Posts by KofasJon:

    Public Policy: Integration or Catalyst to Institutional Oppression?

    July 31st, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    Abstract

    In this brief essay, I examine how public policy as a commodity under a business model, in which the state operating in accordance with neoliberal policies has evolved toward a more authoritarian orientation in the early 21st century. Whether in developing countries with high levels of public and private sector corruption, or in the US, the manner by which public policy has legitimized social oppression with remarkable ease reflects the ubiquitous hegemonic culture. The media and mainstream institutions have convinced public opinion to accept oppression which public policy creates and perpetuates as the norm, categorically rejecting the assertion that the institutional structure determines society’s fate. The promise of public policy is to achieve social integration, but the result for an increasingly larger percentage of the population is institutional oppression. Whereas the theoretical goal of public policy is to integrate the public into the mainstream while harmonizing social relations, in practice it is a catalyst to social division and hierarchy in society.

    Introduction                          

    “Public policy” refers to government carrying out a set of policies on domestic and foreign affairs on behalf of the public to promote and safeguard its interests and perpetuate its welfare as stipulated in the social contract. This is only theoretically true and no government would deny doing otherwise in carrying out policy. Governments and their apologists narrowly define both the term “public” and “policy” in accordance with specific class interests they promote.

    When English philosopher and father of Western liberal political philosophy John Locke argued that government must serve “the people” he was in fact referring to people who are property owners (assets in all forms); the greater the capital (assets) the greater the voice they would have in the political arena because it was assumed capital makes people “responsible” in society. According to Locke, (Two Treatises on Government, 1689) public policy must be made by a strong legislative branch dominated by elected officials meeting property qualifications as do those voting for them. Public policy is the domain of capitalists because they have a stake in society thus there is a correlation between wealth and public policy because the justification for the creation of civil society is to protect property which includes life for those who own no assets.

    From education and healthcare, from living standards and freedoms ranging from abortion rights to civil rights, public policy and its distortion and manipulation in its implementation stage, or its absence when needed to further public welfare impacts peoples’ lives more than they realize. Public policy reflects the class structure, traditions, a country’s history and external influences, all presented to the public as the embodiment of public welfare. The role of the state has been to guide the course of the market economy and act as an arbiter using regulatory policy, but also fiscal, monetary, trade and investment policies as levers at its disposal.

    The contradiction between the promise of public policy articulated as “objective” and “democratic” intended to improve the lives of all people calls into question not only its legitimacy but the role of the state as a force which is acting on behalf of the capitalist class to maintain unequal income distribution. (Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere) In the early 21st century, the very low level of confidence people have in their elected representatives and low level of voter participation in many countries, among them the US, is a reflection in the level of public confidence in policies that elected officials carve out for society and the realization that the state is a catalyst for perpetuating and advancing class interests.

    While some people question the legitimacy of public policy precisely because it is class-based, many entertain illusions on a wide scale in accepting its legitimacy as “objective” despite the fact that it is the legal mechanism of institutional oppression. The social safety net (welfare policies from social security to unemployment benefits), which emerged during the Second Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century and accelerated in some countries during and after the Great Depression of the 1930s, is empirical proof that public policy at its core caters to capital and only when liberal bourgeois democracy is threatened with social upheaval are there concessions to placate and co-opt the working class.

    Apologists of capitalism defend public policy that perpetuates and legitimizes oppression, arguing that social inequality is natural, or the fault of the individual or even a virtue with which society is blessed! The preponderance of empirical evidence regarding social inequality perpetuated by public policy cannot be glossed over by ideological justifications, political rhetoric or by directing the masses to seek salvation in the afterlife because this life is only temporary and sinful.

    In the late 18th century, French thinker Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes (What is the Third Estate?) and the American Federalists (John Jay. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and the Federalist Papers) analyzed the conditions of what constitutes legitimacy in a modern constitutional society placing juridical perimeters on unfettered political authority, asserting basic rights for citizens. In post-Revolutionary France and US – the Atlantic democracies that inspired other social revolutions and national independence movements – the capitalist class was the intended beneficiary of constituent power, not the entire population as those who led the revolutions and their apologists claimed in an effort to forge a broad popular consensus.

    As the foundation for the legitimacy in an open society, informed consent and policy formation project the image of an all-inclusive integrative process as a goal of the social contract. In practice, however, manipulated consent and policy formation are presented to the public as collective goals for the welfare of society (a form of corporatism that the state and capital promote) when the goal is to serve narrow interests rather than society as a whole. This is not to suggest that there are no differences between overtly corporatist regimes such as Portugal under Antonio Salazar (1932-1968) or Spain under Francisco Franco (1939-1975), both dictators for life, and the neo-corporatist elected regimes of Japan and South Korea, or the US that has elements of neo-corporatism. However, the chasm between the theory promising integration and reality of social division exposes the naked truth behind the mask of consent theory and public policy as nothing more than tools of social conformity.

    Given the political trend toward authoritarianism operating under oligarchic rule behind the façade of democratic regimes, there is a rise of rightwing populism across the Western World reflecting tensions of intense competition for capital accumulation between and within the core capitalist countries. This is more evident in the early 21stcentury than it has been since the interwar era during the rise of Fascism when capitalism was also experiencing a crisis after the First World War and when the Great Powers were scrambling to rebuild their economies.

    Headed toward the legitimacy of authoritarianism under the thin veil of an open society where the catalyst for conformity has long been external enemies, Western liberal democracies mired in contradictions of the political economy that exacerbates divisions are operating in practice as authoritarian regimes buttressing the market economy through fiscal policy, corporate subsidies, government loan guarantees, and bailouts. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 afforded greater legitimacy to the corporate welfare state under authoritarianism as an extension of traditional conservatism both in the US and around the world.

    Even by the standards of bourgeois institutions such as the UK-based “Intelligence nit” of the Economistmagazine, conducting quantitative and analytical studies of democracies around the world, there has been a reduction of “full democracies” from 20 to 19 in 2016, representing a mere 4.5% of the world’s population. Interestingly, the US is among the flawed democracies” group ranking just below Japan and slightly above Costa Rica and Botswana. When social justice is either a peripheral issue or not even on the radar screen of a country’s public policy, it is difficult for the apologists to distract the public by pointing to foreign and domestic enemies of democracy that the system itself undercuts.

    https://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=DemocracyIndex2016

    Public Policy in Core (Patron) and Periphery (Client) States

    Articulated by a liberal ideology, the dynamics of public policy include the economic system, social structure and cultural influences ranging from religious to secular in the milieu of each country’s history and traditions. The Western World’s liberal ideological foundations rest in the liberal political philosophy of John Locke. Influences from a variety of 18th century thinkers, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and Adam Smith to David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill in the 19th century among many others including from Socialists have also played a role in shaping public policy. The contradictions or lack of coherence in public policy as it evolved owing to changes in society is largely the result of lack of political consensus on achieving the common goal of strengthening the social order under capitalism under inherent pressures for capital accumulation on a world scale with class struggle at the core of the system as the lower classes strive for upward mobility amid downward pressures from capitalism.

    From the English Revolution of 1689 to the American (1776) and French (1789) Revolutions, political developments marked the triumph of the capitalist class as dominant in the political arena seeking to foster public policy to preserve and strengthen its social status that it identified with the ‘national interest’ as the elites define it. As Western institutions evolved to reflect the dominance of the capitalist class, the political elites sought to harmonize social relations by conducting public policy that theoretically afforded the “opportunity” for upward social mobility to the expanding middle class which industrialization created; this even as slavery was a widespread institution and serfdom persisted in Russia until 1861. Differentiating itself from the aristocratic caste system (minimal mobility) that existed under the old regime of monarchical rule, the bourgeoisie in control of the state offered social mobility and “equality of opportunity” which itself became deceptively identified with social equality despite the highly stratified class-based society.

    Rapid changes in industrial capitalism and Western colonial expansion as a means of securing global markets and raw materials to sustain economic growth and military power resulted in social changes with a rising lower middle class and working class demanding political integration into the institutional mainstream through public policy that reflected their interests. This was often manifested in social uprisings, as was the case with the revolutions of 1848 across continental Europe, and several revolts at the end of the 19th–to-early 20th century in Eurasia, Asia and Africa directed against imperialist powers and the comprador bourgeoisie (national capitalists whose fortunes are linked to foreign business interests), which determined public policy for the colonies, semi-colonies, and dependent countries.

    At the core of world capitalism, northwest Europe eventually joined by the US and Japan, adopted paternalistic attitudes toward the colonies, semi-colonies and dependent territories, creating ideological justifications based on superiority of the colonizer vs. innate inferiority of the colonized. Given these ideologies, which included Social Darwinism among others, colonizers arrogantly assumed they were in the preeminent position to determine public policy for the inferior and backward invariably non-white people they had subjugated. This was as much the case of English or French colonies, as it was the case of the US relationship with the Philippines and Cuba after the Spanish-American War.

    Despite the increasingly multi-polar structure of the core capitalist countries with the rise of China in the early 21stcentury, the legacy of 19th century imperialism is felt across the globe to this day under globalization. This much is evident in the integration policies of northwest European powers and the US using NATO to enforce and expand integration geographically as far as possible after the collapse of the Soviet Union, even if it entailed perpetuating the old Cold War while launching a global war on jihadist terror. Carrying the imprint of militarism, public policy reflected as much not just in the US and the core countries, but also in the periphery.

    Economically and militarily integrated with the US, northwest Europe, and Japan, developing countries subordinate policies to the patron state’s wishes on which they depend in every domain from trade and labor relations to foreign and defense policies. As an integral part of the patron-client model relationship between the Great Powers and periphery (client) states, policy-making in the client state is largely an extension of the patron state intended to accommodate the latter in an unequal relationship in everything from terms of trade to defense issues. This is as much the case with the US and its Western Hemisphere client states as it is with Germany and most of the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

    In comparison to the era of European colonial expansion from the 15 to the 19th century, public policy became more complex after WWII because international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) use stabilization loans to impose policy at all levels on periphery countries. Similarly, the World Bank uses development loans while the WTO imposes terms of trade rules on its members. Moreover, the G-20 members essentially make policy decisions that impact the entire world but intended to benefit large capitalist interests in core countries. Whether in foreign affairs, defense, infrastructural development, fiscal policy or health care policy the people exert public policy influence are corporate executives and their lobbyists, not ordinary working and middle class people who simply validate the choice they are presented with at the ballot box during elections.

    Public policy is also compromised by the level of official and private sector corruption which varies from very high in some African and Latin American nations to relatively low in the Scandinavian region. In some cases, including Russia many of the former Soviet republics, Indonesia, Philippines and Sub-Saharan African countries the informal economy accounts for at least one-third of GDP and up to half, if we include the illegal activities of narcotics trafficking. Globally, it is estimated that about 15-25% of GDP is part of the subterranean economy, while at least 7% of US GDP or just under $1 trillion is attributed to the underground economy. Large scale corruption can only be carried out by large public and private sector actors; that is to say, by multinational banks and corporations and by states providing protection to such institutions.

    The very nature of corruption beyond the necessities of the informal economy in many developing nations is a deviation from public policy. Nevertheless, the nexus of private-public sector corruption only strengthens elite interests in whose control capital rests. The hundreds of billions of dollars in fines that governments have imposed on banks and financial institutions from 2007 until 2017 and the revelations of money laundering operations not just in Panama and Cyprus, but even in the US and Germany with large financial institutions (Deutsche Bank as a prime example) involved implicate political and business elites. While it is difficult to explain and justify why such deviations from “rationalized capitalism” take place if public policy is effectively working for all people, the political and economic elites steadfastly defend the system on the basis of the “bad apples” theory and the fact that some such “bad apples” are caught proving the system works.

    Legitimizing Oppression through Public Policy

    Because of the glaring contradiction in what the existing social order promises and what it delivers, public policy is the catalyst to legitimizing oppression and fostering authoritarianism under the guise of liberal democracy which provides equality of “opportunity” while exacerbating social inequality. This has been the case not just in the US but globally with varying levels of legitimized oppression, depending on the type of regime and specific government in power. The relatively homogenized nature of public policy in so far as it pertains to capital and labor reflects the integrative nature of the capitalist economy.

    Whether in an advanced capitalist country or an underdeveloped one, in the highly integrated capitalist economy everything is commoditized, including human beings. Public policy falls in the domain of commodity intended to promote market sectors either through enacted legislative measures or by corrupt means beyond legal perimeters that nevertheless project the appearance of legality. The state determines legality while mainstream public and private institutions determine what constitutes legitimacy. Recognizing that policy transcends the social contract because of the manner it is carried out in practice, the result is legitimization of oppression because public policy determines societal norms that neither the elites and in many cases the oppressed question.

    As Franz Fanon noted observing Algerians under French colonial rule, the oppressed internalize institutional oppression and blame themselves for any calamities they suffer, in many instances wishing to emulate their oppressors. Not just in colonial times when white colonizers tried to present institutionalized racism as a ‘science’, but even in the early 21st century working and middle class people under austerity measures, which are intended to strengthen large corporate interests and the banks, blame themselves for their minor infractions from the system’s mainstream while excusing the system that gave rise to distortions and disequilibrium in the economy. They readily accept capitalist paternalism and assume that even greater loyalty and conformity would yield fruits of the system. To this day, the political and business elites, the media and various academic experts present historic arguments justifying systemic exploitation resulting in social division and alienation as ‘natural’. http://www.frantzfanoninternational.org/Fanon-and-the-Epidemiology-of-Oppression

    The hegemonic culture uses not just the media but all means at its disposal including the educational system and religious institutions to inculcate conformity to the status quo into the minds of people. Whether in the domain of public health, labor market or any other sector, if people suffer calamities it is the fault of the individual not the market system that the political and social elites present as “free” when in reality it is very much buttressed by the state and would collapse if the state withdrew its support mechanisms in everything from fiscal and monetary policy to trade and labor policy. This is the triumph of manipulated consent rather than informed consent on which the political class justifies policy formation it presents as objective as though it was handed down on sacred tablets by God.

    Because institutionalized social oppression is legitimized and the dissident becomes the villain in the eyes of the law, public policy cannot possibly be at fault for victimizing the marginalized poor because it carries the institutional stamp of legitimacy. In their struggle for power, competing bourgeois politicians and political parties blame each other as does the media and business critics do the same, but rarely is there a critical assessment of the role of the capitalist system that the political and social elites hold in reverence.

    The goal is to convince society that no matter the level of exploitation by the state-supported private sector, the political economy must remain above criticism; there must never be any discussion of system social change. Therein rests the seed of social oppression legitimized by public policy and the elites propagating for it.  If there is a flaw in society, the elites and the media attribute it to free will and individual choice as guiding principles in peoples’ lives not because of a decadent institutional structure. Hence, it is hardly a surprise that the same liberal elites theoretically espousing liberal democracy promote authoritarianism to maintain the status quo while many among the middle class and even workers entertain the illusion that they are “free” and live in a “democracy”.

    Public Policy under Trump’s Rightwing Populism

    Long before Donald Trump took office under a cloud of controversy regarding allegations of Russian interference in the presidential election, there were numerous articles and books debating whether the US was authoritarian, and to what degree in comparison with similar regimes. American society was founded by wealthy slave-owning colonists who framed a constitution on which public policy is based to further bourgeois interests. Trump emerged from the existing framework of American business and political elites that he flamboyantly represents. Hardly an aberration as his opponents portray him because his flamboyant and often crude style in articulating policy, Trump reflects not only the American business elites but a segment of society as the electoral results indicated.

    Reflecting not just ideology, but strategy intended to make unpopular policymaking easier, Trump and Republican politicians have cultivated informal ties with ultra rightwing groups and individuals as part of a strategy to forge political alliances for a wider popular base in order to secure power and further redistribute wealth from entitlement and social programs to the wealthiest Americans, while bolstering defense. Trump’s not so veiled references of Fascist and racist rhetoric is unbecoming of bourgeois politicians who claim to represent a pluralistic society, preferring to conceal public policy intended to strengthen capital behind traditional conservative or liberal rhetoric with public policy results amounting to roughly the same thing.

    The results of public policy affecting living standards are hardly different between centrist and conservative politicians as much in the US as in the Western World. Given this reality, a rightwing populist politician like Trump has afforded greater legitimacy to authoritarianism by appealing to prejudices about ethnic and religious minorities and women. Frustrated with liberal elitism marginalizing the conservative white middle and working class, and willing to equate populist rhetoric with public policy favoring the masses when nothing could be farther from the truth, a frustrated and dispirited segment of the population embraced the authoritarian leader who projected strength, a trait some among the masses hope it would trickle down to improve their lives or at least make them feel that they are part of something more powerful than themselves.

    This inevitable development arises from the crisis of liberalism where socioeconomic polarization precedes political polarization and the prospects for downward social mobility are more realistic than for upward mobility. The phenomenon of rightwing populism is just as true in Europe struggling with downward socioeconomic mobility and unemployment rate double that of the US. The more dangerous form of authoritarianism is not that of French neo-Fascist politician Marine Le Pen who is open about her platform, but of the creeping authoritarianism concealed behind neoliberal and austerity policies presented as ‘democratic’.

    If public policy under “liberal”, in point of fact neo-liberal, governments have only widened the rich-poor gap and accounted for deteriorating conditions not just for workers but the middle class as well, then one solution within the capitalist system is to move toward authoritarianism and embrace cult of personality leaders promising the moon even if they never deliver it. The other option vehemently opposed by the political and economic elites is to embrace Keynesian policies that would have a negative short-term impact on capital accumulation but strengthen and rationalize capitalism under a pluralistic society already operating under an oligarchic system longer term. Leaning heavily toward neoliberalism and globalization and against populism, the corporate media makes sure to propagate in favor of populist authoritarian politicians, stigmatizing Keynesian politicians as Socialists or Communists. Regardless of steadily declining living standards, people ideologically conditioned to fear not just Socialism but anything Keynesian which Roosevelt made popular in the 1930s, turn to the right politically because the hegemonic culture has conditioned them to accept authoritarianism more readily than democracy.

    Public policy manifests itself in declining living standards forcing a record 44 million Americans or about 28% of the active labor force, to have a side job while just 20 billionaires own more wealth than the bottom half of the population. A study in 2014 examining various empirical aspects of society and concluded the US was an oligarchy because public policy carried out was tilted heavily toward the rich. “A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time,” they write, “while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.  http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746

    In charge of a cabinet composed of billionaires and generals living in the glory of Pax Americana weaker because of China global role, Trump’s refusal to place all of his assets into a blind trust while using his position to enrich his family has raised a debate about the role of public policy as a marketable commodity for sale to the highest bidder. Not just Saudi Arabia, the major financing source for jihadist terrorism since the 1980s, buying billions in US defense equipment only to destabilize the Middle East and maintain authoritarian regimes in power, but other governments have no illusions that the US economic nationalism is a cry for reducing the chronic balance of payments deficit by having surplus countries spend more in the US. The Saudi purchase of US weapons, in effect purchase of US foreign policy in the Middle East, provides but one of many illustration of public policy as a commodity.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/donald-trump-americas-ultimate-crony-capitalist

    In the process of commoditizing public policy, the personal fortunes of those in the administration become more favorable as a result of trade and investment policies no different than in many other countries, especially developing ones. Corporate welfare that transfers income from the lower classes to corporations comes with a price tag in the form of political contributions, but also rewards in the form of influence for securing contracts for well-connected companies. Given such a description, one would assume that this is how public is carried out in Russia and Kazakhstan or in Egypt and Indonesia, anywhere in the developing world but in America.

    https://mises.org/library/crony-capitalism-america

    The US has similar characteristics with authoritarian Third World regimes where crony capitalism thrives and public policy is but an instrument to further those within the inner political and socioeconomic circle. It is true that the constitutional and political foundations of public policy in a pluralistic society differ considerably from the manner public policy is conducted in an authoritarian society. Nevertheless, the lines have become increasingly blurred in so far as the results are concerned affecting peoples’ lives, and even billionaires and corporate executives admit as much. With 80% of the US population burdened with debt, and a steady downward socioeconomic mobility since the early 1980s, combined with curtailed civil rights and diminished commitment to social justice, the US has been assuming greater characteristics of a developing nation and it is the reason that the Economist Group ranks it a ‘flawed democracy’.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-developing-nation-regressing-economy-poverty-donald-trump-mit-economist-peter-temin-a7694726.html

    Interestingly, American political, business and social elites want the public to believe that public policy as a marketable commodity characterizes only Third World nations in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, or corrupt regimes in Russia and former Soviet republics. The deeply ingrained ideology of “American Exceptionalism” accounts for the pervasive superiority complex in American society – the US is different, unique and exceptional carrying out a mandate of greatness for a higher purpose from Divine Providence. Objective metrics on the economy, social programs, education, health, poverty rates, treatment of minorities, political system, among 60 other indicators that the Economist Group analyzed run contrary to widely-held illusions of identity and point to a society that has some common characteristics with Third World countries.

    Hardly unusual for politicians to use their office for private gain, at least once out of office, some have become multimillionaires like Bill Clinton providing insider influence through the respectability of the Clinton Foundation that doubles as a charitable organization and actually does some good work for those outside the mainstream of society. With Trump’s election, not just stylistics like a video where the president is wrestling a man with a superimposed effigy of the CNN news logo, but the use of the office as a tool for private gain and using public policy as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder are hardly different tools from what any Third World dictator would employ. With very divisive rhetoric and policies that strike at the heart of pluralism, Trump seems to have brought authoritarianism out into the open, dropping all pretenses and showing the real character of American society that would embarrass previous presidents. Public policy for sale is only one of the Third World characteristics of America concealed behind the thin veil of ‘liberal democratic’ and pro-business rhetoric that the media and social elites employ as a daily mantra.

    Public Policy as a Commodity

    In 193 A.D., the Roman Empire’s Praetorian Guard offered the throne to the highest bidder, Didius Julianus, a very wealthy patrician. Julianus bought the throne and ruled for about nine weeks before a civil war erupted and ended Julianus’ reign. The offer of the throne to the highest bidder coincided with structural economic problems and marked the beginning of the long decline of the Western (Latin-speaking) part of the Empire that ultimately collapsed in the fifth century after successive Barbarian invasions. If one focuses on personalities and procedural aspects of what took place in Rome in 193, it is easy to overlook the larger issue of very serious structural problems. Similarly, if we focus on the cult of personality (Trump) and daily minutia of individual scandals and process, it is easy to see the larger issue that these are symptoms of American decline.

    Whereas Julianus paid the Praetorian Guard for the privilege of governing the Roman Empire, modern elections are more sophisticated in concealing the commodity aspect of political leadership. Financing sources for modern political campaigns and the inordinate influence of corporate lobbies are not nearly as crude as the Praetorian Guard openly offering the highest public office for a price to the highest bidder. Whether in ancient Rome or modern America and other nations for that matter, public policy under the pretense of public consent and legitimacy is not carried out with the social contract in mind as stipulated in the Constitution. Rather it reflects the very narrow elite interests that make political contributions to retain their privileged status in society. When billionaires invest millions either directly, through political action committees, lobbying firms, or other organizations, they are investing for a return on their capital.

