They Rule: It All Circles Back to The 1%

25/10/14 0 COMMENTS

ZNet, October 25, 2014. Having spent much of 2012 and some of 2013 writing a book on the wealth and power of the United States economic elite and the conflict between capitalism and democracy, I’ve followed current events ever since with a certain amount of selfish apprehension.

“Wow,” I’ve caught myself ruminating, “wouldn’t it be great if this book had come out in the fall of 2011, when the Occupy Movement was putting my book’s subject matter in the headlines?”

The big stories that have received top US media attention since I wrote most of the recently released volume They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014) don’t seem to rival the Occupy Wall Street movement/moment when it comes to focusing people on the capitalist elite and its class system.  Here are some of the stories that come to mind

  • The Edward Snowden revelations on the National Security Agency’s Orwellian electronic surveillance programs.
  • The Ukraine crisis and the emergence of a “new Cold War” between the US and Russia.
  • The Central American child refugee crisis on the southern US border.
  • Israel’s mass-murderous assault on Palestinian civilians stuck in the open air apartheid prison called the Gaza Strip last summer
  • The killing of an 18 year-old black man named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the mast protests and militarized police response that followed that shooting last August.
  • The Ebola crisis.
  • The recently proclaimed US war on the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.
  • The largest climate justice march in history, which took place in Manhattan last September.

I am not proud of my rumination. Besides being self-centered, it’s silly in other ways. The decision to write They Rule was prompted in no small part by the rise of Occupy Wall Street, so it’s absurd to wish the book had come out at the time of Occupy’s emergence.

The NSA’s Corporate Partnerships

At the same time, more to the point of this essay, it’s instructive to note how fundamentally the big news stories just bullet-pointed above link back to the problem of  “the 1%” – to the outsized wealth and related extreme power of the US capitalist ruling class and its giant corporations. Take the surveillance issue and the Snowden revelations.  As the brilliant and intrepid civil libertarian journalist and author Glen Greenwald (the leading conduit for Snowden’s heroic whistle-blowing) notes in his latest book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State:

“While the National Security Agency is officially a public agency, it has countless overlapping partnerships with private-sector corporations, and many of its core functions have been outsourced.  The NSA itself employs roughly thirty thousand people, but the agency also has contracts for some sixty thousand employees of private corporations, who often provide essential services.  Snowden himself was actually employed not by the NSA but by the Dell Corporation and the large defense contractor Booze Allen Hamilton….according to Tim Shorrock, who has long chronicled the NSA-corporate partnership, ’70 percent of our national intelligence budget is being spent on the private sector’….[The NSA’s] corporate partnerships extend beyond intelligence and defense contractors to include the world’s largest and most important Internet corporations and telecoms, precisely those companies that handle the bulk of the world’s  communications and can facilitate access to private exchanges.”

As Snowden told Greenwald during their first meeting in Hong Kong, “In [my position], I  saw firsthand that the state, especially the NSA, was working hand in hand with the private-tech industry to…build…a system whose goal was the elimination of all privacy, globally.”

The for-profit companies Greenwald and Snowden are talking about happen to be under the control of wealthy US (and other) investors and to work primarily for the benefit of those investors. They have a direct interest, it should be noted, in the surveillance of US citizens and activists, many of whom are less than pleased to live a nation so savagely unequal that six Wal-Mart heirs possess more wealth between them than the bottom 40 percent of the population.

“A Perfect Storm of Suffering”

Look at the child refugee crisis that briefly held headlines last summer. It cannot be properly understood without reference to the US global neoliberal economic agenda forced through by US and other global economic elites.  So-called “free trade” (really big investor rights) agreements have flooded Central America with cheap, subsidized US agricultural imports, devastating campesino communities and forcing millions of farmers off the land.  They “also result,” the left commentator William Blum notes, “in government enterprises being privatized, the regulation of corporations being reduced, and cuts to the social budget. Add to this the displacement of communities by foreign mining projects and the drastic US-led militarization of the War on Drugs with accompanying violence and you have the perfect storm of suffering followed by the attempt to escape from suffering.”

The problem at the border can be traced to no small extent to the US and global “1%” and its “neoliberal’ (a fancy word for unrestrained capitalism) agenda.

“The Political Economy of Ebola”

So, for that matter, can the Ebola crisis.  In a recent and incisive reflection on “The Political Economy of the Ebola Crisis.” Jacobin Magazine’s Leigh Phillips observes that “neoliberal fallout has established the ideal conditions for the epidemic.” As Phillips explains:

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are some of the poorest countries on the planet, ranking 178th, 174th, and 177th out of 187 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index. Were such an outbreak to occur in northern European countries…nations with some of the best health infrastructure in the world, the situation would more likely have been contained.”

“It is not merely the dearth of field hospitals, lack of appropriate hygiene practices in existing hospitals, absence of standard isolation units, and limited cadre of highly trained health professionals that are able to track down every person that may have been exposed and isolate them. Or that better supportive care is a crucial condition of better outcomes, whatever the treatment available. The spread of the disease has also been exacerbated by a withering away of basic governmental structures that would otherwise be able to more broadly restrict movement, to manage logistical difficulties, and to coordinate with other governments.”

“ [In Guinea] as in many countries, a series of structural adjustment programs have been encouraged and enforced by Western governments and international financial institutions that require privatization and contraction of government services, removal of tariffs while Northern agribusiness remains subsidized, and an orientation toward crops for export at the expense of food self-sufficiency. All of this drives poverty and hunger, and, in turn, competition between food and export crops for capital, land, and agricultural inputs leads to an ever greater consolidation of land ownership, in particular by foreign companies, that limits access of small farmers to land.”

“Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning a disease spread from animals to humans (or vice versa)….The single biggest factor driving growth in new zoonotic pathogens is increased contact between humans and wildlife, often by the expansion of human activity into wilderness. As neoliberal structural adjustment forces people off the land but without accompanying urban employment opportunities, Wallace points out, they plunge “deeper into the forest to expand the geographic as well as species range of hunted game and to find wood to make charcoal and deeper into mines to extract minerals, enhancing their risk of exposure to Ebola virus and other zoonotic pathogens in these remote corners.”

To make matters worse, Phillips notes, the world’s leading pharmaceutical corporations have yet to find it profitable to develop an effective Ebola vaccine.  Such a vaccine is fully feasible and would in all likelihood already exist but for Big Pharma’s calculation that there wasn’t much financial return in developing a remedy for a disease that has tended to have small breakouts among poor Africans every 30 or 40 years.

Policing Racial Oppression and Capitalist Decay

Consider Ferguson, a stark local window on broader national problems: racial oppression, mass structural unemployment, selfish capital flight, police brutality, and militarized policing. At Mike Brown’s funeral, the corporate media operative and civil rights charlatan Al Sharpton said that the issue in Ferguson there was “how we gonna police in the United States?” But beneath that subject is the deeper problem of what the nation’s ever-more militarized law enforcement agencies police.  No small amount of what they police is deep and concentrated, hyper-segregated Black poverty in festering, de-industrialized ghettos that have long been abandoned by a viciously indifferent capitalist elite.  “The 1%” has been happy to relocate production and other jobs to cheaper-labor zones of the world capitalist system as the repressive right hand of the state is wielded against those left behind in jobless ghettoes. And it is not only young Black men who can and do fall on the wrong side of the emboldened capitalist police state. As the author of a strident neo-Trotskyist screed recently handed to me in Iowa City rightly observes, “The inner cities and Barrios are hell-holes for the oppressed brown and black masses, lorded over by largely Democratic Party city administrations, who unleashed the police on largely white Occupy youth during those demonstrations, and who daily unleash them on the black and brown communities…The ruling class answer to capitalist decay is more police, more prisons and jails, more NSA spying, more repressive laws and militarized police.”

Along the way, the privately owned corporate media does its best to keep the white working class majority focused on how impoverished US Blacks supposedly create their own misery with an alleged “self-sabotaging” culture of poverty.  “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man,” the future US President and veteran Southern US politician Lyndon Baines Johnson told Bill Moyers in 1960, “he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

It all circles back to “the 1%” – the all-too invisible capitalist elite.

Endless War Pays

The point pertains as well to the endless US war on/of terror that moved back to the forefront of the national news this fall – and to Israel’s atrocities and the Ukraine crisis as well. “War,” the leading liberal pundit Krugman informed his New York Times readers last August, “doesn’t pay” anymore, if it ever did, for “modern, wealthy nations.”  This is particularly true, Krugman feels, in “an interconnected world” where “war would necessarily inflict severe economic harm on the victor.”

There’s truth in his argument if by “war” we mean only major military conflicts between large and industrialized states. Such conflagrations are more than unlikely in our current “ultra-imperialist” (Karl Kautsky’s term) era marked by massive cross-national capital investment and global market inter-penetration. But many elites in rich nations, the US (the world’s sole military superpower) above all, still (quite reasonably) see bottom-line payoffs in military engagements in mostly poor but resource-rich nations and regions. Washington remains committed to the use of military force in pursuit of the control of Middle Eastern oil (and other strategic energy concentrations around the world) to provide profits for deep-pockets multinational petroleum corporations and because of the critical political-economic leverage such control grants the US over leading competitor states.

The biggest flaw in Krugman’s argument is his failure to make the (one would think) elementary distinction between (a) the wealthy Few and (b) the rest of us and society as whole when it comes to who loses and who gains from contemporary (endless) war.  As the venerable US foreign policy critic Edward S. Herman asks and observes:

“Doesn’t war pay for Lockheed-Martin, GE, Raytheon, Honeywell, Halliburton, Chevron, Academi (formerly Blackwater) and the vast further array of contractors and their financial, political, and military allies? An important feature of ‘projecting power’ (i.e., imperialism) has always been the skewed distribution of costs and benefits…The costs have always been borne by the general citizenry (including the dead and injured military personnel and their families), while the benefits accrue to privileged sectors whose members not only profit from arms supply and other services, but can plunder the victim countries during and after the invasion-occupation.”

Today, as Noam Chomsky observed in his 1969 book For Reasons of State, the costs of empire are spread across society as a whole while the benefits accrue to the wealthy corporate and financial few. Another update to the young Chomsky’s conclusion can be discerned in a recent reflection by Greenwald:

“A state of endless war justifies ever-increasing state power and secrecy and a further erosion of rights. It also entails a massive transfer of public wealth to the ‘homeland security’ and weapons industry (which the US media deceptively calls the ‘defense sector’)….Just yesterday, Bloomberg reported: ‘Led by Lockheed Martin Group (LTM), the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world.’ Particularly exciting is that ‘investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq’; moreover, ‘the U.S. also is the biggest foreign military supplier to Israel, which waged a 50-day offensive against the Hamas Islamic movement in the Gaza Strip.’ ISIS is using U.S.-made ammunition and weapons, which means U.S. weapons companies get to supply all sides of The New Endless War; can you blame investors for being so giddy?…This war – in all its ever-changing permutations – …enables an endless supply of power and profit to flow to those political and economic factions that control the government regardless of election outcomes” (emphasis added).

Krugman should be embarrassed by the recent release of veteran New York Times investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner James Risen’s latest book Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (October 2014). Currently facing prosecution by the Obama administration for refusing to divulge an inside government source for his earlier reporting on warrantless federal wiretapping, Risen shows in his latest book that “The…global war on terror has become essentially an endless war [and]…a hunt for cash.” The main driving force behind “endless war” is a vast corporate “military and homeland security complex” that rakes in lucrative profits fed by the relentless selling of fear.

It’s not polite to say, but permanent war is profitable to the US Deep State military-industrial-complex, including such giant and powerful Pentagon-subsidized entities as Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin.

There’s that greedy1% again, raking in profits and pulling strings behind the scenes.  (There’s a different sort of connection to note between the economic elite and the endless US war of/on error. As the noted Middle East scholar and left intellectual Gilbert Achcar has noted, the neoliberal triumph of global capitalism and its soulless so-called free market logic since the 1970s has fueled religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and elsewhere. That triumph “created a state of disarray, the loss of familiar points of reference, the spread of what sociologists call ‘anomie for all kinds of people. And this made the ground very fertile for religious revivalism or fundamentalism, because in such situations people tend to seek refuge in identity markers. Thus we’ve seen all over the world, since the shift of the last quarter of the twentieth century, a huge rise in all kinds of identity or tribal politics, whether ethnic, nationalist, religious, sectarian, fundamentalist,….”).

The Ukraine crisis, sparked by Washington and its western NATO allies/proxies, has not devolved into full-scale war – thanks in no small part to Moscow’s refusal to let that happen. It is the result of numerous and complex problems and developments, but one key factor is clearly the desire of powerful US energy corporations to block or the flow of oil and gas from Russia to Europe.

