”

A Friendly Critique

There are some loose ends in Wolff’s analysis. The mechanisms whereby ordinary U.S. workers and citizens are marginalized and disempowered—incapacitated—are far more numerous and complex than Wolff appreciates in his volume (I provide a more comprehensive account of how the U.S. ruling class rules in my book, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy, (Paradigm Publishers, 2014). Those mechanisms include racist mass incarceration and criminal marking (so ubiquitous that 1 in 3 Black adult males now carries the crippling lifelong mark of a felony record), critical factors in the political disablement of the U.S. working and lower classes.

Democracy at Work is dedicated above all to the proposition that the key task for those who seriously want to empower the working class majority is to create democratic workplaces—what he calls “workers’ self-directed enterprises.” Surely Wolff is aware that the U.S. labor organizations whose decline he bemoans made no fundamental challenge to basic capitalist employer prerogatives. “Big Labor” owed its onetime central presence in American life to its cutting of a basic deal (the “post-World War II labor-capital bargain”) in which it traded away any interest in workers’ control or managerial co-determination in return for a promise of rising wages, benefits, and automatic union dues collection—a deal which helped entrench the militantly hierarchical, alienated, and highly subdivided nature of the capitalist labor process.

There are national differences in the extent to which workers, citizens, and the public good are marginalized and incapacitated by capitalism—differences that do not receive serious attention in Democracy at Work. Western European workers enjoy more capacity to participate in and influence politics, policy, and even workplace/shop-floor relations than do their U.S. counterparts (for historical reasons beyond the scope of the present essay). Union density (the percentage of workers enrolled in unions), collective bargaining, hourly wages, benefits, working hours, the social wage (including government safety nets and health care)—all these and more have tended to hold up to a significantly greater degree for workers and citizens in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand than in the U.S. across the long neoliberal “globalization” era (1974 to the present). Western European workers also enjoy significantly more independent political representation within their respective national governments. The point should not be exaggerated, for capital rules Europe as surely as it reigns in the U.S., but there are distinctions of degree and form that matter in terms of real-life consequences for workers and citizens on the different sides of the Atlantic and the U.S.-Canada border.

Time as a Democracy Issue

Still, Wolff put his finger on the very critical, and all-too-rarely noted, fact that the U.S. shift to the corporate and financial right from the 1970s on has had nothing to do with the democratic will of the citizenry and everything to do with the economic elites’ political incapacitation of the nation’s working class majority and of whatever economic, social, and political democracy the U.S. working class majority and its progressive allies had achieved during the long New Deal era (1932-1975). The purchase of politicians through ever-escalating private funding of elections and the top-down business class war on U.S. unions are key parts of the incapacitation process, of course.

Wolff deserves special credit, I think, for getting the all-too commonly neglected fact that time is a key democracy issue. Leisure is a core requirement of popular governance/sovereignty. What use, early 19th century labor activists and workers asked, were the American Revolution and the extension of voting rights to property-less citizens if those citizens and workers lacked the time and energy to inform and educate themselves on the issues of the day and to meaningfully participate in civil life? As these union pioneers knew, formal democracy was an empty gift without enough leisure time for the populace to enjoy and utilize its benefits. The struggles for the ten- and, later, the eight-hour work day expressed, among other things, everyday citizen-workers’ desire to meaningfully participate in the purported age of democracy.

That all-too-forgotten history provides interesting context for a disdainful remark made by a veteran Wall Street financial executive in mid-October 2011, when the Occupy Movement was in its short-lived heyday. “It’s not a middle-class uprising,” the banker told the New York Times. “It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this” (Nelson D. Schwartz and Eric Dash, “In Private, Wall St. Bankers Dismiss Protestors as Unsophisticated,” New York Times, October 14, 2011). Beyond the fact that most of the Occupiers came from middle- and working-class backgrounds, that Wall Street had created (often unwanted) free time for millions of Americans by collapsing the job market, and that Occupy’s core grievances (the excessive wealth and power of the super-rich and the corrosive impact of America’s shockingly high levels of economic inequality) were shared by most Americans, the most remarkable thing about the banker’s complaint was the scorn it conveyed for the notion that part of the citizenry might actually possess enough time to participate in a protest movement. In a better America, the financial master seemed to think, the populace would be so busy, so occupied, so yoked to what 19th century labor activists routinely called “wage-slavery” (and/or to salary-slavery, debt-slavery, student-hood, private business and home tasks, or other individual pursuits)—so incapacitated by time poverty—that nobody would have enough hours, minutes, and days to fight back against concentrated wealth and power

“Let the People Be Taught They Are Not Able to Govern Themselves”

It is tempting to see contemporary U.S.-capitalist democracy-incapacitation as discontinuous with the nation’s supposedly “democratic” origins and semi-sacred Founders. The temptation should be resisted. The Founders included some brilliant individuals, but their brilliance was harnessed largely to the cause of anti-democracy. Drawn from the elite propertied segments of late British colonial North America, the delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention shared their compatriot John Jay’s view that “the people who own the country ought to govern it.” As the celebrated U.S. historian Richard Hofstader noted in his classic text The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made it (1948): “in their minds, liberty was not linked not to democracy but to property.” Democracy was an extremely dangerous concept to them, conferring “unchecked rule by the masses,” which was “sure to bring arbitrary redistribution of property, destroying the very essence of liberty.” Hofstader’s take on the Founders is born out in historian Jennifer Nedelsky’s comprehensively researched volume Private Property and the Limits of American Constitutionalism (1990). For all but one of the U.S. Constitution’s Framers (James Wilson), Nedelsky noted, protection of “property” (meaning in essence the people who owned large amounts of it) was by far and away “the main object of government.” The non-affluent, non-propertied and slightly propertied popular majority was for the framers “a problem to be contained.”

In Hofstader’s account, New England minister Jeremy Belknap captured the fundamental idea behind the Founders’ notion of what they liked to call “popular government.” “Let it stand as a principle,” Belknap wrote to an associate, “that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves.” Belknap expressed the conflicted, but ultimately authoritarian soul of bourgeois revolutions, whose propertied beneficiaries require the heavy lifting of the dangerous “many-headed mob” (the property-less and property-poor popular classes) in order to overthrow (or in the U.S. case break off from) the old regime. The “masses” are then supposed to retreat to the margins, understanding their incapacity to “govern themselves” and grateful to have the old set of rulers replaced by a supposedly better, more deserving and progressive set of rulers.

Making it “More Difficult for All Who Feel It to Discover Their Strength” (Madison)

Anyone who doubts the anti-democratic character of the Founders’ world view should read the Federalist Papers, written by the leading advocates of the U.S. Constitution to garner support for their preferred form of so-called popular government. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison argued that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention” and “incompatible with…the rights of property.” Democratic governments gave rise, Madison felt, to “factious leaders” who could “kindle a flame” amongst the dangerous masses for “improper and wicked projects” like “the printing of paper money,” “abolition of debts,” and “an equal division of property.”

Madison recommended two populace-incapacitating safeguards against these “wicked” populace menaces: first, “the delegation of the government to a small number of citizens elected by the rest;” second, the creation of a territorially large nation. The first precaution would “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of [wealthy] citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of the country.” In Federalist No. 63, Madison elaborated on this theme, arguing that an elite legislative chamber (the U.S. Senate) was required as “defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions”—including their own “fanatical” preference for equality. Madison’s second safeguard was based on his conclusion that a geographically vast country was superior to a smaller one when it came to diluting popular power. “Extend the sphere,” Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10, and it becomes “more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and act in unions with each other.” As Madison elaborated in Federalist No. 63, “people spread over an extensive region cannot, like the crowded inhabitants of a small district, be subject to the infection of violent passions or to the dangers of combining in pursuit of unjust measures” like the downward distribution of wealth.

In Federalist No. 35, Madison’s fellow Constitution advocate Alexander Hamilton argued that the common people were incapable of serving in Congress and found their proper representatives in the nation’s small class of wealthy merchant capitalists. “The idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people by persons of each class is altogether visionary,” Hamilton wrote. The “weights and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal” than the “other classes of the community,” Hamilton explained. The “mechanics [artisans and workers],” Hamilton added, were “sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments” required for “a deliberative assembly.”

Checkmating Democracy

Consistent with the authoritarian, “small-r republican” sentiments of the early U.S. republic’s Founders, the nation’s rich white fathers crafted a form of “popular government” that was a monument to popular incapacitation. The U.S. Constitution’s preamble may have claimed that, “We the people” had formed a new government “in order to…establish Justice… promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” But the Founders’ deep fear and loathing of the “wicked,” “factious” and “violent” masses shaped the structure of America’s great “democratic experiment” at inception.

The Constitution divided the federal government into three parts, with just one-half of one of those three parts (the House of Representatives) elected directly by “the people”—a category that excluded blacks, women, Native Americans, and property-less white males (that is, most people in the early Republic). It set up elaborate checks and balances to prevent the possibility of the common people influencing policy to any significant degree. It omitted any mechanism to enforce elected wealthy representatives’ direct accountability to “the people” between elections and introduced a system of intermittent, curiously staggered elections (two years for the House, six years for the Senate, and four years for the presidency) precisely to discourage sweeping and focused electoral rebellions by the majority. It created an elite Supreme Court appointed for life with ultimate de facto veto power over legislation or executive actions that might too strongly bear the imprint of the dangerous masses. It sanctified the epic un-freedom and anti-democracy of black chattel slavery, permitting slave states to count their savagely disenfranchised and incapacitated chattel towards their Congressional apportionment in the House of Representatives. The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. president —even on the limited basis of one vote for each propertied white male.

It is true that the Constitution’s Article V provided a mechanism technically permitting citizens to make critical amendments to the nation’s charter document. And U.S. progressives today, and for some time now, have advocated amendments meant to more properly align U.S. politics and policy with public opinion, which stands well to the left of both of the nation’s reigning, business-captive political organizations. Among the changes proposed through the amendment route: abolition of the anti-majoritarian Electoral College and the introduction of direct national popular election and majority choice either in a first multi-party round or (if no candidate attains a majority in the first round) a runoff race between the top two presidential candidates; reversal of the Supreme Court’s equation of political money and “free speech”; the full public financing of campaigns (eliminating private money from public elections); undoing the special legal “personhood” protections enjoyed by corporations; the introduction of proportional representation (whereby seats are awarded to parties in accord with their share of the party, opening the possibility for significant third, fourth, and more parties) into Congressional elections; the elimination of partisan gerrymandering in the drawing of electoral districts; introduction of statehood for the District of Columbia; and the Equal Rights Amend- ment, establishing equal civil and political rights for women and people of non-traditional sexual orientation.

But the established process for amending the U.S. Constitution is absurdly difficult. The left Constitution critic Daniel Lazare argues that the American people are not actually sovereign under that practically sacred founding document thanks in no small part to Article V, which makes it practically impossible for the populace to alter the government. As Lazare observes: “Moments after establishing the people as the omnipotent makers and breakers of constitutions, [the 1787 U.S. Constitution] announced that they would henceforth be subject to the severest of constraints. Changing so much as a comma in the Constitution would require the approval of two-thirds of each house of Congress plus three-fourths of the states. At the time, Article V meant that just four of the 13 states representing as little as 9.7 percent of the total population would be able to veto any change sought by remainder. Today, it means that thirteen out of the 50 states can do the same even though their share of the population stands at as little as 4.2 percent. (In a couple of decades, it will be down to just 3.9 percent.) Over the course of a few thousand words, the people had gone from being all-powerful to virtually powerless… It is important to keep in mind that the people did not assert their sovereignty in Philadelphia in 1787. Rather, the founders invoked it. Once they uttered the magic incantation, moreover, they hastened to put the genie back in the bottle by declaring the people all but powerless to alter their own plan of government…. Democratic politics are crippled as a consequence” (Dan Lazare, “Sovereignty and the Constitution,” June 16, 2013, http://daniellazare.com/).

This harsh reality—hardly unintended or accidental—defies both the Constitution’s preamble and the U.S. Declaration of Independence’s determination that governments “derive[e]…their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of [humans’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

The same corporate and financial largesse that plays such a critical role in tilting the nation’s elections towards the business-friendly right would also come into play in powerful ways in fighting efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution in any way meant to further the causes of social justice, equality, and real democracy.

As Lazare (author of the aptly titled volume Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy, (1997) and other Constitutional scholars have shown, we are still dealing on numerous levels with the purposefully authoritarian and democracy-incapacitating consequences of the nation’s practically deified founding document. It’s an important point telling us among other things that nationally specific political and government histories and structures matter. The United States was largely pre-capitalist at the time that the U.S. Constitution was set up—something that ought to remind us in its own way that the barriers to genuine popular governance/sovereignty cannot be reduced simply to capitalism, however centrally the profits system stands as a barrier to democracy at home and abroad. Z

 Paul Street’s next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy.

Obama’s Whitewashed World War II

23/06/14 0 COMMENTS

Originally published on ZNet, June 22, 2014

“If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible.”

So said US Senator (D-MO) and future US Vice President and President Harry Truman on the floor of the US Senate on June 23, 1941.

Just shy of three years later, after millions of Russians had already perished under German onslaught, the US and England, finally launched their assault on Nazi-occupied Europe from across the English Channel – the famous D-Day invasion whose 70th anniversary the West celebrated with great fanfare two weeks at the Normandy American Cemetery on the west coast of France.

 Kill List Obama: “The World Had Never Seen Anything Like It”

US President Barack Obama condemns untold numbers to death and disfigurement without trial through targeted drone attacks ordered off his personal Kill List and from the safe and secure confines of the White House. With raised nostrils and puffed-up chest, he really got his nationally narcissistic mojo working during the commemoration at Omaha Beach. Obama boasted about how “America …gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril.” He saluted how “freedom’s victory was made possible by [those]…who wore America’s uniform” and “an army of women, including my grandmother, who helped build a mighty arsenal of democracy.”

Obama lavished praise on the US troops, calling them “men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they’d never met, and ideals they couldn’t live without….These men,” Obama declared, “waged war so that we might know peace. They sacrificed so that we might be free.”

“What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom,” Obama intoned, “then the sight of wave after wave of young men boarding those boats `to liberate people they’d never met….[I]n the annals of history,” Obama droned on, “the world had never seen anything like it. When the war was won, we claimed no spoils of victory — we helped Europe rebuild. We claimed no land other than the earth where we bury those who gave their lives under our flag, and where we station those who still serve under it. But America’s claim — our commitment — to liberty; to equality; to freedom; to the inherent dignity of every human being — that claim is written in blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity.”

Then Obama heaped acclaim on the United States’ “9/11 Generation of service members” who have endured “combat’ (occupation) tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and “proved once again that the United States is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”

How’s that for national humility? As usual with Obama’s loftier global orations, I was chilled by the president’s Orwellian capacity for the outwardly eloquent distortion of past and current history in accord with the doctrinal requirements of empire.

US Support of European Fascism as a Bulwark Against Socialism

The people of Russia can be forgiven if they didn’t exactly go gaga for Obama and the rest of the speakers at the Normandy extravaganza two weeks ago. Beyond Obama’s recent, brazenly imperial actions in Eastern Europe (the latest phase of the US-led West’s ongoing provocation of Moscow), there’s the inconvenient historical fact that the US/Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe came quite late in the United States’ purported struggle to rescue “liberty at its moment of maximum peril.” The Soviet Russians suffered by far and away the lion’s share of the virulently anti-Marxist Nazi regime’s murder toll (more than 20 million Soviet citizens died because of Hitler’s invasion of Russia).

Harry Truman was hardly the only top American, British, or Western “leader” who hoped that fascist Germany and the “socialist” Soviet Union would tear each other to shreds. Along with many ruling class comrades in England, France, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere, the US corporate and imperial establishment in the interwar years had supported the rise of virulently authoritarian and militarist anti-Left European fascism as a bulwark and bettering ram against socialism, anarchism, and workers’ parties and movement not just in “socialist” (actually state-capitalist and tyrannical) Russia but in Western and Central Europe as well.

It should hardly surprising, then that “in the first area of Europe liberated [from Nazi control] – southern Italy…the US….imposed a right-wing dictatorship headed by fascist war hero Field Marshall Badoglio and the King, Victor Emmanuel III, who was also a fascist collaborator.” As Noam Chomsky explained in his 1992 volume What Uncle Sam Really Wants, “US planners recognized that the ‘threat’ in Europe was…worker- and peasant-based antifascist resistance with its radical democratic ideals and the political power and appeal of the local communist parties,” who had heroically led the struggles against Italian and German fascism. Therefore, “As US forces advanced through Italy, they dispersed this antifascist resistance and restored the basic structure of the prewar Fascist regime.” A similar logic led the US to install a leading Nazi collaborator as the Governor General of French North Africa during the war and to ally with fascist and monarchical forces against workers and peasants in Greece after the war.