    Not that Europe, South Korea, Japan, South Africa or the rest of the world is much different than the US regarding the manner that public policy is carried out and its dynamics. However, in the US, an imperial power with a global military and economic presence, politicians, the media, businesses and most academics make a point of praising their institutions as “democratic” and present public policy as an expression of the public’s will when they know better than anyone that public policy is a marketable commodity intended to promote certain sectors and companies. This has been the case from the era of mercantile capitalism when Absolute monarchs issued monopoly rights for commodities and trade routes until the present when the state uses much more subtle policy mechanisms – government guaranteed loans, corporate subsidies and fiscal policy – to manipulate and manage the economy.

    In certain cases, the goal of public policy as an appendage of the private sector is part of a larger strategy to achieve inter-sector balance and prevent one sector or an oligopolistic one from undermining the entire economy as was the case of the railroads in late 19th century US when the Progressive Era began. A regulatory regime as envisioned in the late 19th century under the Progressive presidents (T. Roosevelt, W. H. Taft, and W. Wilson, 1900-1920) was intended to harmonize capitalist interests and minimize disequilibrium resulting from predatory capitalism that would cause the sort of deep recession that took place in the 1890s. When the Great Depression of the 1930s hit and completely disabled the private sector’s ability from serving society’s needs, the New Deal state became even more interventionist to hasten the health of the economy through public stimulus until the private sector became sufficiently healthy as to permit the state’s retreat once Harry Truman took over in 1945.

    Beginning with Truman in the early Cold War, public policy was linked to geopolitical goals. The US deliberately sustained trade deficits to strengthen capitalism in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Western Europe as part of military alliances. Reflected in domestic policies of conformity and conservatism, Cold War policies created a backlash among those elements that viewed society as authoritarian and racist rather than democratic. Social conflicts manifested themselves in identity movements, from civil rights to gender equality to religious rights, some of which public policy would address in piecemeal manner, sidelining social justice as an all-encompassing issue. Democrat and Republican politicians embraced identity politics as the basis for public policy, but only as long as those groups embraced the goals of capitalism and its institutions. Both political parties and the media present identity politics as evidence of pluralism and democracy when in fact they are another distraction from the class struggle and an obstacle to social justice.

    Conclusion

    Under capitalism, public policy reflects the value system based on materialism, hedonism, atomism, and a marked absence of communitarian values or empathy for humanity as a collective community. As it promotes self-indulgence and identity with material possessions, public policy finds expression in the ubiquitous commercial popular culture. All mainstream institutions including the mass media, TV, and cinema subordinate social justice to individual material success as the ideal for all to achieve. This entails alienation not only of the social groups on the periphery of the institutional mainstream that are structurally locked out, but even of those within it that can never satisfy the hedonistic vortex which separates them from the other and from the collective society.

    The existential emptiness that Jean-Paul Sartre discusses in Being and Nothingness is but a bourgeois realization of existing completely alone without a sense of a collective purpose in the age of secularism; of acting as a means to establish an identity against the background of a materialistic society where institutions encourage and reward atomism a rather than social integration and public welfare. For a segment of society, this existential alienation leads to authoritarianism that only further encourages social exclusion and elitism, but fulfills the existential void as the individual identifies with something greater than himself that projects power.

    Too preoccupied with the daily grind of survival to be concerned with bourgeois existential alienation, workers face a dilemma of whether an authoritarian regime demanding greater conformity is able to deliver a higher living standard than a liberal one guaranteeing lifestyle choices but not much else. Beyond the question of the bourgeois “maximization principle” leading to happiness as it promises or creates more problems and greater unhappiness in society, there is the issue of public policy as a vehicle for social mobility and social justice. (Hilke Brockmann and Jan Delhey, eds. Human Happiness and the Pursuit of Maximization: Is More Always Better? (2013)

    In a public opinion poll with the ranking of countries with the most negative emotions about their lives, Iraq ranked at the top in 2013, followed by Iran, Egypt, Greece, and Syria, while African countries rank among the lowest in the world. In fact the top ten “least happy nations” have political regimes that are not tolerant of diversity as in the case of Middle East countries, or they face monetary austerity as in the case of Greece and Cyprus where rapid downward social mobility is only one result of externally-imposed public policy. OECD surveys dealing with the issue of “life satisfaction”, which is actually a better method of measuring responses than using the term “happy”, southern and eastern European countries under austerity policies (economic contraction) rank the lowest – all suffering from externally-imposed policies. Northwest Europe, where national sovereignty entails greater autonomy in policy-making, ranks highest.

    While no one is surprised about the rankings of Africa, Middle East, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, one may be surprised that the US ranks at about the same level as Mexico in similar surveys. That the US demonstrates characteristic similar to Third World countries ought to alarm its elites and policymakers especially since all major mainstream institutions (IMF, World Bank, OECD) are predicting continued downward social mobility for the US as China claims greater global market share in the 21st century.

    As long as the corporate media and politicians point to evidence of broader national progress in GDP statistics and the stock market in which a small percentage of the population is invested shows advances, the general population is willing to postpone a better life for the present in exchange for a better future because “trickle-down economics” may eventually drench the masses from above like manna from Heaven. Capitalism promises the “possibility of riches” for those who conform and embrace the system and people dream and aspire to something better for the future. Therefore, they suspend disbelief of their own realities as they identify with something larger than themselves although they are on the periphery of the mainstream. They identify with the millionaire and billionaire, aspiring to become him or at least hoping for salvation through him, just as those with religious faith believe in salvation in the afterlife.

    Through the media, the political and socioeconomic elites keep people perpetually immersed in the illusion of a seemingly ‘objective’ public is reality that will trickle down. Meanwhile, governments offer increasingly militaristic and police-state solutions to enforce conformity at home and keep client states in line abroad. The state delivers the message that the status quo is best suited for society and that any change would be detrimental, even if the majority of the people view existing public policy resulting in further social disintegration from the mainstream and a departure from bourgeois democracy.

    As geographic and sociopolitical polarization which reflects the growing socioeconomic chasm continues to widen and more people are left in the periphery of the mainstream, authoritarianism will become more entrenched in the institutional structure; even as some aspects of pluralism remain with regard to cultural and lifestyle diversity issues. The mass media, billionaire-funded think tanks, the political and social elites will intensify their efforts to present authoritarianism as ‘democracy’, and they demand that people must embrace it there is no better alternative, least of all systemic change to redefine the terms of the social contract.

    The Trump era brought into the forefront aspects of American “Third Worldism”, not just in the highly divided political arena reflected in sharp divisions in society, but across society and by all econometric and socio-metric comparisons between the US and other advanced capitalist countries. Not just US domestic policy, but foreign policy is also up for sale as long as it furthers defense and other industries. If US public policy is increasingly mirroring what takes place in the Third World, then could authoritarianism be as far off as many want to believe?

    The image of power embodied in authoritarian politics is mesmerizing to many people even if their own material lives remain stagnant and social justice takes a back seat. Machiavelli was right that people worship power, at least the projection of power even if it is non-existent. This is universal, at least the image it projects, even if that entails that in reality society regresses in every respect and the lives of the majority deteriorate under authoritarianism. Desperation among the masses only reinforces the irrational tendencies and drives people to embrace regimes pursuing public policy contrary to their interests. Grassroots efforts to raise consciousness by stripping away the many layers of deception surrounding public policy and the institutional mainstream takes a long time but there is no better starting point for humanity to achieve humane-centered progress and social justice.

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    On The Wrong Side Of History: The US Democratic Party’s Decline

    July 1st, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    Introduction: Democrats on the Wrong Side of History

    History is not on the side of the US Democratic Party and not just because Republicans control all branches of government and dominate in legislatures in 32 states and governorships in 33 states.  Just as there is not much of a centrist or leftist challenge to bourgeois political parties around the world, the rightwing trend of American politics seems unstoppable as it has been gaining momentum since the Reagan-Thatcher decade in the 1980s. The trend of conservative politics is not confined to the US, but it has become global largely because centrist parties, even those in Europe under the label Socialist have moved to the globalization, neoliberal and austerity camp.

    Because a number of European and US conservative positions held just by mainstream conservative parties are also held by neo-Fascists, the liberal center has moved to the right instead of the left as genuine opposition. Partly because of the collapse of Communism and the US-EU war on terror and military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, rightwing populism embracing Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, misogyny, and anti-union and anti-labor sentiment has swept up even centrist political elements.

    By embracing a militarist foreign policy and the war on terror, with reverberations on immigration and refugee policy the liberal centrists in Europe and the US have permitted the right to define patriotism as xenophobia, militarism and police state policies. Even worse, the liberal centrists have contributed to the alienation of the masses by embracing globalization, neoliberal policies and austerity measures that have resulted in massive capital concentration. There is something seriously wrong when just eight people own as much wealth as half of the earth’s population or 3.6 billion people.https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2017-01-16/just-8-men-own-same-wealth-half-world

    In the US, the Democrats have chosen to deviate so far from the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the degree that their positions on foreign and defense policies and the economy and labor policy are not so far apart from their Republican counterparts who have moved much more to the right than Dwight D. Eisenhower’s party in the 1950s. Committed to capitalism and expansionism as the Republicans, the Democratic Party underwent some significant changes on its approach both to domestic and foreign policy first under President Woodrow Wilson (1912-1920) committed to the Progressive Era agenda of securing greater regulation of the economy through a stronger central government role and pursuing a multilateral foreign policy outside the Western Hemisphere while maintaining unilateralism in inter-American relations. Building on the Wilsonian legacy, Roosevelt expanded the role of the central government and established the foundations of the welfare state that John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson continued after it had been weakened under both presidents Truman and Eisenhower who were more focused on strengthening capital and the military industrial complex at the expense of labor and the civilian economy.

    By the 1990s under Bill Clinton, the Democrats were closely allied with Wall Street, especially Goldman Sachs that has a history of ubiquitous influence in policy regardless of who is in office. To placate its middle class base, the Democrats espoused lifestyle/cultural diversity as compensation which hardly made up for chronic downward social mobility with no end in sight. The Clinton neoliberal policies and globalization continued under Obama whose presidency resulted in massive wealth transfer.

    In September 2013, Obama admitted that 95% of the income gains since he had taken office went to the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. As the cost of living continued to rise and uneven income distribution became worse, the public perception of the Democrats was that they were elitist liberals. This elitist Wall Street-linked image was exposed by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during the presidential campaign of 2016, thus exposing the reality that the “peoples’ party” was really in the pockets of the wealthiest Americans who donated generously to make sure that their privileged role in society remained strong.

    Instead of ending the corporate welfare and neoliberal policies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton continued gutting the welfare system and strengthening corporate welfare while pursuing neoliberal policies with greater speed. On the wrong side of history, the Democratic Party decided to take this route because it benefited Wall Street rather than the middle class and workers as it claimed. Obama followed Clinton’s path. In 2016, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton vowed to do the same, betting on identity politics at a time when class politics was the only winning strategy as Trump’s victory to the White House proved.

    After losing the election, Democrats remained on the wrong side of history by placing all of their hopes on the investigation of Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election. While they hope that the investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election and President Donald Trump’s recklessness would save them from self-imposed decline in local and national elections, they have deluded themselves into believing that because a large segment of the corporate media and well-paid neoliberal analysts keep repeating what Democrats and Wall Street want them to say that is all they need. Using the “Russia card” is a calculating decision to be on the wrong side of history, essentially stuck in the Cold War neoliberal-corporate welfare past; on the wrong side of their own popular base, which in 2016 demonstrated it wanted a progressive agenda such as the one that Senator Bernie Sanders was offering when he ran against the Wall Street candidate Hillary Clinton.

    Instead of embracing the future, the Democrats have decided to fight against their own base and to move it to the right ideologically and politically by vilifying and covertly undermining Sanders and his followers. Naively, they are hoping that such an approach of embracing the past and rejecting the future would somehow endear themselves to the voter who would otherwise stay home and permit rightwing demagogues the be elected by delusional and frustrated Republican voters hoping that the Messiah is just around the corner to save them from political decline. Democrat illusions about embracing the past will not carry them into future victories as they hope, unless there is a very deep recession as was the case in 2008 under George W. Bush.

    The Republican and Democratic parties have a long history of more policy similarities than differences, especially in post-WWII foreign and defense policy but also trade, monetary, and economic domains. However, the two parties also have some differences after Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the party base to make it more inclusive by bringing into the wide tent not just women and minorities, but labor unions and those on the ideological left at a time that radicalization of the masses had hit a record owing to the Great Depression. FDR strengthened the central government, not weakened it through neoliberal policies variations of which were more closely linked to his predecessors responsible for the Great Depression.

    Representing the capitalist system and operating within its institutional confines, both parties have historic ties to the socioeconomic elites that agree on the goals of maintaining the social order but do not always agree ideologically and on the means of achieving those goals. There have always been billionaires ideologically driven on the extreme rightwing advocating harsh treatment toward labor unions, women, and minorities, just as there have been billionaires who have had a more benevolent approach toward the masses. In our time, the Koch brothers are on the extreme right wing ideological side of politics, advocating cutting all social welfare programs including Medicaid and privatizing social security, and threatening not to provide campaign contributions until senators and congressmen voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (OBAMACARE) which would in effect transfer an estimated $800 billion into the pocket of the richest Americans over a ten-year period.

    On the liberal-identity politics side, there are a number of prominent billionaires among them George Soros who supports a rationalized capitalist system rather than one that creates shocks and disequilibrium. The massive capital concentration and downward social mobility since the early 1980s has made it very difficult for elites on both sides to maintain the support of the masses, just as it has in Europe. However, it is not difficult to understand workers and middle class people with eroding living standards opting for the billionaire businessman politician – a Silvio Berlusconi type – as the hollow savior of society applying business principles to government only to discover government is not a real estate company.

    Given the dominance of Wall Street in politics, both political parties have drifted to the right on economic issues that only hasten downward socioeconomic mobilization. On cultural/lifestyles the Democrats maintain their identity politics approach of catering to the economic elites without addressing underlying living standards issues, thus losing their popular base to apathy and to Republican populists. Republicans have moved even more to right ideologically to the degree that they could easily be confused with a neo-Fascist European party. In fact, it was hardly a surprise that all rightwing European parties applauded the election of Donald Trump as did many authoritarian world leaders.

    Remarkably, the Republicans are more effective with their propaganda campaign because they deliver on social/cultural/religious conservatism through Supreme Court nominees, gun rights, more police-state powers, cutting funding from social programs, etc. By managing to identify the rightwing agenda with patriotism and any opposition as un-American, Republicans have taken the country back to the Joseph McCarthy of the 1950s when accusation of treason were made in order to silence all dissent and enforce conformity.

    Democrats have been less effective propagandists because their cultural/lifestyle identity politics entails funding certain social welfare programs such as Planned Parenthood, school lunches, healthcare, tolerance and advocacy for gays and lesbians, etc. without addressing a holistic policy from a class perspective that takes care of peoples’ material needs first while promoting social justice. Bernie Sanders was correct when he observed that of the two major presidential candidates in 2016 only Trump framed the debate in class terms while Clinton dismissed it as divisive.

    Both parties are struggling to balance the corporate welfare state with the social welfare state, as the Republican attempt to roll back OBAMACARE has proved. Democrats advocating a more gradual approach of its downsizing and a bit stronger central government than the Republicans prefer. Both parties have supported massive tax corporate breaks with many highly profitable corporations like General Electric as an example are paying zero taxes while receiving subsidies and loans that the government guarantees.

    The US economy is not rising as rapidly as it did in the early Cold War as the International Monetary Fund, Federal Reserve Bank and most economists agree that 2% average annual GDP growth is realistic despite low unemployment. Considering that both parties support a defense sector that only adds billions to the public debt and a fiscal system unsustainable owing to 2% annual growth, the American economic pie is becoming too small for all to share given the existing fiscal structure and corporate welfare system. Because both parties depend on campaign contributions from the wealthiest Americans and yield to the influence of powerful corporate lobbies, they make sure that the economic pie is divided unevenly to favor very heavily the top 1% of the wealthy. The Republican proposed health care repeal bill included cutting benefits from 750,000 Medicaid recipients in order to transfer those savings in the form of tax cuts into the pockets of 400 of the wealthiest families. While Democrats oppose such a Draconian measure, they also have a record since the 1990s of supporting income transfer from the bottom up. Even under Reagan, many of them voted for tax cuts to the rich and for corporate welfare measures.https://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/6/22/1674114/-Trumpcaretaxcutstonations-400-wealthiestfamiliesisMedicaidbloodmoney

    Convincing voters to support them means that either politicians must blatantly lie that they will raise living standards and keep unemployment low and living standards high, as did Trump in 2016, or promise to keep the system open so as to integrate socioeconomically a segment of women, minorities, gay and lesbian groups into the mainstream while the rest can enjoy the absence of institutional persecution, as did Clinton and her supporters in congress. Given the choices that the two parties present, voters have the option to vote their ideological leanings and aspirations, to vote against the party they deem a threat to their ideological leanings and lifestyle, or to remain apathetic as is the case with about 40-50% of the voters.

    In a society with a long-standing tradition of individualism and ideological opposition not only to collectivist but even to communitarian values rooted in Christianity and social justice, it is far easier for Republicans to prevail as they turn all focus on the individual as the culprit of everything from structural cyclical swings in the economy and unemployment to inability to attend college. They attribute no accountability to the institutional structure in which the individual operates. Moreover, the Republicans also enjoy the advantage of chronic brainwashing that all solutions rest with God and Wall Street, not with public policy except when it comes to providing even more support for business such as corporate welfare. No matter the problems corporations cause for the capitalist economy and social dislocation, a business-like solution for government, education and healthcare is presented as the ideal solution by both political parties.

    People have accepted as “natural” bailing out banks, insurance companies and other sectors such as the automobile or steel industry. However, they object to any funding for school lunches to feed children too poor to afford lunch. Billions for defense, football stadium subsidies, tax breaks and loan guarantees for corporate America, but not a dime for the poor; and all in the name of democracy! This mindset is no different than what prevailed in early 19th century England when Parliament introduced the “Poor Laws” of 1834 (Poor Law Amendment) intended to reduce taxes on the wealthy by cutting money going to sustain the poor which the Industrial Revolution had created. Despite 21st century US policies in the spirit of the English Poor Law of 1834, American politicians of both parties present the US as the democratic “leader” that the rest of the world must emulate, although its record on human rights and social justice is not much different than a Third World country. Of 31 advanced capitalist countries, the US ranks near the bottom, not just under Trump but also Obama.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/social-justice_n_1035363.html

     In this respect, both political parties share responsibility for choosing to embrace the past, to be on the wrong side of history, even by the admission of Republican Ohio Governor Kasich who argued that neither party cares for the poor. In the century when the transition from American global economic hegemony will be transferring to East Asia, things will only deteriorate for American global economic competitiveness and for the middle class and workers. Throughout the Cold War, there were Democrats who were much more hawkish on foreign policy than Republicans, but held more moderate domestic policy views rooted in watered-down versions of the New Deal, including supporting labor unions. Since the 1990s, the Democratic Party has abandoned its New Deal roots completely and embraced the neoliberal agenda.

    Can the Republicans be “out-Republicaned” by Cold War neoliberal Democrats using the Russia threat as rallying cry to win elections while decrying class politics and embracing identity politics as a catalyst to party unification?  The widespread perception is that Democrats are elitist hypocrites to the degree that Senator Al Franken proposed that they stop riding around in limousines to end the stereotypical perception the public has of them. If only that were a realistic solution rather than substantive policy changes to improve peoples’ lives! What if FDR had proposed the same thing during the Great Depression instead of pursuing New Deal policies to save capitalism from self-destruction and to save the pluralistic society from lapsing into a Fascist-type state?

     

    The Bankrupt Democratic Party

    The US has one of the lowest voting participation rates among developed nations at 55% in 2016, and one of the lowest in the world ranking below 26 other nations including neighboring Mexico and Canada. Only slightly more than half of registered voters participate in elections, a manifestation of widespread apathy and cynicism about the political system especially among young people that do not see it representing them and questioning that it is democratic. The lack of participation and lack of confidence in the political system best serves the wealthy whose campaign contributions through Political Action Committees (PAC), lobbying firms, or direct campaign contributions maintains the status quo catering to the top ten percent of the wealthiest Americans, with a sizeable percentage still aspiring for upward mobility and believing in the system as they believe in God and afterlife.

    The majority, however, as Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders have stated have lost faith because they realize the institutional structure does not address their needs. Trump’s election, a billionaire TV reality show as president, with a cabinet made up of billionaires and generals, and policies designed to transfer wealth from the middle class and poor to the pockets of the wealthy speaks volumes of how the system actually works to maintain a powerful wealthy class and imperial policy of militarism on a global scale. http://www.pewresearch.org/facttank/2017/05/15/usvoterturnouttrailsmostdevelopedcountries/

    As far as the Democratic Party is concerned, what passes for “democracy” comes in the form of criticizing Russia for meddling in the US election in 2016, as though the problem with American democracy does not rest internally but outside the country with an easily identifiable historic enemy needed to justify not just the obsolete NATO whose purpose is militarism and expansionism of the West, but also the strengthening of the defense industries. The Democrats have convinced themselves that blaming domestic institutional problems on a foreign enemy is an effective way to mobilize a segment of the popular base of the Democratic Party under the militarist Cold War wing that also embraces economic policies responsible for massive wealth concentration and the decline of the middle class.

    Most people have no problem externalizing internal problems, especially blaming Russia. However, the down side is that this strategy works only with a segment of the Democratic Party’s popular base, but it does nothing for the majority of the voters as the special congressional election results indicated in the first six months of the Trump presidency when Republican candidates defeated their democratic challengers. This reflects largely the reality that Democrats are weak and remain on the wrong side of history, even with a highly unpopular president who constantly dismisses the Russia meddling allegations as a hoax and fake news.

    The money trail of the Trump family and cabinet officials’ involvement with major banks like Deutsche Bank is far more significant pointing to corruption than the Russian political investigation that is difficult to prove even if every aspect of it is true. Ideologically and politically acceptable by Wall Street and the defense industry, the Russia-Trump issue remains center stage to the point of ‘crying wolf’ tests the credulity even of the most faithful voters. The issue can never assume full legitimacy because it will always encounter resistance from Republicans who see it as political payback by Democrats.

    Pointing to corrupt practices by banks is a legitimate and provable matter but contrary to the neoliberal ideological framework in which both parties operate. The Democratic Party’s goal is to prevent the popular base from veering toward a more progressive leader like Senator Bernie Sanders. The Cold War neoliberal Democrats who lined up behind Clinton and Obama have failed to convince voters that Russian election meddling is the only thing that matters in their lives rather than all other concerns from living standards to the prospects of their children experiencing the real possibility of downward socioeconomic mobility.