As the political economist and artist Rob Urie recently noted on Counterpunch, moreover, there’s an intimate 1% connection between the belligerent US policies in the Middle East and Eastern Europe: “The relation of the US/ NATO proxy war in Ukraine to renewed military intervention in Iraq and Syria is about who supplies Europe with oil and gas. The strategy appears to be to break the relation between Russia and Europe and use U.S. and ‘coalition’ control over Middle Eastern oil and gas to sell it to Europe. This ties twentieth century geopolitics to the long-standing use of American state power to further the private interests of multi-national oil and gas companies.”

None of this can receive remotely serious attention in the corporate mass and so-called mainstream media, owned and operated for and by the elite segments of “the 1%.”  As Michael Parenti noted seven years ago in his book Contrary Notions, “be it the Vietnam War, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the intervention against Nicaragua, the Gulf War massacre, and subsequent invasions of Afghanistan, US military undertakings are portrayed [by that media] as arising from noble if sometimes misplaced intentions.  The media’s view is much the same as the view from the State Department and the Pentagon.” A hallmark characteristic – strikingly evident in what passes for mainstream reporting ad commentary on Ukraine and the new war on ISIS  in the 1%’s media  – is simple “face-value transmission” of US policy as following in accord with the noble pursuit of “national security,” “world leadership” and “American interests.”

“An Elite Minority That Has a Stranglehold…”

And then there’s climate change, the ever more grave existential issue behind the historic Climate March in New York (trumped in media coverage by the Obama administration’s escalation follies in the Middle East) last month. The veteran progressive author Naomi Klein’s latest tome This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate is dedicated to demonstrating that “the really inconvenient truth that [global warming] is not about carbon – it’s about capitalism…. [and] the war [that system] is waging on earth.” By Klein’s account, it’s the wealthy Few and its neoliberal (global capitalist) ideology that stands to blame:

“What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house? I think the answer is far simpler than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis.  We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets” (emphasis added).

There’s that nasty 1% again – not just driving the process that threatens to destroy life on the planet but controlling the nation’s political and cultural institutions and communications structures to undermine understanding and action the destructive force.

Updating Brandeis

For what it’s worth, readers can find a significantly similar analysis (consistent with what eco-socialists have been saying for many years) in They Rule. As I show in that volume, however, the conflict between the rich and powerful few and “the earth” – livable ecology, actually (the planet will survive our capital-o-genic “self-liquidation”) is rooted in far more than just “deregulated” capitalism and its current neoliberal ideology.  The real conflict is with the profits system as such, with its relentless pressure for the “eternal expansion of the economic product,” and the “conver [sion of] everything possible [including the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil and plants] into monetary [exchange] value” (Joel Kovel).

Meanwhile, untold billions of taxpayer dollars are thrown into funding an endless war dedicated to exploiting and controlling eco-cidal fossil fuels that are so critically concentrated in the Middle East – and to lining the pockets of corporate “defense” (empire) and “security” (fear) contractors. In keen Orwellian fashion, this permanent war on/of terror fuels its own declared jihadist enemy/pretext.  It also steals public resources from potential investment in the development of alternative energy programs that would permit life to continue.

“We must make our choice,” US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies noted in 1941.  “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.”

Let’s update Brandies for the age of catastrophic capital-o-genic climate change.  We must make our choice.  We can have democracy, livable ecology, and a decent future on this planet, or we can have capitalism, whose essence is the endless pursuit of profit and the amoral accumulation of more and more wealth in ever fewer hands.  We cannot have both.

“The 1%” and its class system is killing us.

Paul Street will read from and sign copies of his latest book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy at The Open University of the Left in Chicago, Illinois (Lincoln Park Branch Public Library, 1150 W. Fullerton Ave.) on Saturday, November 15th (2pm) and Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin (426 W. Gilman Street, right off State Street downtown) on Monday, November 17th (6 pm).  Street will take questions on his book and the issues it raises on the Firedoglake Book Salon on Sunday, November 2nd, 2014 at 2pm Pacific time/1 pm Mountain time/12 Noon Central (Chicago) time/11AM Eastern time. 

Endless War

18/10/14 0 COMMENTS

First published at TeleSur English, October 18, 2014 

The nightmare totalitarian state envisaged by George Orwell in his famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four was one of endless war.  The subject populace of “Oceana” was kept in a perpetual state of militarized hatred and fear regarding a shifting array of always supremely evil foreign others. Endless war drove Oceana’s hierarchical and impoverished economy and kept the toiling masses focused on hideous, threatening enemies abroad, raging and cowering under the supposed protection of their many-sided dictatorship at home.

“A Kind of 30-Year War”

Leading members of the supposedly liberal (even “left” by the reckoning of FOX News and right wing talk radio) US Democratic Party would certainly recoil at any analogies between them and Orwell’s warmongering state. Still, it’s hard not to detect a chilling commitment to permanent war in the recent comments of two top imperial Democrats angling for power and legacy in the post-Obama US. Four days ago (I am writing on the morning of October 10th), former Obama Defense Director and CIA chief Leon Panetta (also a former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton) told USA Todayreporter Susan Page that “America should be prepared for a long battle against the brutal terrorist group Islamic State that will test the resolve – and the leadership of the Commander in Chief” (Page).

“I think we’re looking at a kind of 30-year war,” Panetta told Page, adding that the campaign he envisions will “have to extend beyond Islamic State (IS) to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere” – that’s quite a geographical scope…all of planet Earth, consistent with the fact that U.S. Special Forces are now present in 134 “sovereign” countries and Washington’s operation of more than 1000 military installations in more than 100 nations. As far as US planners have been concerned in the post-Cold War era, “we own the world.”

Then we have Hillary Clinton, who enjoys a strong chance of becoming the nation’s next president. Speaking earlier this week to an elite Canadian think tank in Ottawa, Obama’s former Secretary of State proclaimed the New War against IS a “long-term struggle” from which the U.S. would turn away “at our peril.”  She added that the campaign must include “an information war on social media….as well as an air war.”

They Obey Other Considerations”

“Thirty years” and “long-term” is being polite.  It is also misleading.  Washington is continuing with a Forever and Everywhere War with no single or clear enemy that has been underway since at least September 12, 2001. As many U.S. intelligence and policy elites certainly know well, moreover, U.S. military interventions and the broader longstanding heavy US imperial presence in the (more than just coincidentally) oil-rich Middle East fuels and expands “anti-American” Islamic jihad there and across the Muslim world. Launched thirteen years after an epic terror attack on the “homeland” (9/11) that was a predictable and to some degree predicted “blowback” response to U.S. imperial presence and provocation in the Middle East, the US War on/of Terror is a viciously circular self-fulfilling prophecy in which cause and effect become hopelessly interwoven. The more Washington socio-pathologically bombs and drones the Muslim world, the more easily jihadists find recruits to help expel the Infidel Invaders.  And U.S. planners know it.  As the distinguished Middle East scholar and US foreign policy critic Gilbert Achcar noted eight years agoU.S. officials do things knowing they will breed terrorism, but they do them nevertheless, because they obey other considerations, which for them are far more significant than the lives of civilians.”

Obama as Insufficiently Imperial

Panetta’s comments came in connection with the release of his of new memoir Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace (how’s that for a narcissistic and Orwellian title?).  In the volume, Panetta criticizes the militantly imperial and brazenly Orwellian Obama for making the supposedly noble “30 year war” more difficult by not being militaristic enough.  Obama “lost his way” and damaged U.S. world “leadership” (translation: imperial power), Panetta feels, by not insisting that Iraq keep a residual U.S. military force past 2011, by not arming Syrian rebels in 2012, and by not authorizing air strikes against Syria last year. In a similar vein, Hillary Clinton’s memoir Hard Choices (released last spring) finds Obama insufficiently hawkish and imperial on numerous fronts, including Russia and Afghanistan.  She faults Obama for not adequately supporting Egypt’s murderous dictator Hosni Mubarak and Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.

(Panetta told Page that Hillary will be a “great” commander in chief as U.S. corporate media persists in the manufacture of childish suspense about whether or not Ms. Clinton is running for the White House in 2016. Do bears defecate in the woods?)

Logical Insanity

It might seem stupid and self-defeating for “liberal” Democrats to advocate the US doubling down yet again on the very militaristic, imperial, and (let’s be honest) terrorist policies that fuel the Islamist terrorism US policymakers claim to loathe.  Didn’t Albert Einstein once usefully define insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”?

But let’s not assume that democratic common sense and since regard for peace, security, and the common good are the real driving forces behind US policy.  That’s a naïve premise. Achcar’s reflection bears repetition: “US officials…obey other considerations.” Numerous powerful corporate and military interests have strong selfish reasons to not really want different results in the Middle East.  It’s not polite to say, but (Orwellian as it may sound) permanent war is profitable to the U.S. Deep State military-industrial-complex, including such giant and powerful Pentagon-subsidized entities as Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. Today, as the young Noam Chomsky observed in 1969,  the costs of empire are spread across society as a whole while the benefits accrue to the wealthy corporate and financial few. An update to Chomsky’s reflection can be discerned in a recent reflection by Glenn Greenwald:

“A state of endless war justifies ever-increasing state power and secrecy and a further erosion of rights. It also entails a massive transfer of public wealth to the ‘homeland security’ and weapons industry (which the US media deceptively calls the ‘defense sector’)….Just yesterday, Bloomberg reported: ‘Led by Lockheed Martin Group (LTM), the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world.’ Particularly exciting is that ‘investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq’; moreover, ‘the U.S. also is the biggest foreign military supplier to Israel, which waged a 50-day offensive against the Hamas Islamic movement in the Gaza Strip.’ ISIS is using U.S.-made ammunition and weapons, which means U.S. weapons companies get to supply all sides of The New Endless War; can you blame investors for being so giddy?…This war – in all its ever-changing permutations – …enables an endless supply of power and profit to flow to those political and economic factions that control the government regardless of election outcomes.”

War Pays for Some: “A Hunt for Cash” 

That’s something for the leading liberal pundit, partisan Democrat, and converted Obama fan Paul Krugman to reflect on. “War,” Krugman informed New York Times readers last August, “doesn’t pay” anymore, if it ever did for “modern, wealthy nations.”  This is particularly true, Krugman feels, in “an interconnected world” where “war would necessarily inflict severe economic harm on the victor.”

There’s truth in his argument if by “war” we mean only major military conflicts between large and industrialized states. Such conflagrations are more than unlikely in our current “ultra-imperialist” (Karl Kautsky’s term) era marked by massive cross-national capital investment and global market inter-penetration. But many elites in rich nations, the US (the world’s sole military superpower) above all, still and quite reasonably see am economic payoff in undertaking military engagements in mostly poor and “pre-modern” but resource-rich nations and regions. In a more classically national-imperialist vein, Washington remains committed to the use of military force in pursuit of the control of Middle Eastern oil (and other strategic energy concentrations around the world) because of the critical leverage such control grants the US over competitor states.

The biggest flaw in Krugman’s argument is his failure to make the (one would think) elementary distinction between (a) the wealthy Few and (b) the rest of us and society as whole when it comes to who loses and who gains from contemporary (endless) war. As the venerable U.S. foreign policy critic Edward S. Herman asks and observes:

“Doesn’t war pay for Lockheed-Martin, GE, Raytheon, Honeywell, Halliburton, Chevron, Academi (formerly Blackwater) and the vast further array of contractors and their financial, political, and military allies? An important feature of ‘projecting power’ (i.e., imperialism) has always been the skewed distribution of costs and benefits…The costs have always been borne by the general citizenry (including the dead and injured military personnel and their families), while the benefits accrue to privileged sectors whose members not only profit from arms supply and other services, but can plunder the victim countries during and after the invasion-occupation.”

Krugman should be embarrassed by the recent release of veteran New York Times investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner James Risen’s latest book Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2014). Currently facing prosecution by the Obama administration for refusing to divulge an inside government source for his earlier reporting on warrantless federal wiretapping, Risen argues in his new book that  “The…global war on terror has become essentially an endless war. It started with a search for justice. And I think, 13 years later, it’s become a hunt for cash.” The main driving force behind this “endless war” is a large corporate “military and homeland security complex” that rakes in lucrative profits – attained largely in secret and with significant levels of fraud – that are fed by the relentless selling of fear.

Orwell’s Diversion

Such is the logic of endless imperial war, an Orwellian U.S. complex with a stark state-capitalist twist in the second decade of the 21st century. This is another among many reasons to revisit an essay titled “The Orwell Diversion” (1986), written by the late Australian propaganda critic Alex Carey and included in his 1997 book Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty. Carey argued that the most relevant long-term threat to liberal democracy has never come from the state totalitarians of the Stalinist left or the fascist right. It comes instead from the homegrown, big business-connected “Respectable Right” that arose within the liberal-democratic societies of the West (chiefly the U.S.) largely to protect concentrated corporate power against its key domestic enemy – the popular democratic tradition.