Contrary to what many US high school history teachers like to think, the US did not (belatedly) enter the fight with Hitler’s Third Reich out of concern for the terrible plight of Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe, or in order to challenge Hitler’s racist ideas, or out of some kind of special concern for the freedom of unknown people in defenseless countries. Saving European Jewry was never anything remotely like a high priority for the US wartime Franklin Roosevelt administration. The popular historian and WWII veteran Howard Zinn flew hundreds of death-defying missions over Nazi German. As he noted in his bestselling book A People’s History of the United States (originally published in 1980):

“It was not Hitler’s attacks on the Jews that brought the United States into World War II, any more than the enslavement of 4 million blacks brought Civil War in 1861. Italy’s attack on Ethiopia, Hitler’s invasion of Austria, his takeover of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland-none of those events caused the United States to enter the war, although Roosevelt did begin to give important aid to England. What brought the United States fully into the war was the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Surely it was not the humane concern for Japan’s bombing of civilians that led to Roosevelt’s outraged call for war-Japan’s attack on China in 1937, her bombing of civilians at Nan king, had not provoked the United States to war. It was the Japanese attack on a link in the American Pacific Empire that did it.”

 Separate and Unequal

Like the United States’ domestic society itself, the US armed forces were savagely segregated by race, with blacks relegate to separate and inferior positions. As Zinn observed in A People’s History:

“When troops were jammed onto the Queen Mary in early 1945 to go to combat duty in the European theater, the blacks were stowed down in the depths of the ship near the engine room, as far as possible from the fresh air of the deck, in a bizarre reminder of the slave voyages of old….The Red Cross, with government approval, separated the blood donations of black and white. It was, ironically, a black physician named Charles Drew who developed the blood bank system. He was put in charge of the wartime donations, and then fired when he tried to end blood segregation. Despite the urgent need for wartime labor, blacks were still being discriminated against for jobs. A spokesman for a West Coast aviation plant said: ‘The Negro will be considered only as janitors and in other similar capacities….. Regardless of their training as aircraft workers, we will not employ them.’ Roosevelt never did anything to enforce the orders of the Fair Employment Practices Commission he had set up.”

More than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were swept up and taken by force from the US West Coast to prison camps in the US interior for the duration of the war. The war ended with the United States’ vicious and completely unnecessary atom-bombing of hundreds of thousands of “Jap” civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – monstrous war crimes meant to warn the Soviets not to cross the new global hegemonic power Uncle Sam in Asia or anywhere else. US President Harry Truman had an interesting comment when news of the Hiroshima bombing reached him: “This is the greatest thing in history!”

An Unlikely Liberator

Did the United States really enter World War II and undertake the D-Day invasion out of a noble desire to desire to liberate people that Americans had never met and didn’t know and to defend democratic “ideals they couldn’t live without”? Not likely! By WWII veteran Zinn’s account:

“For the United States to step forward as a defender of helpless countries matched its image in high school history textbooks, but not its record in world affairs. It had instigated a war with Mexico and taken half of that country. It had pretended to help Cuba win freedom from Spain, and then planted itself in Cuba with a military base, investments, and rights of intervention. It had seized Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and fought a brutal war to subjugate the Filipinos. It had ‘opened’ Japan to its trade with gunboats and threats. It had declared an Open Door Policy in China as a means of assuring that the United States would have opportunities equal to other imperial powers in exploiting China. It had sent troops to Peking with other nations, to assert Western supremacy in China, and kept them there for over thirty years….While demanding an Open Door in China, it had insisted (with the Monroe Doctrine and many military interventions) on a Closed Door in Latin America – that is, closed to everyone but the United States. It had engineered a revolution against Colombia and created the ‘independent’ state of Panama in order to build and control the Canal. It sent five thousand marines to Nicaragua in 1926 to counter a revolution, and kept a force there for seven years. It intervened in the Dominican Republic for the fourth time in 1916 and kept troops there for eight years. It intervened for the second time in Haiti in 1915 and kept troops there for nineteen years. Between 1900 and 1933, the United States intervened in Cuba four times, in Nicaragua twice, in Panama six times, in Guatemala once, in Honduras seven times. By 1924 the finances of half of the twenty Latin American states were being directed to some extent by the United States. By 1935, over half of U.S. steel and cotton exports were being sold in Latin America….Just before World War I ended, in 1918, an American force of seven thousand landed at Vladivostok as part of an Allied intervention in Russia, and remained until early 1920. Five thousand more troops were landed at Archangel, another Russian port, also as part of an Allied expeditionary force, and stayed for almost a year. The State Department told Congress: ‘All these operations were to offset effects of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.’”

US War as a Racket (Butler)

How committed were the US Armed Forces to liberty and democracy abroad – or even at home? On his 1935 book War is a Racket, the recently retired and highly decorated US Marines General J. Smedley Butler recalled that “like all members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in military service.”

Free to think independently upon leaving the Marines, Butler left little doubt as to who the ultimate higher-ups were. “I spent 33 years four months,” Butler wrote, as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” Further:

“I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

The US war-racket enriched a select few wealthy Americans, Butler reflected, not the mostly working-class soldiers on the front lines: “A few profit and the many pay…How many of the war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench?”

“Be Sure to Kill the First One” (Patton)

In his D-Day commemoration speech, Obama gave shout-outs to the famous US WWII Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George. S. Patton, and Douglass MacArtthur. Each of these generals participated m the bloody US military suppression of the 1932 Bonus Army – a march on Washington by more than 20,000 US World War I veterans who came in the depths of the Great Depression to claim from Congress the “bonus certificates” they were due. As Zinn noted in A People’s History, they were met and crushed by the future WWII commanders:

“Four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, a machine gun squadron, and six tanks assembled near the White House. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the operation, Major Dwight Eisenhower his aide. George S. Patton was one of the officers. MacArthur led his troops down Pennsylvania Avenue, used tear gas to clear veterans out of the old buildings, and set the buildings on fire. Then the army moved across the bridge to Anacostia. Thousands of veterans, wives, children, began to run as the tear gas spread. The soldiers set fire to some of the huts, and soon the whole encampment was ablaze. When it was all over, two veterans had been shot to death, an eleven-week-old baby had died, an eight-year-old boy was partially blinded by gas, two police had fractured skulls, and a thousand veterans were injured by gas.”

Later that same year, then Major George S. Patton reflected on the lessons of this domestic military repression to write a government paper titled “Federal Troops in Domestic Disturbances.” Here are some of the more lovely democratic, freedom-loving formulations in that paper:

“The use of gas is paramount. It may be used by hand grenades with a range of 25 yards, rifle grenades with a range of 250 yards, or bombs and stokes mortars. While tear gas is effective, it should be backed up with vomiting gas.”

“Although white phosphorus is incendiary, it is useful in forming a screen for the attack of barricades and defended houses.”

“Next in order of importance come the saber, the bayonet, and the club. In the case of dismounted troops, do not close in on a mob with the bayonet or club if you are largely outnumbered. If the mob refuses to disperse, give them a fixed time, perhaps five minutes. Call the minutes so they can hear. If they are unheeding, lob some gas into the rear of the crowd at exactly the end of the period. If this fails to move them, open fire with one man per squad for a frontal attack while at the same time have men in houses shoot into the rear ranks selecting apparent leaders. Always fire for effect. Due to over shooting of the battle sight at short range, caution the men to fire at the knees of the crowd. If it is necessary to use machine guns, aim at their feet. If you must fire, DO A GOOD JOB. A few casualties become martyrs; a large number becomes an object lesson.

“When guarding buildings, mark a ‘DEAD’ line and announce clearly that those who cross it will be killed. Be sure to kill the first one who tries to cross it and to LEAVE HIM THERE to encourage the others.”

“As in all military operations, information is vital. By the use of detectives, soldiers in civilian clothes, and friendly citizens, get all possible information about the condition within the city. In particular, locate on a map the position of public utilities, banks, commercial districts, residential districts, armories, sporting goods stores, and other places of importance. Also the general focal points of the disturbance and the names of the leaders. It may be desirable to fly over the city to become oriented. If fired upon while in the air, reply at once with small bombs and machine gun fire.”

“From the information secured, arrange your axis of approach so as to drive the mob into the poor quarter and away from vital areas” (http://www.pattonhq.com/textfiles/federal.html)

Patton’s paper certainly suggests that he had little problem helping the US “restore…the basic structure of the prewar Fascist regime” in southern Italy, that’s for sure.

To Stay Alive

What about the troops themselves? The future Marxist British historian C.H. George signed up in the US Armed Forces at the age of 20 to fight Nazi fascism in the names of democracy and workers’ power. His 692nd Tank Destroyers Battalion A helped “liberate” the horrific Nazi death camp in Dachau. Talking about his wartime memoir Journey to Dachau in DeKalb, Illinois in the early 1990s, George remembered that none of his fellow enlistees shared his ideological or egalitarian commitments: “They wanted to get drunk and to get laid,” and, above all, “to survive” (though George did note that the sight of what had been done in Dachau led many of his fellow troops to go on a Nazi-killing rampage).

I am in possession of a box full of my maternal grandfather’s last correspondence with his son and my uncle Connor Freed, who was killed by German artillery in the waters off North Africa in 1942. The uncle I never met was an artful and eloquent writer, reflecting widely on the nature of his surroundings and deployment. Still, there is not the slightest sense anywhere in his letters that he or his fellow troops were enlisted in a campaign to liberate anyone or to spread democracy. His basic and completely understandable wish was to survive and to return home in one piece. In a recent television segment on D-Day, I heard invasion survivors say the same thing again and again: “I was just trying to survive.”

In his memoir, C.H.George reflected that there were “no words or pictures to express the utterly isolated otherworldliness of combat.” He recalled “that feeling of entering a zone of being that in both life and death insulates one thereafter from all that has been familiar – family, friends, music, movies, sports, pets, edible food, the beauties of nature, laughter and conversation, the possibility of love – all are lost, perhaps forever….”

Kill List Obama has no business pretending to know what was going on the in hearts and minds of US soldiers on the battlefields of World War II. Elite politicians love to wrap mostly working-class soldiers’ ordeals and sacrifices in the noble flag of grand ideals but, more often than not, the real-life soldiers on the ground are concerned primarily with the basic struggle to survive without shame the commands of their superiors and the weapons of the official enemy.

Spoils of War

The US claimed no “spoils of victory” in World War II? How stupid does Obama take the world to be? President Kill List must have missed this part of A People’s History:

“Quietly, behind the headlines in battles and bombings, American diplomats and businessmen worked hard to make sure that when the war ended, American economic power would be second to none in the world. United States business would penetrate areas that up to this time had been dominated by England. The Open Door Policy of equal access would be extended from Asia to Europe, meaning that the United States intended to push England aside and move in….With British imperial power collapsing during World War II, the United States was ready to move in. [US Secretary of State Cordell] Hull said early in the war: ’Leadership toward a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve very largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume this leadership, and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure national self-interest.’ Before the war was over, the administration was planning the outlines of the new international economic order, based on partnership between government and big business.”

During WWII, while millions perished and cities collapsed in flames, the US State Department and Council on Foreign Relations “developed plans for the postwar world in terms of what they called the ‘Grand Area,’ which was to be subordinated to the needs of the American economy. The Grand Area,” Zinn’s good friend Noam Chomsky noted, “was to include the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British Empire (which was being dismantled), the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East (which were passing into American hands as we pushed out our rivals France and Britain), the rest of the Third World, and, if possible, the entire globe. These plans were implemented, as opportunities arose” (Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants).

As the leading US foreign policy planner George Kennan explained in an internal State Department policy document in 1948, “we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population….Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain that disparity.”

“The Problem After a War”

The monumental rewards – “spoils” indeed – were attained during and after the war, when the United States emerged as the richest and powerful nation on the planet: the first truly global power in world history. The defense and advance of those spoils by any means necessary – democratic methods being largely inapplicable given the natural opposition of most world people to “subordinat[ion] to the needs of the American economy” (more specifically the needs of the U.S. corporate elite) – led to a fascinating record of    In July of 2011, the dissident US historian William Blum published his “updated summary of the record of US foreign policy.” Since the Second World War, he noted that the US had:

* Attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of them democratically-elected.

* Attempted to suppress a populist or national movement in 20 countries.

* Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.

* Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.

* Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.

In all, Blum determined that the United States had undertaken one or more of these actions in 69 countries – always in the name of peace, liberty, and democracy since (as Obama and all US presidents before him have repeatedly explained) “the United States is…the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”

Since 2011, there are new additions to the list, including most significantly Ukraine, where the Obama administration has played a critical role in the overthrow of a democratically elected government in ways that threatened to bring about civil, regional and even global war.

The criminal, mass-murderous, and significantly racist US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – praised as glorious “9/11 Generation” fights for “freedom” by Obama in Normandy – are among the worst episodes in this terrible record. They are all hauntingly consistent with Howard Zinn’s haunting judgment on America’s supposed “good war” WWII – a verdict that is all the more poignant given Zinn’s combat record during that epic conflict:

“True, the war…ended. Italy… [was]…defeated… Germany…had surrendered, crushed primarily by the armies of the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front….Japan surrendered (emphasis added). The Fascist powers were destroyed….But what about fascism – as idea, as reality? Were its essential elements – militarism, racism, imperialism – now gone? Or were they absorbed into the already poisoned bones of the victors? A.J. Muste, the revolutionary pacifist, had predicted in 1941: ‘The problem after a war is with the victors. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?’” (emphasis added)

As Obama resumes terrorist drone killings after a six-month hiatus in nuclear Pakistan, prepares to launch drones and other weapons in Iraq, threatens nuclear Russia and China on their regional doorsteps, and extends the reach of US Special Forces to more than 130 “sovereign” nations, millions around the world are lining up to teach Uncle Sam a lesson he’s never seemed willing to learn since 1945 on the authoritarian absurdity and futility of trying to manage and discipline the world in US “national [ruling class] interests” from the banks of the Potomac. If Obama’s Orwellian D-Day speech is any indication, Washington is in no historical mood to take the instruction. One question of vital significance for future prospects is whether Uncle Sam can take the lesson without blowing and/or burning up the world.

Paul Street is the author of numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the 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, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810. For queries on sources or related matters, readers can reach Street at paul.street99@gmail

Giving Away the Game

23/06/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on ZNet (June  19, 2014).

Misleading as the right-wing US Republican noise and politics machine might be, there is more than a kernel of truth in that machine’s notion of Democratic Party’s politicos as a bunch of manipulative, fake-populist elitists. Sometimes those corporate politicos drop the Machiavellian ball and give away their game with revealing gaffes.

 

Bruce Braley Denounces “A Farmer From Iowa”

A case in point comes from Iowa, where a mid-term election campaign is heating up for the US Senate seat being left open by the departure of longstanding Senator Tom Harken (D-IA). Much to the amazement and chagrin of “liberal” MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews, the Republican candidate and state senator Joni Ernst is leading the Democratic candidate and current US Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) in the latest statewide poll on the upcoming election.[1]

Ernst raised establishment eyebrows and moved to the front of the pack of the candidates for the Republican Senate primary in Iowa with a television advertisement boasting that her experience growing up on an Iowa farm “castrating hogs” would help her “cut government pork” (slash government expenditure) in Washington. She’s been endorsed by right-wing icons Sara Palin[2] and Michelle Bachman and boasts of her strong backing from the National Rifle Association.

For mainstream Democrats like Matthews, the “pig castrator” Jon Ernst is a “Teapublican wack job” who does not deserve to be taken seriously as a candidate for the upper chamber of the US Congress. A staunch defender of corporatist “Obamacare,” the softer-spoken three-term Congressman Braley stands closer to the center of the spectrum in Iowa, a state won by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Still, there should be nothing mysterious about the fact that Braley is running behind Ernst. With all due respect for the notoriety Ernst obtained with her provocative campaign ad and the backing of Palin, Braley has himself largely to blame. Last January 23rd, at a political fundraiser with trial lawyers in Texas, Braley had this to say about Iowa’s long-term US Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA):

“If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice…on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”[3]

This comment was caught on video and went online last March.

Now, bearing in mind that Braley wants to be the next US Senator from the farm state of Iowa, read the second sentence in that quote a second time. Braley didn’t just criticize Grassley for being a farmer without a law school background. Speaking to fellow lawyers in another state about their national interests in Washington, he called Grassley “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” Where is Braley from? And how did he think that comment was going to play out in the famously agriculture state in which he is running for the US Senate? The Congressman clearly wasn’t speaking with his Machiavellian – or Hitchensian (see below) – thinking cap on.

Braley has made requisite apologies to Grassley and to Iowa farmers. Still, it’s not going to be easy for him to put the occupationally and geographically elitist genie his remark revealed back in the campaign bottle. Jodi Ernst, the Iowa GOP, and the well-funded Republican machine certainly aren’t going to let him and Iowa’s many rural and small-town voters forget his statement in Texas, that’s for sure.

Chris Matthews and his elite MSDNC colleagues in New York City can roll their eyes all they want about “crazy Joni Ernst,” but thanks in no small part to Braley’s comment, the “hog-castrator” has a real shot at stealing the Democrats’ longtime Harken seat – something that could cost the dismal dollar Dems their majority in the US Senate.

 

“Dead Broke” Clintons: “It Was Not Easy”

A second example has to do with the next US presidential election. Two weeks ago, ABC News scored a high-profile interview with the all-but-formerly-declared Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In a remarkable part of the interview, ABC’s Diane Sawyer quizzed Clinton on how she expected ordinary working and middle class American voters to identify with a hyper-affluent couple like the Clintons, who’ve received more than $100 million for speaking engagements since leaving the White House. Clinton told Sawyer with a straight face that she and her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, left the White House down and out – in debt and having to “struggle” and “work…really hard” to get back on their feet:

SAWYER: You’ve made five million making speeches? The president’s made more than a hundred million dollars?