    The Democratic popular base is sharply divided because the neoliberal-corporate welfare wing is on the wrong side of history, while the grassroots wing wants systemic changes and distancing of politics from Wall Street money. The Cold War neoliberal elites’ agenda that is only slightly less pro-capital anti-labor and anti-middle class than what the Republicans offer is hardly convincing to progressives who would otherwise vote Democrat.  The more progressive Keynesian (New Deal) agenda that has a class approach to the social contract rather than identity politics approach has historically worked to mobilize voters into the Democratic Party only to have them deceived by broken promises about higher living standards.

    Regardless of domestic policies, the pursuit of economic imperialism backed by aggressive militarism is always at the core of US foreign policy. This complicates matters in the early 21st century when the debt-to-GDP ratio is around 110% and rapidly rising cutting into living standards of the middle class and workers. Keynesian policies are less palatable to the elites that both political parties serve and find it increasingly difficult to balance their role as servants of capital and sustaining the façade of an open pluralistic society based on a strong middle class.

    There is a very real possibility that the Democratic Party will prevail over the Republicans either in the congressional elections of 2018 or in the presidential race of 2020. This is not because President Trump and the Republicans will be popular or scandal-free by any means, considering they are already immersed in scandals involving their capitulation to corporate lobbying. Of the 56.7% who voted in 2016, Trump received about 3 million fewer popular votes than Clinton in 2016, thus he represents a small minority of the population, if we just focus on actual numbers rather than the Electoral College. However, because the Democrats are not very different in policy from their opponents in representing Wall Street and militarism, voter apathy will continue and this works against Democrats, especially if the economy remains fairly steady and does not lapse into recession.

    Not surprising, most Democrat politicians and analysts believe that the unpopularity of the presidency combined with an incessant media assault on the influence of Russia in the US election of 2016 will translate into electoral successes during the congressional elections of 2018 and presidential election of 2020. This assumes that the majority prefers the Democratic Party with its current identity politics agenda because the Republican president is likely to become weaker as a result of the Russia investigation that would presumably uncover direct or indirect links. The fallacy here is that just because about two-thirds of Americans believe there is something to the Trump-Russian interference story, the majority will vote Democrat instead of Republican or staying home.

    While the percentage of registered Democrats is 3-6 points higher than Republicans, the cross-over voters, Independents and people in the apathy category decide election results. What are the chances that Independent, cross-over and apathy voters will cast a ballot on no issue other than the ad-nauseam Trump-Russia investigation assuming the economy remains fairly steady? The assumption that Cold War neoliberal elites represent the majority of the people is even more arrogant and self-deceptive than the assumption that Republicans embrace in courting religious and social conservatives. Clearly, ideology plays a role and Americans have been moving to the right ideologically ever since Truman, but that does not necessarily help Democrats who have had a role in moving the electorate to the right but suffer an image of ‘liberal elitism.’

    As an alternative to the Republicans, the Democratic Party is in serious trouble regardless of Trump’s reckless conduct, violation of protocol if not the constitution, and unpopular policies like repealing OBAMACARE backed by the Republican Party. It is delusional to believe that a Republican congress will sacrifice its own party by impeaching its leader, even if his popularity dips below 30%. On the contrary, the Republicans are actually more cohesive and unified both as a party and as a popular base than the Democrats who remain as divided as they were when Sanders challenged Clinton in 2016. The Democratic Party’s deep divisions rest with its pro-Wall Street, pro-militarist policies, while catering to the cultural needs of disparate social/cultural/lifestyle groups and maintaining a social integration policy of elites only from all social groups.

    Even if congress were to impeach Trump as many Clinton-Obama supporters dream, the Democrat Party on its present course will not capture the majority in the House and the Senate and it will certainly not win the majority of governorships and state legislatures either in 2018 or in 2020. Praying that more revelations about Russia would save the Democrats is just one of the many illusions that afflict them collectively, but hardly the only one considering they are oblivious to the enormous chasm between the elitist nature of the party and the aspirations of people who would otherwise vote for it if it were truly democratic. 

    According to public opinion polls taken in June 2017, Trump’s popularity ranged from 36 to 41%. Public approval of congressional Democrats was a mere 30%, much lower than Trump’s popularity. These figures, which do not even take into account the apathy voting bloc, illustrate that the people hardly view the Democrats as an alternative to Republicans and Trump’s “billionaires and generals” cabinet. While the majority has serious questions about Trump as a leader who seems to have a casual relationship with the truth about everything from policy to his taxes and inter-personal relations, most people do not believe that the Democrats are the party to represent the average American.  

    In spite of a massive corporate media blitz focusing on the Trump administration’s possible links to Russian officials, and Trump’s low approval ratings, the Democrats have not benefited and they are unlikely to benefit in 2018 or 2020, especially if the economy does not lapse into recession. The popularity of Democrats dropped from 45% in November 2016 to 40% in May 2017, representing a mere 1% above Republican popularity. The lack of confidence in either party and in the president at levels not seen since the Nixon-Watergate crisis points to a crisis of confidence in the system itself and its failure to address problems of the average American.

     

    Insider Theories on the Problems of the Democrat Party

    1.      The “Democratic Brand” is tarnished. Besides the issue of whether this is self-inflicted, the implication is that a political party is no different than marketing a product like laundry detergent. Therefore, a marketing campaign to alter peoples’ perceptions is all that is needed rather than change in a platform that aims to improve peoples’ lives. If only a better marketing campaign were undertaken to promote the “Democratic Brand” so people would buy it whether it is good for them or not then voters would support it!

     

    2.      There is a lack of charismatic candidates and that is the real reason for electoral defeats. Considering that the cult of personality works as Trump has become the personification of it, why shouldn’t Democrats use it as was the case with Kennedy and even Obama who was heavy on symbolism and very light on substance? Policies do not matter as long as the party presents some charismatic individual (s) with as much populist appeal as Trump. Why not promote a Democratic Party cult of personality and keep on with Cold War militarism and neoliberal policies of the past, continuing to ignore living standards problems afflicting the majority of voters?

     

    3.      Nancy Pelosi is to blame otherwise Democrats would have been winning. If only there was a partly leadership change that would fix all problems! Pelosi is the personification of identity Cold War neoliberal politics and that is something that alienates a large segment of voters. Prejudice, sexism and misogyny are real, but even if the Virgin Mary was the congressional leader of the Cold War neoliberal Democrats one has to wonder whether people would flock to them simply because they were captivated by new and pure leadership. Once again, this is a pretext not to address policies but to focus on leadership personalities.

     

    4.      Bernie Sanders is to blame because he divides the party to which he does not belong. In other words, the millions of people who voted for Sanders really preferred Clinton and her policies. Sanders just had to ruin it for her by refusing to drop out early and by pursuing his quest to take the Democratic Party toward a more progressive path. It is only because of Sanders that the Democratic Party’s agenda and image is stigmatized as too liberal, whereas the “Democratic Brand” everyone knows is much more conservative. Because some identify the party with Sanders the “Socialist”, Democrats cannot win elections because the voters have moved to the right not the left as Sanders insists. The Sanders-Clinton schism for the party precludes a unified front against Republicans, thus the progressive wing must subordinate itself to the conservative wing so Democrats can start winning again.

     

    5.      Organizational structure needs revamping because there is a divide between the local and state party structure vs. the national one. The idea would be to subordinate the local-state party structure, which has been under Clinton-Obama neoliberal control, so that any progressive Keynesian elements do not undermine the party’s cohesiveness rooted in identity politics that is itself an innate source of lack of cohesiveness. In short, party discipline even if it means supporting a party on the wrong side of history is all it takes to win.

     

    6.      More effective ideological propaganda is needed to counter Republican and rightwing media propaganda. No one who lives in America is unaware that the corporate media is divided between the populist rightwing propaganda sector led by FOX NEWS, on one side, and the Cold War neoliberal sector that are most of the networks, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. on the other with nothing other than alternative news and analysis on the web. How much propaganda between rightwing populism bordering on Fascism and neoliberal Cold War propaganda can the public take before it switches to social media and the web for something other than the same thing? Nevertheless, Democrats believe their problem is insufficient propaganda, belying their underlying belief that policy issues affecting peoples’ lives do not matter only their perception; a cynical Machiavellian view that Republicans also share.

     

    7.      The electoral system and gerrymandering helps GOP and Republican legislative measures discourage voters from coming to the polls. It is true that marginally this helps Republicans. It is just as true that this hardly explains Republican electoral successes at all levels of government.

     

    8.      Republicans are better liars than Democrats and enjoy the backing of billionaires, PACs, and conservative think tanks that mold public opinion against Democrats. All of this is true, just as it is true that people have fallen into a rightwing ideological mold which the Democrats have helped to shape with the Cold War militarist and neoliberal policies. It is just as true that lying is hardly the exclusive domain of Republicans and that lying is effective up to a point when the material lives of people deteriorate to the degree of intolerance. 

     

    9.      Democrats are identified with social elites, minorities and women rather than the middle class and working class. One reason a nationally obscure politician who was not even a Democrat managed to become a viable Democrat candidate for president in 2016 is because he addressed real issues and framed them in class terms. Whereas most people, including her supporters identified Clinton with the elites, they believed Sanders was a true representative of the young, the middle class, workers and the future of where the Democratic Party ought to be. Yet, the Clinton-Obama controlled Democratic Party refuses to abandon its militarist-neoliberal agenda neatly wrapped in identity politics, preferring instead to project the image that it represents the people by not riding in limousines!

     

    10.  Tighter party control of the state machinery and dominance of the DNC. Although the DNC is dominated by the Cold War neoliberal elements that backed Clinton, often through manipulative tactics, with only symbolic gestures of accommodation toward the Sanders wing of the party, there are those who want greater party discipline and to silence dissent that advocates revisiting New Deal policies. The assumption is that if no one gives a forum to dissenters, then people will have no choice but to support the candidates the party hierarchy offers. History has shown that a sizeable number of people actually stay home or vote for Republican or third party candidate if the Democrats are offering nothing of substance to address living standards.

    Conclusion: The Misery Index and Neoliberal Corporate Welfare Politics

    In the 1970s, Arthur Okun came up with the misery index to measure unemployment and inflation. In spring 2017, the official unemployment rate was 4.4%, although the real unemployment rate was at 8.6%. Considering that about 20% of the employment rate is attributed to part time workers and that more than one-third of people under the age of 30 have more than one job; and considering that labor hours on a weekly average have not changed while downward pressure on wages against rising cost of housing, education and health, it is not surprising that the misery index in the US is high in comparison to most industrialized nations. To be on the right side of history, the Democrats must address the misery index. Instead of looking for excuses on why they lose elections, they need to examine why two-thirds of the people believe the country is on the wrong track.

    For Republicans it is easier to prevail in elections than it is for Democrats because the former use a combination of blaming liberals, minorities, Muslims, Mexicans and above all “big government” for all the ills in society. For Republicans the country is on the wrong track because foreigners, petty criminals, and liberals are to blame. Republicans essentially use the same weapons as the church in the Middle Ages of demanding loyalty and conformity to authority with the knowledge that is the reward for “being an American”.

    Democrats have a much more difficult task because they are swimming in an ocean of contradictions, promising to cater to disparate social/cultural groups while delivering the benefits to Wall Street from where their campaign contributions originate. The irreconcilable differences in their “bit tent” identity politics approach combined with a shrinking economy unable to compete globally as it was in the first two decades after WWII presents greater challenges for the Democratic Party. Of course, its neoliberal leadership could opt to embrace a Keynesian model, but that will probably have to wait until the next Great Depression, most likely in the 2030s. If not, then a form of a neo-Fascist state will become a reality.

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    Twilight Of The American Century And Chinese Ascendancy

    June 19th, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

     

     

    Abstract


    The more evidence we have that the American century of international hegemony is waning because of an increasingly weaker economy, the more scholars and analysts of international political economy insist that the 21st century will not witness China’s global ascendancy. From prominent academics to journalists there is a refusal to acknowledge structural shifts in the global economy from West to East means that the US will be taking a back seat to China. Skeptics point to everything from China’s aging population to business debt and shadow banking problems, to political and social challenges for the ruling Communist Party as proof that China’s ascendancy is a myth and the American century will continue from the 20th to the 21st without a serious Asian challenge.   

    Scholarly studies and Chinese government reports point to a number of problem areas in the country, including political and business corruption, a large percentage of the population living below the poverty line along with a rural-urban living standards gap, ethnic minority issues, legal reform and cleaning up the environment of decades of neglect. These are issues that many other countries also facing, including India trying to compete with China. 

    While all criticism is legitimate and the one-party state is aware that it must address them, Western critics are obsessed that China must embrace the Western bourgeois political model and the neoliberal economic route in order for there to be an even playing field. At the core of criticism is that Beijing is refusing to accept the post-WWII American-imposed “transformation model”, and instead pursuing a quasi-statist centrally-planned modernization course under five year plans by the one-party state. 

    Putting aside wishful thinking about imposing a US transformation model on China, shifts in the core of the capitalist system are not only evident by looking at GDP statistics and future prospects, but share of global trade and longer term the direction of US policies vs. those of China and how such policies would impact the global power structure ahead. While there are many studies indicating China will encounter trouble spots ahead that will permit the US to continue its global economic hegemony well into this century, the US will be confronting even more serious challenges than China and the future is already upon us. On balance and in the absence of a major war in Asia that could change everything for the entire world, established trends point toward steady US economic decline and Chinese ascendancy.

     Global Economic Leadership Shifts


    Evolving since the 15th century, capitalism as a world system lacked coordination under the aegis of international institutional structures. To manage the world economy under its hegemony, in the mid-1940s the US established mechanisms such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD now part of the World Bank Group)  followed by the General  Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1948) GATT now World Trade Organization (WTO). Leadership within the international institutional structure mitigates the effects of cyclical expansions and contractions through coordination of central bank monetary policy but also trade and fiscal policies, thus essential to achieve a modicum of equilibrium rather than exacerbating the contraction. 

    The absence of international leadership in coordinating monetary, trade and investment policies was partly to blame for the Great Depression of 1929 when retrenchment was inevitable combined with strong propensity by governments and capitalists to pull policy toward economic nationalism and away from global integration as a means of strengthening the home base. Invariably international financial and trade institutions have as a goal to strength capital especially in the core countries where it is strongest.

    Disequilibrium on a world scale that took place in the 1930s forced core nations into a frenzy to retain as much of their global market share as possible against competitors. Only a decade after WWI, the Great Depression further weakened the core countries of international capitalism in northwest Europe resulting in economic power shift to the US positioned to assume both military leadership in WWII and global economic leadership following the war.

    Chronic balance of payments deficits, deliberately under President Harry S. Truman to reindustrialize Western Europe, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, combined with “Military Keynesianism” – deficit financing by allowing the defense sector to absorb surplus capital – were adopted for economic and geopolitical considerations but with the result of setting the stage for decline. The US creation of strong trade and strategic partners took place against the background of the nascent Cold War when both USSR and China emerged as military rivals challenging the US-based capitalist world order.

    The long-term effects of postwar chronic balance of payments deficits resulting in higher public debt, currently at $19 trillion or about 106% of GDP, have taken their toll on America’s core position in the world economy. More ominous than public debt and chronic balance of payments deficits, US policies and current structure of its economy point to slow growth and continued erosion of US share of global GDP. Just the opposite holds true for China, especially as the US is more determined than ever to rely on “Military Keynesianism” at a point in its history when debt-to-GDP ratio, which averaged about 62% from 1945 to the present, is the highest it has been since 1945 when it hit 112.7%. 

    Reducing the balance of payments and budgetary deficits through GDP growth above 2- to 2.5% seems highly unlikely in the next five years and probably longer. This is the optimistic scenario because at some point in the 2020s cyclical economic contraction is inevitable and it will result in runaway public debt and weaker dollar. The result will be further consolidation of the many economic centers especially China as catalytic to global trade and growth. All governments and corporations recognize that the US leadership role in the world system has diminished and it is highly unlikely to recapture its preeminent position of the early Cold War era when the dollar was pegged to gold and its value held steady.

    By contrast, even if half of China’s global economic development and global integration plans come to fruition, ascendancy is inevitable because it has laid the foundations for future growth on a model that appeals to governments and businesses. Narrowly focused on militarist policies and using its defense hegemony as leverage to retain its preeminent role rather than focusing on the civilian economy, the US is hastening China’s global ascendancy as much as US portfolio and direct investment in China. 

    China’s economic growth prospects in the next ten years are estimated above 6%, while European and American growth prospects are below 2%. Even more significant, the entire Western World has been experiencing downward socioeconomic mobility and lower living standards for the middle class with fewer upward mobility opportunities in the next ten years. Even with problems of corruption and political challenges to the one-party state, China is expected to triple its middle class population over the same period. This factor alone spells continued optimism for China despite inevitable cycles of contraction and political internal and external hurdles along the way.

     US Unilateralism, Economic Nationalism and Militarism


    America’s withdrawal (1 June 2017) from the Paris Climate Accord raised serious concerns within the country’s political and business elites and among allies worried about President Trump’s unilateralism (pursuing a policy and/or acting upon it without coordination and collaboration of other countries). The concern among allies relying on American leadership reflects general uneasiness because the government extends unilateralism beyond the climate agreement and into economic nationalism. He demonstrated when he rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement not because it was a bad deal for workers but because it did not provide favorable terms of trade for the US. 

    In the age of globalization that has benefited US multinational corporations, Trump has repeatedly used economic nationalist rhetoric about unfair practices by trading partners in the Western Hemisphere (Canada and Mexico under NAFTA) and the rest of the world (from China to Germany). The implication is that the terms of trade that historically favored the US now favor exporters to the US, although the US negotiated and agreed to those terms. Rather than looking at US domestic policies as impediments to growth, the Trump administration blames trade partners for America’s chronic balance of payments deficits and loss of high-paying jobs amid continued de-industrialization. Making US allies even more apprehensive, Trump has cast doubt on the benefits of strategic alliances, especially NATO to which members do not meet their GDP percentage quota spending, thus raising the specter of isolationism.

    The cumulative effect of unilateralist, isolationist and economic nationalist rhetoric leaves no doubt that the current administration has no use for Wilsonian multilateralism as a foundation for foreign policy and foreign economic affairs. On 6 June 2017, former president Barak Obama warned that Trump is moving dangerously toward isolationism and erosion of Western values. Despite some minor policy changes amid very sharp change in rhetoric by Trump in comparison with Obama and even George W. Bush, the vast majority of US trade, investment, strategic and foreign policies remain largely as they were under previous administrations. Though they differ on the modalities, the goal of both political parties to globalization is unchanged. Wall Street and the defense establishment wholeheartedly support the same goals and so do both political parties.

    While Republican and Democrat parties have pursued multilateralism since the Wilson administration, both parties have practiced unilateralism within varying degrees, no matter their public pronouncements about a commitment to multilateralism as a Western value. As a core country in the capitalist system with institutional obligations in the WTO, IMF and all international institutions established to manage/coordinate the world economy since Bretton Woods, the US is structurally locked into multilateralism no matter the deviations on specific treaties such as the Paris Accord. Nevertheless, there are some billionaires in Trump’s cabinet and his inner circle of advisers, like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who question the very foundation of the American-based Bretton Woods system because they believe that it serves surplus exporting countries like China and Germany.  

    Combined with economic nationalism and isolationist rhetoric, unilateralism even as symbolic as the Paris Accord withdrawal inadvertently yields global leadership to China. Sufficiently powerful economically to assume such a role, China does not instigate but benefits from certain US policies that widen the global economic power gap. In January 2017 at the Davos World Economic Forum, President Xi Jing-ping raised the issue of global stability guaranteed by Beijing. 

    Portraying his country as responsible and committed to global economic integration President Xi assured all countries that they can rely on China to ensure stability and global integration. Presumably, the message was that the world can no longer rely on the US, not only because of Trump’s rhetoric, but owing to reckless bipartisan militarist policies resulting in destabilization of the Middle East and Asia where North Korea has been a focal point. President Xi signaled that the US has abdicated its role as catalyst to global integration under international conventions and institutions whereas China is there to lead within the existing structure and institutions of international capitalism. 

    Even US strategic allies pursue multidimensional relations by accepting Chinese leadership in the domains of trade and investment, thus demonstrating that their future is in East Asia. Beijing has been laying the foundations for a global economic empire with trading partners that include US neighbors like Mexico and Canada. Ironically, while Washington is pursuing military encirclement as part of a containment policy toward China, Beijing is pursuing economic encirclement of the US, all along claiming that global trade requires stability that US militarist policies threaten. The question is whether US military containment policy will be sufficient to slow down China from pursuing global integration under its aegis, while making the US even more dependent on Chinese exports in exchange for buying US government bonds to keep the dollar strong.

    The contradiction of American foreign policy is that the US retains global military hegemony while some of its close allies are economically integrated with China. This is very clear in the case of Asian countries even where there are US military bases as in the Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Philippines. While militarism has become America’s single most important leverage in global affairs and an integral part of the domestic economic stimulus, China is pursuing hegemony through global trade. Economic dependence on China and simultaneous military dependence on the US is a reality even in NATO countries where the US has used its influence to stop governments like Greece under EU-IMF austerity from selling some national assets to Chinese interests. 

    Managing its imperial interests almost exclusively by relying on its military might and securing multi-billion dollar defense contracts, as was the case in May 2017 with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, the US projects the appearance of ensuring superpower status for the duration. In point of fact, the US conceded civilian economic leadership to China longer term while weakening its national economy by remaining narrowly focused on exorbitant defense spending and neoliberal policies resulting in massive capital concentration. 

    Inordinate reliance on the military affords a false sense of security and power because no country in the history of the world has survived for very long spending massively on defense at the expense of a weak economy. (Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. 1987)  Nevertheless, there are calls by Trump and both Republicans and some Democrats to rebuild the navy. The estimated cost will be an additional 20% per year over the next 30 years to the already bloated defense budget of $620 billion. Under Obama and now Trump, the US has been actively pursuing a new arms race in the Middle East, Europe and Asia not only for geostrategic reasons, but to strengthen its defense industries and to force other countries to allocate more on defense, thus securing a derivative economic advantage by the weakening of other economies be the catalyst to maintaining superpower status?  http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2017-01/17/content_27974455.htm; https://www.thetrumpet.com/13221-anewglobalarmsrace

    The US is so far ahead of the rest of the world in defense spending that it can only insist on an arms race to provide some stimulus for its own economy while preventing other nations from gaining any more competitive advantage in the civilian economy. “The U.S. outpaces all other nations in military expenditures. World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015. The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the total. U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined.” https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/usmilitaryspendingvsworld/

    The obvious benefits to the defense industry aside, military spending at unsustainable levels is detrimental to the civilian economy, especially when combined with massive tax cuts for the wealthiest people in society. The result is chronic balance of payment deficits, rising public debt and declining living standards, downward social mobility and erosion of global competitiveness. Those advocating stronger defense point to China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria as “existential threats” as though the US is Switzerland without a defense sector or a nuclear deterrent. They further point to jihadist terrorism as justification for building conventional weapons despite the inherent asymmetry between a conventional military and terrorist who cannot possibly be deterred or defeated militarily even if the US and its allies spent 100% of the national budgets on defense.