Twenty eight years after Carey’s essay, the Soviet Union has long ago joined Nazi Germany in history’s proverbial dustbin and the last classic 1984-style regime (if such a thing has ever existed) limps along in North Korea. A “homeland”-grown version of Big Brother stalks the corridors of domestic and imperial power and rules behind the scenes of the “marionette theater” of partisan political warfare in Washington, wearing the uniform of the respectable right, now richly bipartisan – including corporate-imperial  Democrats of endless war like Hawk Hillary, Barack Obomber, and Leon “Thirty Years” Panetta. Beneath the eco-cidal 1% that owns more wealth than the bottom 90% of US citizens, the common good and people in whose name this respectable bipartisan right rules suffer. As usual, the economic and imperial elite has other considerations, serious matters of wealth and power that trump the mere general welfare.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, September 2014).

Civil Unrest?

18/10/14 0 COMMENTS

Beyond the City of Ferguson”

According to a recent report from Reuters, “Missouri authorities” are meeting three times a week. They are asking local police departments around the country for intelligence on “out-of-state” activists (“agitators”).  “Missouri law enforcement officials,” Reuters observed, “have been in contact with police chiefs in Los Angeles, New York, Florida, and Cincinnati, Ohio.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has been involved in the discussions.  The FBI’s top St. Louis official, Agent William Woods, “attended a strategy session last week.”

Also attending the get-togethers: Ferguson mayor James Knowles and representatives of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police, St. Louis City Police, and the Ferguson Police.

The subject of these multi-jurisdictional Missouri meetings and information requests to police departments across the nation?  The development of “contingency plans” for the effective management of the local and even national “civil unrest” the “authorities” expect to result when and if a St. Louis Count grand jury chooses not to indict the white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (currently held in a secret location) for executing an unarmed 18 year-old Black man named Michael Brown last August 9th. Wilson killed Brown with multiple shots to his chest and head as Brown surrendered with hands raised.

As the “authorities” surely know, white police officers are rarely indicted and even more rarely convicted for murdering Blacks – an all too common occurrence in the not-so “post-racial” United States. They are no doubt also aware that the Los Angeles “Rodney King” riots occurred not in response to the videotaped 1991 police beating of Rodney King but to the acquittal in April of 1992 of the four white Los Angeles police officers who had abused King.

Mayor Knowles told Reuters that “the unrest is going to go far beyond the city of Ferguson.”  If Wilson goes uncharged, St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar added, violence will break out “not just in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson but across the greater metropolitan area and even in other US cities” (Tim Reid, “Missouri Police Plan for Possible Riots if Darren Wilson Not Charged,” Reuters, October 10, 2014, http://www.popularresistance.org/fbi-multiple-cities-preparing-for-riots-if-no-ferguson-indictment/)

What They Police

Knowles, Belmar, Wood and the rest of the “authorities” gathering regularly in Missouri have reason to anticipate discontent in St. Louis. In that racially hyper-segregated and unequal city, white police have fatally gunned down two black males since the Brown killing.  The most recent incident occurred last week, with the hotly disputed police shooting of 18-year old Vonderrit Myers Jr.

The “Missouri authorities” are correct also to think that “civil unrest” is possible in other cities and towns around the US.  It’s not just that the Brown killing and the protests and the over-the-top militarized police state repression (commandeered by Belmar) that followed got leading and graphic media attention last August.  It’s also that that the US seems to be in the middle of “a national epidemic of in which a disproportionately high number of unarmed black men are fatally shot by white police officers” (Reuters’ words). The Malcom X Grassroots Movement calculates that on average a Black US civilian is killed by a(n almost always white) police officer, security guard, or self-appointed vigilante once every 28 hours. Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are tragic links in a vast chain of Black corpses created by local, county, and state police. Recent victims include Denzel Curnell (killed by South Carolina police in Charleston last June), Ezell Ford (shot to death by an LAPD officer last summer) and Eric Garner (choked to the death by the NYPD last July), Dante Parker (Tased to death by county  police in Victorville, CA last summer) and Kajieme Powell (killed by 10 police bullets after stealing pastries and waving a knife in St. Louis not long after Brown was killed), Vonderrit Myers, and …the list goes on.

The killings take place a context of persistent harsh racial segregation and related savage racial inequality so steep that the median wealth of white US households is 22 times higher than the median wealth of black US households. Fully 39% of US Black children live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, comparted to 36% of Native American children, 34% if Hispanic children and 13% of white children.

The killing epidemic occurs against the backdrop of a four-decades-long campaign of racially disparate hyper-incarceration and criminal marking. More than 40 percent of the nation’s 2.4 million prisoners are Black. One in three Black adult males carries the crippling lifelong stigma (what Ohio State Law Professor Michelle Alexander has termed “the New Jim Crow”) of a felony record.

The Civil Rights charlatan, corporate media personality, and White House front man Al Sharpton went to Michael Brown’s funeral to say that the Ferguson protests were about “how we gonna police in the United States.” While police methods do need to change, Sharpton left out the fundamental question of what “the authorities” police in the US.  Among other things, US local, county, and state police serve and protect a “homeland” regime of harsh and interrelated racial and class disparity.  Are any “authorities” in Missouri and/or Washington or anywhere else in the US meeting to discuss how to call off the racist police killing epidemic, how to end the massive over-incarceration of Black Americans, and what to do to close the absurd national racial gaps in wealth and income? Not really.  The forces of order are deliberating on how to repress the Black anger that naturally emerges from egregious racial abuse and disparity in the post-Civil Rights US.

“The Cure”

A white reader wrote me recently to relate his concern that recent reports on white police killing black men might lead us to ignore the terrible problem of Black on Black violence in ghetto communities, “Even if we protect the ‘disproportionately high number of unarmed black men [who] are fatally shot by white police officers,’ how do you stop the scourge of black men killed by other black men? If you find a cure for the former, you are still left with a whole lot of dead black men.”  Here was/is my response:

“I’m not sure why you use quote marks around the racially disparate killing problem: that problem unquestionably exists. That aside, the cure is well known: undo endemic and deeply entrenched US race-class apartheid.  De-segregate the currently existing overlapping and interrelated spatial and social hyper-concentrations of poverty and race. If you penned whites up in hyper segregated jobless opportunity-less disinvested communities like the north side of St. Louis, the west side of Chicago, inner Benton Harbor, Michigan and (the list goes on) and if you locked up and felony-branded millions and millions of white men mainly for non-violent drug crimes, then you’d have an endemic scourge of white men killing white men. It’s actually that basic and simple. “Find a cure”? Please. What do you think the cops who kill and otherwise oppress the Michael Browns and Trayvon Martins and .Denzell Curnells and Vonderrit Myers (killed by St. Louis cops last week) are protecting and enforcing? Racial Apartheid, American-style. Put this on your reading list – its mainstream social science (not by ‘dangerous radicals’ like me): Douglass Massey and Nancy Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Black Teddy Bears, White Smith & Wessons

Many whites in Ferguson and the St. Louis area are not content to rely on the ever-more militarized and high-tech US local, state, and federal police state to keep them safe from “civil unrest.” They are stocking up on weapons and ammunition. Reuters reports that:

“while mostly black residents hold small protests outside the police station each day, gun store owners reports a jump in sales to white residents….A memorial to Brown on the spot where he died, and where his body lay uncollected for four hours, still stands, a crucifix surrounded by teddy bears, photographs, flowers and handwritten notes decrying his loss and the alleged brutality of police…..Adam Weinstein, co-owner of County Guns, said sales were up 50 percent since Brown’s shooting, mostly among white residents fearful of riots who are buying Glock, Springfield and Smith & Wesson handguns, and shotguns. ‘They are afraid the city is going to explode,’ Weinstein said, a former member of the U.S. Navy and St. Louis firefighter with heavily tattooed arms.”

A white worker in a Ferguson liquor store told Reuters that he now brings his personal handgun to work and is “ready to shoot anyone looking for trouble.”

Oligarchy

The white worker might want to think about “looking for trouble” himself – with the very disproportionately white US economic and power elite, not with poor and ghettoized Blacks. White Americans should consider the possibility that they’d be better off joining Blacks and other nonwhite Americans in mass civil unrest.  After all, it isn’t just “people of color” (a phrase that seems to imply that Caucasians have no hue and shading) who suffer under the current American System of savage inequality.  The mostly working class white population has remarkably little say on politics and policy in an ever more transparently oligarchic and plutocratic New Gilded Age America, where the top 1 percent owns more wealth than 90 percent of the population and a probably comparable share of the nation’s “democratically elected officials.”  Majority public opinion – including the opinion of most whites – is technically irrelevant in the US today, ruled as it is by an “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s excellent phrase) that regularly eliminates and offshores jobs formerly held by white and other US workers.

You don’t have to be a Marxist, left-anarchist, or other kind of “dangerous radical” to note that popular governance or democracy has been badly trumped by oligarchy and plutocracy in the US. In a study released last April and scheduled for publication in the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, leading mainstream political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) reported that U.S. democracy no longer exists. Over the past few decades, Gilens and Page determined that the U.S. has become “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule,” wielding wildly disproportionate power over national policy. Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2012, they found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the U.S. majority. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence” (M. Gilens and B. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” April 9, 2014,).

A story about Gilens and Page’s study in the online journal Talking Points Memo (TPM) last April bore an interesting title: “Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer an Actual Democracy.” The story contained a link to an interview in which Gilens explained that “contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence.”

The social, economic, and political gains that the working- and middle class white majority have attained in British colonial North America and the US through at least the early 1970s can be traced to no small extent to ordinary white Americans’ willingness to engage in civil unrest that challenged the prerogatives of propertied elites. Examples include the Boston Tea Party of 1774 (when a large and highly organized crowd composed largely of white laborers and artisans put the nation on the irreversible path to independence by destroying a large quantity of private property owned by the British East India Company) and the sit-down strike wage of 1936-37 (when mostly white industrial workers occupied capitalist workplaces across the nation). The great rollback of white working and middle class incomes, security, and power and the relentless upward concentration of wealth and power in the US since the mid -1970s reflects in part the terrible decline of organization, militancy, activism, and civil unrest on the part of white working and middle class Americans.

“He Won’t Notice You Picking His Pocket”

The nation’s super-wealthy economic and power elites love it when American working and middle class whites focus their anger and resentment on lower and working class Blacks, other nonwhites, and officially designated foreign enemies (Soviet-directed “communists” for most of the second half of the last century and Islamic jihadists in the current century). Racial and ethnic “divide, divert, and rule” for and by the white elite is a rich US tradition, as old as the nation’s history.  It is arguably the taproot of the vicious system of black chattel slavery that poisoned the birth, youth, and long life of the nation (see historian Edmund S. Morgan’s powerful book American Slavery, American Freedom, 1976)

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man,” the future US President and veteran Southern US politician Lyndon Baines Johnson told Bill Moyers in 1960, “he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” (Bill Moyers, Washington Post, November 13, 1988)

As race-class thinkers and activists have long observed, racism has long proved perversely attractive for a significant number of white lower- and working-class Americans struggling with their subordinate status in capitalist America. By W.E.B. DuBois’ account, anti-black racism grants lower and working-class whites a “public and psychological wage”—a false and dysfunctional measure of status and privilege used “to make up for alienating and exploitative class relationships.” White workers in the U.S. have long tended, as historian David Roediger has noted, to “define and accept their [subordinate] class position by fashioning identities as ‘not slaves’ and ‘not blacks.’” As Martin Luther King Jr.’s   observed in a 1968 speech titled “The Drum Major Instinct,”  racialized capitalism gave its Caucasian working-class victims the sad “satisfaction of…thinking you are somebody big because you are white.”

Join the Rage

“Missouri authorities” who don’t want civil unrest might want to secretly instruct the Darren Wilson grand jury to indict and the subsequent jury to convict. Without indictment and conviction they’re going to have disturbances and thus another pretext to deploy their militarized policing hardware. If not this case, then another one, perhaps. The national racist police-killing epidemic creates new incidents on a regular basis. On top of the ferocious persistent racial segregation and hyper-inequality and racist mass incarceration that is so endemic in “post-racial” America, the shoot-fest fuels seething anger across much of Black America.