CLINTON: Well, you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard and it’s been amazing to me. He’s worked very hard. First of all, we had to pay off all our debts. You know, you had to make double the money because of, obviously, taxes, and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members.[4]

It’s hard not to treat Hillary’s story of post-presidential penury and her related tale of subsequent pulled-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps recovery with anything but dripping populist contempt. It is technically true that the Clinton’s left the presidency in debt. But, according to veteran political commentator John Dickerson, “the Clintons [in late 2000] were not unlike the couple with the winning Powerball ticket: broke at the moment but with the promise of significant riches ahead.” Before they left the White House, Bill and Hillary bought a $2 million home in upstate New York and a $3 million home in Washington DC. Hillary had already signed an $8 million book deal for her memoir Living History. By the end of 2001, the couple’s assets had soared to $30 million and their income exceeded $15 million, both far beyond their remaining debt of $5 million. By 2004 they were worth $50 million.[5] Since leaving the White House, moreover, Bill Clinton has been paid almost $16 million in pension and benefits by the federal government.[6]

 

Monetizing “Public Service”

The Clintons’ economic recovery had nothing to do with the Lottery – or with the kind of low-paid “hard work” that ordinary, Powerball-buying working-class Americans are commonly forced into by job loss and debt. Bill and Hillary hardly climbed from “dead broke” to super-wealthy status by putting in long night hours at the local Walmart and driving school buses and repairing city streets during the day. Their ascendancy into the upper reaches of the 1% had nothing to do with the American Dream of hard and honest labor leading to upward mobility.

No, they joined the long and lucrative conga line of former officeholders who have “monetized” their many years in “government service.”[7] They cashed in royally on their “experience in public service,” mainly through “public speaking and headlining big events.”[8] Hillary has received $200,000 and above for speaking to such hard-working entities as Goldman Sachs and techno-barons of Silicon Valley.[9] She got a mind-boggling $450,000 for a speech at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) last November. As Nick Sorrentino noted on AgainstCronyCapitalism.org:

“We’ve heard of people getting outrageous speaking fees before. Ms. Clinton and her husband have made a small industry of it. But ask yourself why a group would pay half a million dollars to hear someone speak for 45 minutes? There’s something to be said for having a real headliner at a gathering. But a half-million dollars? No, there is more to it than draw. The bet is that the check from the CME won’t be forgotten in the event Ms. Clinton becomes president. Commodities traders know how to hedge their positions.”[10]

Fittingly enough, the chief beneficiaries of Bill Clinton’s “public service” were the “private” financial elite, whom profited from key Clinton policies, including the investor rights North American Free Trade Agreement and the repeal of crucial financial regulations whose elimination helped create the economic collapse of 2007-2009.[11]

 

The Essence of American Politics

I doubt that Hillary Clinton’s “dead broke” remarks will hurt her in 2016 to anything like the same degree that Braley’s “farmer from Iowa” comment will damage his chances this Fall. Hillary’s insult to working people is much more diffuse and indirect and it comes much further out from the election date. But these and other differences aside, both comments are emblematic of the deeply embedded elitism that pervades the corporate-captive Democratic Party as well the radically regressive GOP. Privileged candidates and office-holders in both of the two dominant Big Business-financed political organizations (both well to the right of the United States’ working class majority on numerous key issues) want ordinary Americans to think they understand and feel the pain of the non-affluent Many.

But they don’t. They are with and, often enough, from the Few. Their pretense of empathy for the struggling citizenry is a deceptive game, consistent with the formerly Left Christopher Hitchens’ onetime accurate description of “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism” (emphasis added). As Hitchens explained in his book on the Clintons No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family (Verso, 1999):

“that elite is most successful 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 slogan] ‘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.” [12]

A perfect example of that “reserve tag” is Obama and the Democrats’ so-called Affordable Health Care Act. Designed by the Republican Heritage Foundation, it preserves the unchallenged profit-making and price- and rate-gouging power of the nation’s leading insurance and drug companies in cold defiance of public opinion. The single-payer model long favored by most Americans was banned from serious consideration in White House “reform” deliberations, consistent with then White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives.”

Real differences notwithstanding (it would be impossible to sell the two-party duopoly to the populace were there no differences at all between the two parties), the Democrats and the Republicans are “two wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904 [13]) beholden to the same unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, white supremacy, patriarchy, state repression, eco-cide, and general state-capitalist institutional psychopathy.[14] That shared captivity is no small part of why the incredibly unpopular and vicious GOP is still very much in play in US politics. Revealing gaffes like Bruce Braley’s last January and Hillary Clinton’s this June only help the Republicans play their own dark version of the populism-manipulating game.

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

 

Notes

1. Ken Shepherd, “MSNBC’s Matthews Can’t Believe ‘Pig Castrator’ Joni Ernst Leading in New Poll,” NewsBusters (June 9, 2014), http://newsbusters.org/blogs/ken-shepherd/2014/06/09/msnbcs-matthews-snarks-pig-castrator-joni-ernst-leading-polls

2. Jennifer Jacobs, “Sarah Palin Lends Star Power to Joni Ernst in Iowa,” Des Moines Register (May 8, 2014), http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/elections/2014/04/27/sarah-palin-joni-ernst-iowa/8311707/

3. Jaime Fuller, “Iowa Dem Senate Hopeful Dismisses Grassley,” Washington Post, March 25, 2014http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/03/25/iowa-dem-senate-hopeful-dismisses-grassley-as-farmer-from-iowa-who-never-went-to-law-school/. See also

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/elections/2014/04/03/braley-iowa-farmer-grassley-gaffe/7260675/

4. Liz Kreutz, “Hillary Clinton Defends High Dollar Speaking Fees,” ABC News (June 9, 2014), http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/hillary-clinton-defends-high-dollar-speaking-fees/story?id=24052962.  Full interview at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/06/10/hillary-clintons-interview-with-diane-sawyer-annotated-video/

5. John Dickerson, “Does Hillary Clinton Feel Your Pain?” Slate (June 2014), http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/06/hillary_clinton_s_dead_broke_gaffe_clinton_s_diane_sawyer_interview_could.html; Phillip Bump, “The Clintons Say They Left White House in Debt, Wait, What?” The Washington Post, The Fix (June 9, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/06/09/the-clintons-left-the-white-house-in-debt-wait-what/

6. Bump, “The Clintons.”

7. Mark Leibovich, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral in America’s Gilded Capital (New York: Penguin, 2013), 40. Leibovich’s book is chock full of examples.

8. Dickerson, “Does Hillary Clinton Feel Your Pain?”

9. Kreutz, “Hillary Clinton Defends.”

10. Nick Sorrentino, “Hillary Clinton Reaps $450,000 Fee for Speech at Chicago Mercantile Exchange,” Against Crony Capitalism (November 26, 2013),  ttp://www.againstcronycapitalism.org/2013/11/hillary-clinton-reaps-450000-fee-for-speech-at-chicago-mercantile-exchange-meeting/

11. Some useful sources here are Robert Pollin, Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (New York: Verso, 2003), 3-75; Charles H. Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Crown, 2012), 17, 39-40, 44-47, 52, 57, 166, 185, 248, 252, 281, 299-300, 308.

12. Christopher Hitchens, No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family (New York: Verso, 2000), 17-18.

13. Upton Sinclair, The Appeal to Reason, No. 459, September 17, 1904, 1, reproduced in Gene DeGruson, ed., The Lost First Edition of Sinclair’s “The Jungle” (Atlanta: Peachtree Press, 1988), illustration L. “The people [are] allowed to choose between their candidates,” Sinclair noted, “and both of them [are] controlled, and all their nominations [are] dictated by, the same [money] power.”

14. For interesting and instructive reflections on both of the dominant US political parties and the state-capitalist US government as engaged in “psychopathic behavior” towards the US populace, see Rob Kall, “Chomsky Talks About Psychopaths and Sociopaths,” OpEdnews.com (February 15, 2014), http://www.opednews.com/articles/Chomsky-Talks-about-Psych-by-Rob-Kall-Corporations_Health-Mental-Sociopath-Narcissism_Narcissism_Psychopath-140215-378.html.

Bowe Bergdahl, Barack Obama, and the Horror of America

21/06/14 0 COMMENTS

ZNet,  June 13, 2014.

“I am sorry for everything. The horror of America,” Bowe Bergdahl wrote to his family via e-mail before disappearing in eastern Afghanistan five years ago, “is disgusting.”

A case in point is the right-wing feeding frenzy over the possibility that Bergdahl may have deserted his post – a frenzy so furious that proto-fascistic FOX News and talk radio pundits have fastened on Bergdahl’s father’s “Muslim beard” as proof of the recently returned soldier’s “Islamist treason,” aided and abetted by US president Barack Obama.

Over at the “liberal” (the FOX News and talk radio crowd even and quite absurdly call it “leftist”) New York Times, an Op Ed by former Times reporter Alex Berenson tells readers that “Sergeant Bergdahl may have broken any number of military laws.” Berenson notes that “Desertion during wartime is punishable ‘by death.’” He suggests that Berenson “deserves a few years in Leavenworth to reflect on his dereliction of duty.”

Berenson identifies himself as a former reporter who “embedded…with American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” He believes “that we civilians don’t deserve the soldiers we have.” In the Bergdahl case, however, Berenson says, “perhaps…the reverse was true.”

The still if today more comfortably Empire-embedded Berenson’s column is titled “A Prisoner of War, but Not a Hero.”[1]

“As Illegal as the Invasion of Iraq”

There’s something rather significant missing from such discussions and from the broader US “mainstream” media tumult over Bowe Bergdahl: the illegal, immoral, and imperial nature of the US military’s presence in Afghanistan. It’s nothing new. The consistently absent, doctrinally deleted ingredient in dominant US media-politics culture’s commentary on Washington’s long atrocity-filled [2]military campaign in Afghanistan is the abject criminality of “the Afghan war.”

There is no discussion outside marginal US left circles of the (one would think) basic fact that the US bombing and invasion of Afghanistan initiated in October of 2001 took place in bold defiance of international law forbidding aggressive war. Sold as legitimate “defensive” responses to the al-Qaeda September 2001 jetliner attacks, the US operation was undertaken without definitive proof or knowledge that Afghanistan’s Taliban government was responsible in any way for 9/11.

The US assault occurred after the Bush administration rebuffed offers by that government to extradite accused 9/11 planners to stand trial in the US.

Washington decided to destroy the Taliban government with no legal claim to introduce regime change in another nation.

The US invasion took place over the protest of numerous Afghan opposition leaders and against the warnings of aid organizations who expected a US attack to produce a humanitarian catastrophe.

US claims to possess the right to bomb Afghanistan – an action certain to produce significant civilian casualties – raised the interesting question of whether Cuba and Nicaragua were entitled to bomb the US since the US had long provided shelter to terrorists who conducted mass-murderous attacks on the Cuban and Nicaraguan people.[3]Interesting, that is, to those who think that “international norms” should be applied equally to all states, even the most powerful.

The US attack on Afghanistan met none of the standard international moral and legal criteria for justifiable self-defense and occurred without reasonable consultation with the United Nations Security Council. “The invasion of Afghanistan was as illegal as the invasion of Iraq,” legal scholar Marjorie Cohn noted in July of 2008.

The U.N. Charter requires member states to settle international disputes by peaceful means. Nations are permitted to use military force only in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. After 9/11, the Council passed two resolutions, neither of which authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan.

Invading and bombing that country was not rightful self-defense under article 51 of the Charter since the jetliner assaults were criminal attacks, not “armed attacks” by another country. Afghanistan did not attack the U.S. and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

There was no “imminent threat of an armed attack on the United States after September 11 or Bush would not have waited three weeks before initiating his October 2001 bombing campaign.” This was no small matter, for, under international law, “The necessity for self-defense must be ‘instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.’ This classic principle of self-defense in international law has been affirmed by the Nuremberg Tribunal and the U.N. General Assembly.”[4]

Not surprisingly, an international Gallup poll released after the US bombing of Afghanistan was announced showed that global opposition was overwhelming. In 34 of the 37 countries Gallup surveyed, majorities opposed a military attack on Afghanistan, preferring that 9/11 be treated as a criminal matter rather than as a pretext for war. Even in the U.S., just 54% supported war.[5]

“In Latin America, which has some experience with US behavior,” Noam Chomsky noted, “support [for the U.S. assault] ranged from 2% in Mexico, to 18% in Panama, and that support was conditional on the culprits being identified (they still weren’t eight months later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported) and civilian targets being spared (they were attacked at once). There was an overwhelming preference in the world for diplomatic/judicial measures, rejected out of hand by [Washington, claiming to represent] ‘the world.’”[6]

Barack Obama built his “progressive” presidential brand partly around a distinction between the “bad” and “mistaken” war George W. Bush launched in Iraq and the supposedly “good” and legitimate war Bush launched “in response to the jetliner attacks” in Afghanistan. Obama campaigned on a promise to escalate the American military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan (co-joined as “Af-Pak”) – a promise he quickly fulfilled in ways that have led to the deaths of untold thousands of Pashtun civilians, including many women and children.

“Peace prize? He’s a killer.” Thus spoke a young Pashtun man to an Al Jazeera English reporter on December 10, 2009—the day that Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize. [6A]

An Example

Ask the people of Bola Boluk. “The horror of America”? Here’s one of many examples from America’s “good war” in Afghanistan, from the month before Bowe Bergdahl sent his aforementioned e-mail and perhaps went AWOL. In the first week of May 2009, less than five months into Obama’s not-so antiwar presidency, U.S. air-strikes killed more than 140 civilians in Bola Boluk, a village western Afghanistan’s Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As the New York Times had the decency to report:

“In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament, the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi. Afghan lawmakers immediately called for an agreement regulating foreign military operations in the country.”

“‘The governor said that the villagers have brought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred,’ Mr. Farahi said.”

“’Everyone at the governor’s office was crying, watching that shocking scene.’”

“Mr. Farahi said he had talked to someone he knew personally who had counted 113 bodies being buried, including those of many women and children. Later, more bodies were pulled from the rubble and some victims who had been taken to the hospital died…”[7]

No Apology

The initial response of the Obama Pentagon to this horrific incident – one among many senseless mass U.S. aerial killings in Afghanistan since October 2001 – was to absurdly blame the civilian deaths on “Taliban grenades.” Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed deep “regret” about the loss of innocent life, but the administration refused to issue an apology or acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the blasting apart of civilian bodies in Farah Province.[8]

By telling and sickening contrast, Obama had just offered a full apology and fired a White House official because that official had scared New Yorkers with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of Manhattan that reminded people of 9/11.[9] The disparity was extraordinary: frightening New Yorkers led to a full presidential apology and the discharge of a White House staffer. Killing more than 100 Afghan civilians did not require any apology. Nobody had to be fired. And the Pentagon was permitted to advance preposterous claims about how the civilians died – stories that were taken seriously by mainstream (corporate-imperial war and entertainment) media.[10]

“Homeland” Horrors

That’s “the horror of America” for you, and of course its just one piece of the broader campaign of bloodshed that Uncle Sam has been inflicting on the world in the name of liberty for very many years now.[11] There’s no small horror to be seen in the “homeland” (a lovely society-militarizing phrase Obama43 had picked up from Bush44) itself. In the US, far and away the world’s leading prison state, more than 16 million children live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty [12] level even as the 400 richest Americans possess between them more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the population. The top 1 percent enjoys more shared net worth than the bottom 90 percent.[13]

“The 1%” includes a number of wealthy “defense” contractors and investors, who rake in tens of millions of dollars annually from a permanent US global war of (“on”) terror that wreaks havoc across the world. Millions of residents of “the world’s richest nation” go without adequate food, medical, and shelter while the US “defense” (empire) budget accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending and pays for the deployment of US Special Forces in more than 130 “sovereign” nations.[14] As Chomsky noted in the late 1960s, “The costs of empire are in general are distributed over the society as a whole, while its profits revert to a few within.” [15]

I don’t have all the facts on how and why Bowe Bergdahl disappeared from his base on June 30, 2009. If he left to follow his conscience by refusing to participate anymore in an illegal, racist, and imperial assault on a desperately poor nation, then that would make him a hero to me.

“I am sorry for everything.” The United States could hardly repair the villages, provinces, cities, schools, societies, nations and untold number of lives it has pulverized abroad over the last seven plus decades with an apology. But apologizing in a heartfelt way would be the beginning point for a step away from military empire, an essential first step toward healing vast disparities and restoring the social good and democracy at home – and abroad. Let us hope that more and more US troops find the decency and courage to walk away to the other side: humanity.

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

Notes

1. New York Times, June 4, 2014, A21.

2. Alexander Cockburn,  “Massacre Fatigue in Afghanistan,” Counterpunch  (March 16-18, 2012) atwww.counterpunch.org/2012/03/16/massacre-fatigue-in-afghanistan/ .Cockburn notes  “a constant diet of [U.S.] atrocities” and concludes that  “We can brace ourselves for more horror stories like the one that came to light last Sunday until NATO’s beaten armies clamber onto the planes and head for home.”

3. Noam Chomsky, Hegemony Over Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Metropolitan, 2003), pp. 199-206. See also Rajul Mahajan, The New Crusade: America’s War on Terror (New York: Monthly Review, 2002), p. 21.