    Because the US is taking a back seat to China in global economic leadership, deliberately choosing to focus on massive arms buildup, unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Accord brought to the surface the reality that the world capitalist system’s core is shifting toward East Asia in part because of US policies. The US is hastening that irreversible process by policies presumably intended to halt that eventuality, when in fact they backfire. This is partly because multinational corporations operating internationally invest wherever they can realize the highest return. Ironically, the nature of capital accumulation on a world scale which has favored Chinese remarkably rapid development means that US multinationals had a hand in undermining the American national economy in favor of China where they are chasing lower labor costs and a large domestic market share that they helped to create.


    No matter the finger pointing at China, Mexico, Canada, Germany and other countries, de-capitalization, which clearly hurts the national economy and public finances, starts with policies designed to concentrate capital especially in speculative sectors where nothing is produced and money is made by recycling investment in financial markets benefiting the wealthiest Americans. Decrying Chinese currency, trade, and fiscal manipulation by the US which has its own manipulation issues may be politically receptive rhetoric for frustrated populists and economic nationalists, but it does not alter any empirical realities of how capital accumulation on world scale works and it does nothing to slow down China’s ascendancy.

    Just as the Chinese have created their problems with inequality, corruption, pollution, etc. so has the US created its own problems among them weakening the state structure. Under globalization, neoliberal policies have actually weakened America’s state fiscal structure. Hegemony of markets over states under the neoliberal model entails using the state as a conduit to transfer income from the mass taxpayer to corporations and the wealthiest Americans and privatizing public services to strengthen a private sector that would otherwise be much weaker without public money flowing into it. This process has sacrificed a strong fiscal structure that could have acted as a driver for economic growth instead of confronting a GDP-public debt ratio of 106% with the prospect of rising above 120% in the next five years. 

    American unilateralism, economic nationalism and isolationism are reactions to the weakened state structure manifesting itself in weakened national sovereignty. When Trump uses populist rhetoric such as “Make America Great Again”, it is a tacit recognition that globalization undercuts America’s national sovereignty and favors other countries despite its positive derivative benefits of globalization to America’s multinationals. To gain the advantage, the US wants more incoming investment and capital repatriation (estimated $3 trillion), combined with a monetary and trade policy by other countries such as China that enjoy a surplus at the expense of the US. In short, the strategy is to use government policy as the sole mechanism to address the disequilibrium America has been suffering in its balance of payments deficit.

    Of course, without China buying US treasuries, the US would have a much weaker dollar because of the public debt. Of the $19 trillion US public debt, $6.3 trillion is foreign-owned, $1.1 trillion by China and an equal amount by Japan, both enjoying a surplus at the expense of the US. In June 2017, China announced that the national currency has stabilized sufficiently to the degree that Beijing was prepared to purchase even more US treasuries. As an export economy, China favors a strong dollar as does Japan. Washington’s long-standing policy of maintaining an artificially high dollar has benefits but it also entails that the consumer-driven American economy suffers chronic balance of payments deficits.

    Are unilateralism, neo-isolationism, and economic nationalism the road to “Make America Great Again”, or do the rightwing populist president and his political, business and media supporters keep blowing a lot of smoke across the world while benefiting certain business sectors at the expense of others? Few doubt that withdrawing from the Paris Accord was a case of blowing smoke; a symbolic ideological/political gesture of projecting the illusion of American strength when in reality it brought to the forefront deep-seated structural weaknesses in a society already deeply divided and becoming weaker internationally because it refuses to alter course in its political economy.

     The framework of US foreign policy


    As Western Europe and Japan began to reindustrialize while USSR and China developed massive defense sectors during the early Cold War (1945-1960), American decline began to take place. In 1958, the IMF warned President Eisenhower about chronic balance of payments deficits impact on the dollar’s artificially high value as a reserve currency. Although Eisenhower warned the nation about the military industrial complex, the US pursued “Military Keynesianism”, massive defense spending as a means of stimulating economic growth while also strengthening its defense alliances to keep its superpower status. 

    Using the artificially high dollar as a reserve currency afforded the US the luxury of “guns and butter” as the Johnson administration argued in pursuing the war in Vietnam and the “Great Society” social welfare program. Naturally, there were limits to “guns and butter” dreams that turned into nightmares in the mid-1970s when the US lost the Vietnam War and realized that a multi-polar world structure was slowly threatening its hegemony.

    In a position to pursue unilateralism when it suited its interests, while reverting to a multilateral approach when there is no choice, the US used its preeminent global defense network to exert political and economic influence. This is something that both Republican and Democrat administrations have done since Harry Truman. It is one thing to go at it alone when all nations in the world are weak as was the case from the Truman to the Nixon administration. It is entirely another matter when the US share of global GDP has shrunk by 50% between 1960 and 2014 (from 40% to 20%). 

    While China’s share of world GDP stands at 15%, it contributes 30% of the world’s growth. The annual GDP growth under 2% in the last ten years and high probability that it will remain at those levels in the next five years is a reflection not just of the structural weakness of the US economy but the dispersed nature of the global power in the second decade of the 21st century. The persistence of ideological unilateralism against the realities of American waning global influence is not only demonstrated by US taking itself out of the Paris Accord, which Obama and his supporters have criticized, but even under Obama who claimed that he would pursue multilateralism but in practice deviated. 

    In February 1914, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland imposed unilateralism when it came to US policy to manipulate Ukraine’s internal politics at a time that the EU was more cautious because of its dependence on Russian natural gas and as a trade partner. While seeking multilateral cooperation, the US position remained one of unilateral decision only to be validated by a multilateral political cover. Despite its severe limitations, unilateralism projects the image of strength while multilateralism is often seen as weakness because it means yielding in negotiations with other countries. 

    Not just those immersed in the imperialist ideology of “American Exceptionalism”, but militarists and economic nationalists would argue that unilateralism is best suited to serve national security and economic interests. One problem is that US-based multinationals operate in an international arena where US policies intended to achieve advantage over other nations could undercut US corporate interests. This is precisely the case with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico that the Trump administration has singled out as unfair competitors. In fact, US-based corporations and portfolio investors in Canadian and Mexican stock exchanges have benefitted from the regional trading bloc. 

    Under the neoliberal corporate welfare economic model, the US cannot compete with China’s quasi-statist development model seeking to integrate as much of the world economy as possible under its aegis. Demonstrating remarkable military restraint in the past three decades in comparison with the US, China’s economy is not based on “Military Keynesianism” and its main goal is not military containment but economic expansion. US military containment of China, which is also intended to contain China’s global economic expansion, runs into contradictions because US corporations among others from around the globe profit from Chinese expansion and want it to continue. This contradiction has frustrated the American political, military and some US manufacturers, forcing them to embrace economic nationalism.

    Oddly enough, the Paris Accord from which the US withdrew reflects these contradictions of a government unable to cope with the country’s continued economic decline under the neoliberal-corporate welfare model. Disagreements among capitalists from the Koch brothers opposed to the Paris Accord to Michael Bloomberg in favor of it reflects not just ideology, politics, and which vision of the future will prevail, but how government will allocate resources from which certain corporations benefit. Considering that climate-related economy has enormous potential, it could represent as much as one trillion in the US economy of about $17 trillion. 

    Considering that the US was the main force behind multilateral organizations, including the United Nations and its various sub-agencies, the IMF and World Bank, General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT, now WTO), it is ironic that Washington would strongly defend them when it serves its narrow interests and try to bypass if not undermine them when it sees them as obstacles to its prospects of remaining hegemonic. The creator of multilateral organizations rebuffs its own creations because the world has changed to the degree that other countries exercise influence in multilateral organizations the US cannot use as its sole foreign policy instruments as it did during the early Cold War. 

    Based on the foreign policy record under Obama, Washington has been pursuing a going alone policy when it can get away with it and multilateral policy when it needs to do so. As an isolationist and economic nationalist, Trump is simply more skeptical about multilateralism and sees it as an impediment to “America First”, even if this means questioning close ties with historic allies or proposing a Muslim travel ban that hurts cooperation not just with Muslim nations, but EU allies and US corporations in the tourism business. 

    EU and non-EU countries alike are confronting American unilateralism by looking for a multilateral partner. China with its multibillion “One Belt, One Road” global economic integration program is waiting to play an even greater global role. With the goal to cover 65% of the world’s population and one-third of global GDP, China’s 21st century Silk Road is a sharp contrast to the US determination to retain superpower status by remaining narrowly focused on a new arms race and stimulating the defense sector as though it is the panacea for economic development. 

    The new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will need several trillion dollars to provide financing for China’s global economic expansion plans. Despite US objections, many countries and companies throughout the world including close U.S. allies have signed on to China’s infrastructure bank. Just as they accepted the IMF decision to have the Yuan as part of the basket of hard currencies, governments other than the US realized it was in their interest. That US multinational corporations have fallen in line with Chinese global economic leadership as much as European and South Korean is indicative that capital, which goes where it can realize the highest profits, has essentially validated the reality of a multi-polar world in which the US is in relative decline and militarizing instead of focusing on the civilian economy. 

    Climate Politics, American Unilateralism and China’s Global Ascendancy


    On June 1, 2017, the EU declared that along with China it would fill the leadership role against the background of the vacuum the US is leaving by withdrawing from the Paris Accord. The three main goals are: 1. The global average temperature increase held below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, while temperature increase 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels; 2. Lower greenhouse gas emissions without threatening food production; 3. Financial decisions to be made consistent with a pathway towards lower greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
     

    Multinational corporations support the Paris Accord for a number of reasons, including the fact that it would be implemented in many countries within the framework of the neoliberal model where government incentivizes the private sector to adopt new technologies. American taxpayers footed a $16.6 billion bill (in 2007) for energy subsidies, tax breaks, loan guarantees, and the like in 2007 alone, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). That’s more than double the Federal subsidy level from eight years earlier. In fact, on an energy fuel basis, Congress has increased subsidies for renewable fuels considerably, from 17 percent of total subsidies and support in 1999 to 29 percent in 2007.” http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/studies/energy-subsidies-study/

    The Paris Accord, which Obama signed in 2014 but the Republican-dominated Senate never ratified, pledged billions in subsidies to corporations pursuing renewable energy technology. It is true that fossil fuel industries also benefit from government subsidies and from a fiscal policy that allows many to pay the least amount in taxes, regardless of the theoretical 35% tax rate. However, there is also the issue of international competition in new technologies that made it necessary for US-based multinationals to follow the trend of their rivals overseas. 

    There are political, economic, and scientific dimensions to this complex issue which on the surface appears to be solely about the environment and the 2 degrees Celsius ceiling. The withdrawal from the climate change treaty by the embattled Trump administration is symbolic of American unilateralism as an affirmation of national sovereignty supposedly undermined by liberal environmentalist-multilateral advocates who have impeded the fossil fuel industry from maximizing profits through heavy regulation and restrictions on drilling. It is also about the appearance of yielding the advantage to China and India whose economies are growing three times faster than the US using fossil fuels. 

    When it comes to providing the infrastructure, subsidies, tax incentives and loan guarantees for private companies, including those in the renewable energy business, the role of government is catalytic in the existing corporate welfare state. The questions of national control and international competitiveness are valid as much by the US as any other country. Because it is simply impossible to work toward clean environment on a country-by-country basis as though each country is on another planet, US withdrawal from the Paris Accord demonstrated a superficial understanding of globalist capitalism and its short-term and longer term benefits to each country. 

    Nor does it help to argue against scientific consensus and to claim that climate change is a hoax and a Chinese invention intended to afford China an advantage over the US. Backed by a number of Republicans and powerful businessmen like the billionaire Koch brothers, Trump wanted to demonstrate America’s ability to stand alone as a global hegemonic power against the reality of a slow decline in a world that is multi-polar world where China would derive more advantages than the US. 

    Naturally, as a result of the Republican decision against the Paris Accord the private sector had some tangible winners and some losers. There are estimates that the clean energy domain and derivative industries ranging from high tech to solar power could be worth several trillion dollars by 2030. Just as multinational corporations will adjust and make profits without the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty that Obama had negotiated but Trump dumped, similarly corporations will do the same with the Paris Accord withdrawal until the next administration comes along to reverse course. 

    Cheap renewable energy and natural gas out-competing fossil fuels obviate anything the US does in terms of climate change policy, especially considering that multinational corporations and banks have already invested heavily in renewable energy. Europe’s and China’s solar power manufacturing capacity, which is larger than any other in the world, has been the driving force behind policy on reducing emissions but US multinationals fervently support it because they know the clock cannot be turned back to the age of coal. 

    As a strong supporter of the Paris Agreement, China still remains coal-dependent and emits more carbon dioxide than any other country on earth, followed by the US, and India. This allows the US a modicum of a political safety net while it preaches compliance to the world. It is easy of course for the Western industrialized countries to preach environmental policies to the developing nations that are trying to develop their industrial sector. When the Western World was industrializing (18th century England, 19th century continental Northwest Europe, US, and Japan) had no environmental standards and all pollution emanated from the West. 

    Although voluntary, Paris Accord implementation is very expensive for poorer countries that need foreign aid. Keeping within the economic nationalist-unilateralist ideological framework, the Trump administration criticized the climate agreement that called for rich nations to provide foreign aid to poorer ones dealing with climate issues and a green economy. It is hardly a secret that the loose environmental laws of developing nations along with cheap labor and domestic market share are the reasons that Western-based multinationals decide to invest there. 

    Some of the world’s biggest polluters are multinational corporations and the beneficiaries their investors in wealthy nations. Middle class consumers in advanced countries wholeheartedly but hypocritically embrace the environmental movement, as long as they derive the benefits in cheap products while pollution is not in their own land. Without question, the environmental issue is both a class issue and one of developed vs. developing nations that goes to the heart of uneven income distribution geographically and along class lines. 

    The class-based nature of environmental politics aside, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord reflects the gap that the US is creating by permitting China to accept the leadership scepter of the new technologies of renewable energy sources and forging ahead with the rest of the world toward the renewable-energy economy of the future. Presumably, this means that well-paying jobs in the clean energy and related fields are inadvertently lost to competitors, thus contradicting the argument that the Paris Accord costs jobs in the anachronistic fossil fuel domain instead of creating many more in renewable energy and derivative sectors. 

    To prove that multilateralism was wasteful by draining US taxpayer money, Trump claimed that more than $1 billion had gone to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change intended to support natural resource management in poor developing nations. In reality, the US had pledged $3 billion to that fund, but had only paid $500 million. Considering the US contribution to carbon emissions since the nascent phase of its industrial development, and considering the emissions of US multinationals around the world, contributing for the collective effort of a clean environment may seem very unreasonable to unilateralist “American Exceptionalists” who remain in an imperialist mode of thinking of colonial powers dictating the terms to client states.   

    Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was part of a pattern in US policy casting doubt on the wisdom of multilateralism because such a course does not serve certain corporate interests while contributing to the chronic balance of payments deficit and rising public debt. Although the science behind climate change and the need to protect the environment are empirically verifiable, and although all life forms from humans to birds and sea-life benefit from a clean environment, the political economy under which environmental policies are executed favor corporate interests. One reason that Republicans have been effective appealing to the irrational is because many among the popular masses see the environmental issue as part of liberal identity politics that the wealthier middle class embraces. 

    There is no question that political parties around the world have been using this issue to deflect attention from social justice subordinating it to the environmental agenda. Just as the Democratic Party in the US has been using the Cold War anti-Russia controversy to oppose Trump and mobilize popular support away from social justice issues such as free college education, free universal health care, and higher living standards, similarly it has used climate change to co-opt the popular base into the neoliberal mainstream. 

    The day after Trump took office there were mass demonstrations for social justice in major US cities; a seemingly grassroots effort expressing opposition to authoritarian politics. The day after the US pulled out of the Paris Accord there were popular demonstrations demanding Trump tell the truth about his administration’s Russia links, as though the Russian-Trump controversy regardless of its merits is somehow catalytic to social justice and the lives of people. Higher living standards, universal free healthcare, free college education, all issues of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democrat Party have been subordinated to Russia. Despite its sound scientific merits, the Paris Accord like the Russia-Trump issue is one around which media have rallied reflecting the Democrat Party’s agenda. 

    Indubitably, America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement revealed a contradiction between the persistence of ideological unilateralism and the realities of America’s declining power in the world. It also revealed the deep divisions among capitalists. Although rightwing billionaires financing the climate change deniers stand to profit because their industries do not have to comply with environmental regulations, they project an ideological position that unilateralism is inexorably linked to patriotism and its abandonment a reflection of weakness and lack of resolve on the part of US leadership. Therefore, the illusions inculcated by the media into the minds of the masses are illusions that American elites project.


    Conclusions

    Coordination and macro-management of the world economy in consultation and cooperation with the rest of the world seems to be in doubt under Trump when compared with the previous administration. Nevertheless, there is a debate among America’s political, business, media, military and academic elites whether the future of US policy is toward greater unilateralism that many equate with strength and the glory of Pax Americana or a multilateral approach that reflects the new realities of the global power structure. 

    Because the US has moved so far to the right since the Kennedy-Johnson administrations to the degree that political choices in 2016 were between a rightwing populist Republican and a neoliberal militarist, voters were faced with choices placed before them by the corporate elites who completely disregarded social justice. The rhetoric notwithstanding, neither of those choices provides upward social mobility opportunities and neither offered a platform that would stimulate the civilian economy back into rapid growth mode. The only agreement was on strengthening defense, as though this sector would guarantee global competiveness and domestic upward mobility. 

    Given the asymmetry between its military might and declining share of global GDP, the US is unable to stop the clock that is ticking increasingly louder in Asia that is destined to be the center of world capitalism. Continuing with Cold War “Military Keynesianism”, military interventions and counterinsurgency operations to destabilize countries where the US wishes to exert influence at the economic, political and strategic levels has obvious limitations. After all, the US under George W. Bush and Barak Obama spent an estimated $4 trillion for wars with only public debt and lower living standards as the legacy to tax payers. 

    Ideologically, the US elites are so indoctrinated into the mindset of “Exceptionalism” and Cold War militarism that it is extraordinarily difficult to face the empirical realities of the multi-polar global power structure even when it comes to climate pacts. The vast network of active foreign, defense and intelligence policy staff, consultants, and the media reflecting the status quo are holding on to anachronistic models of growth and development as they are to military operations. The example of endangering South Korea’s security to provoke North Korea by deploying THAAD missiles, only to be rebuffed by president Moon Jae-in of South Korea speaks volumes of how reckless American militarism has become and how arrogance of power is the driving force behind unilateralism.

    Refusing to examine internal contradictions in the “Military Keynesianism” and neoliberal approach to superpower status, the American elites, the media, consultants and many academics insist on wearing blinders. Consulting firms, government agencies, media companies, private corporations and even many educational institutions hire people who operate within the framework ranging from the neoliberal Cold War militarist to the rightwing populist bordering on Fascism. The result is recycling of more of the same and the race to outdo one another on who offers the “best” solution within a framework leading to decline. 

    Scholars, political and business observers pointing to China’s many internal problems as impediments to its ascendancy may be right. However, they view China through the prism of Western institutions, policies, values and with a neoliberal bias they wish to impose on China as part of a transformation policy the US imposed on the entire Western World after the end of WWII.

    Even if everything goes absolutely wrong for China as critics argue while everything goes absolutely right for the US and the EU in the next half century, there is still the issue of global interdependence and what it would mean to the entire world if China lapses into a chronic crisis. Western-based corporations, portfolio investors and governments have no interest in a China that will collapse, knowing they benefit by its continued expansion. Ironically, many countries, including the US, are so well integrated with the Chinese economy that it is in their interest to keep it growing, relatively strong, and stable. 

    The economic crisis that started in the US with Lehman Brothers on the road to bankruptcy in August 2007 amid the subprime lending environment which lasted until 2012 in some countries and much longer in others provides a good lesson of why Chinese economic power is catalytic to global stability. As exports dropped 18% in 2007-2008, China provided a massive growth stimulus ($586 billion or 13% of GDP). The US-based great recession’s impact would have been much worse than that of the Great Depression of the 1930s if it were not for China enjoying the world’s fastest and highest GDP growth while providing a stimulus to capitalism amid the most severe global economic contraction since the 1930s. Even with Trump and world populism and economic nationalism on the rise, it is difficult to see many governments and multinational corporations not advocating China’s ascendancy, even if many favor self-imposed growth limits to achieve greater global equilibrium.

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    Artificial Intelligence: Socioeconomic, Political And Ethical Dimensions

    April 28th, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

     

     
    Introduction: Humanity’s Future in AI-Biosynthetic World
     
    In a few centuries or perhaps a few decades, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and biosynthetic engineering will be perfected to the degree that androids will closely resemble humans and biosynthetically engineered humans will resemble androids. Despite the nightmares of such a prospect for some scientists, humanist scholars and theologians, AI will be a dream becoming reality for those espousing Max More’s philosophy of “transuhumanism”; a movement whose goal is to enhance the human condition physically and intellectually through the application of scientific and technological means. (Carvalko, Joseph, The Techno-human Shell-A Jump in the Evolutionary Gap. Sunbury Press, 2012)
     
    Whether one agrees with transhumanism or finds it abhorrent because it is merely another means of promoting eugenics, the race to transform science fiction dreams into a profitable reality is picking up speed by corporations and investors. Multinational corporations see the opportunity for billions in profits and that is all the motivation they need to move forward full speed, advertising AI research and development even now to prove that their company is decades ahead of the competition.
    Besides corporations, the potential power and wealth in AI has universities, government-funded research institutions and privately-funded labs working to realize the dream without worrying about the potential risks involved for society at large. Like the nuclear bomb developed in the 1940s, the AI genie is out of the bottle and it has been since the 1940s when scientists from different fields contemplated building an artificial brain thus giving birth to the formalize scientific discipline of AI in 1956.
     
    British code breaker Alan Turing is known as the Father of Computer Science, also a pioneer in the domain of artificial intelligence, was only at the theoretical stage in the middle of the 20th century when he was conducting research. Contemporaries of Turing, Ross Quillian and Edward Feigenbaum followed by Marvin Minsky who co-founded MIT’s AI lab were all pioneers along with corporate giant IBM. By 2016 when Minsky died, AI was the hottest field that corporations, governments, and research institutions intensely pursued, some trying to beat the competition marketing robots for various tasks in the next few years. (George Zarkadakis, In our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence, 2017).
     