My recommendation to everyday whites is to think about joining the unrest, not cowering or arming up in fear of it. They should stop being satisfied with being given others to look down on. They should get their American History X on and aim upward, turning their anger against the propertied and privileged elites who own and run the country, and who are running it into the ground. They should refocus their anger on the wealthy Few, who (by the way) are pushing the environment past the point of livability, stealing prospects for a decent future.

We all need some civil unrest – a lot actually, on a mass scale, each and every day on behalf of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called in 1968 the “real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters (like, say, the technical racial or gender identity of a corporate-imperial US president): “the radical reconstruction of society itself.” Imagine.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm Publishers, 2014)

The Nutty Professor and the Attorney General

18/10/14 0 COMMENTS

First published at Black Agenda Report, October 15, 2014.

The liberal left’s bourgeois and identity-politicized buffoonery over the Obama administration persists long after the president has become a lame duck.  Look for example, at the Nutty Professor Michael Eric Dyson’s recent defense of resigning US Attorney General Eric Holder’s epic non-prosecution of Wall Street criminals.  Dyson’s following apology for Holder was recently heard on the liberal-left television show Democracy Now, where Dyson has regularly appeared in the Age of Obama, sadly enough:

“If we’re going to talk about this in the actual political context, the kind of racial realpolitik that exists, let’s be real. If President Barack Obama can’t be seen as too gruffly treating white Americans vis-à-vis the Skip Gates situation, where he simply said that the policeman was acting stupidly—the uproar on that was incredible—what do you think will happen then if Eric Holder, as the first African-American attorney general, is seen to be going after mostly white CEOs and other corporate titans within the economic infrastructure? Now, it sounds great, on the one hand, because it is an acknowledgment of our adherence to rational principles of the defense of the poor and vulnerable, but in the real political context within which we exist, [we must appreciate] the pervasive character of race, how it has shaped the very lens through which we perceive these issues. And unfortunately, the optics on black men at the top—Barack Obama and Eric Holder—exercising a certain kind of aggressive posture toward these particular entities or individuals [should not be] underestimated…”

Now, forget for a moment, if you can, the epic nature of the financial crimes that Holder and Obama declined to prosecute: fraud, deception, and manipulation on a giant and pervasive and giant scale that contributed to the loss of millions of jobs and to millions of foreclosures and a huge poverty spike. Forget also that Holder worked up the basic legal argument behind the federal government’s refusal and failure to prosecute Wall Street long before he became the first technically Black US Attorney General working for the first technically Black US President.  In June of 1999, when Holder was a little-known attorney working for the corporate-neoliberal Bill Clinton administration, Holder published a remarkable memorandum titled “Bringing Criminal Charges Against Corporations.”  Despite its progressive-sounding title, the memo provided federal prosecutors a convenient argument to cite when deciding not to crack down on giant companies’ illegal conduct: consider the “collateral consequences” of prosecuting a large company. “In the corporate context,” Holder explained, “prosecutors may take into account the possibly substantial consequences to a corporation’s officers, directors, employees, and shareholders, many of whom, depending on the size and nature of the corporation have played no role in the criminal conduct…”

In other words, Holder argued that some corporations were just Too Big to Jail and so should not be charged. Ten years later, as Obama’s top lawyer in the wake of Wall Street’s greatest crime wave ever, Holder would absurdly use the Collateral Consequences doctrine to justify not bringing charges even against specific individuals (criminal executives, that is) at large companies.  This was no small amplification of the doctrine’s original meaning, but the basic Too Big to Prosecute idea was clearly in Holder’s head long before Dyson’s “racial realpolitik” might have come into play.

Consistent with the original Collateral Consequences idea and with the later amplification, Holder would spend the years between Clinton and Obama serving giant corporations at the posh Washington D.C. law firm Covington & Burling.  There Holder represented such entities as the pharmaceutical colossus Merck, the National Football League, Chiquita Brands International, and the massive Swiss private bank UBS.

If the clownish academic and media personality Dyson seriously believes that Attorney General Holder wanted to prosecute Wall Street’s financial arch-perpetrators but was held back from doing so by his/and or the Obama team’s fear that they would spark white backlash if they went after super-rich white men, then he is sadly and badly mistaken.  Holder is a wealthy, Ivy League-bred neoliberal and quintessential corporate Democrat going back to the Big Business-friendly Clinton administration.

But put all that all aside and ask yourself honestly: would Holder and his fellow black-bourgeois, deeply conservative friend Barack Obama really have sparked devastating white backlash by moving assertively against the nation’s widely reviled financial overlords? It is probable that any white fear or anger that might have resulted from such serious prosecution of members of the United States’ super-wealthy .001% would have been quite mild compared to the broader white and multiracial popular approval the US working class majority would have felt for Obama actually acting on his 2008 campaign’s progressive-sounding promises by responding seriously to the arrogance and corruption of the financial elite. Running dog Dyson is barking up the wrong bourgeois tree when he says that the nation’ mostly working class whites were too racist to let a technically Black administration stick it to white criminal plutocrats. Nonsense.

But let’s pretend that Dyson is right to claim that the harsh racial realities of the US politics are such that a White House and a Justice Department headed by technically Black office-holders cannot undertake such an action.  I think it’s a false and even idiotic premise, but imagine that it was accurate for a moment.  An obvious question arises, at least it does for anyone who doesn’t want to live in a New Gilded Age of shocking inequality (racial as well as socioeconomic) where mind-boggling corporate and financial criminality goes unpunished: why then should US citizens of any color have joined Dyson in enthusiastically backing and defending a first technically Black president and a first technically Black Attorney General? What, just so we could applaud the symbolic gratification of putting Black Faces in High Places, as if that marked some sort of grand substantive victory over US racism?  Sadly, as I and other anti-racists of the “radical left” warned and predicted from the beginning of the Obama phenomenon, the symbolic achievement has been little more than just that – symbolic.  It has come at no small price to substantive movement against US racism deeply understood, for reasons and in ways that I and others have demonstrated elsewhere.

Obama has, as predicted, been a disaster for racial as well for economic justice. His presidency has, among other things, deeply reinforced the widely held white illusion that racism no longer provides a serious and pervasive obstacle to black advancement and racial equality in the US.  As predicted, Obama has been nearly as silent about race and racism as any US president in recent memory. Along the way, he and his fellow black-bourgeois friends of white economic and power elite, like the civil rights charlatan Al Sharpton, have continued their nasty habit of blaming poor and working class Blacks, not institutional and societal racism, for Blacks’ persistent disproportionate presence at the bottom of the steep US socioeconomic pyramid. By the way, and for what’s it is worth, Sharpton’s speech along those victim-blaming lines at the funeral of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was approvingly broadcast on Democracy Now (DN) last August.

Funny story: I was booked to appear on DN in December of 2008 to discuss my book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics – a book that pretty much predicted the broad power-serving trajectory of the Obama presidency on class injustice, racism, military empire (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “triple evils that are interrelated”) and more. The booking was cancelled on the day I was going to be interviewed, just 45 minutes before the taping, just as I stepped (riddled with the flu, I should add) out of the Port Authority in midtown Manhattan.  Cleaning out my den the other day, I happened upon an old file in which I had placed some talking points for the ND interview that never occurred.  One such point read as follows: “Obama will not prosecute Wall Street.  Look out for the ‘liberal’ defense that doing so would spark white fears of the ‘angry black man.’”

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

Twenty Fourteen

18/10/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on TeleSur English, October 10, 2014

Living in the middle of the United States of America, I sometimes find myself wondering: is this nation a living version – a mélange perhaps – of the authoritarian dystopias that various novelists and others have tried to warn us about in the past? The once futuristic works that come to mind are Jack London’s Iron Heel, George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano.

Oceana in Nineteen Eighty Four?  Take a look at the US in Twenty Fourteen.  Behold a vast and powerful nation – the world’s sole Superpower – where absurdity reigns with shockingly irrelevant transparency, where War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength and 2+2=5. A land where truth is orphaned and nothing matters, where the serial and monumental crimes of the rich and powerful are thrown down the “memory hole” even as they occur.  History is relentlessly obliterated and manipulated to serve the needs of the Masters, who know that “Those who control the present control the past. Those who control the past control the future.”

The future is now.

It stars at the nominal top. Look at Barack Obama, latest in a long line of US War Presidents.  He is an imperial and ecocidal corporatist, a mass surveillance agent and advocate, and a technically Black white-supremacist who was marketed and then elected in the names of peace, democracy, social (including racial) justice, and environmental healing.

Three weeks ago, Big Brother Obama went on national television to tell the subject US citizenry about his pre-existing decision to undertake a deadly new US war in the Middle East. While saying that “we can’t erase every trace of evil from the world” (Washington’s supposed ultimate goal) he condemned the Islamic State’s (IS) “killing of innocents” and noted that the IS “kill[s] children” and engages in “acts of barbarism.” Calling the IS “a cancer,” he described US missile and bombing strikes in Iraq and Syria as “American leadership at its best:  We stand with people who fight for their own freedom…”

Last week Obama spoke before the United Nations to “issue…a fervent call to arms against the Islamic State.” (New York Times, 9/25/2014). The only dialect the Islamic State terrorists and their “network of death” understand, Kill List Obama told UN delegates, his eyes flashing anger, is “the language of force.” The brutality of ISIS, Obama added, “forces us to look into the heart of darkness.” For good measure, Obama warned nuclear Russia that it “would pay for its bullying of Ukraine” (New York Times) and denounced Moscow for holding “a view of the world where might makes right.” He also suggested that the US stands in the vanguard of the global struggle against climate change.

The Orwellian audacity of the president’s recent oratory is breathtaking. Never mind US client Israel’s recurrent slaughter (with US weapons and ordnance) of hundreds of Palestinian children in Gaza.  Any “heart of darkness” there?

Never mind that the US bombs housefuls of civilians in pursuit of one presidentially targeted terrorist, killing dozens in pursuit of a single enemy.  How’s that for “the language of force” and “killing innocents.”

How about the public beheadings routinely carried out for even petty crimes by “our partner” (in the new Middle Eastern US war on/of terror) Saudi Arabia, the most reactionary government and society on Earth?

How about the death of more than 500,000 children thanks to US-led “economic sanctions” during the 1990s? That’s the number of dead Iraqi minors that CBS’s Leslie Stahl famously asked US Secretary of State Madeline Albright about in 1996. The Madame Secretary did not bother to dispute the terrible statistic. She said “we think the price [the giant juvenile death toll in Iraq] is worth it” – for the advance of inherently noble US foreign policy goals. How’s that for evil?

“Network of death”? Look at a map of US military bases and forces in the Middle East and around the world. The US maintains more than 1000 military installations across more than 120 “sovereign” nations, maintained by a Pentagon budget that accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending. US Special Forces under Obama operate in 134 countries.

By some estimates, the US Empire created more than 3 million unnatural deaths in Iraq alone since what US history texts call “The First Persian Gulf War” – a one-sided imperial slaughter that culminated in a mass-homicidal US aerial assault on tens of thousands of surrendered Iraqi conscripts. Then US President George H W Bush told the world what lesson to take from the terrible “turkey shoot”: “What We Say Goes.” Talk about “might makes right”!

The “heart of darkness” arguably finds its top global-arterial pumping station in the Pentagon, where post-9/11 planners came up years ago with an interesting term for “collaterally” killed Arab and Muslim victims of US military operations: “Bug-splat

Cancer? The US generated an epidemic of child cancers and birth defects in 2004 when it launched a devastating assault on the Iraqi city Fallujah.  The US Marines used radioactive ordnance, leaving the city with a toxic legacy worse than Hiroshima.

And never mind that US under Obama as under Bush has done everything it could to undermine international efforts to impose binding global carbon emission reductions. Or that the West, led by the US, has provoked the dangerous “new Cold War” crisis in Eastern Europe. It has done so by violating early pledges that NATO would not expand eastward and by making bids to recruit new NATO members among former members of the Warsaw Pact and former provinces of the former Soviet Union.

So what? As the great British playwright Harold Pinter said about the systematic deletion of US imperial crimes in the reigning Western intellectual and media cultures: “Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it never happened…It was of no interest.”

The US mass media isn’t about to blow the whistle on Washington’s imperial hypocrisy and transgression, that’s for sure. As the brilliant, left and (therefore) marginalized US political commentator Michael Parenti noted seven years ago in his book Contrary Notions:

“US military undertakings are portrayed [by US ‘mainstream’ media] as arising from noble if sometimes misplaced intentions. The media’s view of the world is much the same as the view from the State Department and Pentagon….US governmental and corporate leaders talk approvingly of ‘US world leadership,’ ‘American interests,’ ‘national security,’ ‘free markets,’ and ‘globalization.’ The media transmit these official images without any noticeable critical comment regarding their actual content… [This] face-value transmission…earn[s] it such scornful nicknames as ‘stenographer for power’ and ‘mouthpiece for officialdom.’”