4. Marjorie Cohn, “End the Occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan,” ZNet (July 30, 2008), read athttp://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/18303.Many defenders of the invasion, Democrats as well as Republicans, upheld Bush’s right to attack prior to UN consultation by making the analogy of a maniac who had broken into your house and already killed some residents: “do you sit and around a negotiate with the murderers while they kill more or do you go in and take them out?” But, as Mahajan argued, “the analogy to the U.S. action would have been better if the maniac had died in the attack, and your response was to bomb a neighborhood he had been staying in, killing many people who didn’t even know of his existence – even though you had your own police force constantly on the watch for more attacks.” By the analogy, the U.S. would have also been allowed to bomb the German neighborhoods in which many of the 9/11 conspirators planned their operation.

5. Abid Aslam, “Polls Question Support for Military Campaign,” Inter Press Service, October 8, 2001; GallupInternational, Gallup International Poll on Terrorism (September 2001); Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “’ Obama’s Foreign Policy Report Card’: Juan Cole Grades His President – and Very Positively,” MR Zine (November 9, 2009), athttp://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/hp091109.html

6. Noam Chomsky, “The World According to Washington,” Asia Times (February 28, 2008)

6A. Al Jazeera English, “Afghans Anger at Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize,” YouTube, December 10, 2009, atwww.youtube.com/watch?v=OBHrnQTinGY&feature=related

7. Carlotta Gall and Taimoor Shah, “Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War,” New York Times, May 6, 2009.

8. Gall and Shah, “Civilian Deaths.”

9.  Christina Boyle, “President Obama Calls Air Force One Flyover ‘Mistake’ After Low-Flying Plane Terrifies New York,”New York Daily News, April 28, 2009; Michel Muskai, “Presidential Plane’s Photo-Op Over New York Coast as Much as $357,000,” May 9, 2009; Peter Nicholas, “Louis Caldera Resigns Over Air Force One Flyover Fiasco,” Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2009.

10. Paul Street, “Niebuhr Lives, Civilians Die in the Age of Obama,” ZNet (June 15, 2009).

11. A useful review is William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Common courage Press, 2005). See also Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues (South End Press, 1993) and Ward Churchill, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences

12. National Center or Child Poverty, “Child Poverty 2014,” http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

13. For details and sources, see Paul Street, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014), 44-46.

14. Nick Turse, “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries,” Huffington Post (January 16, 2014),http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nick-turse/americas-secret-war_b_4609742.html

15. Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State (New York: Pantheon, 1972), 47.

Citizen Koch and the So-Called Public Broadcasting System

21/06/14 0 COMMENTS

ZNet, June 11, 2014. One thing I’ve learned over many years of trying to read between the lines of “mainstream” corporate US media reports is that the best information often comes at the end. Look, for example, at a recent ABC-Yahoo Top Line report on a liberal documentary film about the big money behind the Tea Party phenomenon.

Deep Pockets and Racism

The film is cleverly titled Citizen Koch. As ABC-Yahoo reports, Citizen Koch shows that the rise of “the Tea Party” was fueled by a toxic combination of big corporate money and coded white racism in the wake of Barack Obama’s ascendency to the White House. And squarely behind the phenomenon, the film demonstrates, were the Koch brothers – the mega-billionaires Charles and David Koch, whose deep-pockets funding of the fake-grassroots-white-“patriot” Teapublican “movement” was protected and furthered by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

The film’s co-directors Carl Deal and Rina Lessin told ABC-Yahoo that the Kochs are big figures in US politics today for one reason: “money – $100 billion now.” As Deal said in explaining the Koch’s remarkable political influence, “when we started out making this film, their net worth was about $68 billion combined, and we had to keep going in and changing the film and updating it because it was just recently reported they’re up to $100 billion.” A portion of that fortune is being invested to “create a class of politicians who owe their existence to the Kochs” (ABC-Yahoo).The ABC-Yahoo report is titled “Addicted to Koch.”

According to Top Line, “Deal and Lessin…make the controversial case in the film that the tea party was fueled by racist sentiments that pervaded…in the wake of the election of the nation’s first black president Barack Obama, and was used to rally working people around some of their…[racial] fears [and] around a different [pro-Big Business] agenda.”[1]

Any More Late Bulletins?

I hope I can be forgiven if I’m less than blown away by Citizen Koch’s findings. The basic, elementary facts that “the Tea Party” was a classically Astroturf Republican fake-populist “movement” driven by big capitalist political cash – Koch money especially – and by (among other dodgy things) white racial paranoia after Obama’s election were widely and well understood from the beginning of the Tea Party phenomenon. There’s little all that “controversial” about this judgment outside the FOX News-Rush Limbaugh hall of mirrors. I could cite a large number of early published and spoken reflections along precisely this basic theme – including my own reflections, which led to my book (co-authored with the left political scientist Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011).

Watching the ABC-Yahoo report, I was reminded of a comment my father liked to make to anyone who claimed to have “discovered” already well and widely known: “Anymore late bulletins?”

“And All of Your Questions Too…”
The real newsworthy item in the ABC-Yahoo story came at the end, when viewers learned that Deal and Lessin initially undertook their documentary with the “Public” Broadcasting System (“P”BS). “P”BS pulled its sponsorship and funding from the film because super-citizen David H. Koch has given $23 million to the “public” network and sits on the board of two flagship “P”BS affiliates.

Lessin asked “P”BS officials “point blank” if Koch’s investment in the “public” network was why it backed out. Network representatives responded in the affirmative, confirming that they, too, are “addicted to Koch.”

Now, that’s interesting.

It shouldn’t be “news” that “P”BS receives large-scale sponsorship from big corporate capitalists. Local “P”BS affiliates lie through their teeth during regular membership fundraising drives in which they claim that “P”BS “has no big commercial interests to answer to; we answer only to you, the regular viewer.” Anyone who watches “P”BS on a regular basis should know that’s a blatant falsehood. “P”BS shows are commonly followed by a list of corporate patrons and corporate-sponsored foundations (including the David H. Koch Foundation). The “public” network’s evening Newshour is preceded each night by commercials for multinational corporations like Toyota, Boeing, BAE Systems, British Petroleum, and BNSF Rail. Here are some of the giant private firms – all quite famous for their selfless commitment to “the public interest” (I write with sarcasm) – that are listed on the “P”BS Web site’s “sponsors” link: Amazon.com, Arby’s, Boeing, BP, Charles Schwab, Chick-fil-A, Delta Airlines, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Franklin Templeton, Kellogg’s, Liberty Mutual, Merril-Lynch/Bank of America, Microsoft, Pacifica LG, Pfizer, Quaker Oats, Radio Shack, Saturn, Sherman Williams, Sprint PCS, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen.[2]

The corporate sponsorship shows in the Newshour’s regularly conservative and business-friendly coverage of and commentary on current events. The Republican pundit David Brooks is featured twice a week on the Newshour, which puts on air a steady stream of ex-military officials and right-wing ideologues from conservative, business-sponsored outfits like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation – along with elite centrists and mild liberals from the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, and the Obama administration. The show’s narrow-spectrum, power-worshipping content (depressingly nationalistic and imperial on foreign affairs) makes a joke out of Newshour anchor Gwen Ifill’s childish and Orwellian claim (in a regular “P”BS commercial) that her job lets her “ask all of my questions and, more importantly, all of your questions too.

A Longstanding “Arm of the Establishment”

Itself long majority-owned by the giant private firm Liberty Media (the property primarily of a right-wing businessman named John Malone),[3] the Newshour epitomizes the richly elitist and deeply conservative essence of “P”BS. That essence was captured nicely two years ago by progressive journalist Russ Baker:

“…here’s the sad truth: With a few notable exceptions, big public broadcasting (let us distinguish the national PBS/NPR from community-based entities) is a lot less educational than it would like us to believe. True, it contains ‘thought-provoking’ material delivered by dulcet-toned broadcasters and a charming, southern-inflected host with lightly tousled hair, and people seemingly disagreeing in the politest of manners. But the content of these broadcasts is just about as influenced by commercial interests and dominant cliques as the more ‘vulgar’ commercial broadcasters.”

“…Public broadcasting, which largely targets an affluent, well-educated audience of liberal and progressive bent, is a powerful tool for shaping perceptions and convincing people to continue working within the system rather than fully appraising the corruption that undergirds that system. A brutally candid investigation of our country’s institutions and political/cultural leaders as they actually function would make affluent liberals much more uncomfortable. They’d have to examine the corporate, legal and academic networks of which they are a contented part. And they’d be forced to see that when liberals get into power, all too many end up serving corporate interests in ways that differ from conservatives more in style and tone than in profound shifts of policy and governance.”

“Public broadcasting regularly pulls its punches—and has gotten steadily worse in recent years. You can blame attacks from the Right, which periodically threaten to eliminate government support of PBS and NPR. But, in fact, public broadcasting has always been, to some extent, an arm of the establishment.

“By creating an aura of thoughtfulness, it has essentially lulled the public into complacency. By its very existence, it has convinced us that dissent is not only welcomed but has a vigorous presence in the American conversation. By having hard-core corporate operatives gently debate tepid reformers, it has given us the facade of open discussion and probing inquiries. Which is why those oil companies, banks, and foundations set up by the very rich are so happy to underwrite all that good taste” (emphasis added). [4]

According to Bill Moyers (himself a rare voice of progressive truth-telling on “P”BS) two years ago, “What is emerging is not public television but government television shaped by politically conscious appointees whose desire to avoid controversy could turn the Corporation for Public Broadcasting [“P”BS’ governing body] CPB into the Corporation for Public Blindness” (emphasis added).[5]

Like N“P”R, “P”BS defends the underlying status quo of American Empire and Inequality, Inc. every bit as much as CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and FOX – stylistic and related demographic differences aside. Still, the myth of “P”BS as some kind of progressive alternative to corporate “mainstream” media persists, fueled in part by right-wing criticism of the supposedly left network. I’ve been struck over the years at the remarkable extent to which many highbrow “liberal” Democrats will go to accept and advance this fairy tale about “P”BS.

For those of us would like to see more liberal and progressive Americans grow up about the deeply conservative nature of “P”BS/N“P”R, it is useful for a major corporate network like ABC to report such a telling example of the “public” network’s subservience to the nation’s unelected dictatorship of concentrated wealth as “P”BS dropping Citizen Koch. That the example involves the rightmost wing of big capital helps drive home the deeper truth: there’s not much “public” in the “Public” Broadcasting System at the end of the day.

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

[1] Rick Klein et al., “Addicted to Koch? New Documentary Traces Influence of Koch Brothers Money in GOP,” Top Line (ABC News-Yahoo, June 4, 2014), http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/power-players-abc-news/addicted-to-koch-new-documentary-traces-influence-of-koch-brothers-money-in-gop-114908002.htm

[2] http://www.sgptv.org/sponsors/

[3] David Sirota, “After Pledging Transparency, PBS Hides Details of New Deal With Billionaire Owner of Newshour,” pandodaily (March 7, 2014), http://pando.com/2014/03/07/after-pledging-transparency-pbs-hides-details-of-new-deal-with-billionaire-owner-of-newshour/

[4] Russ Baker, “Will Political Ads Destroy Public Broadcasting ‘Uniqueness?’” WHOWHATWHY? (April 27, 2012), http://whowhatwhy.com/2012/04/17/political-ads-destroy-public-broadcasting-uniqueness/

[5] Quoted in Mike Spindell, “PBS: Why I Watch But Don’t Contribute” (April 28, 2012), http://jonathanturley.org/2012/04/28/pbs-why-i-watch-but-dont-contribute/

The Pretender

20/06/14 0 COMMENTS

ZNet June 8, 2014. As a political science major with grand ambitions at Columbia University during the early Reagan era, Barack Obama certainly studied Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous treatise on Renaissance statecraft The Prince (1532). The following passage from that slim volume surely passed his eyes: “How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live with integrity and not by cunning, everyone knows. Nevertheless, one sees from experience in our time that princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have thought little about keeping faith and who have known how to cunningly manipulate men’s minds.”

By Machiavelli’s account, a successful prince had to “seem” to possess noble qualities while engaging in deception and otherwise “enter[ing] into evil when forced by necessity” (which was quite often in Machiavelli’s view). “To those seeing and hearing him, he should appear to be all mercy, all faithfulness, all integrity, all humanity, and all religion” – even while he violated each of these principles on a regular basis. “It is necessary,” Machiavelli counseled, “to know how to…be a great pretender and dissembler.”

It was all very doable, Machiavelli felt, since “Men are so simple-minded and so controlled by their immediate needs that he who deceives will always find someone who will let himself be deceived” and “ordinary people are always taken in by appearances and by the outcome of an event.” [1]

 The Bush-Cheney GOP: Dropping the Machiavellian Ball

What was the problem with the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration and the Republican Party as far as the United States’ ruling and Machiavellian business elite and imperial establishment were concerned – a problem so great that Wall Street invested to a record-setting degree in the presidential candidacy of a supposedly liberal, left-leaning, and Black Democrat in 2007 and 2008? The main difficulty was that Bush43 had been too transparently evil in overly obvious service to the super-wealthy Few – those Bush once half-jokingly called “my base” and who would later be anointed “the 1 Percent.” Along the way, the Bush-Cheney-(Karl) Rove regime was too blatantly, too crudely, and too visibly imperialist, militarist, racist, patriarchal, and authoritarian. It became a big bad black eye for Uncle Sam – a brand spoiler at home and abroad.

The trick for a smart and savvy US president is to serve those atop the nation’s interrelated hierarchies of class, race, gender, and empire while appearing to work for democracy and the common good. Cowboy Bush43 dropped the Machiavellian ball that all US presidents carry for the US power elite. He was boorish and clumsy, too coarse to sustain the manipulative appearance of benevolent and democratic concern for “We the People” and “the General Welfare” (key phrases from the preamble to the US Constitution). He threatened to make overly plain and understandable who really ruled the “homeland’s” corporate-managed “democracy.” At the same time, his brazenly criminal, mass-murderous, racist, and unilateral, petro-imperialist invasion of Iraq on grotesquely false pretexts revolted the planet, richly confirming longstanding global perceptions of the US as a deadly and selfish rogue state.

 Stealthier Service to Reigning Hierarchies

A major national re-branding was required to re-cloak American Empire and Inequality in false democratic clothes in the wake of the long Bush-Cheney-Rove nightmare. The fake-progressive and in fact “deeply conservative” [2]) and carefully establishment-vetted [3] Obama phenomenon provided a seemingly heaven-sent vehicle for Washington’s required image overhaul. It was made to order and right on time as the financial system and broader economy began to implode, necessitating a massive taxpayer bailout of the parasitic financial institutions that created the disaster in the first place. The Republicans’ long and all-too plainly plutocratic presence in the White House and the GOP’s reputation as the leading party of Big Business made it preferable for the moneyed elite that the president overseeing that populace-nauseating transfer be a supposedly liberal Democrat, not another rich white Republican. That the “liberal” Democrat who rose to instant celebrity at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was technically black was a great faux-democratic, identity-politicized neoliberal bonus[4]. “Brand Obama” held further plusses for the imperial project: the next president’s technically Muslim nomenclature and his deceptive “antiwar” credentials promised to combine with his color to promise to help the US undo some of the injury Bush43’s excessively barefaced imperialism had done to “Brand USA” in the Middle East and around the entire, mostly non-white world.[5]

Consistent with his longstanding “vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics” (Adolph Reed, Jr.’s description of an unnamed, freshly elected state senator Obama’s world view in January of 1996[6]) and the historic elite campaign finance and corporate media backing he received in 2008[7], the nation’s first half-white (“black but not like Jesse”) president has dedicated much of his time in the White House to picking up the Machiavellian ball of deception on behalf of the rich and powerful. He is no less beholden to or enamored with the nation’s reigning hierarchies than his blustering and buffoonish predecessor. He never was. His mission, however, has been to serve the nation’s great white capitalist and imperial masters in a less clumsy and more stealthy, cleverly deceptive fashion, consistent with Machiavelli’s counsel. It’s not mainly about him. The princes who are served by his great pretending and dissembling are the nation’s real rulers at the pinnacles of “the 1 Percent.”

 The Deporter-in-Chief

Compare Obama44’s war on immigrants with that of Bush43. Obama has managed to actually increase the number of immigrants deported from the US to record levels, forcing out 1. 6 million between 2009 and 2012 – quite a shock to civil rights activists enamored by candidate Obama’s promise of “real immigration reform”. But the new “Deporter-in-Chief” (some activists’ revealing term for the “liberal” president) has done this in a much quieter way than Bush43, (also a record-setting deporter in his day). In the final years of his administration, Bush undertook a harsh immigration crackdown replete with provocative military-style raids on US factories and farms. Candidate Obama attacked Bush’s raids for “terrorizing” Latino communities. As president, he prefers a stealthier, more behind-the-scenes approach, one that avoids high-profile armed-force assaults but yields a higher rate of family-shattering arrest and expulsion – this while he claims to favor “humane” reform and to be advancing a safe way for “Dreamers” (“illegal” immigrants who came to the US as children) to avoid expulsion.[8]

 The Empire’s New Clothes

In a similar vein, Obama has dramatically expanded the number of “sovereign” nations in which US Special Forces are deployed from 60, at the end of the Bush43 administration, to 134 today. According to the antiwar journalist Nick Turse, in a passage that deserves lengthy quotation:

 “This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences….”

“Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback…the president has presided over a ramping up of the US military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or ‘pivot to Asia’….”

 “The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war. While President Bush launched fifty-one such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Last year, alone, the US also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan,  LibyaPakistanSomalia, and Yemen. Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of US electronic surveillance during the Obama years. And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.”

 “In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of US military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame….A more recent US military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a US-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a US-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region….And today South Sudan—a nation the US shepherded into being, has supported economically and militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces—is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.” [9]

 As the Obama White House and Pentagon surely know, Washington’s arch-criminal drone campaign – in which the US “peace” president acts as personal executioner (without trial) of officially designated enemies (serious controversy arises in the “homeland” only when those executed are US citizens) – kills a large number of innocent civilians (so-called “collateral damage,” more honestly described as “bug-splat” by military insiders) and breeds terrorists in tribal societies [10]. Top-down terror from the imperial core breeds “blowback” from and across the Muslim periphery, promising more lucrative cost-plus “defense” contracts for the president’s “friends atop Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon, etc. Another large Islamist attack on the imperial “homeland” (a revealing militarist phrase Obama44 has picked up from Bush43 and run with) waits in the wings.

A “return of great power conflict” has emerged in the interim, courtesy of “antiwar” Obama. US Special Forces and military hardware are now provocatively deployed in former Soviet republics on the western border of Russia, with whom the Obama administration has sparked a potentially disastrous conflict over strategically super-significant Ukraine [11], through which Western armies have repeatedly charged into Russia with catastrophic consequences over the last two centuries. Meanwhile, Obama is menacing China, whose “containment” is the essential goal behind his much-ballyhooed “pivot to Asia.” “By 2020,” John Pilger noted last April:

“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.” [12]

In a recent saber-rattling speech at West Point, Obama said the following: “Let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency: The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it… International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.”The left analyst Mike Whitney offers a useful and accurate translation on Counterpunch:

“In other words, the United States will do whatever the hell it wants to and if you don’t like it: ‘Too bad.’ This is the Bush Doctrine verbatim. The West Point oration proves that the new administration has simply modified the Bush credo to suit Obama’s pretentious speaking style. Strip out the visionary formulations, the grandiose bloviating, and the sweeping hand gestures and the ideas are virtually identical; unilateralism, preemption, and exceptionalism, the toxic combo that has spurred 13 years of war, occupation, regime change, black sites, extra-judicial assassinations, drone attacks, and hyperbolic state terror most of which has been directed at civilian populations whose only fault is that they occupy regions where vast petroleum reserves have been discovered or which have some fleeting strategic importance to Washington’s war planners.” [13]

By “our core interests…our people, our homeland” and “our way of life,” Obama does not mean “we the [American working class majority of] people,” whose living standards continue to deteriorate in the current US New Gilded Age of savage inequality and abject plutocracy. He means the stupendous profits and right-figure salaries of the nation’s top investors and corporate managers, whose shameful shocking fortunes are rooted in the ruthless exploitation of working people and the natural environment at home and abroad.

US military contractors got another opportunity to lick their lips when Obama recently announced in Warsaw that he will ask Congress to spend $1 billion to expand the US military presence in Eastern Europe.The Guardian reports that Obama plans “to rotate more troops in and out of Poland, to strengthen air patrols over the Baltic, and to beef up naval operations in the Black Sea off the Russian and Ukrainian coasts” (emphasis added).[14] (Dominant US mass media had nothing to say about how that $1 billion might be better spent to help some among the more than 16 million US children who scandalously live beneath the nation’s notoriously inadequate poverty level [15] – this in a nation where six Wal-Mart heirs possess between them as much total wealth as the bottom 40 percent of the population.[15A])

Obama does and says all this and more (unburdened by translations in US “mainstream”[16] media) while claiming to honor “international accurate law” to and to guard against US global “overreach.” He saves his loftiest oratorical passions for standard presidential phrases about “exceptional” and glorious America’s grand and selfless commitment to defending peace, freedom, security and justice around the world. In France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion last week, Obama made sure to remind his audience that “the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known” and asked God’s continued blessing for all the US and Western troops who sacrifice and “serve today for the peace and security of our world.” [16A]

The vast US military Empire (which continues to account for nearly half the world’s military spending) is not retreating from “overreach” under Obama. It is repositioning and expanding in a stealthier way than it did under the more club-footed Dubya and his neoconservative posse of mad-dog-killers (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Libby et al.). The “peace and security of our world” is the last thing really on the mind of the Pentagon and White House’s imperial planners in the Obama era as during the Bush43 years.

The world is no longer fooled, if it ever was to any significant degree. According to a global survey of 66,000 people conducted across 68 countries by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WINMR) and Gallup International at the end of 2013, Earth’s people see the United States as the most significant threat to peace on the planet. The U.S. was voted top threat by a wide margin, receiving 24 percent of the vote. Pakistan was a distant second with 8 percent, followed by China (6 percent). Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and North Korea tied for 4th place at 4 percent. Among U.S.-allied countries, Greece and Turkey (45 percent each), Pakistan (44 percent) and Mexico (about 37 percent) believed the U.S. is the greatest threat to peace [16B]

At home, in the U.S. “mainstream” media bubble, however, Obama has managed to appear peaceful and anti- or at least non-imperial to many in his bamboozled “liberal,” MSNBC-watching “base” by happening to oversee (as would have a President John McCain or a President Mitt Romney) the end of Bush43’s exhausted, post-9/11 land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (after a major Obama troop surge in the second illegally invaded country). It helps sell the frankly childish illusion of Obama as a “man of peace” that he has had to make some minor adjustments in the Pentagon budget and is repeatedly and preposterously attacked by the Republicans and right-wing media for being “reluctant” and “soft” when it comes to using military force abroad.

Green[house] Obama

Climate policy is another good example. By the estimation of leading US environmental activist Bill McKibben (depressingly deferential towards Obama over the years), Obama’s “biggest climate legacy is the US passing Russia and Saudi Arabia [before the end of his second term] in oil and gas production.” This great leap forward to so-called national energy independence has been achieved largely through the eco-exterminist practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which pollutes and exhausts the nation’s endangered water supplies in order to extract vast quantities of carbon-rich methane gas for planet-baking sale and burning at home and abroad. Obama has celebrated the homeland’s “energy revolution,” boasting of America’s prodigious new fossil fuel production in glowing terms that Noam Chomsky has rightly described as an “eloquent death knell for the species.”[17]

I’m not sure I agree with McKibben: Obama’s top contribution to the Greenhouse-Gassing of Life on Earth may still be his almost single-handed undermining of binding global carbon-emission limits at the global climate summit in Copenhagen in December of 2009 [18]. But either way, Obama’s disastrous climate record is a far cry from his campaign promises to seriously tackle the looming specter of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Unlike the crude, oil-soaked Texan who preceded him in the oval office, however, Obama44 accepts the consensus findings of Earth science on humanity’s responsibility for climate change. He has advanced some outwardly eco-friendly fuel efficiency standards, new limits on coal plant pollution, and alternative fuel developments as part of his disastrous “all-of-the above” energy policy. This difference of eco-cidal style have permitted him to pose as an environmentalist while the United States’ still leading historical contribution to has expanded AGW thanks in no small part to his serial dissembling. Again the Machiavellian deception is enhanced by the right, which likes to portray the president as a left-liberal “tree hugger” who privileges elite environmental concerns over jobs and growth.

 Wall Street Obama
Obama44 has been no less solicitous of the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money” [19] (the US corporate and financial ruling class) and has done little more for the nation’s working class majority than his more ham-fisted predecessor. Consistent with his early staffing of key White House economic posts by top neoliberal Wall Street insiders, he has made no serious effort to regulate or prosecute, much less nationalize the nation’s reigning arch-parasitic financial institutions, whose record of pushing the US and global economy into crisis in pursuit of the endless upward distribution of fortunes is surely far from over[20]. He worked assiduously to shield the financial chieftains from richly deserved populist anger[21]while he stealthily expanded the massive Wall Street bailouts initiated by his maladroit predecessor and launched a woefully inadequate stimulus bill heavily weighted towards tax cuts for the affluent. There were no comparable bailouts for the non-affluent majority, thrown into recession through no fault of their own, by the greedy excess of the Few. The venerable liberal-left commentator William Greider put it 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 little to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people, soon to be known as “the 99%,” left to ask “where’s my bailout? [22]

Obama’s subsequent health insurance legislation– the absurdly titled “Affordable Care Act” – was designed by the Republican Heritage Foundation. It preserved the unchallenged profit-making and price- and rate-gouging power of the nation’s leading insurance and drug companies in cold defiance of public opinion. The single-payer model long favored by most Americans was banned from serious consideration in White House “reform” deliberations, consistent with then White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives” [23].

Obama has never lifted a finger for the Employee Free Choice Act, upon which he campaigned in 2007 and 2008. It would have substantively re-legalized union organizing in the US. Obama offered no public support for the historic pro-union public worker and citizen uprising against Wisconsin’s hard right Koch brother-backed Governor Scott Walker in February and March of 2011. The president managed a single mild Tweet for the Wisconsin Democrats’ campaign to recall Walker the following year. And when the remarkable Occupy rebellion against the nation’s gaping class disparities and the corporate and financial elite’s domination of US politics and policy spread across the nation in the fall and early winter of 2011, the Obama administration undertook a federal campaign of surveillance, infiltration, and repression that led to the coordinated police-state dismantlement of the neo-populist encampments before the end of the year.[24]

 “A Touching Ruling Class Moment”

Last December, Obama advanced some revealing reflections before some friends atop the US capitalist class at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council:

“When you go to other countries [Obama mused], the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace. The stock market is looking pretty good last time I checked.”

As the left, actually socialist writer Danny Klatch commented, “It was a touching ruling class moment. At a time of bitter partisan warfare in Congress and frequent mudslinging by business executives, a bunch of CEOs were able to sit down with their president and realize that they really aren’t so different after all. Together, they shared a good laugh at the idea held by many ordinary people in both parties – that Obama and Corporate America are somehow on different sides” (emphasis added) [25].

 How Obama Got His Fake-Populist Groove Back

Thanks to all this and more (including consistent advance of the corporatist “free trade” agreements and doctrine favored by big capital), the rich and their corporations have made out like bandits across the low-wage, high unemployment Age of Obama. Yet through it all, Obama has somehow managed to serially summon seemingly sincere pseudo-eloquence on behalf of the suffering working and middle classes. He has claimed to see excessive economic inequality as “the defining issue of our time.” He has bemoaned how the rich have “rigged the rules of the game” to destroy the “American Dream’s” promise of upward mobility and security for all who engage in hard and honest work. Crushing Occupy with one hand while appropriating some of Occupy’s rhetoric for electoral deployment against Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney (an almost perfect aristocratic foil from central casting for the Democrats’ fake-progressive purposes), Obama was a Machiavellian master on the 2012 campaign trail.[25A]

History will judge the extent of Obama’s success in carrying the Machiavellian ruling class ball of faux-democratic deception across his two terms in the White House. He fumbled the rock to some degree during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, helping give rise to the extraordinary and significantly Left-led Occupy movement/moment, which briefly embodied some the wisdom of the late radical US historian Howard Zinn’s maxim that “[T]he really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting inin the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.” [26]

Democrats are best exposed as the other major-party “wing…of the same bird of [corporate and imperial] prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904[27]) when they hold the nominal ruling authority conferred by elected public office. The “blunt lesson about power” (Greider) under Obama was a tutorial for a significant number of younger US adults on the bipartisan nature on the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, white supremacy, eco-cide, patriarchy, and police state power – and on the harsh reality that life still stinks under capital’s rule when Democrats hold top elected offices.

Still, Obama deserves credit from the US oligarchy for delaying (until the late summer and Fall of 2011) as well as crushing (in the Fall and early winter of the same year) populist rebellion against neoliberal austerity with his deceptive promises of “hope” and “change” (also the leading campaign keywords of the neoliberal corporate Democrat Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign). “Slick Willy” (Bill) Clinton had an easier time carrying the fake-populist ball for the rich and powerful during the 1990s thanks in no small part to the fact that he enjoyed a significantly booming capitalist economy in the wake of the Cold War’s end for must of his time in the White House Somewhat less adroit than Clinton41 (a true Machiavellian maestro), Obama44 has had to carry the ball across the first true crisis of capitalism in the neoliberal era.

With some help from the blundering, arch-plutocratic Romney campaign (whose gold-plated standard bearer got caught on tape telling fellow Robber Barons that “47 percent” of the US citizenry were lazy tax-dodging welfare-moochers), Obama got some of his pseudo-egalitarian Machiavellian mojo back in 2012. More recently, the US “mainstream” media’s Orwellian portrayal of the Ukraine crisis as a result of Russia’s imperialism (not Washington’s) has joined with Obama’s drawdown in Afghanistan, his Putin-forced stand-down from the bombing of Syria last Fall (quite frustrating for Obama), some minor tweaks to the Pentagon budget, and the standard GOP/FOX News complaints about a Democratic president’s “weakness abroad” to help Obama seem like a non- and even anti-imperial president to many at home.  The right-wing noise machine’s incessant neo-McCarthyite whining about Obama’s (mythical) left-liberal and even “socialist” sentiments continues to help the deeply conservative, corporatist and imperialist Obama appear to be something he very much is not – a progressive “man of the left.” Hillary Clinton can expect much the same cloaking assistance from the right if and when she becomes the first female US president in January of 2017.

The cold depravity of it all is enough to chill the most cynical of souls, perhaps even that of a Machiavelli. The clever Florentine political adviser certainly never hoped to enable the destruction of life on Earth for all his counsel on the necessity of “depart[ing] from the good” and “enter[ing] into evil.”

Paul Street’s next book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy can be ordered at http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810

 Endnotes

1. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005 [1532]), 60-62.

2. Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007), http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/07/070507fa_fact_macfarquhar

3. Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.,” Harpers (November 2006), http://harpers.org/archive/2006/11/barack-obama-inc/

4. Pam Martens, “Obama’s Money Cartel,” Counterpunch (May 5, 2008), http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/05/05/obama-s-money-cartel/; Pam Martens, “The Obama Bubble Agenda,” Counterpunch (May 6, 2008), http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/05/06/the-obama-bubble-agenda/.

5. Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008), xxvi-xxviii, 175-176. On the false nature of candidate Obama’s “antiwar” branding, see Chapter 4, “How ‘Antiwar’? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire.”

6. Adolph Reed, Jr., “The Curse of Community,” Village Voice (January 16, 1996), reprinted in Reed, Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene (New York: New Press, 2000).

7. Street, Barack Obama, 13-22, 59-72.

8. Public Broadcasting System, “Obama Administration Tops its own Deportation Record,” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/obama-administration-tops-its-own-deportation-record/; Ginger Thompson and Sarah Cohen, “More Deportations Follow Minor Crimes, Records Show,” New York Times, April 6, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/us/more-deportations-follow-minor-crimes-data-shows.html?_r=1

9. Nick Turse, “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries,” Huffington Post (January 16, 2014),

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nick-turse/americas-secret-war_b_4609742.html

10. Noam Chomsky, “Rethinking US Foreign Policy,” Chatham House, London, http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/198465

11. “Ukraine Crisis: US Special Forces Head to Baltic Nations,” The Telegraph (UK), May 9, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10818425/Ukraine-crisis-US-special-forces-head-to-Baltic-nations-for-training-exercises.html; Mike Whitney, “Why is Putin in Washington’s Crosshairs?” Counterpunch (April 28, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/28/why-is-putin-in-washingtons-crosshairs/

12. John Pilger, “The Strangelove Effect,” JohnPilger.com, April 18, 2014.

13. Washington Post, “Full Text of Obama’s Commencement Address at West Point,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-text-of-president-obamas-commencement-address-at-west-point/2014/05/28/cfbcdcaa-e670-11e3-afc6-a1dd9407abcf_story.html; Mike Whitney, “Saber-Rattling at West Point,” Counterpunch (June 4, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/03/saber-rattling-at-west-point/

14. Ian Traynor, “Obama Pledges $1bn to Boost Military in Europe in Wake of Ukraine Crisis,” The Guardian (June 3, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/03/obama-pledge-military-europe-ukraine-crisis

15. National Center or Child Poverty, “Child Poverty 2014,” http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

15A. 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-.