    GOOGLE’s Peter Norvik, in charge of research made the argument that there is no turning back on AI which he views as the ultimate tool in solving problems, not considering the new problems it would create. “I don’t care so much whether what we are building is real intelligence. We know how to build real intelligence…—my wife and I did it twice, although she did a lot more of the work. We don’t need to duplicate humans. That’s why I focus on having tools to help us rather than duplicate what we already know how to do. We want humans and machines to partner and do something that they cannot do on their own.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/gilpress/2016/12/21/artificial-intelligence-pioneers-peter-norvig-google/#7dd2f52c38c6
     
    In 2016, there were more than 650 business deals involving $5 billion in startups for AI research. With Google leading in patent applications, Microsoft, Amazon, INTEL, Facebook, and Apple became heavily involved in the domain of AI. The same companies involved in the web and cell phones are now competing for the lucrative AI market of the future with different venture capitalists backing research and development (R & D). With the advent of the web and cell phones, R & D in AI has moved rapidly since Turing’s era into the mainstream of government in a number of countries in the world, but especially US and China which are the main competitors in the field. According to some, AI is the global arms race of the future because of its potential in every sector including defense. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/china-artificial-intelligence/516615/; http://www.nbcnews.com/mach/features/next-global-arms-race-aims-perfect-artificial-intelligence-n685911
     
    Because of immense institutional interest in AI, there has been a great deal written and debated about what it would all mean for society. There are tens of thousands of scholarly books and articles on the subject covering everything from scientific dimensions to social political and philosophical, some enthusiastic, others skeptical, and still others condemning AI as the new danger to humanity, even worse than motion pictures and science fiction novels depict. While most scholars are neither pessimistic nor as glowingly optimistic as Norvik about the miracle of AI awaiting the human race, there are those who cautiously point to both benefits and possible risks and skeptics cautious about the possible unforeseen consequences, some already evident with the cybergeneration of infophiles addicted to cell phones, computers, and video games.
     
    In the early 21st century, the cybergeneration growing up in cyberspace with mechanical toys, videogames, cell phones and computers relate to machines as their reality. Accepting cyberspace as parallel to experiences with people they come into direct contact, the cybergeneration is conditioned to accept alienation from empirical reality as the norm, separating existential reality they may dread from cyber reality in which they live because they enjoy the illusion of greater control from a distance. A cybergeneration individual may have dozens or even hundreds of “cyber-friends” across the country and across the world but few if any friends in school, in the neighborhood, or at work. These cyubergeneration individuals deem detachment normal because the cyber-community has replaced the empirical one where they cannot hide behind numerous masks that cyberspace permits and promotes. The conditioning of the cybergeneration is very different than the socialization of any generation in the past that was socialized in the real community rather than in cyberspace. If this is the condition of the current cybergeneration, what would the future look like with AI robotics? http://cyberikee.tripod.com/thinking_cyber_subjectivity_1.html
     
    By the end of this century, the reality of children growing up with robots, holograms and bioengineered humans will be far different than it is for the generation of the early 21st century in every respect from individual to group identity. The wealthier families will have androids in their homes, most likely helping to raise and educate their children, conditioning them about the existential nature of robots as an integral part of the family like the loveable dog or cat. The less affluent middle class would be able to rent-a-robot for the ephemeral experience of it. The lower classes will feel even more marginalized because AI robotics will be out of reach for them; in fact they will be lesser beings than the robots whose intelligence and functions will be another privilege for the wealthy to enjoy. As we will see below, the sense of identity and community will be largely impacted by AI in ways difficult to conceive today for all classes.
     
    AI, Population Explosion and the Job Market
     
    Robotics and AI goes to the heart of how existing and new industries could widen the class gap between rich and poor, and between richer advanced countries and poorer nations. AI raises many public policy questions especially in the domain of economics and politics. This is largely because resource allocation will mean that the lower classes and less developed countries will be further marginalized in the world economy. Even in the advanced countries robots will be replacing humans in the workplace with grave social consequences in the absence of a strict regulatory regime and a social safety net for the working class.
     
    In 2016, a White House report speculated that AI will result in higher productivity, but it will also leave millions without work while creating far greater wealth inequality than already exists. Just as the Silicon Valley has created a small wealthy class without absorbing the surplus labor force at a time that the rich-poor gap has been widening in the last three decades, similarly AI will exacerbate the trend. Apologists of the market economy reject all pessimistic scenarios, insisting that AI will deliver paradise on earth for all humanity. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4068986/Is-job-risk-White-House-report-warns-AI-soon-leave-millions-Americans-unemployed.html; https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/04/robots-future-society-drones
     
    If world population reaches 9 billion by 2050 as it is expected (38% higher than in 2010), and assuming it climbs to 11.2 billion by the end of the century with 9 billion living in Africa and Asia, it is easy to envision the sorts of sociopolitical problems that AI will create in the name of solving others, mainly for the benefit of raising corporate profits. Considering that most people will live in the non-Western World, those in the West will use AI as the pretext to keep wages low and exert their political, economic, military and cultural hegemony. Xenophobic politicians and nativist groups will use AI as a pretext to keep out Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans. Heightened xenophobia with robots to the rescue of the Caucasian minority on the planet will be another dimension of those looking for a pretext to rally rightwing populists behind an authoritarian regime. http://www.visualcapitalist.com/animation-world-population-2100-region/
     
    It is a given that AI will result in many benefits in every field from surgery to the auto industry, and to an estimated 700 fields according to an Oxford University study. Just as the internet has made possible the assistance of a physician in Cleveland providing live instructions and advice to a colleague carrying out surgery in the Philippines, similarly AI will result in such miracles. The issue however is the manner that corporations and government will use AI as leverage for labor policy. When the auto industry introduced robotics in the 1970s (MIT’s “Silver Arm”), auto workers reacted like Luddites in the early 19th century England because they realized that corporations used robotics as leverage to drive down wages and benefits, circumvent labor standards and policies impacting workers and their socioeconomic condition. http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
     
    In our era, fast food restaurants are among some industries that want to replace minimum wage workers with robots as soon as possible. Multinational corporations have been threatening government not to raise the minimum wage because robots are not far off replacing humans. Just as capitalists in early 19th century England were using the machine as leverage to determine labor policy, so do corporate CEOs in the early 21st century. Just as the British government sided with businesses against the Luddites in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, governments in the 21st century are also on the side of industry against workers.
     
    From the perspective of the capitalist, an android can do a much better job in everything from serving food, to serving on the court bench as a judge without human prejudice which is the flaw that accounts human uniqueness. Although some argue that robots should not be used as health care providers or any area where human judgment of ethical considerations must be taken into account such as the judicial system, others insist that androids will serve humans better than people in every endeavor. As tools for human advancement and comfort, science and technology are a welcome development from a consumerist perspective, something that business and government use as an argument to fund R & D for AI.
     
    AI could unlock immense potential for economic growth and development for the betterment of mankind, at least as far as its advocates are concerned. This assumes that the benefits of AI once fully implemented will be equally shared among all social classes across the entire world. Did all social classes and all nations advance equally because of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and the first Industrial Revolution in England in the 18thcentury? The rich-poor (northern Hemisphere vs. Southern Hemisphere) divide between northwest Europe, North America and Japan that were the core of the world capitalists system became more pronounced by continued scientific, technological, and industrial development. Scientific, technological, and industrial development under the capitalist system was hardly the solution for the lack of social justice, for widespread misery owing to poverty and disease, and lack of health and education among the poor. On the contrary, the advanced capitalist countries used technology as tools of exploitation of the Southern Hemisphere and AI technology will be no different.
     
    Greater egalitarianism and the promise of creating a techno-scientific paradise on earth is the bait that corporations and bourgeois politicians and their apologists have been throwing to the masses for the past three centuries and they continue to do it when it comes to the AI revolution. There are studies warning about the greater gap between rich and poor people and countries that robotics will cause. “Oxford University researchers have estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next two decades. And if even half that number is closer to the mark, workers are in for a rude awakening. In the 1800s, 80 percent of the U.S. labor force worked on farms. Today it’s 2 percent. Obviously mechanization didn’t destroy the economy. “
     
    In Robot Nation, Stan Neilson raises the question of how a large percentage of the population will survive when corporations replace humans with robots on such a scale that half of the active work force will not be employable. Is the future of the majority of the people to serve robots serving the rich who own the robots? Will such conditions create the atmosphere for social revolutions because AI will create greater polarization than we have seen in modern history? After all, the contradiction of the AI revolution is the promise to make life better for all when it is entirely possible that it will make it much worse for the majority. While businesses and politicians are constantly trying to convince people that the AI revolution is a panacea, people will see for themselves that the benefits will accrue to the elites. Will there be a rise of a Luddite movement against robots and will the elites use robots to suppress revolutionary uprisings?
     
    Advocates of AI insist that hyperbolic issues depicted in science fiction motion pictures and books have nothing to do with the practical reality of AI. The proponents of this new revolution believe that many new opportunities will be created by the new industry and robots will complement humans rather than humans competing with robots for jobs. The challenge for large corporations is to have the engineers to keep pace with the job demand. American companies have complained that government must do something to meet the demand shortage that forces corporations to recruit from India, China, Iran, Russia and other countries. India and China graduates 10 to 20 times more engineers (depending on the source) than the US where the field is not popular with students. On November 30, 2016, the computer sciences dean Andrew Moore testified before the congressional Subcommittee on Space, Science and Transportation that the US must have one million High School students now geared for engineering to maintain global competitiveness in AI. https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2016/november/moore-senate-testimony.html
     
    The engineering glut in Asia, India, China and Japan also points to the race for AI that is seen as another tool giving the competitive advantage to whichever country crosses the finish line first with far reaching implications for the economy. Considering that about half of US engineering graduates  (54% Ph.D. and 42% MS) are foreign nationals, corporations have been asking government in the past ten years to provide more incentives, everything from scholarships to R & D grants to universities graduating engineers. Because of the enormous potential to the economy and defense sector, AI has become an important element in international competition, leaving no room to question the nuances of corporate welfare for the AI industry and about what it would mean to the active workforce of the future.
     
    Transhumanism and Identity
     
    Resting on the works of “transhumanist” intellectuals, the corporate, political and business advocates of AI believe the evolution of culture and identity is inevitable with the advent of robotics. Welcoming tranhumanism, the advocates believe that human beings have always evolved under very different conditions throughout human history, and they will continue to evolve physically and mentally thanks to the advancements in science and technology. While Max More’s definition of transhumanism cited below touches on some risks of AI, it stresses the benefits and it is the kind of justification that AI investors, government and industry is seeking.
    1. The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
    2. The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. http://whatistranshumanism.org/; Max More and Natasha Vita-More, The Transhumanist Reader, 2013)
    Ever since British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane’s essay “Daedalus: Science and the Future” (1923), scientists advocating transhumanism have flirted with the idea of eugenics made possible by advances in science and technology. The idea of humans existing in a mechanical environment and approximating an android could be an anathema to a theologian or a humanist. For transhumanists, this is neither blasphemy nor perversion of the human condition; only its improvement. http://www.nextbigfuture.com/2013/03/data-driven-eugenics-genetic.html
     
    Cyberculture that has created virtual communities raises philosophical questions about identity, relationships, values, the withering of real community culture, and lifestyles that will largely be determined by the AI industry. Robot companions and infophiles are oblivious to the unknown risks that AI could pose on society, arguing that a generation or two ago skeptics of the internet had similar questions. There are those who maintain that cyberculture is egalitarian and within it there is a counterculture movement validating its democratic nature and endless possibilities for individual and cyber-identity.
     
    Others warn that there is also a criminal and “hate group” culture operating in everything from promoting narcotics to human slavery, from neo-Nazi elements to nihilistic cults promoting suicide, all of which could potentially become much worse with AI technology. “Social engineering, which refers to the practice of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging information, is widely seen as the weakest link in the computer security chain. Cybercriminals already exploit the best qualities in humans — trust and willingness to help others — to steal and spy. The ability to create artificial intelligence avatars that can fool people online will only make the problem worse.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/24/technology/artificial-intelligence-evolves-with-its-criminal-potential.html?_r=0
     
    To apologists, cyberculture is not confined to the perimeters of the hegemonic culture of the elites simply because Silicon Valley is an integral part of corporate America. To skeptics, it has yet to be determined what role AI will play in shaping human and group identity if robotics is the domain of the business and political class. After all, large corporations and governments have a dominant role in cyberculture because they control cyberspace. Although we have no way of determining how AI will shape human identity, we do know something about the web’s influence in that regard.
     
    In 2012, the British government commissioned a study directed by Professor Sir John Beddington on the manner the web was redefining human identity. Concluding that traditional identity based on community was becoming less relevant by web users, the study noted that there were both positive and negative influences resulting from the web community and users’ sense of identity. A segment of the population identifying with a particular sporting or cultural event could be mobilized through the web because individuals identified with that specific cause. At the same time, thousands of people could be called into political action as was the case not just with the Arab Spring uprisings, but also Occupy Wall Street and European protests. “The internet can allow many people to realise their identities more fully. Some people who have been shy or lonely or feel less attractive discover they can socialise more successfully and express themselves more freely online”. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-21084945
     
    According to the British report on web identity, there was a sharp rise of internet users becoming members of social networks in the first two decades of the 21st century, along with the prevalence of social networks that accounted for changing identity of users. This is especially in the advanced capitalist countries, but the trend has spread rapidly to India, China and other parts of the world. Given the prevalence of social networks and the web, what will AI mean to human beings and their sense of identity and community once perfected to be almost indistinguishable from humans? If Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara used RADIO REBELDE effectively to undertake the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, will future generations use AI robots for social change, for personal satisfaction, for both and much more?  
     
    Infophiles are already becoming more like the machines they use, like surreal characters in a Franz Kafka novel or a science fiction motion picture. They crave virtual reality more than empirical reality; their relationship with their cell phones or computers outlasts any other they have with human beings. If we accept the assumption that environment shapes human nature to a large degree as empiricist philosophers ever since John Locke argued, then we must accept that a techno-science environment of AI robots used by bio-engineered humans will result in robo-humans and a world where transhumanism will be the norm.
     
    Eager to have robots behave like the ideal human, scientists are trying to create the machine that can emulate human beings when in fact the infophile has evolved into a quasi-robotic existence. The robot can be programmed to mimic human behavior, but humans are already programmed by institutions to mimic robots. Obedience is what businesses want from employees and consumers, what government expects from its docile citizenry, what religious institutions expect of the faithful. Just as robots are subject to conformity lacking free will, similarly the masses have moved in that direction as well. It often seems as though society has moved closer to the science fiction world of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS, but it is all in the name of ‘progress’. Given the mechanical evolution of where capitalism is leading humanity, why should it be surprising that rich people who could afford the robot would have a problem with it as a lover or companion; after all it would be in the name of ‘progress’ and who wants to be left behind?
     
    Future generations growing up in the world of AI will be conditioned into virtual reality as “more real” than the blood running in their veins, rejecting the real community which they cannot switch off and on like cell phones. It could be argued that the generation conditioned in infophilia has an identity not much different than our ancestors in the Age of Faith (500-1500 A.D.) who lived with the dream of achieving eternal life in Paradise. Nevertheless, the infophilia generation would be condemned to increasing alienation from the real community. As long as AI human-like robots and techno devices keep people content, at least for those with the means to afford them, humans will be aiming at techno-perfection.
     
    To be human entails a myriad of contradictions, rational and irrational tendencies; instinctive spontaneous reaction and carefully planned; expressing free will and yearning for spiritual and emotional ventures; striving for self-improvement in every aspect of one’s character, and above all the limitless boundaries of creativity rooted in the totality of life’s empirical experiences. The robot does not have these traits and is defined by programmed behavior, or operating within certain confines even when perfected at some point in the future to account for emotional reactions and creativity. Nor does the robot have the biological sense of empathy for humans even if programmed not to harm them. This makes a robot as much the perfect soldier and police officer as it does the perfect worker to obey. In short, through robotics, corporations are designing the perfect soldier and worker and one that would be a model for humans to emulate.
     
    Erich Fromm’s theory of social necrophilia helps to explain human behavior increasingly emulating technical devices, not merely as a byproduct of science and technology, but of sociopolitical conditioning in a world where human values are measured by inanimate objects. There is a case to be made that identity with the machine and emulating it leads to a necroculture distorting human values where inanimate objects have greater worth than human beings – materialism in a capitalist society over humanism of an anthropocentric society is the norm. (Charles Thorpe, Necroculture, 2016)
     
    While force, social and legal/criminal justice pressures, along with religious institutions kept people docile and compliant in centuries past across the globe, it could be argued that science and technology are substitutes to religion as the new conduits to keep human beings in a state of conformity. Existential alienation that Jean-Paul Sartre addressed in Being and Nothingness is vastly exacerbated by the cyber-world in which we live. We are wired to alienation by the dominant market-oriented culture, whereas the French peasant in the 12th century was presumably content in the illusion of connectedness to the divine and hope for eternal Paradise. Either our cyber-illusions could be as fulfilling as those of our ancestors 1000 years ago, or we are merely more delusional about a false sense of hope in our cyber-controlled lives. 

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    US, Russia and Syria

    April 20th, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

     

     
    Introduction
     
    Nothing unifies America at home and rallies support among its allies quicker than a bombing of a Muslim nation, no matter the ideological, political, and moral justifications about the military option as a first resort before or after the bombing. Governments divided and lacking popular support, governments questioned by a segment of the military, political and business elites, and by their allies for weak defense policies resort to military conflict as a means of bringing together opposing factions and unifying the disparate elements behind military action, even if the longer term consequences are disastrous. This has been the case since fifth century Athens and it remains true to this day with the US in the early 21st century desperately holding on to its post-WWII role as the world’s policeman amid gradual economic decline, chronic socioeconomic and sociopolitical polarization, and the rising global influence of non-Western powers.
     
    This is not to imply that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad (2000-present) has been politically and socially just; certainly no more so than others in the region allied with the US against Syria in the civil war started in 2011 and intended to bring down the regime that the US, UK, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey oppose. Nor does critical analysis of US militarism mean that Moscow backing Damascus is engaged in anything but the preservation of a long-time strategic ally; denying the West the privilege of enjoying hegemony in the Middle East and holding on to it for itself and its ephemeral ally Iran. The issue is not one of moral superiority or “just war” by one side vs. the other because no government on any side of this conflict can possibly claim moral superiority or pretend to act on humanitarian grounds. However, there are degrees of blame for the tragedy of Syria since 2011, just as is the case in Yemen’s monumental tragedy resulting from civil war that outside powers have been fueling.
     
    Despite its long-standing record of militarism as a way of life in perpetuating Pax America since the Spanish-American War (1898-1901), the US insists on projecting the image that it has a morally, politically, and ideologically superior position to accord itself the role of patron imperialist delivering the wretched of the earth to Western capitalist civilization – a 21st century version of the 19th century “White Man’s Burden”. For those who have lived in the US and studied the culture of militarism it is hardly surprising that it is equated with “leadership” traits, with a mandate from providence to transform the world into the image Americans decide – a Manifest Destiny unique in the Anglo-Saxon mindset deeply rooted in 19th century thinking, globalized during the Truman administration in 1947.
     
    Does the US have such a stellar record of delivering “freedom and democracy” to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen or anywhere in the world where it has intervened militarily since the Spanish-American War that it reserves the right to conduct unilateral bombings killing mostly civilians? Is the US so concerned about delivering democracy to Syria and stopping the use of chemical weapons resulting in civilian deaths, or did it have a role in causing and perpetuating the Syrian civil war where chemical weapons were in the hands of both the government and the US-backed rebels?
     
    Other than delivering more contracts to defense companies and the ability to justify a 10% rise in the US defense budget of 2018 what exactly is the US national security interest in Syria, as candidate Donald Trump often asked throughout 2016 while campaigning. Other than creating the dislocation of tens of millions of refugees that burden neighboring nations and Europe while denied entry into the US, what is the goal of American militarism? Is it the added acres as it was in Vietnam where defeat was inevitable from the outset but the war continued until there was no hope for Pax American to prevail? Other than throwing fuel on the fire of jihadist terrorism as the US defines it what exactly is the end game of destabilization policies in the Middle East? Certainly not human rights and social justice because the entire world knows the US record regarding these issues as it does the treatment of its own minority citizens, immigrants, and refugees.
     
    Military power for the sake of symbolism and feeling good comes at a very high cost and long-term consequences to the detriment of the country engaged in reckless conduct in everything from higher public debt to declining civilian economy. This has always been the case throughout history, from the Athenian Empire under Pericles, to the Roman Empire after Marcus Aurelius, the British Empire subjugating Africans and Asian, the Japanese Empire focused on “Asia for Asians” militarist policy, ND the German Empire and Nazi Germany largely responsible for the two world wars. The inevitability of self-induced American decline rests with its policies, not with external enemies of Washnington’s chosing.
     
    US Bombing of Syria: Beyond the Regional Balance of Power
     
    On 6 April 2017, the US hit Syrian Shayrat Airfield with 59 missiles from two ships in the Eastern Mediterranean. The reason given was that US officials “believed” – not knew as and had verified by the UN – that Damascus was responsible for the use of gas warfare against jihadist rebel targets a few days before where 100 civilians died. The UN Security Council had requested time to investigate the use of chemical weapons to determine what actually took place. Russia argued that Syria’s chemical weapons had been removed in 2014 and that its planes hit a gas chemical weapons site belonging to jihadists, thus releasing the toxic chemicals that killed innocent civilians.
     
    If one followed the same logic as the US government’s justification for launching a missile attack on Syria, then where is the accountability for the US air strikes in Mosul (Iraq) that left twice as many civilians dead as the chemical strike in Syria in March 2017? In the age of the web and mass communications with photo and video evidence of atrocities, hypocrisy by any government or group is quickly exposed throughout the world no matter what the corporate or government media efforts to obfuscate the evidence and propagate. Adding to the confusion of US military action, there was speculation about US policy both toward Syria and Russia and about the various reasons that it used missiles to hit the Shayrat aribase.

    The same politicians, journalists and pundits who dismiss the Trump administration for its inability to separate fact from fiction and provide truthful have no problem accepting without any proof everything about Syria and Russia, even going as far as rejecting what the UN envoy to Syria actually stated at the UN Security Council about the absence of any conclusion regarding the culprit in the use of chemical weapons. Highly skeptical of the Trump administration’s neo-isolationist foreign policy backed by “American First” slogans implying a rejection of multilateral obligations, the foreign press, historically pro-US politicians and foreign policy analysts previously questioning America’s role in the world were suddenly reassured all was well once Trump resorted to militarism.

    Given their own foreign policy goals in the Middle East, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other authoritarian Arab governments, many of which have been providing direct and indirect support to ISIS, al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups in Syria and Yemen, they immediately expressed support for US bombing. NATO members immediately came to the defense of their principal member that had been expressing lukewarm commitment toward the historical Atlantic Alliance with overtones for rapprochement toward Russia and political support for anti-EU rightwing populist parties in Europe. What a better way to bring the US back to the fold of militarists, conservatists, globalists, neoliberals and Cold War ideologues than to applaud bombing operations toward Syria. What a better way to send a signal to Russia, Iran, and China that have been supporting Assad than for the US to strike at Syrian military targets?
     