Already, Syrian rebel commanders have reported dead women and children being hauled from the rubble of their homes in the wake of US missile attacks. The US-based Yahoo News nonchalantly reports that “The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.”

(The “strict standards” are news to those who have lost loved ones to the many hundreds of drone attacks that Kill List Obama has launched in the Muslim world.  Only a tiny percentage of those strikes’ victims are “high profile targets.” The rest are civilians, children, and merely alleged “combatants.”)

The US stands with “freedom”? Really? Washington’s “partners” against ISIS include some of the most reactionary and authoritarian governments – absolute monarchies – on the globe.

What about “the homeland” (a deeply imperial and militaristic term that has become a regular part of the US political lexicon since 9/11) itself? The US is an ever more openly oligarchic state where the top hundredth owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent and a probably comparable share of the nation’s “democratically elected” officials.  These and other terrible facts reflect more than three decades of deliberately engineered upward wealth and income distribution: a ruthless state-capitalist concentration of riches and power that has brought us to a New Gilded Age of abject plutocracy and the intimately related brink of environmental catastrophe.

Millions of US workers toil for low and ever declining wages and benefits in virtual “health care slavery” under increasingly ubiquitous employer surveillance and monitoring. One in seven Americans now rely on local food banks to survive. Half of those who do are employed.

Millions have been turned into “surplus Americans” by automation and/or the export of their jobs. Those lucky enough to remain employed commonly report have zero voice in the nation’s Brave New high-tech workplaces. Their thoughts and opinions are irrelevant on the job, where they spend the majority of their waking lives.

A large-scale practitioner of the death penalty, the US quietly holds the world’s highest rate of incarceration.  The planet’s top prison state keeps as many Black men behind bars today as were US slaves in 1860.

As Matt Taibbi shows in his latest book Divide, the US today deploys two very different systems of “justice”: one for “the untouchably wealthy” and another, draconian and shockingly intrusive one for “the criminalized poor.” The criminal justice-wealth gap “allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime,” Taibbi notes.

The worst consequences of the nation’s vast repressive and ever more militarized police-state apparatus fall on the disproportionately nonwhite poor. But even children of relative privilege feel the iron heel of state capitalism when they question and confront the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money.” (Ask the leading veterans of the Occupy Movement. Even Orwell might be chilled to learn that the NYPD used “retina scanning technology” to document the involvement of Occupy and other activists in recent civil disobedience actions for climate justice on Wall Street.)

None of this can receive serious attention in the reigning privately/corporate owned US media. As Parenti explained in Contrary Notions, “Many things are reported but few are explained.  Little is said about how the social order is organized and for what purposes…we are left to see the world as do mainstream pundits, as a scatter of events and personalities propelled by happenstance, circumstance, passing expediencies, confused intentions, bungled operations, and individual ambition – rarely a world influenced by powerful class interests”(emphasis added).

And it isn’t just the “news” and public affairs commentary wing of the dominant media that performs this dark consent-manufacturing magic on behalf of concentrated wealth and power. Corporate “entertainment” media performs much the same function in possibly more powerful ways.

Thought-control American-style operates in a dangerously stealth fashion, much less visible and overt than cruder, more classically “totalitarian” variants. In the old Soviet Union, everyone knew that their nation’s state-based communications system was/is elite-controlled. At the bottom of each day’s Pravda and Izvestia (the New York Times and Wall Street Journal of the Soviet state), you could see the “daily censors’” initials. In the US, the selective, propagandistic, and power-serving nature of the so-called mainstream media and the broader ideological system censorship is cloaked, hiding under the deceptive names of supposedly non-ideological “objectivity.” As Parenti noted 28 years ago:

“The sinister commandant who tortures Winston in Orwell’s 1984 lets us know he is an oppressor.  The vision of the future is of a boot pressing down on a human face, he tells his victim. The ideological control exercised in the U.S. today is far more insidious.  Power is always more secure when cooptive, covert, and manipulative than when nakedly brutish.  The support elicited through the control of minds is more durable than the support extracted at the point of a bayonet. The essentially undemocratic nature of the mainstream media, like the other business-dominated institutions of society [is]…hidden behind a neutralistic, voluntaristic, pluralist façade.”

All of which raises the critical question of what is to be done?  I will reflect on that question – and on Parenti’s answers to it – in my next TeleSur commentary.

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

Oligarchy

09/10/14 0 COMMENTS

Z Magazine, October 2014

According to a long-dominant “mainstream” (corporate state) media narrative in the United States, Washington and the nation’s politics are crippled by terrible partisan “gridlock.” This reigning media meme says that the deadlock in Washington reflects deep “polarization” between “red” (older, whiter, more male, traditional, religious/Christian, rural, gun-owning, and Republican) and “blue” (less white, less culturally conservative, more female, more gay, younger, more urban, less Christian, and Democratic) “America.” This pervasive “great divide” among “We the people” makes it impossible for the nation’s elected officials to compromise to “get things done.” It’s a shame, this terrible standoff that mires the nation’s politics and policy in endless squabbling and logjam.

Not So Divided

There are, of course, real cultural and related political differences between, say, a predominantly Democratic and relatively gay- and atheist-friendly university town like Iowa City or Ann Arbor and a small predominantly Republican, gun-owning, and God-fearing town in rural Iowa or Michigan. It is, of course, all too true that the federal government and the nation seem hopelessly stalemated when it comes to achieving any number of policies that are urgently required in the name of basic social and democratic decency.

Still, the partisan polarization narrative is fundamentally incorrect and deceptive in three basic ways. The first problem is that U.S. citizens are nowhere nearly as divided along “Red” and “Blue” lines as media and political elites tell us. A recent study by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) analyzed public polling data on a large number of policy proposals. The researchers examined answers to 388 questions from 24 major surveys conducted between 2008 and 2013. The polls chosen were selected because they included data about the state or district where each respondent lived, which could then be identified as primarily liberal (“blue”) or conservative (“red”).

street-2The researchers find “remarkably little difference between the views of people who live in red (Republican) districts or states, and those who live in blue (Democratic) districts or states… Most people living in red districts/states disagreed with most people in blue districts/states on only four percent of the questions…. For a large majority of questions—69 percent—there were no statistically significant differences between the views in the red districts/states and the blue districts/states.” Entitled A Not So Divided America, the study “contradicts the conventional wisdom that the political gridlock between Democrats and Republicans in Congress arises from deep disagreements over policy among the general public.” The researchers conclude that something else must be driving polarization in Congress. They don’t identify the culprit, but imply strongly that big money business interests play the primary role (PPC, A Not So Divided America, July 2014).

In that regard, it is interesting to look at some of the policy issues where PPC researchers found no statistically significant difference between residents of “red” and “blue” districts and states:

  • Abortion should be legal in some cases. Agreement expressed by 73.9 percent of respondents in “Red America” (RA) and 77.8 percent in “Blue America” (BA). Difference: 3.9
  • Favor background checks for all gun purchases: 79 percent in RA and 80.7 percent in BA. Difference: 1.0
  • Gays and lesbians should be able to be hired as high school teachers. Agreement expressed by 66.8 percent in RA and 70.1 in BA. Difference: 3.3
  • Government has a responsibility to stop employers from discriminating by race and ethnicity. Agreement expressed by 67.3 percent in RA and 70.8 percent in BA. Difference: 3.5
  • Government should work to prevent discrimination against women. Agreement expressed by 80.7 percent in RA and 83.5 percent in BA. Difference: 2.8
  • Health care is a right and not a privilege: agreement from 62.3 percent in RA and 62.9 percent in BA. Difference: 0.6
  • Government needs to take major steps to reform health care: supported by 66.8 percent in RA and 68.8 percent in BA. Difference: 2.0
  • Government should provide a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurance plans: supported by 54.7 percent in RA and 59.2 percent in BA. Difference: 4.5
  • Government should increase spending on Social Security: Supported by 53.7 percent in RA and 55.1 percent in BA. Difference: 1.4
  • Raise the cap on earnings taxed for the Social Security payroll tax: supported by 84.4 percent in RA and 83.5 percent in BA. Difference: 0.9
  • Increase taxes on individual incomes between $200,000 and $500,000: supported by 66.7 percent in RA and 63.7 percent in BA. Difference: 3.0
  • Increase taxes on individual incomes between $500,000 and $1 million: 70.5 percent in RA and 64.6 in BA. Difference: 5.9
  • Government prohibition of public sector unions’ right to collective bargaining: opposed by 54.5 percent in RA and by 56.4 percent in BA. Difference: 1.9
  • Continuation of the National Labor Relations Board as a government entity: supported by 61 percent in RA and 64.6 percent in BA. Difference: 3.5
  • The government should increase spending on education: agreement expressed by 58.5 percent in RA and 59.3 percent in BA. Difference: 0.8
  • Favor cutting military spending to reduce the deficit: 67.6 percent in RA; 67.8 percent in BA. Difference: 0.2
  • Favor cutting spending on intelligence agencies: 57 RA; 58.8 BA. Difference: 1.7
  • The U.S. should cut federal subsidies to agricultural corporations and large farms: 65.8 RA; 68.3BA. Difference: 2.5
  • Oppose a “free trade” agreement with China: in 56.5 RA; 56 percent BA. Difference: 0.5
  • Oppose a “free trade” agreement with Columbia: 58.9 RA; 57.3 BA. Difference: 1.6
  • Oppose a “free trade” agreement with South Korea: 52 RA; 50 BA. Difference: 2.0

Besides showing that red and blue districts are much closer on basic policy issues than is commonly claimed, these findings also suggest that the population as a whole is well to the left of its supposed political representatives—even in Republican strongholds. Numerous social scientists and informed political commentators have noted in recent years that majority public opinion in the U.S. stands well to the progressive, social-democratic left of both of the nation’s two dominant and corporate-captive political organizations. This appears to be the case even in the nation’s right-represented red zones.

The Donor Class v. The Rest of Us

street-3A second and related problem with dominant media’s “partisan polarization” and “gridlock” narrative is that it misses the much greater and actual polarization existing between the majority progressive and non-affluent U.S. citizenry on one hand and wealthy U.S. citizens on the other. A 2011 survey funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and conducted by NORC found substantial policy differences between the top 1 percent of U.S. wealth-holders and the U.S. general public when it came to jobs, poverty, income, and welfare.

In addition, the Center for American Progress (CAP) has found that 73 percent of U.S. citizens “earning” less than $20,000 (“low income Americans”) think that the gap between the rich and poor should be reduced. That opinion is shared by 54 percent of U.S. citizens earning more than $100,000 (“affluent Americans”), making for a difference of 19 points. In a similar vein, fully 84 percent of “low income Americans” felt the federal government ought to guarantee affordable health care coverage to every U.S. resident, compared to 59 percent of “affluent Americans”—a difference of 25 percent. CAP found that just over a third (36 percent) of affluent respondents agreed that “labor unions play a positive role in our economy.” More than half (55 percent) of “low income Americans” agree with that statement (see David Callahan and J. Mijin Cha, “Stacked Deck: How the Dominance of Politics by the Affluent and Business Undermines Economic Mobility in America,” New York:  Demos, February 2013).

The U.S. populace has long told pollsters that the government’s main priority ought to be job creation, not deficit reduction. As Demos magazine noted in December 2012, “the public remain[s] focused on jobs and the economy over the deficit by two-to-one margins or more.” Surveys undertaken after Obama’s re-election found that “49 percent thought the election was a mandate for job creation while only 22 percent said that the President’s mandate was for deficit reduction.” NBC’s exit poll showed that “only 15 percent of voters thought the deficit was the biggest problem facing the country.” A majority supported “spending money to invest in infrastructure/public sector hiring, like teachers and firepeople, versus cutting to reduce the deficit.”

Affluent Americans do not agree. As Demos writer J. Mijin Cha explained, “The donor class—the segment of the population that donates to political campaigns—is disproportionately comprised of affluent Americans.” This “donor class” (predominantly from households in the top income quintile), “does not prioritize policies to create jobs and economic growth.” It is “twice as likely to name the budget deficit as the most important issue in deciding how they would vote than middle- or lower-income respondents.” It overwhelmingly rejects federal government action to help create jobs (J. Mijin Cha, “Why is Washington Reducing the Deficit Instead of Creating Jobs?” Demos, December 7, 2012).