16. For why I place quote marks around “mainstream” when describing US corporate “mainstream media,” see Paul Street, “Those Who Put Out the People’s Eyes,” Z Magazine (June 2014), http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/those-who-have-put-out-the-peoples-eyes/

16A. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/06/barack-obama-d-day-speech-full-text

16B. Sarah Lazare, “Biggest Threat to World Peace: The United States,” Common Dreams, December 31, 2013, https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/31-6

17. For McKibben’s comment, see http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/obama-unveils-major-climate-change-report. For Chomsky’s, Noam Chomsky, “Prospects for Survival,” ZNet (April 2, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-prospects-for-survival/

18. For details and sources, Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2010), 26-28.

19. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave,’” Electric Politics, July 22, 2009, http://www.electricpolitics.com/2009/07/riding_the_green_wave_at_the_c.html

20. Pam Martens, “Have the Mega Banks Put the US on Course for Another Crash?” Wall Street On Parade, March 31, 2014, http://wallstreetonparade.com/2014/03/have-the-mega-banks-put-the-u-s-on-course-for-another-crash-the-answer-may-reside-in-nomi-prins%E2%80%99-new-book/

21. Ron Suskind, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 232-242.

22. William Greider, “Obama Asked 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

23. Kevin Young and Michael Schwartz, “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: How Corporate Power Shaped the Affordable Health Care Act,” New Labor Forum (May 14, 2014), http://nlf.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/03/21/1095796014527828.full; Street, The Empire’s New Clothes, Chapter 3, titled “Corporate-Managed ‘Health Reform.’” “Ignore” would be an understatement considering the depth and degree of the Obama administrations’ loathing of seriously progressive policy advocates.

24. For details and sources, see Paul Street, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014), 10-20.

25. Danny Katch, “You’ve Got to Meet the Real Socialists,” Socialist Worker (December 11, 2013), http://socialistworker.org/2013/12/11/meet-the-real-socialists

25A Some background: Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy in Osawatomie, Kansas,” December 6, 2011,www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/06/remarks-president-economy-osawatomie-kansas; Jeff Mason, “Obama Hits Republicans, Wall Street, in Populist Speech,” Reuters, December 7, 2011,http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/07/us-usa-campaign-obama-idUSTRE7B527620111207; Paul Street, “The Plutocrats Keep Their Shirts,” Z Magazine (January 2013), http://www.paulstreet.org/?p=879

26. http://socialistworker.org/2012/10/19/the-lunch-counter-sit-ins

27. The Appeal to Reason, no. 459, September 17, 1904, 1, reproduced in Gene DeGruson, ed., The Lost First Edition of Sinclair’s “The Jungle” (Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Press, 1988), Illustration L.

 

As a political science major with grand ambitions at Columbia University during the early Reagan era, Barack Obama certainly studied Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous treatise on Renaissance statecraft The Prince (1532). The following passage from that slim volume surely passed his eyes: “How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live with integrity and not by cunning, everyone knows. Nevertheless, one sees from experience in our time that princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have thought little about keeping faith and who have known how to cunningly manipulate men’s minds.”

By Machiavelli’s account, a successful prince had to “seem” to possess noble qualities while engaging in deception and otherwise “enter[ing] into evil when forced by necessity” (which was quite often in Machiavelli’s view). “To those seeing and hearing him, he should appear to be all mercy, all faithfulness, all integrity, all humanity, and all religion” – even while he violated each of these principles on a regular basis. “It is necessary,” Machiavelli counseled, “to know how to…be a great pretender and dissembler.”

It was all very doable, Machiavelli felt, since “Men are so simple-minded and so controlled by their immediate needs that he who deceives will always find someone who will let himself be deceived” and “ordinary people are always taken in by appearances and by the outcome of an event.” [1]

 

 

The Bush-Cheney GOP: Dropping the Machiavellian Ball

What was the problem with the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration and the Republican Party as far as the United States’ ruling and Machiavellian business elite and imperial establishment were concerned – a problem so great that Wall Street invested to a record-setting degree in the presidential candidacy of a supposedly liberal, left-leaning, and Black Democrat in 2007 and 2008? The main difficulty was that Bush43 had been too transparently evil in overly obvious service to the super-wealthy Few – those Bush once half-jokingly called “my base” and who would later be anointed “the 1 Percent.” Along the way, the Bush-Cheney-(Karl) Rove regime was too blatantly, too crudely, and too visibly imperialist, militarist, racist, patriarchal, and authoritarian. It became a big bad black eye for Uncle Sam – a brand spoiler at home and abroad.

The trick for a smart and savvy US president is to serve those atop the nation’s interrelated hierarchies of class, race, gender, and empire while appearing to work for democracy and the common good. Cowboy Bush43 dropped the Machiavellian ball that all US presidents carry for the US power elite. He was boorish and clumsy, too coarse to sustain the manipulative appearance of benevolent and democratic concern for “We the People” and “the General Welfare” (key phrases from the preamble to the US Constitution). He threatened to make overly plain and understandable who really ruled the “homeland’s” corporate-managed “democracy.” At the same time, his brazenly criminal, mass-murderous, racist, and unilateral, petro-imperialist invasion of Iraq on grotesquely false pretexts revolted the planet, richly confirming longstanding global perceptions of the US as a deadly and selfish rogue state.

 

Stealthier Service to Reigning Hierarchies

A major national re-branding was required to re-cloak American Empire and Inequality in false democratic clothes in the wake of the long Bush-Cheney-Rove nightmare. The fake-progressive and in fact “deeply conservative” [2]) and carefully establishment-vetted [3] Obama phenomenon provided a seemingly heaven-sent vehicle for Washington’s required image overhaul. It was made to order and right on time as the financial system and broader economy began to implode, necessitating a massive taxpayer bailout of the parasitic financial institutions that created the disaster in the first place. The Republicans’ long and all-too plainly plutocratic presence in the White House and the GOP’s reputation as the leading party of Big Business made it preferable for the moneyed elite that the president overseeing that populace-nauseating transfer be a supposedly liberal Democrat, not another rich white Republican. That the “liberal” Democrat who rose to instant celebrity at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was technically black was a great faux-democratic, identity-politicized neoliberal bonus[4]. “Brand Obama” held further plusses for the imperial project: the next president’s technically Muslim nomenclature and his deceptive “antiwar” credentials promised to combine with his color to promise to help the US undo some of the injury Bush43’s excessively barefaced imperialism had done to “Brand USA” in the Middle East and around the entire, mostly non-white world.[5]

Consistent with his longstanding “vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics” (Adolph Reed, Jr.’s description of an unnamed, freshly elected state senator Obama’s world view in January of 1996[6]) and the historic elite campaign finance and corporate media backing he received in 2008[7], the nation’s first half-white (“black but not like Jesse”) president has dedicated much of his time in the White House to picking up the Machiavellian ball of deception on behalf of the rich and powerful. He is no less beholden to or enamored with the nation’s reigning hierarchies than his blustering and buffoonish predecessor. He never was. His mission, however, has been to serve the nation’s great white capitalist and imperial masters in a less clumsy and more stealthy, cleverly deceptive fashion, consistent with Machiavelli’s counsel. It’s not mainly about him. The princes who are served by his great pretending and dissembling are the nation’s real rulers at the pinnacles of “the 1 Percent.”

 

The Deporter-in-Chief

Compare Obama44’s war on immigrants with that of Bush43. Obama has managed to actually increase the number of immigrants deported from the US to record levels, forcing out 1. 6 million between 2009 and 2012 – quite a shock to civil rights activists enamored by candidate Obama’s promise of “real immigration reform”. But the new “Deporter-in-Chief” (some activists’ revealing term for the “liberal” president) has done this in a much quieter way than Bush43, (also a record-setting deporter in his day). In the final years of his administration, Bush undertook a harsh immigration crackdown replete with provocative military-style raids on US factories and farms. Candidate Obama attacked Bush’s raids for “terrorizing” Latino communities. As president, he prefers a stealthier, more behind-the-scenes approach, one that avoids high-profile armed-force assaults but yields a higher rate of family-shattering arrest and expulsion – this while he claims to favor “humane” reform and to be advancing a safe way for “Dreamers” (“illegal” immigrants who came to the US as children) to avoid expulsion.[8]

 

The Empire’s New Clothes

In a similar vein, Obama has dramatically expanded the number of “sovereign” nations in which US Special Forces are deployed from 60, at the end of the Bush43 administration, to 134 today. According to the antiwar journalist Nick Turse, in a passage that deserves lengthy quotation:

“This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences….”

“Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback…the president has presided over a ramping up of the US military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or ‘pivot to Asia’….”

“The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war. While President Bush launched fifty-one such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Last year, alone, the US also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan,  LibyaPakistanSomalia, and Yemen. Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of US electronic surveillance during the Obama years. And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.”

“In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of US military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame….A more recent US military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a US-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a US-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region….And today South Sudan—a nation the US shepherded into being, has supported economically and militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces—is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.” (emphasis added) [9]

 

As the Obama White House and Pentagon surely know, Washington’s arch-criminal drone campaign – in which the US “peace” president acts as personal executioner (without trial) of officially designated enemies (serious controversy arises in the “homeland” only when those executed are US citizens) – kills a large number of innocent civilians (so-called “collateral damage,” more honestly described as “bug-splat” by military insiders) and breeds terrorists in tribal societies [10]. Top-down terror from the imperial core breeds “blowback” from and across the Muslim periphery, promising more lucrative cost-plus “defense” contracts for the president’s “friends atop Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon, etc. Another large Islamist attack on the imperial “homeland” (a revealing militarist phrase Obama44 has picked up from Bush43 and run with) waits in the wings.

A “return of great power conflict” has emerged in the interim, courtesy of “antiwar” Obama. US Special Forces and military hardware are now provocatively deployed in former Soviet republics on the western border of Russia, with whom the Obama administration has sparked a potentially disastrous conflict over strategically super-significant Ukraine [11], through which Western armies have repeatedly charged into Russia with catastrophic consequences over the last two centuries. Meanwhile, Obama is menacing China, whose “containment” is the essential goal behind his much-ballyhooed “pivot to Asia.” “By 2020,” John Pilger noted last April:

“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.” [12]

In a recent saber-rattling speech at West Point, Obama said the following: “Let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency: The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it… International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.”The left analyst Mike Whitney offers a useful and accurate translation on Counterpunch:

“In other words, the United States will do whatever the hell it wants to and if you don’t like it: ‘Too bad.’ This is the Bush Doctrine verbatim. The West Point oration proves that the new administration has simply modified the Bush credo to suit Obama’s pretentious speaking style. Strip out the visionary formulations, the grandiose bloviating, and the sweeping hand gestures and the ideas are virtually identical; unilateralism, preemption, and exceptionalism, the toxic combo that has spurred 13 years of war, occupation, regime change, black sites, extra-judicial assassinations, drone attacks, and hyperbolic state terror most of which has been directed at civilian populations whose only fault is that they occupy regions where vast petroleum reserves have been discovered or which have some fleeting strategic importance to Washington’s war planners.” [13]

By “our core interests…our people, our homeland” and “our way of life,” Obama does not mean “we the [American working class majority of] people,” whose living standards continue to deteriorate in the current US New Gilded Age of savage inequality and abject plutocracy. He means the stupendous profits and right-figure salaries of the nation’s top investors and corporate managers, whose shameful shocking fortunes are rooted in the ruthless exploitation of working people and the natural environment at home and abroad.

US military contractors got another opportunity to lick their lips when Obama recently announced in Warsaw that he will ask Congress to spend $1 billion to expand the US military presence in Eastern Europe.The Guardian reports that Obama plans “to rotate more troops in and out of Poland, to strengthen air patrols over the Baltic, and to beef up naval operations in the Black Sea off the Russian and Ukrainian coasts” (emphasis added).[14] (Dominant US mass media had nothing to say about how that $1 billion might be better spent to help some among the more than 16 million US children who scandalously live beneath the nation’s notoriously inadequate poverty level [15] – this in a nation where six Wal-Mart heirs possess between them as much total wealth as the bottom 40 percent of the population.[15A])

Obama does and says all this and more (unburdened by translations in US “mainstream”[16] media) while claiming to honor “international accurate law” to and to guard against US global “overreach.” He saves his loftiest oratorical passions for standard presidential phrases about “exceptional” and glorious America’s grand and selfless commitment to defending peace, freedom, security and justice around the world. In France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion last week, Obama made sure to remind his audience that “the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known” and asked God’s continued blessing for all the US and Western troops who sacrifice and “serve today for the peace and security of our world.” [16A]

The vast US military Empire (which continues to account for nearly half the world’s military spending) is not retreating from “overreach” under Obama. It is repositioning and expanding in a stealthier way than it did under the more club-footed Dubya and his neoconservative posse of mad-dog-killers (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Libby et al.). The “peace and security of our world” is the last thing really on the mind of the Pentagon and White House’s imperial planners in the Obama era as during the Bush43 years.

The world is no longer fooled, if it ever was to any significant degree. According to a global survey of 66,000 people conducted across 68 countries by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WINMR) and Gallup International at the end of 2013, Earth’s people see the United States as the most significant threat to peace on the planet. The U.S. was voted top threat by a wide margin, receiving 24 percent of the vote. Pakistan was a distant second with 8 percent, followed by China (6 percent). Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and North Korea tied for 4th place at 4 percent. Among U.S.-allied countries, Greece and Turkey (45 percent each), Pakistan (44 percent) and Mexico (about 37 percent) believed the U.S. is the greatest threat to peace [16B]

At home, in the U.S. “mainstream” media bubble, however, Obama has managed to appear peaceful and anti- or at least non-imperial to many in his bamboozled “liberal,” MSNBC-watching “base” by happening to oversee (as would have a President John McCain or a President Mitt Romney) the end of Bush43’s exhausted, post-9/11 land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (after a major Obama troop surge in the second illegally invaded country). It helps sell the frankly childish illusion of Obama as a “man of peace” that he has had to make some minor adjustments in the Pentagon budget and is repeatedly and preposterously attacked by the Republicans and right-wing media for being “reluctant” and “soft” when it comes to using military force abroad.

 

Green[house] Obama

Climate policy is another good example. By the estimation of leading US environmental activist Bill McKibben (depressingly deferential towards Obama over the years), Obama’s “biggest climate legacy is the US passing Russia and Saudi Arabia [before the end of his second term] in oil and gas production.” This great leap forward to so-called national energy independence has been achieved largely through the eco-exterminist practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which pollutes and exhausts the nation’s endangered water supplies in order to extract vast quantities of carbon-rich methane gas for planet-baking sale and burning at home and abroad. Obama has celebrated the homeland’s “energy revolution,” boasting of America’s prodigious new fossil fuel production in glowing terms that Noam Chomsky has rightly described as an “eloquent death knell for the species.”[17]

I’m not sure I agree with McKibben: Obama’s top contribution to the Greenhouse-Gassing of Life on Earth may still be his almost single-handed undermining of binding global carbon-emission limits at the global climate summit in Copenhagen in December of 2009 [18]. But either way, Obama’s disastrous climate record is a far cry from his campaign promises to seriously tackle the looming specter of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Unlike the crude, oil-soaked Texan who preceded him in the oval office, however, Obama44 accepts the consensus findings of Earth science on humanity’s responsibility for climate change. He has advanced some outwardly eco-friendly fuel efficiency standards, new limits on coal plant pollution, and alternative fuel developments as part of his disastrous “all-of-the above” energy policy. This difference of eco-cidal style have permitted him to pose as an environmentalist while the United States’ still leading historical contribution to has expanded AGW thanks in no small part to his serial dissembling. Again the Machiavellian deception is enhanced by the right, which likes to portray the president as a left-liberal “tree hugger” who privileges elite environmental concerns over jobs and growth.

 

 

Wall Street Obama

Obama44 has been no less solicitous of the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money” [19] (the US corporate and financial ruling class) and has done little more for the nation’s working class majority than his more ham-fisted predecessor. Consistent with his early staffing of key White House economic posts by top neoliberal Wall Street insiders, he has made no serious effort to regulate or prosecute, much less nationalize the nation’s reigning arch-parasitic financial institutions, whose record of pushing the US and global economy into crisis in pursuit of the endless upward distribution of fortunes is surely far from over[20]. He worked assiduously to shield the financial chieftains from richly deserved populist anger[21]while he stealthily expanded the massive Wall Street bailouts initiated by his maladroit predecessor and launched a woefully inadequate stimulus bill heavily weighted towards tax cuts for the affluent. There were no comparable bailouts for the non-affluent majority, thrown into recession through no fault of their own, by the greedy excess of the Few. The venerable liberal-left commentator William Greider put it 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 little to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people, soon to be known as “the 99%,” left to ask “where’s my bailout? [22]

Obama’s subsequent health insurance legislation– the absurdly titled “Affordable Care Act” – was designed by the Republican Heritage Foundation. It preserved the unchallenged profit-making and price- and rate-gouging power of the nation’s leading insurance and drug companies in cold defiance of public opinion. The single-payer model long favored by most Americans was banned from serious consideration in White House “reform” deliberations, consistent with then White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives” [23].

Obama has never lifted a finger for the Employee Free Choice Act, upon which he campaigned in 2007 and 2008. It would have substantively re-legalized union organizing in the US. Obama offered no public support for the historic pro-union public worker and citizen uprising against Wisconsin’s hard right Koch brother-backed Governor Scott Walker in February and March of 2011. The president managed a single mild Tweet for the Wisconsin Democrats’ campaign to recall Walker the following year. And when the remarkable Occupy rebellion against the nation’s gaping class disparities and the corporate and financial elite’s domination of US politics and policy spread across the nation in the fall and early winter of 2011, the Obama administration undertook a federal campaign of surveillance, infiltration, and repression that led to the coordinated police-state dismantlement of the neo-populist encampments before the end of the year.[24]

 

“A Touching Ruling Class Moment”

Last December, Obama advanced some revealing reflections before some friends atop the US capitalist class at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council:

“When you go to other countries [Obama mused], the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace. The stock market is looking pretty good last time I checked.”