    Just days before the US struck Syria, both the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump publicly stated a non-interference policy, refusing to engage in regime change politics like the Obama administration, despite the US ambassador to the UN pursuing the old Obama regimer change policy. Because the continuation of American militarism as a way of life has been a catalyst to political unity and distraction from the serious issues that matter in peoples’ material lives – living standards, health care, affordable housing and college – Trump caved to immense institutional pressures for military action regardless of the longer term costs and regardless of the absence of any goals other than deterrence. Co-opting the critics was a goal cheaply achieved by droping bombs on Syria.
     
    Did Assad or Russia have a motive to use chemical weapons precisely at a time that Washington announced it was content with the status quo? The speculation about this matter ranges from wild conspiracy theories to chaos and contradictory policies within the Obama administration. An investigation could prove that Russia and Syria were indeed responsible, but it has yet to take place and it can only be credible if there are inspectors from all sides and not just US and its close allies. Did jihadist rebels have a motive to explode chemical weapons immediately after Trump announced that Assad’s regime was acceptable? 

    Even in the age of massive media propaganda by all sides, eventually, we will find out who really used chemical weapons, just as we found out that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction but the US and UK governments had absolutely no problem lying to the UN, to their citizens and to the world in order to invade. By the time the facts emerge about who used chemical weapons in Syria, the US will be preoccupied with other military operations because militarism for the purpose of destabilization remains a way of life for US foreign policy, no matter the announcement by Trump to be more restrained and narrowly focused about highly costly military operations.
     
    As already stated, there were enormous domestic and international pressures on the US to remain the status quo Cold War power committed to NATO, militarism, and anti-Russian as though we are still in the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Domestic and international pressures on Trump expected him to play the role of the world’s policeman with destabilization in the Middle East at the epicenter. There was and still is very little support domestically among both US political parties, and among EU and Middle East allies to deviate from the long-standing policy of militarism as a way of life because political, military and economic elites of all the respective countries benefit from militarism linked to political and economic interests. Saudi Arabia purchasing billions of dollars in defense contracts from the US and UK have tragic implication in Yemen’s civil war – Sunni-Shiite power struggle with Iran-backed factions on one side and Saudi-backed government on the other. This struggle that has resulted in one of the world’s worse humanitarian crisis is inexorably linked to massive profits in the UK and US selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.
     
    This is not to minimize the balance of power issue that has to do with Iran emerging as the most powerful regional player after the US spent close to $4.6 trillion in the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Gulf States do not want a powerful Iran as much in Syria and Iraq as in Yemen. For the sake of multi-billion dollar defense contracts and securing the loyalty of authoritarian Arab regimes, the price paid is by millions of civilians including women and children that the US and UK bombs have killed, injured, and displaced in the first two decades of the 21st century. For Washington, the issue is to support its ally Saudi Arabia that has very deep financial, trade, political and geopolitical ties to the US, regardless of the historic ties of Saudi involvement in terrorism. As far as the US and its allies are concerned, war crimes do not apply to itself and its allies. Just as the case of innocent civilian victims in Mosul Iraq killed by US bombs are collateral damage rather than war crimes, similarly, any war casualties no matter where and how many are just that, whereas the same war casualties owing to enemy fire constitute war crimes. American Exceptionalism remains a justification for license to maintain militarism as a way of life.
     
    Domestic Political Pressure
     
    The Democrat Party’s strategy has been to use the Cold War anti-Russia card as a means of attacking Trump who publicly invited WIKILEAKS and the Russians to hack the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s emails and undermine the electoral process. Clearly, Trump’s family and various associates under FBI investigation have had financial interests in Russia and they have proved that they were at least willing to sell policy for the right price, no differently than Democrats have done with Wall Street and friendly nations. The core issue is the sale of public policy to a historic enemy and how an administration that has engaged in such conduct gains credibility at home and abroad to conduct foreign policy. 

    To mobilize public support among the popular base, which was sharply divided between the progressive wing of Senator Bernie Sanders and the neoliberal-militarist wing of the Obama-Clinton establishment, the Obama-Clinton Cold War-neoliberal wing of the party used the Russian issue to attack Trump from the right in an ironic role reversal with rightwing Republicans like John McCain siding with Cold War Democrats. The day after Trump was sworn into office, there were mass demonstrations against him. Popular protests continued against the Muslim ban executive order randomly targeting Islamic nations that have no history of posing a threat to US national security. The Democrat Party was moving left and Bernie Sanders, an Independent, was the most powerful politician in the Democrat camp. To bring the party back to its Cold War-neoliberal agenda that faithfully serves Wall Street and the military industrial complex, the party establishment focused on the Russian menace, rather than on the corruption of the Trump family and associates who placed their personal financial interests above those of the broader national interest.
     
    This is not to pass judgment on what Russia did with the election because there has been no evidence declassified to prove anything either way. However, by adopting a hard line toward Russia, Democrats presented themselves as more patriotic, more nationalistic, and more willing to have a full blown new Cold War than Republicans. Even European leaders were so confused that they were asking both Moscow and Washington to clarify where exactly US-Russian relations stand. Europeans are well aware that the US sanctions policy toward Russia hurts their economies and their diplomatic relations with Moscow much more than it does the US. At the same time, they are hardly blind to the reality of “public policy for sale” to Russian interests on the part of certain individuals in the Trump camp.

    The anti-Russian Cold War strategy served Democrats well with the military, political, and corporate elites linked to the party, while it projected the image of a Democrat Party embracing patriotism and national interest that Republicans were at best ignoring and at worst betrayed. Amid FBI and congressional investigations of the Trump clique’s ties to Russia, Democrats pushed the White House to seriously consider military adventurism as a panacea, at least short term and as another Trump distraction from his troubles with Congress skeptical about his agenda. As far as Democrats and Republicans were concerned, militarism makes a politician a true leader of the “Free World”, a theme accepted by the corporate media, analysts, and the business elites since the Truman Doctrine in 1947.
     
    In an article entitled, “The Syria strike could revive Trump’s economic agenda” one journalist argued that: “The Pentagon’s April 6 (2017) attack on a Syrian airfield used to launch chemical weapons has been about as popular as a military strike can be. Many world leaders support the move, either overtly or through lack of criticism. In Washington, Democrats who have been bashing Trump on everything voiced approval of the Syria strike. That includes Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, leaders of the Democratic resistance on Capitol Hill.”
     
    Establishment Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives on the defensive for Trump’s Russia links finally felt elated when bombs started dropping on Syria; no different than the typical reaction we have seen historically in the US. Defense contractors, ‘think tanks’, and the corporate media finally breathed a sigh of relief that Trump authorized military action signaling that he was willing to confront Putin by attacking his ally Assad, and to do so while hosting the president of China. It was as though military adventurism was the oxygen that Trump had taken away from the establishment and they were suffocating until bombs began dropping on the Syrian airfield, symbolic as that action was in its very limited capacity. 

    At last militarism as a way of life was back on track for the ideologues, for the Israeli lobby, for the corporate media, for all questioning Trump’s patriotism amid allegations of Russian meddling in the US election. In the absence of going after North Korea militarily as a realistic option, and given the symbolism of having China’s president at the time of ordering the bombing in Syria, Trump took the advice of the Pentagon, CIA and National Security Council as well as the Republicans who wanted him to prove that he was a mainstream Cold Warrior and not an isolationist. If nothing else, the peception of porjecting power was real and in politics perception is reality, until the empirical reality of militarist policies backfiring sets in when the end result is failure of US transformation policy.
     
    International Pressure
     
    A strike against the Assad regime was a strike against Russia and indirectly against China that has opposed US regime change and destabilization policies. That was exactly what US allies wanted from the Trump administration. After all, Trump had raised doubts about pursuing foreign policy along the bipartisan path that had been carved out since the Truman Doctrine in 1947 with NATO at the center of the militarist global network intended to facilitate Western imperial expansion. Although a number of foreign governments stated that the US government “believed” (not had facts) that the Damascus government used chemical weapons, it was hardly surprising that all US allies, except Austria, backed US military strikes against Syria and were unwilling to have the US wait for a multilateral approach with some semblance of UN consultation. International law and UN norms never apply to the US. Clearly, there was no cost to US allies, while there were many benefits to see Trump move into the foreign/defense policy mainstream that he had vowed to ignore.
     
    One could argue that the risk in such action was alienating Russia, China and Muslims world-wide, with possible terrorist strikes in Western cities such as the one that took place in Stockholm, Sweden hours after the US dropped bombs on Syria. Echoing unilateral themes, Trump has stated that he did not wish to be the leader of the Free World, but of the US, thus disregarding the historic commitment to leading military blocs and defining national security on the basis of the Truman Doctrine.  US bombs made the point that the US never abdicates its role as the world’s policeman, at least not until it has no alternative.
     
    The US ranks as the world’s most hated nation followed by its close ally Israel which relishes in American militarism and destabilization policies. Dropping bombs on Syria would not make the US much more unpopular that it is already, while it gains support from the majority of its own citizens and elites lining up behind the president. Anti-Americanism began to decline when Obama was elected in 2008, after he had promised but never delivered on a policy that placed diplomacy ahead of military solutions; respect of national sovereignty and multilateral institutions ahead of unilateral intervention; respect for international law and human rights above drone warfare that has killed countless civilians; and observance of national sovereignty and self-determination instead of military intervention that feeds defense contractors more profits and makes ideologues feel better about their delusional sense of American superiority carried out in the name of “freedom and democracy” that no one in the world takes seriously outside the small cricle of apologists for militarism. 
     
    Predictably, Syrian allies Russia and Iran categorically condemned US bombing as a violation of Syria’s national sovereignty and an act of aggression and international norms, calling an emergency UN Security Council meeting where Russia and Syria castigated the US for its hypocrisy when it comes to taking about the war on terror but pursue policies that promote terrorism. US-Russian relations have obviously reached a new low point, as Moscow accused Washington that “terrorists” struck immediately after US bombing, thus signaling a green light for the resurgence in the waning Syrian civil war. Because ISIS benefits from any kind of US or US-allied strikes against Assad, it becomes very difficult to convince public opinion around the world that the goal is to defeat terrorism. This may be exactly the kind of international political climate the US needed to move forward with Russia toward constructive enagement.
     
    The more important player in all of this was China focused on global economic expansion while the US has been spending itself to unsutainable public debt partly because of militaristic policies. President Xi Jingping was having dinner with Trump when the US gave the order to commence bombing. The official reaction of China was to condemn the use of chemical weapons by anyone, but to call for diplomatic instead of military action as a solution to political problems. Unofficially, the Chinese have much larger trade and South China Sea geopolitical issues that concern them to the degree they would understandably not make Syria the core of their discussions. However, the US is actually doing China a favor focusing on its historic enemy Russia and leaving China alone to deal primarily with the North Korean issue. Of course, China’s UN voting record has been consistently against the US and on the side of Russia and Iran when it comes to the balance of power in the Middle East and it is doubtful that Beijing and Moscow will cease to view the US as an aggressive militarist power intent on regime change around the world. While the US derives the emotional benefit of militarism, China derives the benefit of trade, investment and economic partnership with countries that the US invades and destroys.
     
    Amid the emotionally-charged atmosphere of the bombings, there were many US politicians, media analysts and others offering opinions about how the entire world would in effect roll over and play dead, or be taught a much-needed lesson simply because the US dropped 59 missiles on Syrian military targets. There are also those who believe that US demonstrating military resolve somehow proves the US is still the superpower it was in the early Cold War, no matter how much more influential China has become in the world economy. Very quickly the Trump administration will discover what the Obama administration learned the hard way over many years, namely that the transformational militarist policy toward Syria immersed in contradictions must be set aside because it leads nowhere; not with Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and most Syrians regardless of their support or opposition to Assad adamantly opposing the US and the West that they hold responsible for the lingering civil war. 
     
    Militarism as a way of life in the middle of the 20th century carried a lot more weight in a world divided between Communist East and capitalist West, a world in which the US was not just the preeminent military power but economic and technological/industrial one as well. In the second decade of the 21st century, militarism as a way of life still sends a message about America’s resolve to use the military option first and resort to diplomacy when that option has failed in other nations where it was tested. Nevertheless, it is more symbolic as it makes people feel good about gunboat diplomacy and somehow asserts their sense of identity with the past when the US militarism was the effective means of implementing “transformation policy”. Such policy neglects to face the reality of American world influence in decline at all levels to the degree that the US has to bomb Syria in order to validate its status in the eyes of its own deeply divided citizenry and the world highly skeptical of the US as a responsible power unable to use its influence in the world arena unless it uses bombs.
     
    If the goal was regime change as the US and those supporting its military solution policy suggest, they are in for a reality check. Assad is much stronger than he has been at any time since the US and its allies instigated the civil war. Moreover, only delusional analysts and ideologues believe that Russia and Iran will simply walk away from Syria and allow the US to reduce it to the kind of chaos that they reduced Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The US refusal to accept defeat in its covert and overt operations in Syria prolongs the tragedy for the people of Syria, and keeps the entire Middle East in a chronic state of instability under authoritarian regimes.
     
    Even if Assad is removed, the idea that a pro-US regime will govern Syria suggests that those dreaming of it do not know Syrian history and have no clue about Syrian society and culture, just as they had no clue when they declared war in Iraq and Afghanistan where the results speak for themselves more than a decade after the US invasions. The best the US can do is to negotiate with Russia and Iran to strike a deal about the regional balance of power. However, US, western European, Saudi Arabia and Israeli interests have a lot to gain politically and financially by having Washington maintain a destabilization policy. Therefore, militarism as a way of life is a deeply ingrained pattern in US foreign policy with deep domestic and international roots as much in the military and political establishment as in the corporate structure at home and among US allies. There is no turning back from US self-imposed decline because there is no turning back from militarism. 

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    American Militarism As A Way Of Life: Beyond Syria and The Middle East

    April 11th, 2017

    By John Kofas.

    Introduction

    Nothing unifies America at home and rallies support among its allies quicker than a bombing of a Muslim nation, no matter the ideological, political, and moral justifications about the military option as a first resort before or after the bombing. Governments divided and lacking popular support, governments questioned by a segment of the military, political and business elites, and by their allies resort to military conflict as a means of bringing together opposing factions and unifying the disparate elements behind military action, even if the longer term consequences are disastrous. This has been the case since fifth century Athens and it remains true to this day with the US in the early 21st century desperately holding on to its post-WWII role as the world’s policeman amid gradual economic decline, chronic socioeconomic and sociopolitical polarization, and the rising global influence of non-Western powers.

    This is not to imply that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad (2000-present) has been politically and socially just; certainly no more so than others in the region allied with the US against Syria in the civil war started in 2011 and intended to bring down the regime that the US, UK, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey oppose. Nor does critical analysis of US militarism mean that Moscow backing Damascus is engaged in anything but the preservation of a long-time strategic ally; denying the West the privilege of enjoying hegemony in the Middle East. The issue is not one of moral superiority or “just war” by one side vs. the other. However, there are degrees of blame for the tragedy of Syria since 2011 just as is the case in Yemen’s monumental tragedy resulting from civil war.

    Despite its long-standing record of militarism as a way of life in perpetuating Pax America since the Spanish-American War (1898-1901), the US insists on projecting the image that it has a morally, politically, and ideologically superior position to accord itself the role of patron imperialist delivering the wretched of the earth to Western capitalist civilization – a 21st century version of the 19th century “White Man’s Burden”.

    Does the US have such a stellar record of delivering “freedom and democracy” to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen or anywhere in the world where it has intervened militarily since the Spanish-American War that it reserves the right to conduct unilateral bombings killing mostly civilians? Is the US so concerned about delivering democracy to Syria and stopping the use of chemical weapons resulting in civilian deaths, or did it have a role in causing and perpetuating the Syrian civil war?

    Other than delivering more contracts to defense companies and the ability to justify a 10% rise in the US defense budget of 2018 what exactly is the US national security interest in Syria, as candidate Donald Trump often asked throughout 2016 while campaigning. Other than creating the dislocation of tens of millions of refugees that burden neighboring nations and Europe while denied entry into the US, what is the goal of American militarism? Is it the added acres as it was in Vietnam where defeat was inevitable from the outset but the war continued until there was no hope for Pax American to prevail? Other than throwing fuel on the fire of jihadist terrorism as the US defines it what exactly is the end game of destabilization policies in the Middle East? Certainly not human rights and social justice because the entire world knows the US record regarding these issues as it does the treatment of its own minority citizens, immigrants, and refugees.

    Military power for the sake of symbolism and feeling good comes at a very high cost and long-term consequences to the detriment of the country engaged in reckless conduct in everything from higher public debt to declining civilian economy. This has always been the case throughout history, from the Athenian Empire under Pericles, to the Roman Empire after Marcus Aurelius, the British Empire subjugating Africans and Asian, the Japanese Empire focused on “Asia for Asians” militarist policy, ND the German Empire and Nazi Germany largely responsible for the two world wars.

    US Bombing of Syria: Beyond the Regional Balance of Power

    On 6 March 2017, the US hit Syrian Shayrat Airfield with 59 missiles from two ships in the Eastern Mediterranean. The reason given was that US officials “believed” – not knew as and had verified by the UN – that Damascus was responsible for the use of gas warfare against jihadist rebel targets a few days before where 100 civilians died. The UN Security Council had requested time to investigate the use of chemical weapons to determine what actually took place. Russia argued that Syria’s chemical weapons had been removed in 2014 and that its planes hit a gas chemical weapons site belonging to jihadists, thus releasing the toxic chemicals that killed innocent civilians.

    If one followed the same logic as the US government’s justification for launching a missile attack on Syria, then where is the accountability for the US air strikes in Mosul (Iraq) that left twice as many civilians dead as the chemical strike in Syria in March 2017? In the age of the web and mass communications with photo and video evidence of atrocities, hypocrisy by any government or group is quickly exposed throughout the world no matter what the corporate or government media efforts to obfuscate the evidence and propagate.

    Given their own foreign policy goals in the Middle East, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other authoritarian Arab governments, many of which have been providing direct and indirect support to ISIS, al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups in Syria and Yemen, they immediately expressed support for US bombing. NATO members immediately came to the defense of their principal member that had been expressing lukewarm commitment toward the historical Atlantic Alliance with overtones for rapprochement toward Russia and political support for anti-EU rightwing populist parties in Europe. What a better way to bring the US back to the fold than to applaud bombing operations toward Syria. What a better way to send a signal to Russia, Iran and China that have been supporting Assad than to strike at Syrian military targets?

    Just days before the US struck Syria, both the US Secretary of State and President publicly stated non-interference policy, refusing to engage in regime change politics like the Obama administration. Because the continuation of American militarism as a way of life has been a catalyst to political unity and distraction from the serious issues that matter in peoples’ material lives – living standards, health care, affordable housing and college – Trump caved to immense institutional pressures for military action regardless of the longer term costs and regardless of the absence of any goals other than deterrence.

    Did Assad or Russia have a motive to use chemical weapons precisely at a time that Washington announced it was content with the status quo? An investigation could prove that Russia and Syria were indeed responsible, but it has yet to take place. Did jihadist rebels have such a motive immediately after Trump announced that Assad’s regime was acceptable? Eventually, we will find out who really used chemical weapons, just as we found out that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction but the US and UK governments had absolutely no problem lying to the UN, to their citizens and to the world. By the time the facts emerge about who used chemical weapons in Syria, the US would be preoccupied with other military operations because militarism for the purpose of destabilization remains a way of life for US foreign policy, no matter the announcement by Trump to be more restrained and narrowly focused about highly costly military operations.

    As already stated, there were enormous domestic and international pressures on the US to remain the status quo Cold War power committed to NATO, militarism, and anti-Russian as though we are still amid the Cuban Missile Crisis. Domestic and international pressures on Trump expected him to play the role of the world’s policeman with destabilization in the Middle East at the epicenter. There was and still is very little support domestically among both US political parties, and among EU and Middle East allies to deviate from the long-standing policy of militarism as a way of life because political, military and economic elites of all the respective countries benefit from militarism linked to political and economic interests. Saudi Arabia purchasing billions of dollars in defense contracts from the US and UK have tragic implication in Yemen’s civil war – Sunni-Shiite power struggle. This struggle that has resulted in one of the world’s worse humanitarian crisis is inexorably linked to massive profits in the UK and US selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

    This is not to minimize the regional balance of power that has to do with Iran emerging as the most powerful regional player after the US spent close to $4.6 trillion in the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Gulf States do not want a powerful Iran as much in Syria and Iraq as in Yemen. For the sake of multi-billion dollar defense contracts and securing the loyalty of authoritarian Arab regimes, the price paid is by millions of civilians including women and children that the US and UK bombs have killed, injured, and displaced in the first two decades of the 21st century.

    As far as the US and its allies are concerned, these are not war crimes. Just as the case of innocent civilian victims in Mosul Iraq killed by US bombs are collateral damage rather than war crimes, similarly, any war casualties no matter where and how many are just that, whereas the same war casualties owing to enemy fire constitute war crimes. American Exceptionalism remains a justification for license to maintain militarism as a way of life.

    Domestic Political Pressure

    The Democrat Party’s strategy has been to use the Cold War anti-Russia card as a means of attacking Trump who invited WIKILEAKS and the Russians to hack the DNC emails and undermine the electoral process. Clearly, Trump’s family and various associates under FBI investigation have had financial interests in Russia and they have proved that they were at least willing to sell policy for the right price, no differently than Democrats have done with Wall Street and friendly nations. To mobilize public support among the popular base, which was sharply divided between the progressive wing of Senator Bernie Sanders and the neoliberal-militarist wing of the Obama-Clinton establishment, the Obama-Clinton Cold War-neoliberal wing of the party used the Russian issue to attack Trump from the right in an ironic role reversal with rightwing Republicans like John McCain siding with Cold War Democrats.

    The day after Trump was sworn into office, there were mass demonstrations against him. Popular protests continued against the Muslim ban executive order randomly targeting Islamic nations that have no history of posing a threat to US national security. The Democrat Party was moving left and Bernie Sanders, an Independent, was the most powerful politician in the Democrat camp. To bring the party back to its Cold War-neoliberal agenda that faithfully serves Wall Street and the military industrial complex, the party establishment focused on the Russian menace, rather than on the corruption of the Trump family and associates who placed their personal financial interests above those of the broader national interest.

    This is not to pass judgment on what Russia did with the election because there has been no evidence declassified to prove anything either way. However, by adopting a hard line toward Russia, Democrats presented themselves as more patriotic, more nationalistic, and more willing to have a full blown new Cold War than Republicans. Even European leaders were so confused that they were asking both Moscow and Washington to clarify where exactly US-Russian relations stand. The anti-Russian Cold War strategy served Democrats well with the military, political, and corporate elites linked to the party, while it projected the image of a Democrat Party embracing patriotism and national interest that Republicans were at best ignoring and at worst betrayed. Amid FBI and congressional investigations of the Trump clique’s ties to Russia, Democrats pushed the White House to seriously consider military adventurism as a panacea, at least short term and as another Trump distraction from his troubles with Congress skeptical about his agenda. As far as Democrats and Republicans were concerned, militarism makes a politician a leader, a theme accepted by the corporate media, analysts, and the business elites.