And here, as on most, if not, all major key political-economic issues in the current neoliberal New Gilded Age, the donor class has won the policy argument, in abject defiance of majority sentiments. “Austerity dominates the current political debate” in ways that reflect “the influence of money in our political system…as evidenced in how well the interests and priorities of the affluent class are represented in Congressional action—even when they run counter to the wishes of most Americans” (Cha, “Why is Washington….”).

street-exra-3There are many other examples. On issue after issue, public opinion is irrelevant (or very close to it) in the realm of serious politics and policy, controlled by the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s phrase). Take health care coverage. Most Americans have long favored a single-payer national health insurance plan on the Canadian model. Their preference for such substantive, seriously social-democratic health reform has found no representation among the corporate- and Wall Street-captive lobbyists and politicians who pushed for big business-friendly versions of “health insurance reform. The version that finally passed in 2009, the so-called Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), is a monument to corporate and financial plutocracy. Last October, Robert Lenzner, a veteran New York investment banker and a staff writer at no less capitalist a journal than Forbes, expressed his hope that the ACA will someday be reformed “for the benefit of the 300 million, not just the millions of lucky shareholders who may have understood the ramification of ObamaCare, which was to multiply the profits of five giant insurance companies, just as the major bank oligopoly was rewarded by the federal bailouts and Fed monetary policy.”

The U.S. could eliminate its much-bemoaned fiscal deficit by replacing the nation’s privatized, corporate-run and largely employment-based health insurance system with a universal public model similar to what exists in other industrial nations—with a system that would cut health costs in half, yet deliver superior outcomes. But that’s irrelevant thanks to the current “democracy deficit” imposed by the reigning “plutonomy,” wherein “the financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such options even to be considered” (Noam Chomsky, “America in Decline,” Truthout, August 5, 2011).

U.S. “No Longer an Actual Democracy”

Which brings us to the third major problem with the partisan polarization and gridlock narrative: its failure to distinguish adequately between the rich and the rest of us when it comes to who does and doesn’t get what they want from government. Washington and the 50 U.S. state capitals are far more paralyzed and deadlocked when it comes to meeting the needs of “the 99 percent” than when it’s about serving the donor class.

streetextra-2You don’t have to be a Marxist, left-anarchist, or other kind of “dangerous radical” to note that popular governance or democracy has been trumped by oligarchy and plutocracy in the contemporary United States. In a study released last April and scheduled for publication in Perspectives on Politics this fall, leading mainstream political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) report that U.S. democracy no longer exists. Over the past few decades, Gilens and Page determined that the U.S. political system has become “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule,” wielding wildly disproportionate power over national policy. Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, they find that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the U.S. majority. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence” (M. Gilens and B. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” April 9, 2014, www.google.com).

A story about Gilens and Page’s study in the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo (TPM) last April bears an interesting title: “Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer an Actual Democracy.” The story contained a link to an interview with Gilens in which he explained that “contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence.”

The leading Princeton economist, and former Federal Reserve Chair Alan S. Blinder, appears to agree. “Sadly, within our political system so dominated by money, ‘equal political rights’ is a cruel deception…political and economic inequality reinforce one another, creating a well-known vicious circle” wrote Blinder in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal last August (A. Blinder, “The Supply-Side case for Government Redistribution,” WSJ, August 14, 2014).

Such is the harsh reality of the U.S. “existing capitalist democracy”—what Noam Chomsky calls “RECD, pronounced as ‘wrecked’” (Noam Chomsky, “Can Civilization Survive Capitalism?” Truthout, March 5, 2013).

U.S. “oligarchy” is nothing new to the last few years.  Plutocracy has been accelerating for decades and so cannot simply be attributed to recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United (2010) or McCutcheon v. FEC. At the same time, the problem is no less evident when Democrats hold ostensible power than when Republicans are in nominal charge. The plutocracy is bipartisan, consistent with Upton Sinclair’s 1904 description of the two dominant U.S. political parties as “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Elites in Washington know very well that partisan “ideological warfare” and “gridlock” is a game played on the nation by the economic power elite. In his bestselling book, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking in America’s Gilded Capital (New York: Penguin, 2013), the New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich—a self-confessed member of “the [Washington DC] club” (again, no radical)—told some candid truths from the belly of beast. By Leibovich’s account, Washington is a bipartisan “gold rush”—a “crucible of easy wealth” wherein political officeholders, lobbyists, consultants, public relations specialists, media personalities, socialites, and top staff from both of the two dominant U.S. political parties are part of the same incestuous and “permanent” ruling “class of insiders.” These insiders “becomes a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made.” The nation’s capital is an “inbred company town where party differences are easily subsumed by membership in The Club.”

“Getting rich,” Leibovich writes, “has become the great bipartisan ideal: No Democrats and Republicans in Washington anymore, goes the maxim, only millionaires. The ultimate Green Party. You still hear the term public service thrown around, but often with irony and full knowledge that self-service is now the real insider play.”

Much of what is presented by corporate media as “Washington’s dysfunction”—gridlock, hyper-partisanship, the failure of Republicans and Democrats “to work together”—is quite purposeful and functional for elites. Washington has become “more concerned with economics than politics,” Leibovich notes, and “much of the Washington’s economy—lobbying, political consulting, and cable news—is predicated on the perpetuation of conflict, not the resolution of problems.” It is outward partisan and personality conflict, after all, that:

  • Attracts viewers and readers
  • Keeps cash flowing into Super PACs
  • Sells political advertisements
  • Creates political careers that former public office-holders turn into more lucrative careers
    in the private sector, “monetizing their government service”
    by taking lucrative positions as lobbyists, consultants, and media talking heads.

Politics as partisan and ideological theater is more materially rewarding than “doing the people’s work” and serving the common good. All the partisan, outwardly “ideological” shouting over the airwaves and across the cable news spectrum, Leibovich notes, is “winking performance art” meant to hide the “reality” that, “off-air, everyone in Washington is joined in a multilateral conga line of potential business partners.” Behind the scenes, smart Washington operatives of both parties are figuring out how to profit from “the continued and sweaty orgy raging between corporate and political enterprise” and the ongoing “romance between Washington and Wall Street.” The “partisan” and “ideological” bickering that dominant media point to as the source of “Washington’s [constantly bemoaned] dysfunction” (and as proof of “big government’s” inherent failures) is all part of the big capitalist hustle. “The city, far from being hopelessly divided, is, in fact, hopelessly interconnected” by the ‘sweaty,’ cross-party contest for gain, fame, and pleasure…for more. ”

The Ultimate Owner of the Deep State

street extra-1In a widely circulated essay published on Bill Moyers.com last spring, former Washington political operative Mike Lofgren noted that the nation’s corporatist “Deep State” was running very smoothly beneath all the noise and news of partisan deadlock at the surface parliamentary level. While elected officials and other politicians caught up in the Wall Street-funded “marionette theater” of Washington’s highly visible partisan politics are typically said to be engaged in “ideological warfare,” Deep State operatives like David Patraeus, Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin, and (former Bush and Obama Defense Secretary) Robert Gates are “deeply dyed in the hue of the official ideology of the governing class, an ideology that is neither specifically Democrat nor Republican.” That ideology combines “The Washington Consensus: financialization, out-sourcing, privatization, deregulation, and the commodifying of labor, with 21st-century American Exceptionalism: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground and to ignore painfully won international norms of civilized behavior.”

The corporatist Deep State runs quite smoothly on behalf of the nation’s elite, Lofgren reported. On one hand, the nation’s bridges, railroads, highways, and electronic grid are rotting away. Vast swaths of the populace have been rendered permanently jobless and poor. And the social safety net is torn to shreds along with public infrastructure. Cities have gone bankrupt across the nation, especially in the Midwestern rustbelt, with no relief. The “ordinary, visible parliamentary institutions of self-government” have “decline[ed] to the status of a banana republic amid the gradual collapse of public infrastructure,” Lofrgren observed. On the other hand, the government under the red Bush and the blue Obama manages somehow to spend trillions of taxpayer dollars on a massive global and domestic empire of Orwellian electronic surveillance, repeated foreign interference, invasion, and occupation, drone warfare, and secret prisons—not to mention (Lofgren did not) the colossal bailout of the “too-big-to-fail” Wall Street firms, whose top managers stand above the law even after plunging millions into poverty and even as the federal government regularly imposes life-without-parole sentences on alleged small time drug-dealers.

Finance capital is the biggest player of all. “It is not too much,” Lofgren wrote, “to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than that it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career that is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice—certainly beyond the dreams of a salaried government employee” (M. Lofgren, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” Moyers & Company, February 21, 2014).

The mild-mannered Lofgren is no dangerous radical. He retired 3 years ago from a 28-year career as a top Republican Congressional staffer with significant high-level expertise in national security matters.

You don’t have to take it from a “radical leftist.” Elite insiders like Leibovich, mainstream Ivy League analysts like Martin Gilens and Alan Blinder (also something of an insider), and Beltway defectors like Mike Lofgren can tell us a lot of what we need to know about “RECD” in the U.S. The oligarchic nature of U.S. politics and policy today is an open secret. The harsh plutocratic reality is certainly well understood by many of the elite media and political operatives who disseminate and cash in on the reigning narrative of a deeply divided populace paralyzed by partisan ideological warfare.

Progressive Activism as Usual Won’t Do the Job

03/10/14 0 COMMENTS

Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 1, 2014

According to a long-dominant “mainstream” media narrative in the United States, the nation’s politics and policy are crippled by terrible partisan “gridlock.” This reigning media meme says that the deadlock in Washington reflects deep “polarization” between “red” (older, whiter, more male, traditional, religious/Christian, rural, gun-owning, and Republican) and “blue” (less white, less culturally conservative, more female, more gay, younger, more urban, less Christian, and Democratic) “America.” This pervasive “great divide” among “We the people” makes it impossible for the nation’s elected officials to compromise to “get things done.”

The partisan polarization narrative is misleading in three ways:

• First, U.S. citizens are nowhere nearly as divided along “Red” and “Blue” lines as media and political elites tell us. In a recent comprehensive survey of 24 policy polls conducted in the U.S. between 2008 and 2013, the Center for Policy Attitudes and the School of Policy at the University of Maryland find “remarkably little difference between the views of people who live in red (Republican) districts or states, and those who live in blue (Democratic) districts or states” when it came to a broad range of policy issues.

Titled “A Not So Divided America,” the study suggests a hidden socially progressive majority across the Red-Blue divide and contradicts the conventional wisdom that the gridlock between Democrats and Republicans in Washington arises from deep policy disagreements in the citizenry.

• A second and related problem with the reigning “polarization” and “gridlock” narrative is that it misses the much greater and actual polarization existing between the mostly working class and non-affluent U.S. majority on one hand and wealthy U.S. citizens on the other. As numerous surveys show, when it comes to core questions like jobs, poverty, income, minimum wages, welfare, taxes, the fiscal deficit, and distribution of wealth, there are substantial policy differences between the top 1 percent of U.S. wealth-holders and the U.S. general public.

To take one among many examples, the U.S. populace has long told pollsters that the government’s main priority ought to be job creation, not deficit reduction. Affluent Americans do not agree. And here, as on the great majority of major political-economic issues today, “the 1 percent” has won the argument, in defiance of majority sentiments. Austerity dominates the political debate in ways that reflect the outsized voice of money in “our democracy.”

• Which brings us to the third major problem with the partisan polarization and gridlock narrative: its failure to distinguish adequately between the rich and the rest of us when it comes to who does and doesn’t get what they want from government. In a study released last April, leading mainstream political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) reported that U.S. democracy no longer exists. Over the past few decades, Gilens and Page determined, the U.S. political system has become “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule,” wielding wildly disproportionate power over national policy.

My latest book, “They Rule: The 1 percent v. Democracy” is, among other things, about how and why we got into this hot plutocratic mess in the self-declared homeland and headquarters of democracy. As I show, American oligarchy is not new and it’s about a lot more than big money campaign contributions.

My book is also about what we can and must to do transcend “RECD” in the U.S. today. A hint: major party electoral politics and progressive activism as usual won’t do the job.

Please join me and others to discuss these and related topics when I read from, and sign copies of, “They Rule” at Prairie Lights Books  in downtown Iowa City at 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 8, 2014.

Paul Street is an author and political commentator in Iowa City.

Krugman Needs New Sunglasses

30/09/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on TeleSur English, September 27, 2014.

Prepare for an Alien Invasion

Just because someone has a PhD, a Nobel Prize, a prized Princeton professorship, and a regular columnist position at The New York Times doesn’t mean they’re really all that clever.

Take the leading US liberal and partisan Democrat Paul Krugman, blessed with all of those things. Over the last few years, the science fiction fan Krugman has jokingly proposed an interesting idea for pulling the US economy out of stagnation: prepare for an alien invasion.

In 2011, Krugman told CNN about a Twilight Zone episode in which “scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace,” adding that “this time…we need it…to get some fiscal stimulus.”