As the left, actually socialist writer Danny Klatch commented, “It was a touching ruling class moment. At a time of bitter partisan warfare in Congress and frequent mudslinging by business executives, a bunch of CEOs were able to sit down with their president and realize that they really aren’t so different after all. Together, they shared a good laugh at the idea held by many ordinary people in both parties – that Obama and Corporate America are somehow on different sides” (emphasis added) [25].

 

How Obama Got His Fake-Populist Groove Back

Thanks to all this and more (including consistent advance of the corporatist “free trade” agreements and doctrine favored by big capital), the rich and their corporations have made out like bandits across the low-wage, high unemployment Age of Obama. Yet through it all, Obama has somehow managed to serially summon seemingly sincere pseudo-eloquence on behalf of the suffering working and middle classes. He has claimed to see excessive economic inequality as “the defining issue of our time.” He has bemoaned how the rich have “rigged the rules of the game” to destroy the “American Dream’s” promise of upward mobility and security for all who engage in hard and honest work. Crushing Occupy with one hand while appropriating some of Occupy’s rhetoric for electoral deployment against Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney (an almost perfect aristocratic foil from central casting for the Democrats’ fake-progressive purposes), Obama was a Machiavellian master on the 2012 campaign trail.[25A]

History will judge the extent of Obama’s success in carrying the Machiavellian ruling class ball of faux-democratic deception across his two terms in the White House. He fumbled the rock to some degree during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, helping give rise to the extraordinary and significantly Left-led Occupy movement/moment, which briefly embodied some the wisdom of the late radical US historian Howard Zinn’s maxim that “[T]he really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting inin the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.” [26]

Democrats are best exposed as the other major-party “wing…of the same bird of [corporate and imperial] prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904[27]) when they hold the nominal ruling authority conferred by elected public office. The “blunt lesson about power” (Greider) under Obama was a tutorial for a significant number of younger US adults on the bipartisan nature on the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, white supremacy, eco-cide, patriarchy, and police state power – and on the harsh reality that life still stinks under capital’s rule when Democrats hold top elected offices.

Still, Obama deserves credit from the US oligarchy for delaying (until the late summer and Fall of 2011) as well as crushing (in the Fall and early winter of the same year) populist rebellion against neoliberal austerity with his deceptive promises of “hope” and “change” (also the leading campaign keywords of the neoliberal corporate Democrat Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign). “Slick Willy” (Bill) Clinton had an easier time carrying the fake-populist ball for the rich and powerful during the 1990s thanks in no small part to the fact that he enjoyed a significantly booming capitalist economy in the wake of the Cold War’s end for must of his time in the White House Somewhat less adroit than Clinton41 (a true Machiavellian maestro), Obama44 has had to carry the ball across the first true crisis of capitalism in the neoliberal era.

With some help from the blundering, arch-plutocratic Romney campaign (whose gold-plated standard bearer got caught on tape telling fellow Robber Barons that “47 percent” of the US citizenry were lazy tax-dodging welfare-moochers), Obama got some of his pseudo-egalitarian Machiavellian mojo back in 2012. More recently, the US “mainstream” media’s Orwellian portrayal of the Ukraine crisis as a result of Russia’s imperialism (not Washington’s) has joined with Obama’s drawdown in Afghanistan, his Putin-forced stand-down from the bombing of Syria last Fall (quite frustrating for Obama), some minor tweaks to the Pentagon budget, and the standard GOP/FOX News complaints about a Democratic president’s “weakness abroad” to help Obama seem like a non- and even anti-imperial president to many at home.  The right-wing noise machine’s incessant neo-McCarthyite whining about Obama’s (mythical) left-liberal and even “socialist” sentiments continues to help the deeply conservative, corporatist and imperialist Obama appear to be something he very much is not – a progressive “man of the left.” Hillary Clinton can expect much the same cloaking assistance from the right if and when she becomes the first female US president in January of 2017.

The cold depravity of it all is enough to chill the most cynical of souls, perhaps even that of a Machiavelli. The clever Florentine political adviser certainly never hoped to enable the destruction of life on Earth for all his counsel on the necessity of “depart[ing] from the good” and “enter[ing] into evil.”

Paul Street’s next book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy can be ordered at http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810

 

Endnotes

1. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005 [1532]), 60-62.

2. Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007), http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/07/070507fa_fact_macfarquhar

3. Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.,” Harpers (November 2006), http://harpers.org/archive/2006/11/barack-obama-inc/

4. Pam Martens, “Obama’s Money Cartel,” Counterpunch (May 5, 2008), http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/05/05/obama-s-money-cartel/; Pam Martens, “The Obama Bubble Agenda,” Counterpunch (May 6, 2008), http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/05/06/the-obama-bubble-agenda/.

5. Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008), xxvi-xxviii, 175-176. On the false nature of candidate Obama’s “antiwar” branding, see Chapter 4, “How ‘Antiwar’? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire.”

6. Adolph Reed, Jr., “The Curse of Community,” Village Voice (January 16, 1996), reprinted in Reed, Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene (New York: New Press, 2000).

7. Street, Barack Obama, 13-22, 59-72.

8. Public Broadcasting System, “Obama Administration Tops its own Deportation Record,” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/obama-administration-tops-its-own-deportation-record/; Ginger Thompson and Sarah Cohen, “More Deportations Follow Minor Crimes, Records Show,” New York Times, April 6, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/us/more-deportations-follow-minor-crimes-data-shows.html?_r=1

9. Nick Turse, “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries,” Huffington Post (January 16, 2014),

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nick-turse/americas-secret-war_b_4609742.html

10. Noam Chomsky, “Rethinking US Foreign Policy,” Chatham House, London, http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/198465

11. “Ukraine Crisis: US Special Forces Head to Baltic Nations,” The Telegraph (UK), May 9, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10818425/Ukraine-crisis-US-special-forces-head-to-Baltic-nations-for-training-exercises.html; Mike Whitney, “Why is Putin in Washington’s Crosshairs?” Counterpunch (April 28, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/28/why-is-putin-in-washingtons-crosshairs/

12. John Pilger, “The Strangelove Effect,” JohnPilger.com, April 18, 2014.

13. Washington Post, “Full Text of Obama’s Commencement Address at West Point,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-text-of-president-obamas-commencement-address-at-west-point/2014/05/28/cfbcdcaa-e670-11e3-afc6-a1dd9407abcf_story.html; Mike Whitney, “Saber-Rattling at West Point,” Counterpunch (June 4, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/03/saber-rattling-at-west-point/

14. Ian Traynor, “Obama Pledges $1bn to Boost Military in Europe in Wake of Ukraine Crisis,” The Guardian (June 3, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/03/obama-pledge-military-europe-ukraine-crisis

15. National Center or Child Poverty, “Child Poverty 2014,” http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

15A. 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-.

16. For why I place quote marks around “mainstream” when describing US corporate “mainstream media,” see Paul Street, “Those Who Put Out the People’s Eyes,” Z Magazine (June 2014), http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/those-who-have-put-out-the-peoples-eyes/

16A. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/06/barack-obama-d-day-speech-full-text

16B. Sarah Lazare, “Biggest Threat to World Peace: The United States,” Common Dreams, December 31, 2013, https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/31-6

17. For McKibben’s comment, see http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/obama-unveils-major-climate-change-report. For Chomsky’s, Noam Chomsky, “Prospects for Survival,” ZNet (April 2, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-prospects-for-survival/

18. For details and sources, Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2010), 26-28.

19. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave,’” Electric Politics, July 22, 2009, http://www.electricpolitics.com/2009/07/riding_the_green_wave_at_the_c.html

20. Pam Martens, “Have the Mega Banks Put the US on Course for Another Crash?” Wall Street On Parade, March 31, 2014, http://wallstreetonparade.com/2014/03/have-the-mega-banks-put-the-u-s-on-course-for-another-crash-the-answer-may-reside-in-nomi-prins%E2%80%99-new-book/

21. Ron Suskind, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 232-242.

22. William Greider, “Obama Asked 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

23. Kevin Young and Michael Schwartz, “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: How Corporate Power Shaped the Affordable Health Care Act,” New Labor Forum (May 14, 2014), http://nlf.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/03/21/1095796014527828.full; Street, The Empire’s New Clothes, Chapter 3, titled “Corporate-Managed ‘Health Reform.’” “Ignore” would be an understatement considering the depth and degree of the Obama administrations’ loathing of seriously progressive policy advocates.

24. For details and sources, see Paul Street, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014), 10-20.

25. Danny Katch, “You’ve Got to Meet the Real Socialists,” Socialist Worker (December 11, 2013), http://socialistworker.org/2013/12/11/meet-the-real-socialists

25A Some background: Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy in Osawatomie, Kansas,” December 6, 2011,www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/06/remarks-president-economy-osawatomie-kansas; Jeff Mason, “Obama Hits Republicans, Wall Street, in Populist Speech,” Reuters, December 7, 2011,http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/07/us-usa-campaign-obama-idUSTRE7B527620111207; Paul Street, “The Plutocrats Keep Their Shirts,” Z Magazine (January 2013), http://www.paulstreet.org/?p=879

26. http://socialistworker.org/2012/10/19/the-lunch-counter-sit-ins

27. The Appeal to Reason, no. 459, September 17, 1904, 1, reproduced in Gene DeGruson, ed., The Lost First Edition of Sinclair’s “The Jungle” (Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Press, 1988), Illustration L.

As a political science major with grand ambitions at Columbia University during the early Reagan era, Barack Obama certainly studied Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous treatise on Renaissance statecraft The Prince (1532). The following passage from that slim volume surely passed his eyes: “How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live with integrity and not by cunning, everyone knows. Nevertheless, one sees from experience in our time that princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have thought little about keeping faith and who have known how to cunningly manipulate men’s minds.”

By Machiavelli’s account, a successful prince had to “seem” to possess noble qualities while engaging in deception and otherwise “enter[ing] into evil when forced by necessity” (which was quite often in Machiavelli’s view). “To those seeing and hearing him, he should appear to be all mercy, all faithfulness, all integrity, all humanity, and all religion” – even while he violated each of these principles on a regular basis. “It is necessary,” Machiavelli counseled, “to know how to…be a great pretender and dissembler.”

It was all very doable, Machiavelli felt, since “Men are so simple-minded and so controlled by their immediate needs that he who deceives will always find someone who will let himself be deceived” and “ordinary people are always taken in by appearances and by the outcome of an event.” [1]

 

 

The Bush-Cheney GOP: Dropping the Machiavellian Ball

What was the problem with the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration and the Republican Party as far as the United States’ ruling and Machiavellian business elite and imperial establishment were concerned – a problem so great that Wall Street invested to a record-setting degree in the presidential candidacy of a supposedly liberal, left-leaning, and Black Democrat in 2007 and 2008? The main difficulty was that Bush43 had been too transparently evil in overly obvious service to the super-wealthy Few – those Bush once half-jokingly called “my base” and who would later be anointed “the 1 Percent.” Along the way, the Bush-Cheney-(Karl) Rove regime was too blatantly, too crudely, and too visibly imperialist, militarist, racist, patriarchal, and authoritarian. It became a big bad black eye for Uncle Sam – a brand spoiler at home and abroad.

The trick for a smart and savvy US president is to serve those atop the nation’s interrelated hierarchies of class, race, gender, and empire while appearing to work for democracy and the common good. Cowboy Bush43 dropped the Machiavellian ball that all US presidents carry for the US power elite. He was boorish and clumsy, too coarse to sustain the manipulative appearance of benevolent and democratic concern for “We the People” and “the General Welfare” (key phrases from the preamble to the US Constitution). He threatened to make overly plain and understandable who really ruled the “homeland’s” corporate-managed “democracy.” At the same time, his brazenly criminal, mass-murderous, racist, and unilateral, petro-imperialist invasion of Iraq on grotesquely false pretexts revolted the planet, richly confirming longstanding global perceptions of the US as a deadly and selfish rogue state.

 

Stealthier Service to Reigning Hierarchies

A major national re-branding was required to re-cloak American Empire and Inequality in false democratic clothes in the wake of the long Bush-Cheney-Rove nightmare. The fake-progressive and in fact “deeply conservative” [2]) and carefully establishment-vetted [3] Obama phenomenon provided a seemingly heaven-sent vehicle for Washington’s required image overhaul. It was made to order and right on time as the financial system and broader economy began to implode, necessitating a massive taxpayer bailout of the parasitic financial institutions that created the disaster in the first place. The Republicans’ long and all-too plainly plutocratic presence in the White House and the GOP’s reputation as the leading party of Big Business made it preferable for the moneyed elite that the president overseeing that populace-nauseating transfer be a supposedly liberal Democrat, not another rich white Republican. That the “liberal” Democrat who rose to instant celebrity at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was technically black was a great faux-democratic, identity-politicized neoliberal bonus[4]. “Brand Obama” held further plusses for the imperial project: the next president’s technically Muslim nomenclature and his deceptive “antiwar” credentials promised to combine with his color to promise to help the US undo some of the injury Bush43’s excessively barefaced imperialism had done to “Brand USA” in the Middle East and around the entire, mostly non-white world.[5]

Consistent with his longstanding “vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics” (Adolph Reed, Jr.’s description of an unnamed, freshly elected state senator Obama’s world view in January of 1996[6]) and the historic elite campaign finance and corporate media backing he received in 2008[7], the nation’s first half-white (“black but not like Jesse”) president has dedicated much of his time in the White House to picking up the Machiavellian ball of deception on behalf of the rich and powerful. He is no less beholden to or enamored with the nation’s reigning hierarchies than his blustering and buffoonish predecessor. He never was. His mission, however, has been to serve the nation’s great white capitalist and imperial masters in a less clumsy and more stealthy, cleverly deceptive fashion, consistent with Machiavelli’s counsel. It’s not mainly about him. The princes who are served by his great pretending and dissembling are the nation’s real rulers at the pinnacles of “the 1 Percent.”

 

The Deporter-in-Chief

Compare Obama44’s war on immigrants with that of Bush43. Obama has managed to actually increase the number of immigrants deported from the US to record levels, forcing out 1. 6 million between 2009 and 2012 – quite a shock to civil rights activists enamored by candidate Obama’s promise of “real immigration reform”. But the new “Deporter-in-Chief” (some activists’ revealing term for the “liberal” president) has done this in a much quieter way than Bush43, (also a record-setting deporter in his day). In the final years of his administration, Bush undertook a harsh immigration crackdown replete with provocative military-style raids on US factories and farms. Candidate Obama attacked Bush’s raids for “terrorizing” Latino communities. As president, he prefers a stealthier, more behind-the-scenes approach, one that avoids high-profile armed-force assaults but yields a higher rate of family-shattering arrest and expulsion – this while he claims to favor “humane” reform and to be advancing a safe way for “Dreamers” (“illegal” immigrants who came to the US as children) to avoid expulsion.[8]

 

The Empire’s New Clothes

In a similar vein, Obama has dramatically expanded the number of “sovereign” nations in which US Special Forces are deployed from 60, at the end of the Bush43 administration, to 134 today. According to the antiwar journalist Nick Turse, in a passage that deserves lengthy quotation:

“This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences….”

“Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief whose policies have already produced notable instances of what in CIA trade-speak has long been called blowback…the president has presided over a ramping up of the US military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or ‘pivot to Asia’….”

“The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war. While President Bush launched fifty-one such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Last year, alone, the US also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan,  LibyaPakistanSomalia, and Yemen. Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of US electronic surveillance during the Obama years. And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure.”

“In recent years, however, the unintended consequences of US military operations have helped to sow outrage and discontent, setting whole regions aflame….A more recent US military intervention to aid the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi helped send neighboring Mali, a US-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, saw a coup there carried out by a US-trained officer, ultimately led to a bloody terror attack on an Algerian gas plant, and helped to unleash nothing short of a terror diaspora in the region….And today South Sudan—a nation the US shepherded into being, has supported economically and militarily (despite its reliance on child soldiers), and has used as a hush-hush base for Special Operations forces—is being torn apart by violence and sliding toward civil war.” (emphasis added) [9]

 

As the Obama White House and Pentagon surely know, Washington’s arch-criminal drone campaign – in which the US “peace” president acts as personal executioner (without trial) of officially designated enemies (serious controversy arises in the “homeland” only when those executed are US citizens) – kills a large number of innocent civilians (so-called “collateral damage,” more honestly described as “bug-splat” by military insiders) and breeds terrorists in tribal societies [10]. Top-down terror from the imperial core breeds “blowback” from and across the Muslim periphery, promising more lucrative cost-plus “defense” contracts for the president’s “friends atop Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon, etc. Another large Islamist attack on the imperial “homeland” (a revealing militarist phrase Obama44 has picked up from Bush43 and run with) waits in the wings.