    In an article entitled, “The Syria strike could revive Trump’s economic agenda” one journalist argued that: “The Pentagon’s April 6 (2017) attack on a Syrian airfield used to launch chemical weapons has been about as popular as a military strike can be. Many world leaders support the move, either overtly or through lack of criticism. In Washington, Democrats who have been bashing Trump on everything voiced approval of the Syria strike. That includes Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, leaders of the Democratic resistance on Capitol Hill.”

    https://finance.yahoo.com/news/syria-strike-revive-trumps-economic-agenda-154609716.html

    Establishment Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives on the defensive for Trump’s Russia links finally felt elated when bombs started dropping on Syria. Defense contractors, ‘think tanks’, and the corporate media finally breathed a sigh of relief that Trump authorized military action signaling that he was willing to confront Putin by attacking his ally Assad. It was as thought military adventurism was the oxygen that Trump had taken away from the establishment and they were suffocating until bombs began dropping on Syria, symbolic as that action was. At last militarism as a way of life, although in very limited form, was back on track for the ideologues, for the Israeli lobby, for the corporate media, for all questioning Trump’s patriotism amid allegations of Russian meddling in the US election. In the absence of going after North Korea militarily as a realistic option, and given the symbolism of having China’s president at the time of ordering the bombing in Syria, Trump took the advice of the Pentagon, CIA and National Security Council as well as the Republicans who wanted him to prove that he was a mainstream Cold Warrior and not an isolationist.

    International Pressure

    A strike against the Assad regime was a strike against Russia but also the new beginning of an international armed conflict. That was exactly what US allies wanted from the Trump administration. After all, he had raised doubts about pursuing foreign policy along the bipartisan path that had been carved out since the Truman Doctrine in 1947 with NATO at the center of the militarist global network intended to facilitate Western imperial expansion. Although a number of foreign governments stated that the US government “believed” (not had facts) that the Damascus government used chemical weapons, it was hardly surprising that all US allies, except Austria, backed US military strikes against Syria and were unwilling to have the US wait for a multilateral approach with some semblance of UN consultation. Clearly, there was no cost to US allies and many benefits to see Trump move into the foreign/defense policy mainstream that he had vowed to ignore.

    One could argue that the risk in such action was alienating Russia and Muslims world-wide, with possible terrorist strikes in Western cities such as the one that took place in Stockholm Sweden hours after the US dropped bombs on Syria. Echoing unilateral themes, Trump has stated that he did not wish to be the leader of the Free World, but of the US, thus disregarding the historic commitment to leading military blocs and defining national security on the basis of the Truman Doctrine.

    The US ranks as the world’s most hated nation followed by its close ally Israel which relishes in American militarism and destabilization policies. Dropping bombs on Syria would not make the US much more unpopular that it is already. Anti-Americanism began to decline when Obama was elected in 2008, after he had promised but never delivered on a policy that placed diplomacy ahead of military solutions; respect of national sovereignty and multilateral institutions ahead of unilateral intervention; respect for international law and human rights above drone warfare that has killed countless civilians; and observance of national sovereignty and self-determination instead of military intervention that feeds defense contractors more profits and makes ideologues feel better about their delusional sense of American superiority.

    Predictably, Syrian allies Russia and Iran categorically condemned US bombing as a violation of Syria’s national sovereignty and an act of aggression and international norms, calling an emergency UN Security Council meeting where Russia and Syria castigated the US for its hypocrisy when it comes to taking about the war on terror but pursue policies that promote terrorism. US-Russian relations have obviously reached a new low point, as Moscow accused Washington that “terrorists” struck immediately after US bombing, thus signaling a green light for the resurgence in the waning Syrian civil war. Because ISIS benefits from any kind of US or US-allied strikes against Assad, it becomes very difficult to convince public opinion around the world that the goal is to defeat terrorism.

    The more important player in all of this was China. President Xi Jingping was having dinner with Trump when the US gave the order to commence bombing. The official reaction of China was to condemn the use of chemical weapons by anyone, but to call for diplomatic instead of military action as a solution to political problems. Unofficially, the Chinese have much larger trade and South China Sea geopolitical issues that concern them to the degree they would understandably not make Syria the core of their discussions. However, China’s UN voting record has been consistently against the US and on the side of Russia and Iran when it comes to the balance of power in the Middle East.

    Amid the emotionally-charged atmosphere of the bombings, there were many US politicians, media analysts and others offering opinions about how the entire world would in effect roll over and play dead, or taught a lesson simply because the US dropped 59 missiles on Syrian military targets. There are also those who believe that US demonstrating military resolve somehow proves the US is still the superpower it was in the early Cold War, no matter how much more influential China has become in the world economy. Very quickly the Trump administration will discover what the Obama administration learned the hard way, namely that the policy toward Syria immersed in contradictions must be set aside because it leads nowhere. 

    Militarism as a way of life in the middle of the 20th century carried a much heavier influence in a world divided between Communist East and capitalist West, a world in which the US was not just the preeminent military power but economic and technological/industrial one as well. In the second decade of the 21st century, militarism as a way of life still sends a message about America’s resolve to use the military option first and resort to diplomacy when that option has failed. Nevertheless, it is more symbolic as it makes people feel good about gunboat diplomacy and somehow asserts their sense of identity with the past when the US militarism was the effective means of implementing “transformation policy”. Such policy neglects to face the reality of American world influence in decline at all levels to the degree that the US has to bomb Syria in order to validate its status in the eyes of its own deeply divided citizenry and the world highly skeptical of the US as a responsible power unable to use its influence in the world arena unless it uses bombs.

    If the goal was regime change as the US and those supporting its military solution policy suggest, they are in for a reality check. Assad is stronger than he has been at any time since the US and its allies instigated the civil war. Moreover, only delusional analysts believe that Russia and Iran will simply walk away from Syria and allow the US to reduce it to the kind of chaos that they reduced Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The US refusal to accept defeat in its covert and overt operations in Syria prolongs the tragedy for the people of Syria, and keeps the entire Middle East in a chronic state of instability under authoritarian regimes.

    Even if Assad is removed, the idea that a pro-US regime will govern Syria suggests that those dreaming of it do not know Syrian history and have no clue about Syrian society and culture. The best the US can do is to negotiate with Russia and Iran to strike a deal about the regional balance of power. However, US, western European, Saudi Arabian and Israeli interests have a lot to gain politically and financially by having Washington maintain a destabilization policy, thus militarism as a way of life is a deeply ingrained pattern in US foreign policy with deep roots as much in the military and political establishment as in the corporate structure.

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    ETERNAL ENEMIES: US and Russia 100 Years after the Bolshevik Revolution

    March 14th, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    ETERNAL ENEMIES: US and Russia 100 Years after the Bolshevik Revolution

    Introduction

    On the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which changed not just East-West relations but of the entire world in the 20th century, this brief essay examines some of the dynamics of the seemingly eternal conflict behind US-Russian relations. As Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston stated before the House of Commons in March 1848 amid the eruption of social revolutions erupted throughout Europe, countries have no eternal enemies or eternal allies, only eternal interests. Although national interests as defined by a government mold relations between allies and enemies, US-Russian relations since the Bolshevik Revolution illustrate how such interests account for eternal enemies.

    As the stronger power of the two, the US has dogmatically pursued confrontation in most cases since the Bolshevik Revolution and made faint efforts to derive the benefits of cooperation only when there was no alternative as in the case of World War II where the USSR was absolutely key to forcing Germany into a two-front war. Besides dropping atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US sent a strong signal to Moscow that Washington reverted to the “eternal enemies” mode by promulgating the Truman Doctrine.

    Owing to domestic and foreign policy dynamics that reflect the goal of maintaining imperial America’s role in the world, the “eternal enemies” mindset is deeply ingrained in the American society and prevalent in its political culture. Institutions that were built around this confrontation, politicians and military officers, academic and think tank analysts carved careers around it, the existence of consulting firms and corporations depend on its permanence.

    Apologists of the “eternal enemies” thesis would never question whether a mid-20th century approach to foreign policy and Cold War doctrines promulgated by Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon has any relevance in the early 21st century. Whereas the US from Truman to Nixon could claim superpower status as a military, economic, and political global force, it cannot make the same claim in 2017 amid a polycentric world structure in which America’s ability to determine the balance of power is limited.

    To manage the post-war global order, the US, USSR and China respected each other’s spheres of influence that defined the essence of the Cold War between Communist East and capitalist West. While the Cuban Missile Crisis proved an aberration that brought US and USSR very close to war, there was general agreement about each side’s spheres of influence – a 19th century Northwestern European imperialist concept. In the post-Cold War order, both Beijing and Moscow concede that the US is the hegemonic power in the Western Hemisphere and would not attempt to challenge is historic role in the Pan-American System. They further concede that the Atlantic Alliance is a security foundation for which the US would risk war if members are threatened, but both Moscow and Beijing, among other countries such as Iran and India, are suspicious of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion.

    Washington has placed no restrictions on its expansionist role when it comes to intruding in the spheres of influence of both China and Russia. The US has been expanding both NATO with the intent of weakening Russia by integrating more members in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, and trying to contain China by having India under Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi join the US-led Asian defense alliance system based on the old model of the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO, 1955-1977). Neither Russia nor China has imposed military containment policies on the US, despite a number of countries proposing that the solution to US military interventionism and covert operations is a containment policy.

    The source of the underlying confrontation between the US and its former Communist rivals rests on Washington’s insistence for an asymmetrical military relationship that permits the US to define itself as the world’s policeman unilaterally and without limits. Proudly proclaiming that the doctrine of “Exceptionalism” (US has a mission to transform the world because it is superior to all other nations) rooted in historical precedent permits the US to pursue imperialism as part of a “mandate from providence”, Washington remains wedded to Pax Americana, as though the world has been standing still since the Truman Doctrine for the “American century” to continue forever unchallenged.

    As anxious to maintain the Cold War status quo, in some respects even more so as they proved recently when the Trump administration suggested that NATO was anachronistic, the Western European governments see the Atlantic Alliance as leverage for their continued efforts at global economic expansion that favors their multinational corporations. Just as interested in the continuity of the “eternal enemies”, Japan, Canada, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea Taiwan, among others want to keep the Cold War strategic status quo a generation after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. However, realism has sunk in about the evolving polycentric world power structure and there is increased divergence between military dependence on the West and economic integration with China.

    Historical Roots of the “Eternal Enemies” Thesis

    Like the US, Russia is nearly self-sufficient in raw materials, but unlike the US it has struggled to maintain its national sovereignty throughout its history owing to autocratic regime under the Tsars geared to sustain about 150,000 aristocrats at the expense of the peasants and workers. Lagging behind the West economically since the Scientific Revolution that Peter the Great (1682-96) so admired, and focusing on military development instead of strengthening the economy to the degree that it could sustain a strong defense, Russia sacrificed multidimensional development so it could maintain a Medieval political economy and a social order based on serfdom abolished in 1861 four years before the US abolished slavery. Part of the East-West eternal clash is owing to the huge gap between Russia’s potential to realize its great power status and the reality of a country on the verge of falling into dependency on the West.

    For Russia the eternal conflict with West has deep historical roots during the Tsarist era when the country lapsed into a virtual economic dependency of the West while retaining its Great Power military status. In as much as the Bolshevik Revolution was an attempt to end external dependence and reaffirm its sovereignty, The Bolsheviks achieved their goal at the price of compromising social justice to maintain high defense spending. This is partly because they confronted a hostile world trying to undermine the revolution by invading Russia with about three-quarter of a million troops during the Civil War.

    One hundred years after the October Revolution, Russia finds itself in the unusual position of fighting for its sovereignty under a nationalist-authoritarian regime backed by the armed forces, police (Federal Security Service, successor to KGB), and state-supported oligarchs whose capital is well integrated in the world economy. Weakened by the chaos of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Russian Federation was relegated to a status similar to that under the Tsars when it was militarily powerful but economically dependent on the West, importing manufactured goods and exporting raw materials.

    Integration in the world capitalist economy during the 1990s meant that Russia surrendered its superpower status and reverted to a regional Eurasian power surrounded by former Soviet republics that Europe and the US targeted for integration. During the Boris Yeltsin decade of the 1990s, Russia witnessed very aggressive European and US integration efforts throughout Eastern Europe and Eurasia that seriously compromised both its sovereignty and its historical zones of influence.  

    Having left Communism behind, Russia after Vladimir Putin’s presidential election in 2000 opted for a strong state structure, although very corrupt quasi-authoritarian bureaucratic system of capitalist clientism linked to the Kremlin. This was geared to defend national sovereignty while trying to safeguard some spheres of influence. The state structure model was based on the historical precedent of internal colonization that goes back to the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1547-84) when the Cossack rebel Vasiliy “Yermak ” Tomofeyevich Alenin and fur trade interests launched the era of territorial expansion with the conquest of Siberia.

    From the Tsarist era to the current post-Soviet nationalist period, Moscow has pursued internal colonization that invariably entails creating a greater Russia to rival its neighbors. Western Powers from the 18th century to the present have viewed such policy as threatening because it clashed with their own outward expansionist integration goals. From the Crimean War (1854-56) until the current Western sanctions (April 2014-present) over the Crimea and Ukrainian conflict, Moscow has perceives Western expansionism in all its forms from military actions to economic domination of neighboring countries as a form of containment that threatens its security and national sovereignty.

    Some argue that the East-West conflict (eternal enemies thesis) really dates back only to the Yalta Agreement of 1945 that divided the Communist East from the capitalist West into zones of influence and set up the stage for the Cold War. This theory fails to take into account the Russian Civil War in which Western Powers and Japan sent troops to bring down Leon Trotsky’s Red Army fighting against Tsarist remnants. President Woodrow Wilson quickly realized that Japan and European governments were using the Bolshevik Revolution as a pretext to carve territory from the fallen Russian Empire.

    Even before the Bolshevik-led Revolution of 1917 that afforded the Great Powers the pretext of military intervention, the Europeans had a policy of containment toward Russia; a policy that they continued during the interwar era to the degree that they viewed the rise of Fascism and Nazism as counterweights to Bolshevism. One hundred years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the US and the West are living that legacy of containment and interventionism, striving to stop time and refusing to accept that the polycentric world order of the early 21st century has created new dynamics and makes the eternal conflict anachronistic and highly costly for all participants.

    From Moscow’s perspective, the US and its Western and Asian allies do not want a strong Russian state asserting its national sovereignty and protecting its regional interests because such a state prevents the expansion of Western imperialism not just in former Soviet Republics constituting a buffer zone for Russia but in the Middle East as well. Stuck in mid-20th century Pax Americana mode of thinking, the US reserves the right of the long-standing postwar “transformation policy” as a superpower whose national security interests defined by the Truman Doctrine.

    Russian Internal Colonization vs. Western Extra-Continental Expansion

    Inheriting Europe’s containment policy toward Tsarist Russia, the US since the Bolshevik Revolution has been Russia’s eternal enemy for ideological, political, economic and military reasons. The historical coincidence of the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Pax Americana in its nascent phase in 1917 and the fact that the US emerged much stronger after WWI made the eternal enemies struggle possible. Despite sharp ideological/political differences during the Soviet era, the US-Russia “eternal enemies” conflict represents a clash of geopolitical interests with consequences in the domain of economic integration for Eurasia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East.

    Most noticeable under the Soviet Union, and lingering to the present day under a post-Soviet nationalist regime, the eternal clash dates to the Tsarist era of internal colonization at a time that Europeans engaged in extra-continental colonization. Less about ethnic, religious, cultural, and political chasm that has existed between Russia and the West, the eternal conflict in essence about what countries would determine the regional balance of power and the clash of Eurasian expansionism that Russia from Peter the Great (1682-1696) to Vladimir Putin pursued as a regional integration policy vs. the outward expansionist policy of global integration that the West was pursuing. While the integration policies on both sides have been obstacles to political cooperation and the source of long-standing confrontation, the US and Europe isolated the USSR in order to preserve the capitalist world order.

    Unlike post-WWII America, the USSR and the Russian Federation did not have a transformation policy as an integral part of their foreign policy. Soviet intervention was invariably linked to its regional security zone and in accordance with the Yalta Agreement about such zones of influence. Clearly violations of national sovereignty, Soviet intervention in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) aimed to support pro-Soviet regimes, just as the intervention in Afghanistan 1979-89, rather than to engage in regime change policy. Nevertheless, the US and its allies pointed to those interventions to argue that Moscow was interested in perpetuating East-West confrontation by refusing to permit any of its spheres of influence to integrate with the West and using the nuclear deterrent to achieve its goal.

    Typically identified with the nuclear arms race during the Cold War is as natural as the sun coming up every morning, the long-standing East-West confrontation serves both foreign policy and domestic policy goals. Because the eternal enemies have rarely achieved rapprochement, it is part of the mass psychology on both sides to view the other with profound mistrust and cynicism. Just as Westerners, especially Americans have a deep distrust of Russia, so do Russians of NATO and the US. After all, from Napoleon to Hitler, the Europeans invaded Russia four times (Napoleonic War 1812, Crimean War 1854, WWI 1914, WWII 1941) with devastating consequences, especially in WWII when Russia lost at least 20 million people and possibly many more depending on the source.

    When there was NATO vs. Warsaw bloc competition amid sharply different ideological/political differences, it is easy to understand the ‘eternal enemies’ mode of thinking. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the goal became. the thorough economic integration of all former republics in the capitalist world economy and NATO encirclement of the Russian Federation. Moscow reaction against such Western designs has been a strong nationalist response with the forging of regional alliances, especially with China that shares Russia’s goal of preventing the US in achieving its goals in Eurasia and Trans-Caucasus region.

    Perpetual Confrontation with Intervals of Cooperation

    Throughout history, every power pursuing expansionist policies always had one or several enemy states to rally public support behind the flag as a means of unifying the country and justify unpopular domestic policies. The institutionalization of the “eternal enemies” mindset in US-Russian relations is so deeply imbedded that the US government views all conflicts, including the “war on terror”, which is highly unconventional, from the prism of the very conventional East-West conflict. This is not because people serving in US government agencies, think tanks and academia are bankrupt of ideas to the degree that they are unable to differentiate between facing a conventional state like Russia and unconventional militants scattered in more than forty countries and operating as cells. Ideologically and institutionally they have been captives of an archaic mode because this is what government and corporations fund and it is what ideologues backing both Republican and Democrat parties are advocating.

    A segment of the Russian political and military elites have historically accepted the “eternal enemies” thesis as readily as their American and Western European counterparts. Russians also developed institutions around the “eternal enemies” thesis because they believed the rivalry meant a strong military state identified with “Great Power” status, while maintaining internal cohesion and conformity to the status quo by keeping nationalism as the secular religion of the masses. In fact, the existence of the rivalry is symbolically a status-affirming sign not just for Russian elites but for the masses indoctrinated in nationalism that the regime uses to its advantage as much as the US and its NATO partners.

    Naturally, it is not true that the “eternal enemies” mode has meant obviating Lord Palmerston’s dictum about pursuing interests as government defines them. When absolutely necessary, there has been and there still is limited and focused cooperation on military issues, on scientific and space research, cultural and trade issues, assuming there are no Western sanctions imposed on Russia. During the Second World War, the “eternal enemies” suspended confrontation for the sake of achieving the larger common goal of defeating the Axis Powers and restoring order in the world.

    When the nuclear arms race seemed out of control amid the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) doctrine, they cooperated by signing the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, SALT – I 1972; SALT – II 1979; Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, 1987; Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START – I 1991, and START – II 1993 – ratification 1996. Following a number of agreements in the 1990s to avoid East-West military conflict, in 2002 Moscow and Washington with its EU partners created the creation of the NATO-Russia Council. Although these have been the highlights of focused cooperation, the constant reality is confrontation on which institutions and vested interests are based in the US and Russia.

    At the end of WWII, the US had a choice of cooperation or confrontation with the USSR. In 1948, former vice president Henry Wallace representing the dovish wing of the Democrat Party criticized Truman’s confrontational militarist approach that sought to create crises rather than engage in diplomatic solutions. Forging a bipartisan foreign policy of confrontation, Truman decided that imperial interests were best served through diplomatic confrontation backed by an arms race that would at the same time maintain conformity to the status quo at home. Making a geopolitical decision to reindustrialize Western Europe to counter the menacing threat of the Soviet bloc, Truman’s decisions reflected a global transformation policy under the aegis of the US. Reindustrializing Japan, the US helped with the industrialization of Taiwan and South Korea as counterweights to Maoist China that formed what US policymakers wrongly perceived as a monolithic Communist bloc with Moscow at the core.

    Once the Nixon administration opened the door for China and laid the groundwork for its reintegration in the world economy, the decision was to strengthen it economically as part of a geopolitical plan to weaken the Soviet Union. US Cold War strategies to the “eternal enemies” problem came at a very high cost, namely, economic decline, suffering chronic balance of payments deficits and with public debt of about 105% of GDP (2016) and expected to rise rapidly in the next decade.

    From the Bolshevik Revolution until the end of the Soviet bloc, the eternal conflict was justified on the basis of the ideological, political, economic and cultural chasm between East and West. Under the New World Order of the 1990s, the US expectation was that it would be the single superpower determining the world balance of power. America’s refusal to accept the reality of its relative economic decline and China’s emergence as the inevitable economic superpower entailed a clash of visions not just between Moscow and Washington about the structure of the world order but between Beijing and Washington. This clash became more evident after the deep recession of 2008.

    The US was found itself mired in contradictions about how it wanted to manage its global economic and geopolitical interests, resorting to destabilization tactics in the Middle East, North Africa and encroaching in zones of influence historically under Russia’s purview. Neo-isolationists and economic nationalists, after 2016 siding with Trump, questioned multilateral institutions that the US established at the end of WWII designed to manage the world economy under American political, military and economic leadership.

    Because multilateral institutions that the US established no longer favored US global economic and political hegemony, many in Trump’s camp favored bilateral relationships and weakening of multilateral institutions that were just as advantageous to the European Union, Japan and China as to the US. This shift was in itself a contradiction forcing some to rethink the eternal conflict with Russia, while others whose ideological framework, careers and fortunes dependent on perpetual confrontation remained skeptical about rapprochement. Both the neo-isolationists and the “eternal enemies” advocates realized that the US cannot possibly have an eternal conflict with China without self-destructive consequences, other than maintaining a containment policy militarily especially targeting North Korea, while at the same time pursuing economic engagement. Simply put, Russia is a good fit for a policy crying out for an eternal enemy.