“If you…look at what took us out of the Great Depression,” Krugman said in 2012, “it was Europe’s entry into World War II and the US buildup…So if we could get something that could cause the government to say, ‘Oh, never mind those budget things; let’s just spend and do a bunch of stuff.’… My fake threat from space aliens is the other route,” Krugman said before a laughing crowd. “I’ve been proposing that.”

But how smart or funny was it, really, for Krugman to use the futuristic imagery of an alien invasion to make the case for replicating the stimulus that military spending provided to end the Great Depression? Home- and human-made existential threats to survival were sufficient to the task.  How about saving the planet for livable habitation by putting millions to work on ecological retrofitting and clean energy? Tackling climate change and other environmental ills in a meaningful way means putting many millions of people to work at all skill levels to design, implement, coordinate, and construct the environmental retrofitting of economy and society – the ecological reconversion of production, transportation, office space, homes, agriculture, and public space.

WWII analogy? Sure. Fine. As Noam Chomsky argued in 2010, ”Surely the US manufacturing industries could be reconstructed to produce what the country needs, using its highly skilled work force—and what the world needs, and soon, if we are to have some hope of averting major [environmental] catastrophe. It has been done before, after all. During World War II, industry was converted to wartime production and the semi-command economy. . . ended the Depression.”

No mythical extraterrestrial menace required. “Spaceship Earth” presents its own urgent social and ecological justifications for massive public works programs and investments.

The Aliens Already Here: They Live

If we want to reference science fiction to make the case for the progressive change we’d like to see, then let me nominate my own personal favorite science fiction (and horror) film: John Carpenter’s They Live(1987). In Carpenter’s brilliant, outwardly campy spoof, the space invaders are already here, wearing corporate suits and changing the climate (“acclimatizing us to their atmosphere”) in the name of free enterprise. America is ruled by aliens disguised as members of the business and professional elite. The extraterrestrials colonize America and the Earth, dismantling the nation in the name of “the free market.” They speak in hushed tones to one another through small radios installed in Rolex watches that symbolize their elevated status. In a vast underground complex, they speak in outwardly idealistic terms of their real objectives – ruthless economic exploitation for the galactic Few sold as “growth” and “development” for the earthly Many. Mobile across the galaxy, they ship resources off-planet and manipulate Earthly citizens through subliminal forms of thought control encoded in advertisements and other corporate mass media content.

“They’re free enterprisers,” a leading human resister of the alien occupation explains. “We are like a natural resource to them,” a different resister elaborates. “Deplete the planet and move on to another. They want benign indifference. They want us drugged.”

Some humans are cultivated for co-optation, rewarded for collaboration with fancy jobs, money, and consumer goods. They are invited to sumptuous banquets where aliens dressed as business chiefs regale them with the latest data on the robust “per capita income growth” enjoyed by earthlings who cooperate with the extraterrestrials’ “quest for multi-dimensional expansion.”

Resistance is futile and there is no alternative, so you might as well play ball with the capitalists/aliens to enjoy the rewards. So the collaborationist story goes, encouraged by ubiquitous media messages selling personal consumerism, fashion, and narcissistic self-display as the meaning of “the good life.”

Those who cannot be co-opted or numbed by dominant media and consumer gratifications are designated “terrorists” and “communists who want to bring down the government.” They face violent repression by a heavily armed high-tech police state, whose tools of surveillance and repression include airborne spy cameras that prefigure the low-flying drones currently being prepared for use inside the United States.

Along the way, the aliens’ economic system generates unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide and methane, heating the environment in ways that fit their own home climate but threaten life on Earth.

The capitalist aliens are opposed by a revolutionary human cadre that has developed special sunglasses that decode the deadening messages of the alien-run corporate mass media and reveal the repulsive nonhuman identity of the privileged. When the glasses are donned, billboards, magazines, newspapers, and television programs are shown to express hidden meanings, telling humans to “obey,” “consume,” “watch tv,” “sleep,” “conform,” “submit,” “buy,” and “work eight hours.” Bills of money are shown to say “this is your god,” while billboards are seen to proclaim “no thought,” “do not question authority,” and “no imagination.”

The cadre oversees a campsite of poor, working-class Americans. Sitting behind a threadbare church in the shadow of Los Angeles’s downtown financial district, the camp captures the rising poverty and joblessness of the reckless get-rich-quick Reagan years and harkens back to previous episodes of mass homelessness in American history.

The campsite is brutally cleared by a militarized Los Angeles Police Department early in They Live, Reviewing this scene recently, I was struck by how closely it presaged the police-state clearances of the Occupy Movement’s many US encampments in the fall of 2011.

The cadre struggles to escape detection and repression as it seeks to break into the all-powerful media to tell ordinary Americans what they have discovered about who is running and ruining the country behind the façade of democracy. The movie ends when its two working class heroes (one black, the other white) penetrate corporate media headquarters to disable the aliens’ great satellite cloaking mechanism, exposing the privileged Few’s repulsive extraterrestrial identity and sparking a great popular rebellion

Cheap and Easy?

I was moved to reflect on They Live when I read a Krugman column published two days before the giant Climate March in Manhattan last Sunday.  Krugman accused left “antigrowth” thinkers and activists of dysfunctional “climate despair.”  He cited with approval a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper purporting to show that we can save the world from global warming by moving off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy sources at no great cost to economic growth. “Saving the planet would be cheap,” Krugman wrote, adding that “it might even be free….The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic,” Krugman concluded, “but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.”

Krugman and the IMF are right that economic growth can continue to take place in a world that has gotten off fossils fuels and switched to wind, water, and solar energy.  In the first section of this essay, indeed, I suggested the potential growth-stimulating impact of a major public investment in a post-carbon economy.

But Krugman’s commentary is deeply flawed. It misrepresents the “left” position on growth.  As a perceptive commenter on Krugman’s column notes, for example, the European “degrowth” movement is actually “NOT against economic growth and development. It is against grossly consumptive and mindless economic growth and development – which is what we have today.”

I would add: what we have today, under corporation capitalism, dedicated to the relentless generation of false needs and waste in service to profit.

I would also add that many of us on the eco-Left believe that societies can and must grow in ways more than economic: expand equality, increase democracy, boost community, augment health, raise  happiness, enlarge caring, swell sustainability, amplify creativity and imagination, and multiply love.  Here the issue is re-defining growth, not rejecting it.

Second, Krugman (like most economists, liberal or “conservative”) habitually talks about economic growth as a positive good in and of itself, ignoring not only its giant ecological downside under capitalism but also its longstanding role in providing an ideological cloak for the stark socioeconomic inequality that concerns him. As Herve Kempf has noted, the Western “oligarchy” has long sold the pursuit and promise of material growth as “the solution to the social crisis,” the “sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment,” and a “means of getting societies to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them. . . . Growth,” Kempf explains, “allow[s] the overall level of wealth to arise and consequently improve the lot of the poor without—and this part is never spelled out [by the economic elite] – any need to modify the distribution of wealth.”

“Growth,” liberal economist Henry Wallich explained (approvingly) in 1972, “is a substitute for equality of income. So long as there is growth there is hope, and that makes large income differentials tolerable.” And that’s why the assurance of growth is a critical promise made by Carpenter’s alien invaders to their human subjects in They Live.

Third, Krugman’s notion of a cheap and easy transition to a post-carbon future collapses when we get serious about confronting “the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet.”  Make no mistake: getting real about that means fierce popular confrontation with Big Carbon, a critical component of the currently reigning corporate plutocracy with vast capital assets sunk in the fossil fuel economy.  It means a dedicated mass movement against a key part of the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money,” which is intimately connected to a Deep State that regularly resorts to repression to crush popular movements for democracy and the common good. A classic recent example of this repression is the Occupy Movement, dismantled by a coordinated federal campaign under a Democratic administration and with the participation of hundreds of cities under the direction of Democratic Party mayors.  I find it hard not to accept the accuracy of the following conclusion from Chris Hedges, sounding a bit like one of John Carpenter’s radical cadre in They Live during a panel session (titled The Climate Crisis: Which Way Out?) preceding last weekend’s historic People’s Climate March in New York City, “Republicans appeal to one constituency. The Democrats appeal to another. But both parties will do nothing to halt the ravaging of the planet…When we begin to build mass movements that carry out repeated [necessary] acts of civil disobedience… the corporate state, including the Democratic Party….will use the security and surveillance apparatus, militarized police forces…to shut down…dissent with force…as …during the Occupy movement. The corporate elites, blinded by their lust for profit…will not veer from our path towards ecocide unless they are forced from power.”

Nothing cheap and easy about that, but survival and getting to where humanity can grow (in ways more than economic) beyond fossil fuels depends on it.

It’s one thing – low-cost and laidback – to read and report environmentally hopeful capitalist research from the IMF from a privileged perch in Princeton.  It’s another and by no means casual and inexpensive thing to take the risks involved to form and join a mass movement dedicated to expelling Big Carbon from ecocidal power.

Paul Krugman needs a pair of John Carpenter’s magical sunglasses. There’s no such thing as a free revolution.

“Heart of Darkness”: Obama’s Orwellian Chutzpah at the United Nations

29/09/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on ZNet, Septemeber 26, 2014

If They Were Serious

What if Barack Obama and the US foreign policy establishment and US corporate media were actually serious about ending the dire threats – real and/or merely perceived – posed by Islamist terrorism to US citizens and “interests” at home and abroad? How would they proceed?

They would do five basic things.

First, they would undertake a serious and public discussion about why the United States faces widespread and bitter hatred in the Middle East and Muslim world. That would mean acknowledging Washington’s longstanding murderous and petro-imperial role in the Middle East – a role that many journalist and authors (myself included) others have documented at great length over many years.

It is not a pretty story. In Iraq alone, it seems likely that the number of unnatural deaths caused by US attacks and sanctions since 1990 exceeds 2 million and may go as high as 3.3 million (including 750,000 children).

In his 2004 book Imperial Hubris: Why The West is Losing the War on Terror the CIA’s former top al Qaeda expert Michael Scheuer tried to advance the elementary observation that al Qaeda (of which the new Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] is a spin-off) hate the US not because of who it is (purportedly a land of freedom, democracy, religious toleration, and women’s rights) but because of what it does in the Middle East.

Scheurer’s warning went absurdly unheeded. “Anti-American” Islamic jihad lives on, tied now to an actual territorial Middle East caliphate, and fueled by a US imperial jihad – a veritable effort to construct something like a US caliphate through sheer murderous power of force – in the region after 9/11. Once again, the US public is told that the vicious Islamist enemy is driven to “hate us” because of “who we are” (supposedly free, democratic, and tolerant) when in reality the problem factor is what “we” (US policymakers) do in and to the Middle East.

It’s long past time to admit that it’s about what “we” do.

Second, Washington and the Administration would very publicly acknowledge that its claims to advance democracy, freedom, and humanitarian development have always been and remain little more than deceptive cover for the real objective behind the United States’ heavy and enduring military and political presence in the Middle East: control of the region’s vast and strategically hyper-significant oil resources.

Third, Washington and Obama would very publicly tell Israel that the US will no longer support its murderous, criminal, and racist policies of occupation and apartheid and that the US will take away the $3.1 billion it grants each year to the Israeli Defense Forces and invest that money instead in the reconstruction of Gaza.

Fourth, the US establishment through Obama would apologize in a very public and sincere way for the many millions of Arabs and Muslims the US has murdered, tortured, crippled, displaced, orphaned, sickened and otherwise grievously injured over more than seven decades of US military and political intervention in the Middle East.

Fifth, the US imperial establishment would announce that Washington’s military interventions in the Arab and Muslim worlds are coming to an end and that the US will take the taxpayer dollars saved to “pay reparations to the victims and repair the damage from the many American bombings, invasions, and sanctions.” (I quote here from William Blum. Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower [2005]).

A Darkly Flawed Call to Arms

If these things were done, the endlessly invoked Islamist terror threat would disappear. But, of course, such actions are unthinkable for the US imperial establishment, as Obama moves into his third day of air warfare in Syria. Thus the world yesterday (I am writing on the morning of Thursday 25, 2014) heard Obama at the United Nations (UN) “issue…a fervent call to arms against the Islamic State – the once reluctant warrior now apparently resolved to waging a twilight struggle against Islamic extremism for the remainder of his presidency.” (New York Times, 9/25/2014, A1).

In order to provide a façade of legal legitimacy for his technically criminal air war, Obama has recently (just two days ago) introduced the world to a new terror cell we’d never heard of before. It’s called “the Khorason Group,” said to be based in Syria and to pose an “imminent danger” to the US and the West. What a convenient creation, transparently advanced at the last minute to make Washington’s attacks on Syrian territory appear consistent with international law.