A “return of great power conflict” has emerged in the interim, courtesy of “antiwar” Obama. US Special Forces and military hardware are now provocatively deployed in former Soviet republics on the western border of Russia, with whom the Obama administration has sparked a potentially disastrous conflict over strategically super-significant Ukraine [11], through which Western armies have repeatedly charged into Russia with catastrophic consequences over the last two centuries. Meanwhile, Obama is menacing China, whose “containment” is the essential goal behind his much-ballyhooed “pivot to Asia.” “By 2020,” John Pilger noted last April:

“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.” [12]

In a recent saber-rattling speech at West Point, Obama said the following: “Let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency: The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it… International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.”The left analyst Mike Whitney offers a useful and accurate translation on Counterpunch:

“In other words, the United States will do whatever the hell it wants to and if you don’t like it: ‘Too bad.’ This is the Bush Doctrine verbatim. The West Point oration proves that the new administration has simply modified the Bush credo to suit Obama’s pretentious speaking style. Strip out the visionary formulations, the grandiose bloviating, and the sweeping hand gestures and the ideas are virtually identical; unilateralism, preemption, and exceptionalism, the toxic combo that has spurred 13 years of war, occupation, regime change, black sites, extra-judicial assassinations, drone attacks, and hyperbolic state terror most of which has been directed at civilian populations whose only fault is that they occupy regions where vast petroleum reserves have been discovered or which have some fleeting strategic importance to Washington’s war planners.” [13]

By “our core interests…our people, our homeland” and “our way of life,” Obama does not mean “we the [American working class majority of] people,” whose living standards continue to deteriorate in the current US New Gilded Age of savage inequality and abject plutocracy. He means the stupendous profits and right-figure salaries of the nation’s top investors and corporate managers, whose shameful shocking fortunes are rooted in the ruthless exploitation of working people and the natural environment at home and abroad.

US military contractors got another opportunity to lick their lips when Obama recently announced in Warsaw that he will ask Congress to spend $1 billion to expand the US military presence in Eastern Europe.The Guardian reports that Obama plans “to rotate more troops in and out of Poland, to strengthen air patrols over the Baltic, and to beef up naval operations in the Black Sea off the Russian and Ukrainian coasts” (emphasis added).[14] (Dominant US mass media had nothing to say about how that $1 billion might be better spent to help some among the more than 16 million US children who scandalously live beneath the nation’s notoriously inadequate poverty level [15] – this in a nation where six Wal-Mart heirs possess between them as much total wealth as the bottom 40 percent of the population.[15A])

Obama does and says all this and more (unburdened by translations in US “mainstream”[16] media) while claiming to honor “international accurate law” to and to guard against US global “overreach.” He saves his loftiest oratorical passions for standard presidential phrases about “exceptional” and glorious America’s grand and selfless commitment to defending peace, freedom, security and justice around the world. In France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion last week, Obama made sure to remind his audience that “the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known” and asked God’s continued blessing for all the US and Western troops who sacrifice and “serve today for the peace and security of our world.” [16A]

The vast US military Empire (which continues to account for nearly half the world’s military spending) is not retreating from “overreach” under Obama. It is repositioning and expanding in a stealthier way than it did under the more club-footed Dubya and his neoconservative posse of mad-dog-killers (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Libby et al.). The “peace and security of our world” is the last thing really on the mind of the Pentagon and White House’s imperial planners in the Obama era as during the Bush43 years.

The world is no longer fooled, if it ever was to any significant degree. According to a global survey of 66,000 people conducted across 68 countries by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WINMR) and Gallup International at the end of 2013, Earth’s people see the United States as the most significant threat to peace on the planet. The U.S. was voted top threat by a wide margin, receiving 24 percent of the vote. Pakistan was a distant second with 8 percent, followed by China (6 percent). Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and North Korea tied for 4th place at 4 percent. Among U.S.-allied countries, Greece and Turkey (45 percent each), Pakistan (44 percent) and Mexico (about 37 percent) believed the U.S. is the greatest threat to peace [16B]

At home, in the U.S. “mainstream” media bubble, however, Obama has managed to appear peaceful and anti- or at least non-imperial to many in his bamboozled “liberal,” MSNBC-watching “base” by happening to oversee (as would have a President John McCain or a President Mitt Romney) the end of Bush43’s exhausted, post-9/11 land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (after a major Obama troop surge in the second illegally invaded country). It helps sell the frankly childish illusion of Obama as a “man of peace” that he has had to make some minor adjustments in the Pentagon budget and is repeatedly and preposterously attacked by the Republicans and right-wing media for being “reluctant” and “soft” when it comes to using military force abroad.

 

Green[house] Obama

Climate policy is another good example. By the estimation of leading US environmental activist Bill McKibben (depressingly deferential towards Obama over the years), Obama’s “biggest climate legacy is the US passing Russia and Saudi Arabia [before the end of his second term] in oil and gas production.” This great leap forward to so-called national energy independence has been achieved largely through the eco-exterminist practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which pollutes and exhausts the nation’s endangered water supplies in order to extract vast quantities of carbon-rich methane gas for planet-baking sale and burning at home and abroad. Obama has celebrated the homeland’s “energy revolution,” boasting of America’s prodigious new fossil fuel production in glowing terms that Noam Chomsky has rightly described as an “eloquent death knell for the species.”[17]

I’m not sure I agree with McKibben: Obama’s top contribution to the Greenhouse-Gassing of Life on Earth may still be his almost single-handed undermining of binding global carbon-emission limits at the global climate summit in Copenhagen in December of 2009 [18]. But either way, Obama’s disastrous climate record is a far cry from his campaign promises to seriously tackle the looming specter of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Unlike the crude, oil-soaked Texan who preceded him in the oval office, however, Obama44 accepts the consensus findings of Earth science on humanity’s responsibility for climate change. He has advanced some outwardly eco-friendly fuel efficiency standards, new limits on coal plant pollution, and alternative fuel developments as part of his disastrous “all-of-the above” energy policy. This difference of eco-cidal style have permitted him to pose as an environmentalist while the United States’ still leading historical contribution to has expanded AGW thanks in no small part to his serial dissembling. Again the Machiavellian deception is enhanced by the right, which likes to portray the president as a left-liberal “tree hugger” who privileges elite environmental concerns over jobs and growth.

 

 

Wall Street Obama

Obama44 has been no less solicitous of the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money” [19] (the US corporate and financial ruling class) and has done little more for the nation’s working class majority than his more ham-fisted predecessor. Consistent with his early staffing of key White House economic posts by top neoliberal Wall Street insiders, he has made no serious effort to regulate or prosecute, much less nationalize the nation’s reigning arch-parasitic financial institutions, whose record of pushing the US and global economy into crisis in pursuit of the endless upward distribution of fortunes is surely far from over[20]. He worked assiduously to shield the financial chieftains from richly deserved populist anger[21]while he stealthily expanded the massive Wall Street bailouts initiated by his maladroit predecessor and launched a woefully inadequate stimulus bill heavily weighted towards tax cuts for the affluent. There were no comparable bailouts for the non-affluent majority, thrown into recession through no fault of their own, by the greedy excess of the Few. The venerable liberal-left commentator William Greider put it 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 little to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people, soon to be known as “the 99%,” left to ask “where’s my bailout? [22]

Obama’s subsequent health insurance legislation– the absurdly titled “Affordable Care Act” – was designed by the Republican Heritage Foundation. It preserved the unchallenged profit-making and price- and rate-gouging power of the nation’s leading insurance and drug companies in cold defiance of public opinion. The single-payer model long favored by most Americans was banned from serious consideration in White House “reform” deliberations, consistent with then White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives” [23].

Obama has never lifted a finger for the Employee Free Choice Act, upon which he campaigned in 2007 and 2008. It would have substantively re-legalized union organizing in the US. Obama offered no public support for the historic pro-union public worker and citizen uprising against Wisconsin’s hard right Koch brother-backed Governor Scott Walker in February and March of 2011. The president managed a single mild Tweet for the Wisconsin Democrats’ campaign to recall Walker the following year. And when the remarkable Occupy rebellion against the nation’s gaping class disparities and the corporate and financial elite’s domination of US politics and policy spread across the nation in the fall and early winter of 2011, the Obama administration undertook a federal campaign of surveillance, infiltration, and repression that led to the coordinated police-state dismantlement of the neo-populist encampments before the end of the year.[24]

 

“A Touching Ruling Class Moment”

Last December, Obama advanced some revealing reflections before some friends atop the US capitalist class at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council:

“When you go to other countries [Obama mused], the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace. The stock market is looking pretty good last time I checked.”

As the left, actually socialist writer Danny Klatch commented, “It was a touching ruling class moment. At a time of bitter partisan warfare in Congress and frequent mudslinging by business executives, a bunch of CEOs were able to sit down with their president and realize that they really aren’t so different after all. Together, they shared a good laugh at the idea held by many ordinary people in both parties – that Obama and Corporate America are somehow on different sides” (emphasis added) [25].

 

How Obama Got His Fake-Populist Groove Back

Thanks to all this and more (including consistent advance of the corporatist “free trade” agreements and doctrine favored by big capital), the rich and their corporations have made out like bandits across the low-wage, high unemployment Age of Obama. Yet through it all, Obama has somehow managed to serially summon seemingly sincere pseudo-eloquence on behalf of the suffering working and middle classes. He has claimed to see excessive economic inequality as “the defining issue of our time.” He has bemoaned how the rich have “rigged the rules of the game” to destroy the “American Dream’s” promise of upward mobility and security for all who engage in hard and honest work. Crushing Occupy with one hand while appropriating some of Occupy’s rhetoric for electoral deployment against Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney (an almost perfect aristocratic foil from central casting for the Democrats’ fake-progressive purposes), Obama was a Machiavellian master on the 2012 campaign trail.[25A]

History will judge the extent of Obama’s success in carrying the Machiavellian ruling class ball of faux-democratic deception across his two terms in the White House. He fumbled the rock to some degree during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, helping give rise to the extraordinary and significantly Left-led Occupy movement/moment, which briefly embodied some the wisdom of the late radical US historian Howard Zinn’s maxim that “[T]he really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting inin the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.” [26]

Democrats are best exposed as the other major-party “wing…of the same bird of [corporate and imperial] prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904[27]) when they hold the nominal ruling authority conferred by elected public office. The “blunt lesson about power” (Greider) under Obama was a tutorial for a significant number of younger US adults on the bipartisan nature on the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, white supremacy, eco-cide, patriarchy, and police state power – and on the harsh reality that life still stinks under capital’s rule when Democrats hold top elected offices.

Still, Obama deserves credit from the US oligarchy for delaying (until the late summer and Fall of 2011) as well as crushing (in the Fall and early winter of the same year) populist rebellion against neoliberal austerity with his deceptive promises of “hope” and “change” (also the leading campaign keywords of the neoliberal corporate Democrat Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign). “Slick Willy” (Bill) Clinton had an easier time carrying the fake-populist ball for the rich and powerful during the 1990s thanks in no small part to the fact that he enjoyed a significantly booming capitalist economy in the wake of the Cold War’s end for must of his time in the White House Somewhat less adroit than Clinton41 (a true Machiavellian maestro), Obama44 has had to carry the ball across the first true crisis of capitalism in the neoliberal era.

With some help from the blundering, arch-plutocratic Romney campaign (whose gold-plated standard bearer got caught on tape telling fellow Robber Barons that “47 percent” of the US citizenry were lazy tax-dodging welfare-moochers), Obama got some of his pseudo-egalitarian Machiavellian mojo back in 2012. More recently, the US “mainstream” media’s Orwellian portrayal of the Ukraine crisis as a result of Russia’s imperialism (not Washington’s) has joined with Obama’s drawdown in Afghanistan, his Putin-forced stand-down from the bombing of Syria last Fall (quite frustrating for Obama), some minor tweaks to the Pentagon budget, and the standard GOP/FOX News complaints about a Democratic president’s “weakness abroad” to help Obama seem like a non- and even anti-imperial president to many at home.  The right-wing noise machine’s incessant neo-McCarthyite whining about Obama’s (mythical) left-liberal and even “socialist” sentiments continues to help the deeply conservative, corporatist and imperialist Obama appear to be something he very much is not – a progressive “man of the left.” Hillary Clinton can expect much the same cloaking assistance from the right if and when she becomes the first female US president in January of 2017.

The cold depravity of it all is enough to chill the most cynical of souls, perhaps even that of a Machiavelli. The clever Florentine political adviser certainly never hoped to enable the destruction of life on Earth for all his counsel on the necessity of “depart[ing] from the good” and “enter[ing] into evil.”

Paul Street’s next book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy can be ordered at http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810

 

Endnotes

1. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005 [1532]), 60-62.

2. Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007), http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/07/070507fa_fact_macfarquhar

3. Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.,” Harpers (November 2006), http://harpers.org/archive/2006/11/barack-obama-inc/

4. Pam Martens, “Obama’s Money Cartel,” Counterpunch (May 5, 2008), http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/05/05/obama-s-money-cartel/; Pam Martens, “The Obama Bubble Agenda,” Counterpunch (May 6, 2008), http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/05/06/the-obama-bubble-agenda/.

5. Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008), xxvi-xxviii, 175-176. On the false nature of candidate Obama’s “antiwar” branding, see Chapter 4, “How ‘Antiwar’? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire.”

6. Adolph Reed, Jr., “The Curse of Community,” Village Voice (January 16, 1996), reprinted in Reed, Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene (New York: New Press, 2000).

7. Street, Barack Obama, 13-22, 59-72.

8. Public Broadcasting System, “Obama Administration Tops its own Deportation Record,” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/obama-administration-tops-its-own-deportation-record/; Ginger Thompson and Sarah Cohen, “More Deportations Follow Minor Crimes, Records Show,” New York Times, April 6, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/us/more-deportations-follow-minor-crimes-data-shows.html?_r=1

9. Nick Turse, “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries,” Huffington Post (January 16, 2014),

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nick-turse/americas-secret-war_b_4609742.html

10. Noam Chomsky, “Rethinking US Foreign Policy,” Chatham House, London, http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/198465

11. “Ukraine Crisis: US Special Forces Head to Baltic Nations,” The Telegraph (UK), May 9, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10818425/Ukraine-crisis-US-special-forces-head-to-Baltic-nations-for-training-exercises.html; Mike Whitney, “Why is Putin in Washington’s Crosshairs?” Counterpunch (April 28, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/28/why-is-putin-in-washingtons-crosshairs/

12. John Pilger, “The Strangelove Effect,” JohnPilger.com, April 18, 2014.

13. Washington Post, “Full Text of Obama’s Commencement Address at West Point,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-text-of-president-obamas-commencement-address-at-west-point/2014/05/28/cfbcdcaa-e670-11e3-afc6-a1dd9407abcf_story.html; Mike Whitney, “Saber-Rattling at West Point,” Counterpunch (June 4, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/03/saber-rattling-at-west-point/

14. Ian Traynor, “Obama Pledges $1bn to Boost Military in Europe in Wake of Ukraine Crisis,” The Guardian (June 3, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/03/obama-pledge-military-europe-ukraine-crisis

15. National Center or Child Poverty, “Child Poverty 2014,” http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

15A. 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-.

16. For why I place quote marks around “mainstream” when describing US corporate “mainstream media,” see Paul Street, “Those Who Put Out the People’s Eyes,” Z Magazine (June 2014), http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/those-who-have-put-out-the-peoples-eyes/

16A. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/06/barack-obama-d-day-speech-full-text

16B. Sarah Lazare, “Biggest Threat to World Peace: The United States,” Common Dreams, December 31, 2013, https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/31-6

17. For McKibben’s comment, see http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/obama-unveils-major-climate-change-report. For Chomsky’s, Noam Chomsky, “Prospects for Survival,” ZNet (April 2, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-prospects-for-survival/

18. For details and sources, Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2010), 26-28.

19. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave,’” Electric Politics, July 22, 2009, http://www.electricpolitics.com/2009/07/riding_the_green_wave_at_the_c.html

20. Pam Martens, “Have the Mega Banks Put the US on Course for Another Crash?” Wall Street On Parade, March 31, 2014, http://wallstreetonparade.com/2014/03/have-the-mega-banks-put-the-u-s-on-course-for-another-crash-the-answer-may-reside-in-nomi-prins%E2%80%99-new-book/

21. Ron Suskind, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 232-242.

22. William Greider, “Obama Asked 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

23. Kevin Young and Michael Schwartz, “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: How Corporate Power Shaped the Affordable Health Care Act,” New Labor Forum (May 14, 2014), http://nlf.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/03/21/1095796014527828.full; Street, The Empire’s New Clothes, Chapter 3, titled “Corporate-Managed ‘Health Reform.’” “Ignore” would be an understatement considering the depth and degree of the Obama administrations’ loathing of seriously progressive policy advocates.

24. For details and sources, see Paul Street, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014), 10-20.

25. Danny Katch, “You’ve Got to Meet the Real Socialists,” Socialist Worker (December 11, 2013), http://socialistworker.org/2013/12/11/meet-the-real-socialists

25A Some background: Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy in Osawatomie, Kansas,” December 6, 2011,www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/06/remarks-president-economy-osawatomie-kansas; Jeff Mason, “Obama Hits Republicans, Wall Street, in Populist Speech,” Reuters, December 7, 2011,http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/07/us-usa-campaign-obama-idUSTRE7B527620111207; Paul Street, “The Plutocrats Keep Their Shirts,” Z Magazine (January 2013), http://www.paulstreet.org/?p=879

26. http://socialistworker.org/2012/10/19/the-lunch-counter-sit-ins

27. The Appeal to Reason, no. 459, September 17, 1904, 1, reproduced in Gene DeGruson, ed., The Lost First Edition of Sinclair’s “The Jungle” (Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Press, 1988), Illustration L.

 

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

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