The only language the Islamic State terrorists and their “network of death” understand, Kill List Obama told UN delegates, his eyes flashing anger, is “the language of force.” The brutality of the ISIS, Obama added, “forces us to look into the heart of darkness.” An interesting choice of phrases, taken from Joseph Conrad’s racially loaded turn-of-the-20th century novel about a “civilized” white ivory trader’s trek down the Congo River into “barbarian” Central Africa.

What about Israel’s recurrent slaughter (with US weapons and ordnance) of hundreds of Palestinian children in Gaza, of its regular exercises in “mowing the lawn?” Does that make us look into “the heart of darkness?”

What about when the US bombs a houseful of civilians in pursuit of one presidentially targeted terrorist, killing dozens in pursuit of a single official enemy? Does that focus the world on “the heart of darkness” and “the language of force”?

How about the public beheadings that are routinely carried out for even petty crimes by “our partner” in the new War on Terror Saudi Arabia? Any “heart of darkness” there?

How about the death of more than 500,000 children thanks to US-led “economic sanctions” during the 1990s? That’s the number of dead Iraqi minors that CBS’s Leslie Stahl famously asked US Secretary of State Madeline Albright about in 1996. The Madame Secretary did not bother to dispute the appalling number. She said “we think the price [the giant juvenile death toll in Iraq that is] is worth it” – for the advance of inherently noble US foreign policy goals. As Albright explained three years later, “The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere.”

Talk about “the heart of darkness.”

That heart finds its top global arterial pumping station in the US Pentagon, where post-9/11 planners came up years ago with an interesting term for “collaterally” killed Arab and Muslim victims of US military operations: “Bug-splat.”

Want to see a “network of death” and “the language of force”? Look at a map of US military bases and forces in the Middle East and around the world. The US maintains more than 1000 military installations across more than 120 “sovereign” nations, maintained by a Pentagon budget that accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending. US Special Forces under Obama operate in 134 countries, nearly double the number under George W. Bush.

“Where Might Makes Right”

For good measure, the US President at the UN yesterday warned nuclear Russia that it “would pay for its bullying of Ukraine” (New York Times). Obama denounced Moscow for holding “a view of the world where might makes right.”

Never mind that the West, led by the US, has provoked the dangerous “new Cold War” crisis in Eastern Europe. It has done so by violating early pledges that NATO would not expand eastward and by making bids to recruit new NATO members among former members of the Warsaw Pact and former provinces of the former Soviet Union. It seems almost redundant to add here that no nation on Earth exhibits a stronger commitment to the notion that “might makes right” than the US, with its giant global Empire and its astonishing death toll.

You’ve Got to Hand it To Him

A final insult to honesty at the UN came when Obama claimed that he and the US were in the vanguard of the global struggle against climate change – as if his administration has not greenlighted escalated oil drilling and fracking in the name of so-called national energy independence. As if the US under Obama hasn’t done everything it could to undermine international effort to develop and enforce binding global carbon emission reductions.

Like I’ve always said about Obama, you’ve really got to hand it to him: he’s sure got Orwellian chutzpah.

Paul Street can be reached at paul.street99@gmail.com

“We Own the World”

27/09/14 0 COMMENTS

Originally published on TeleSur English, September 20, 2014.

A “Routine” U.S. Coast Guard “Mission” in “the Gulf”

Just when I thought the news couldn’t get any stranger three weeks ago, I saw the following Associated Press (AP) headline on Yahoo News: “U.S. Coast Guard Fires on Iranian Boat in Gulf.”

The Coast Guard? My initial reaction was naïve. “What,” I thought, “is the Iranian Navy doing in the Gulf of Mexico?”

Then I caught myself, realizing that the “gulf” in the story had to be the Persian Gulf, more than 5000 miles from the eastern coast of the U.S.

Of course.  On Wednesday, August 27, 2014, the AP reported, U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat Monomoy fired “in self-defense” on an Iranian dhow in the Persian Gulf.

A dhow is not a military vessel.  “Dhows,” the AP reported, “are traditional wooden boats common to the region that are typically used for trade.”

The Pentagon claimed that someone on the dhow had aimed a weapon at the Monomoy while the Coast Guard ship was performing “a routine maritime mission” in “the Gulf”

The Persian Gulf, that is.

“Off the Coast of China, That is”

Imagine, if you will, the response in Washington and the U.S. media if a Russian or Chinese military vessel of any kind, much less a Russian or Chinese “coast guard” ship, were on “a routine maritime mission” off any U.S. coast.  No shots would be required to spark a firestorm of U.S. rage at the affront to (U.S. of) “American sovereignty.”

I am reminded of something Noam Chomsky wrote two years ago, commenting on U.S. plans (subsequently carried out) to conduct major naval exercises just off China’s coast:

“There is …concern [in Washington] about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China’s military budget is approaching ‘one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,’ a fraction of the U.S. military budget…China’s expansion of military forces might ‘deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast,’ the New York Times added.”

“Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that the U.S. should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China’s lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China’s coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing.”

“In contrast, the West understands that such U.S. operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that ‘China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa.’ That is indeed a provocation — unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world” (emphasis added).

The hypocritical “double-standard” is self-evident. Beneath the contradiction lay the consistent single-standard U.S.-imperial maxim: “we own the world.”

Oil, Imperially Understood

What, you might ask, are U.S. military ships of any kind (much less “coast guard” cutters) doing in the Persian Gulf, nestled above the Indian Ocean? It’s about fossil fuels. The Persian Gulf basin is home to roughly two-thirds of the planet’s known petroleum reserves. The gulf borders six nations among the world’s top eleven oil producers – Saudi Arabia (#2), Iran (4), Iraq (7), United Arab Emirates (8), and Kuwait (11).  The region’s status as the world’s energy heartland has long given the region utmost strategic significance to U.S. imperial planners.  According to the 1980 U.S. Carter Doctrine, the regular and large-scale shipment of Persian Gulf oil is “a vital interest of the United States.” Arguing that this critical “national interest” was endangered by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (undertaken in December of 1979) and the Iranian Revolution, U.S. President Jimmy Carter told Congress that the U.S. would employ “any means necessary, including military force,” to keep Persian Gulf petroleum flowing.

But it’s about more than keeping the oil and gas coming to the U.S. Washington has long paid rapt attention to the Persian Gulf because of U.S. planners’ desire to control other rich nations.  In 1945, as the U.S. was replacing the United Kingdom as the leading imperial power in the Middle East, the U.S. State Department noted that the region’s unmatched oil reserves were a “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in history.” That “prize” has long been understood by U.S. planners to be “a lever of ‘unilateral world domination,’” giving its master “veto power” over other industrial states and “funneling enormous wealth to the U.S. in numerous ways.”  U.S. policymakers have long prized domination of Middle Eastern oil as a bargaining chip with more oil-dependent regions like Western Europe and East Asia, the leading challengers to U.S. economic power.

Owning the oil-rich Middle East is about owning the world. And that helps U.S. explain why Washington’s obsession with the region survives the United States’ claim to be approaching “national energy independence” (an admittedly meaningless phrase) and the nation’s emergence last June as (according to the International Energy Agency) “the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas liquids.”

Blowback

When Carter proclaimed his doctrine, the U.S. had relatively few forces in around the Persian Gulf. By February 1998, however, seven years after the one-sided imperial slaughter of Iraqis known in U.S. History texts as “The First Persian Gulf War,” and seven years into U.S.-led “economic sanctions” that killed at least half a million Iraqi children, the Pentagon had installed 35,000 military personnel in the Persian Gulf region.  U.S. soldiers, Marines, and airmen stood ready for action in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Diego Garcia, and Turkey. The deployment included more than 300 combat aircraft and 30 ships, including two giant aircraft carriers – the USS George Washington (with a crew of 5,500) and USS Independence (5,000).

Along with Washington’s massacre and murder of Iraqis and the United States’ long and transparently petro-imperial history of arming, funding, and otherwise supporting brutal and absolutist Middle East regimes and the racist anti-Arab/anti-Muslim occupation and apartheid state of Israel, this U.S. military presence in close proximity to Muslim holy sites helped explain the al Qaeda attacks of September 2001. Like earlier al-Qaeda actions, 9/11 was clearly and explicitly directed at Washington’s provocative imperial foothold in the region. It was a classic case of what CIA analysts had already identified forty-seven years before as imperial “blowback.”

The jetliner attacks were used by Washington as a pretext for the launching of a long and deadly U.S. jihad on the Muslim world.  Washington’s brazen post-9/11 attempt to create an American caliphate in the Middle East included the arch-criminal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, an action that was among other things an attempt to extend U.S. global hegemony by deepening Washington’s grip on the global oil spigot.

The madness continues. An unlucky thirteen years later, the U.S. has assembled a massive force of eight ships and more than 100 aircraft in the Persian Gulf for an air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, itself a form of post-9/11 blowback. Obama addressed the nation last week, announcing his intention to bomb, missile- and drone-assault both Iraq and Syria to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS.

Our Head-Choppers (Good) and Theirs (Bad)

The President is undertaking his escalation with majority support from a U.S. public nudged out of its opposition to further war by videos showing ISIS beheading two U.S. journalists somewhere in the Middle East.  It matters not that Washington threatened the parents of one of the killed journalists (James Foley) with prosecution if they tried to raise money to purchase his life.  It matters not that one of Washington’s key allies in the war on ISIS – Saudi Arabia (possibly the most reactionary government on Earth) – is a nation where execution by public beheading is a frequently carried out state policy.

The Obama administration claimed that the killing of Foley (a killing whose possible prevention the administration obstructed) was ISIS’s first “terrorist attack against our country.”  The claim might seem odd since the murder took place thousands of miles away from U.S. soil, but the world must always be reminded that Uncle Sam owns it.

Yes, it’s true: that Washington’s “good friend” Saudi Arabia severs heads with impunity; that Washington’s ally Israel recurrently blows hundreds of Palestinian children to bits with self-righteous gusto; and that Washington’s terrorist attacks on the Middle East have killed, maimed, and displaced millions across the region. But so what?  As George H.W. Bush proclaimed in the wake of the U.S. “turkey shoot” called Operation Desert Storm, “What we say goes.”  There can be no troubling questions for the world’s leading Mafia don.

As usual, it is largely about petroleum, As the incisive U.S. Left commentator Glen Ford notes, ISIS threatens to “consume the kings, Emirs and Sultans the U.S. depends on to keep the Empire’s oil safe” The U.S. prefers to dominate the region through proxies (including Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates, and Israel) and divide-and-rule. “The problem is,” Ford notes, “the Pentagon’s proxies are evaporating, in flight, or – in the case of Arab Iraq – growing ever more dependent on Iran and (who would have predicted it?) Russia, which is assisting in reconstituting the Iraqi air force.”

A Dangerous Illusion

“But,” you might still ask, returning to my opening incident, “the Coast Guard?” It turns out the U.S. Coast Guard (USGC) is more than a “U.S. coast guard.”  According to the USCG’s mission statement three weeks ago:  “For over two centuries the U.S. Coast Guard has safeguarded our Nation’s maritime interests in the heartland, in the ports, at sea, and around the globe” (emphasis added). (Follow this link for a detailed history of the USCG’s involvement in the “first Persian Gulf War.”)

It makes sense when you think about it.  The United States is the first nation in the world to be literally born as empire – a self-described “infant empire” and “empire of liberty” from the very beginning. Emerging after WWII as world history’s first truly global superpower and emboldened by the collapse of the Soviet deterrent in the early 1990s, its imperial planners see the Black Sea (where U.S. warships currently provoke nuclear Russia), the South China Sea, the Persian Gulf and…name the international water as all part of the U.S. coast at the end of the day.

That’s how it is when you think you own the world.  Perhaps the U.S. Coast Guard should join with NASA to take up positions in outer space.

Such global chutzpah is not without risk. As the late U.S. historian and foreign policy critic Gabriel Kolko reminded us more than once, Washington planners’ conceited belief that they can neatly manage the world’s affairs in U.S. and world interests from the banks of the Potomac has always been a great and dangerous illusion, with disastrous consequences at home and abroad. “What we say goes” is a lethal fantasy, full of hazard for (United States-of-) Americans themselves.  Those who think and act like they possess the planet must always be on the watch for those eager to give them their comeuppance.  Meanwhile Mother Earth is giving Homo sapiens no small just deserts for its U.S.-led petro-capitalist over-exploitation of her fossil fuels, so concentrated in the Middle East: an epic deterioration in the quality of life and the species’ life chances in coming years.

Paul Street’s latest book, just released, is They Rule: the 1% v. Democracy.

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