    Eternal Enemies and Confrontation beyond Communism

    Could there be a manufactured ‘clash of civilizations’ that applies to Russia as it does to Islamic countries? The “clash of civilizations” (Samuel Huntington’s theory) between Islam and the West as many conservatives, various ultra-right wing populists including neo-Fascist ideologues, and Western militarists and interventionists operating under the guise of democracy want people to believe, has no relevance for Russia. Huntington developed the “clash of civilizations” theory after the Soviet bloc collapsed and never intended it to apply to Russia under Boris Yeltsin. If the clash persisted, it had nothing to do with culture but rather US-led integration of as much of the former Soviet bloc as possible under the Western sphere interested in securing raw materials and markets, while containing Russia.

    The two graphs below indicate that with the exception of Poland for obvious historical reasons, Europeans are not as concerned about Russia as a real threat as are the Americans, with the exception of the Poles. Even more interesting and indicative of how political propaganda has been effective in the US, the second chart shows that the unfavorable rating of Russia was much higher from 2014-2017 than it was just before the Soviet bloc collapsed. Anti-Russia sentiments expressed by Cold War Democrats and Republicans, the mass media, and think tanks analysts whose salary is paid by corporations funding them have worked to convince the public that today’s Russia is more menacing than the Soviet Union in its declining years.  

    Russian Military Threat

    poland-most-worried-about-russian-military-threat (1)

    Russia’s Quest for Eurasian hegemony and US Reaction

    Although the East-West conflict may appear “natural” like snow in Siberia, there was a period in the 1990s during the weak regime of Boris Yeltsin (1991-99) when it appeared that rapprochement was possible. This rested on the “End of History” theoretical construct of Western neo-conservatives and it entailed US superpower hegemony (hyperpuissance, as French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine called the US in 1999) over the entire world and the considerable retreat of the Russian Federation to a regional status that reflected its weak economy and institutions in transition.  

    On the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia is not as weak as it was after the October Revolution, followed by a foreign invasion intended to support the Tsarist forces against Leon Trotsky’s Red Army. However, Russia is hardly the mighty power it was in 1949 when the Kremlin proudly announced the successful testing of the first atomic bomb coinciding with Mao’s victory over US-backed Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. By contrast, the US is much more powerful in 2017 than it was in 1917, but much less so than in 1949. While the road to global ascendancy was still in its nascent stage during the Wilson presidency reaching its zenith in 1945, in the early 21st century the US is experiencing a downward slope of its global hegemony.

    For all practical purposes, the US has retreated to a position from “hyperpuissance” in the 1990s, to a military-police-state superpower two decades later. Its strategy of destabilization reflects as much a dogmatic adherence to early Cold War transformation policy as sheer desperation amid contradictions of its own domestic and foreign policies that continue to weaken it. Instead of addressing structural problems in its economy as the foundation for its global economic role, the US is spending its way into higher public debt on defense and the vast police-state (everything from Homeland Security to the entire intelligence, police, and criminal justice system). This is where the “eternal enemies” thesis is convenient as a justification of staying the course with a system detrimental to the majority of the American people. Republicans under George W. Bush and Democrats under Obama played catalytic roles in molding public opinion to accept the “eternal enemies” thesis in order to continue with the militarist-police state regardless of rapidly rising public debt and eroding living standards.

    China and the Contradictions in the “Eternal Enemies” Thesis

    In June 2016 during Putin visit to Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that his country and Russia are bound by “eternal friendship,” in sharp contrast to the “eternal confrontation” of Russia and the US. “President Putin and I have unanimously decided that the more complicated the international situation, the more determined we should be, guided by the spirit of strategic cooperation and the idea of eternal friendship,” President Xi was in fact targeting the US and its EU allies that had imposed economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine and sending the message that China presents the best hope for integration as the US was focused on military adventurism rather than economic cooperation.

    While pursuing improved economic ties with the US, China’s “One Belt-One Road” is a global economic integration initiative and an integral part of its economic diplomacy countering US military diplomacy that has alienated not just rivals but allies as well. Considering the inevitability of China as an economic superpower in the 21st century and the relative decline of the US as a superpower in all respects except military, does the “eternal enemies” thesis make sense in a polycentric world power structure either for the US or Russia?

    China has shown that it will not permit the US and NATO to weaken Russia and its zones of influence bordering the Russian Federation and that any overt of covert policies such as in the Ukraine and Syria meet resistance not only from Russia but China as well. In short, the “eternal enemies” thesis is flawed by design because the US confronts Beijing backing Moscow and that is too great a challenge for Washington and its military allies as inexorably linked to the Chinese economy as the US.

    Although the history of Communist regimes in the 20th century demonstrated that nationalism transcended Communism, it seems that the US government and many analysts in the West remained oblivious to this reality. This was partly because of ideological blinders, partly political and cultural, partly sheer opportunism linked to careers and profits of the eternal enemies apologists. Stuck in the mindset of mid-twentieth century, the American political, military, and economic elites as well as the media and academics in the service of the establishment are caught in all sorts of contradictions about pursuing the “eternal enemies” thesis and failing to appreciate that the Russian demand for a limited US global role reflects the limits of American power.

    US policy of economic engagement and simultaneous military containment toward China is not analogous to US policy toward Russia. However, it places Beijing in a delicate position of balancing its strategic ties with Moscow with its economic ties to the West which are essential if it is to realize its goal as the world’s preeminent economic power. Containment of China has entailed not just strengthening strategic alliances with Australia, Japan, and South Korea, but challenging Beijing in the South China Sea and when it comes to North Korea as its satellite that acts as a counterweight to South Korea. Because China has enormous economic leverage with the US and globally, it is able to counter Washington’s strategic containment policy much more effectively than Moscow. However, this is a clear case of the US taking on much more than it can possibly handle in confronting both Russia and China and risking destabilizing itself.

    Beijing has demonstrated by its cooperation with multilateral institutions – WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc. – that it is much more interested acting as a guarantor of stability than the US openly challenging multilateral institutions under Trump. Moreover, Beijing favors political solutions to regional problems such as North Korean ballistic missile testing. China’s proposal to de-escalate a military arms race in the Korean Peninsula or a possible war has fallen on deaf ears in Washington. This clearly illustrates that the purview of the “eternal enemies” mindset encompasses a policy toward China as well as Russia, viewing them monolithically. This is not flawed only empirically, but reflects a reckless approach because at best it will result in mutual chaos and at worst open conflict perhaps by accident, misunderstanding, or hastiness. As stated above, it illustrates the refusal of the US to respect the Chinese sphere of influence, while it expects China to accept the US definition of national security extending over the entire world.

    Pursuing a policy of containment toward China and “eternal enemies” confrontation toward Moscow in the 21st century inadvertently strengthens China as it affords it leverage with Russia while enhancing its global leadership and allows it to focus on expanding global trade and securing an even stronger economic leadership role. Despite the jihadists as a common enemy, Russia and the US are hardly prepared to end the “eternal enemies” rivalry that in essence helped to bring down the USSR and has slowly weakened the American economy.

    Trump, Putin and Political Propaganda

    During the presidential election of 2016, political observers in the US and around the world were optimistic that under a Trump administration the “eternal enemies” foreign policy thesis would end. Naturally, if Hillary Clinton was elected, they expected the continuation of antagonistic relations, building on Obama’s revival of the Cold War and destabilization policy toward the Middle East. Considering the statements of personal praise by both Trump and Putin for each other, against the background of the obvious victory of Russia in weakening ISIS in Syria, the US felt embarrassed about its diminished military role in the Middle East. Not that Syria is so essential to US national security interests, but considering the reality of Iran as the undisputed Middle East power adamantly opposed by US Arab allies and Israel, the question was about which power would determine the balance of power and claim credit for combating ISIS.

    As a predatory capitalist, Trump viewed the issue in one-dimensional economic terms. He wondered why the US simply did not seize Iraq’s oil assets, thus admitting that the goal of wars of imperialism is economic benefit not just nebulous diplomatic victories with a large defense bill left over for the taxpayers. Viewing the war on terror as an immediate threat, Trump called ‘stupid’ those not interested in improved US-Russia relations as a means of fighting ISIS. By questioning the “eternal enemies” thesis, which Democrat and Republican lawmakers as well as analysts and the media insisted on promoting, Trump was depriving the military industrial complex of its reason to develop more weapons, despite raising the defense budget by 10%, while questioning the entire public and private sector institutional structure built around the “eternal enemies” thesis.

    There have been reports about the Trump family making millions in Russia and several of his advisors and cabinet secretaries with links to Russian money. There is no doubt that Russia is a very corrupt country and the closer to the Kremlin hierarchy the better the chances of upward socioeconomic mobility and clinetist capitalism. While Norway and perhaps the rest of the Scandinavian countries could level criticism at Russia for its public-private sector corruption, does the US have any moral or political authority to do the same considering its considerable financial/banking scandals alone since 2008 and the hundreds of billions they have paid to the Justice Department in fines – $110 billion alone in mortgage-related fines?  

    To stop Trump from ameliorating relations, and challenge his domestic policies, Democrats argued that Russians were behind WIKILEAKS that released the DNC-related emails in 2016 and CIA documents in 2017. The March release of CIA documents proved particularly embarrassing to the CIA that has the ability to spy on any cell phone, computer or even a smart TV, despite claims it does not violate the privacy rights of US citizens. Without focusing on the essence of the leaks of both the DNC and the CIA, the “eternal enemies” advocates focused instead on the hackers, presumably the Kremlin, although there has never been any evidence presented to prove the allegations.

    Let us assume that everything the US intelligence agencies and media have alleged is 100% true. If instead of Russia, Israel had been accused of hacking into US government and political party computer systems there would not have been an issue. If Trump and his cabinet officers and advisors had the exact same allegedly corrupt financial interests with the UK or Germany instead of Russia there would have been little media coverage and no political issue. However, because of the “eternal enemies” thesis deeply inculcated into the American institutional structure and psyche, any links with Russians is an anathema.

    From 1946 until 2000, the US interfered in foreign elections 81 times, excluding the numerous US-sponsored coups and military interventions intended for regime change. Moreover, because of the Snowden and WIKILEAKS revelations, it is a matter of public record that the US intelligence services constantly spy on the rest of the world as well as their own citizens regardless of the Constitution and the law. It never escaped the attention of the Kremlin that since the Clinton administration, the US has interfered in the internal political affairs of former Soviet republics with the aim of weakening their ties to Moscow and reducing them to Western satellites as part of a larger containment strategy. This was especially the case with Georgia’s Rose Revolution 2003 and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution 2004 and Euromaidan movement of 2013-14.

    Not just politicians, but the media, think tanks and most in academia analyze US-Russian relations as though we were back during the Cold War and there was still a Soviet bloc with Maoist China to back it up. In a recent CNN report regarding the Russian Ambassador’s role in the Trump administration, the news anchor called Sergey Kislyak him “comrade”, deliberately to give the impression that Russia under Vladimir Putin is still the same old Soviet Russia that is so markedly different from the capitalist West. This is intriguing because Russia’s Communist party has about 20% popular support while Putin’s nationalist bureaucracy and capitalist oligarchs behind him are running the country. Even more intriguing, Americans do not have analogous views about China, which is one-party state under the heirs of Mao’s Communist rebels, despite carrying the torch of capitalism and globalization.

    This is not to excuse any possible Russian hacking or covert operations intended to undermine the US electoral process and tilt the vote toward Trump whose family and advisors may have deep financial ties with Russians. Is it time to review US-Russian relations and adopt a new course that best reflects the broader national interest, rather than the narrow ones of the military industrial complex and the many thousands who earned a living in the public and private sectors promoting the “eternal enemies” thesis?

    “Eternal Enemies” as Catalyst for Regional Blocs

    American apologists who advocate US-Russian confrontation always point to European security, and specifically NATO as the oldest and most stable alliance system that non-European nations also support. How significant is NATO to EU security, considering that France and the United Kingdom have a nuclear deterrent. Isn’t true that collective continental security would give the Europeans greater military sovereignty, greater stability and improved relations with Russia? Even more significant, considering that Europe is increasingly turning to China for trade and investment does it make sense to have military interdependence with the US while pursuing greater economic interdependence with China?  

    A number of East European and Balkan countries, Turkey, Syria, and Iran have been and could likely remain more accommodating toward Moscow for a variety of reasons ranging from geopolitical to economic. Besides profound disillusionment with the US offering military solutions and instability rather than economic development, these periphery countries have become just as disillusioned with the EU that follows in the footsteps of the US model of exporting weapons and instability. By contrast, the Russian gas pipeline going through some of these countries is vital to their economies, while benefits from EU integration have diminished substantially since the austerity crisis following the global recession of 2008.

    Considering the political and military uncertainty in EU-US future relations, the “eternal enemies” thesis no longer works as a catalyst to maintain solidarity of regional blocs because individual nations see greater benefits integrating with Russia and China. The majority of the people in four NATO members believe that Russia offers more stability and security for their countries than the US. Echoing the skepticism toward EU and NATO, Serbian former Prime Minister Alexander Vucic of Serbia recently cautioned that many look to Moscow for economic and political leadership, not the West. According to a Gallup poll, the majority in Serbia view Russia more favorably than NATO, a sentiment reflected across the Balkans, especially Greece but also Spain and even France. In a public opinion poll, the majority respondents In Germany and Italy replied that they would oppose a conflict with Russia.  http://www.dw.com/en/nato-faces-hitches-in-public-opinion/a-18536217

    Because the US and its Western EU partners realize the diminished role of the West in areas of rising Russo-Chinese influence, their reaction has been to infiltrate Georgia and Ukraine, while cultivating closer ties with the Baltic States. More than any other periphery region, the Baltic States and Poland are the easiest to accept the “eternal enemies” thesis because of their history with Russia.  Despite attempts to determine the balance of power in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States primarily through military means without offering an economic development component, can the US counter Russian political influence considering that Europe needs cheap energy and the EU is becoming more interdependent with China?

    The Georgia-Russia conflict (August 2008) revealed that EU-Russia and China-Russia inter-dependence takes precedence over US ambitions to determine the trans-Caucasus balance of power as it does in the Middle East through satellite countries. It is inevitable that Russia and China will increasingly be partners in determining the balance of power in areas where they have vital economic and strategic interests and where the US is threatening to destabilize as it has in the past two decades. The question is whether the US-Russia eternal conflict will evolve toward a new arms race, as it now seems inevitable if we are to take Trump’s rhetoric seriously, with the possibility of war between the great powers over small regional conflicts – Iran and North Korea as prime US targets.

    Conclusion

    Despite the rising tide of rightwing populism and economic nationalism as a reaction to globalization after BREXIT and Trump’s election, delinking from the world system and adjusting development policies to serve internal needs rather than foreign capital is not a real prospect at this juncture. The Western World and a number of non-Western nations are experiencing a resurgence of rightwing populism and nationalism as we have never seen since the interwar era of Fascism and Nazism. In the absence of Communism as a pretext for the rightwing political tilt, politicians, capitalists, the corporate media and apologists of the “eternal enemies” thesis believe that society’s greatness is defined through its military strength no matter the cost to society.

    In as much as it reflects a nationalist-militarist-authoritarian political course, surprisingly not very different from what Putin is pursing, Trump’s election favors rightwing populism. There is hardly a strong leftist or progressive grassroots force to slow down this rightwing course that could have repercussions in globalization that China favors and economic nationalism that Russia has been pursuing. While the rightwing is on the move, leftist political parties and groups have been thoroughly co-opted by the liberals who are just as responsible for the foreign policy of confrontation as the conservatives.

    Given the bankrupt leftist movements in the Western countries, any revolutionary impulse is almost non-existent, and after the failures of Arab Spring certainly not sufficiently strong to put an end to alter interventionist and militarist US foreign policy. The combination of new alliances and alignments between nations and regional blocs and internal contradictions will undercut the anachronistic “eternal enemies” model on which US and EU institutions are based.

    No US president can alienate entrenched interests that benefit from the US-Russia confrontation; not just the defense companies, the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, the think tanks, consultants, academics, and journalists all whose career fortunes are made on the “eternal enemies” thesis. Recently a National Public Radio (NPR) expert guest on cyber-security argued that there cannot be international agreement on cyber security with “totalitarian” countries like Russia, only with NATO members. The term totalitarian came out of the NAZI-Fascist era to describe the regimes in Germany and Italy. It was then adopted by the US during the early Cold War to lump together Russia with the former Axis Powers that Stalin helped to defeat. Nevertheless, in 2017 US “foreign policy experts” use the exact same term as Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the 1940s when there was a need to justify the Truman Doctrine.

    Even in the absence of the Warsaw Pact, the US-dominated Cold War regional “military blocs” model is one that many US allies still favor despite China increasingly integrating more countries under its economic umbrella. More than any other country, China has benefited from the “eternal enemies” rivalry economically and militarily because it does not have to worry about Russia given that the US keeps it in check.

    As stated above, there have been and still are areas of Russian-American cooperation because the dictum of Lord Palmerston regarding eternal interests transcending eternal allies or enemies has validity. Even areas where mutual cooperation appears to be a policy goal, as the war on terror since 9/11, there are tensions and confrontations just beneath the thin veil of cooperation. It is no secret that the US “regime change” operations in Libya placed the government in Washington on the same side as al-Qaeda. It is no secret that the US backed Saudi Arabia not just financing ISIS in Syria, but Sunnis in Yemen against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. In short, the goal is influencing the balance of power even if it means supporting jihadists directly or indirectly by selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

    There are alternatives to the global balance of power resting on the US checking Russian power and the latter using its influence with Iran and Syria to influence the regional balance of power. When does it become too costly financially as the US budgetary deficit spirals out of control, when there is a sharp rise of anti-Americanism around the world, even among allies, when the militarily in the absence of achieving its objectives to police the world simply demands greater budgetary allocations? As the US continues to shift resources from the civilian economy to defense, homeland security, and intelligence operations, and as the rising public debt continues to erode middle class and working class living standards, while China remains focused on global economic expansion, there would have to be a serious reassessment of the “eternal enemies” thesis that has been a driving force in policy and a more narrowly focused rationale for the military industrial complex.

    Trump’s intentions notwithstanding, Washington will not pursue a cooperative relationship with Russia, something that many hawkish anti-American nationalist elements in Russia do not mind. The anachronistic “eternal enemies” thesis, which has been around since the Bolshevik Revolution, precludes both Russia’s and America’s optimal economic development and ability to solve conflicts through diplomacy rather than armed conflict. In the absence of defining limits on both sides, both the US and Russia appear nostalgic for the old East-West confrontation that had divided the world into ideological and political camps.

    In retrospect, Georgi Arbatov, Soviet advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev on US-Russian relations was wrong in the 1980s when he said in a number of forums that Moscow’s secret weapon was to deprive the US of an enemy. Although the US found Islamic terrorism as the new enemy, it just did not measure up to the old conventional rival. Besides underestimating his own country’s need of an enemy, Arbatov failed to appreciate the deep roots of America’s “eternal enemies” institutional structure. Decrying the Reagan administration’s “campaign of demonization, of dehumanization of the other side,” Arbatov did not live to see that US-Russian relations were not much different under Obama in the second decade of the 21st century than under Reagan in the 1980s.

    Not Communism, but nationalism and Russian refusal to accept integration under Western aegis is the common thread between the USSR and Russia. The reaffirmation of the nationalist aspects of the Westphalian System in the US and Europe will inevitably clash with the realities of a highly integrated world economy influenced more by Asia than the West. As globalization under a neoliberal corporate welfare state weakens the American national economy, Washington will focus even more on US military power status as global leverage to promote its economic imperial interests.

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    North Korea, The US and The Status Quo

    February 21st, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    In the age of “fake news” and President Donald Trump claiming that Sweden was riddled with terror attacks which of course never took place, and of perpetual corporate and state-media propaganda passed on as real news, it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction. Making matters worse, hyperbolic rhetoric goes a long way to confuse the public about what is real and what is propaganda. Just as there is no shortage of disinformation on all countries, North Korea is especially on the propaganda radar of the West because it is part of the “Nuclear Club” and eager to remain on the road of militarism.

    It is no secret that the government of the authoritarian-militarist Kim Jong-Un periodically seizes the opportunity to respond with bellicose rhetoric. At the same time, the Korean dictator has shown no predisposition to replace the long-standing Cold War policy of confrontation with closer cooperation any more than the other side interested in North Korea’s cheap labor and raw materials. North Korea’s claims to Communism notwithstanding, the nation is hardly a model of a harmonious society where social justice prevails. However, none of this means that it is the global military threat that the US portrays it. On the contrary, because of its global military might, the US poses a far greater threat to regional and global stability, as China keeps insisting, than does North Korea with its limited capabilities.

    On 29 January 2002, President George W. Bush’s state of the union address labeled North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” (Iran and Iraq were the other two), because they were sponsoring “terrorism” and seeking weapons of mass destruction. Since 2002, the world discovered that Bush used the speech to justify US intention to invade Iraq and impose very tough containment policy on Iran and North Korea. As to the merits of Bush’s arguments regarding Iraq, history and the facts proved he was simply lying as the British Chilcot Report of July 2016 proved coming as no surprise to the IK and US intelligence community that knew the facts but chose to massage them because they did not fit the political goals. http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/

    This is not to argue that North Korea does not have the nuclear deterrent or that it is shy about demonstrating its military might as it feels threatened and isolated by much of the international community. However, the US has a major military presence in South Korea and Japan, in addition to 7,700 nuclear warheads in its arsenal with the capability of thoroughly destroying all of Asia several times over in a nuclear holocaust. China has an estimated 260 nuclear warheads, while North Korea an estimated 20-40 in its arsenal, but without the capability of delivering them across continents. The US annual defense budget $581 billion – China’s $155 billion; US military aircraft 13,444 – China 2,942; US aircraft carriers 19 – China 1; US submarines 75 – China 68; US destroyers 62 – China 32; US serviceable airports 13,513 – China 507. South Korea defense budget $33.2 billion – North Korea $7.5 billion; South Korea aircraft 1451 – North Korea 944; South Korea Helicopters 979 – North Korea 202; South Korea transport aircraft 348 – North Korea 100; South Korea destroyers 12 – North Korea 0; South Korea submarines 15 – North Korea 70.

    http://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.asp?country_id=united-states-of-america

    http://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-comparison-detail.asp?form=form&country1=south-korea&country2=north-korea&Submit=COMPARE

    Given the disproportional military strength of China-North Korea in relationship to US-South Korea, the question is whether the US is simply aiming more at China than North Korea in this historic conflict that has its roots in the Korean War of the early 1950s.          And if so, is there a military solution given China’s economic power and nuclear deterrent? Does the status quo in North Korea best serve the geopolitical goals of all parties concerned and are they all using it to their benefit? No matter how many times there is a special meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the North Korean security threat, and no matter the international sanctions, the status quo remains because of mutual interest. Deviating from it could spell disaster for everyone.

    If North Korea truly poses a security threat to the US and to its Asian allies, why have the US and its strategic partners retained the status quo since the end of the Korean War – signing of the Armistice in 1954? Why have China, Russia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea not been anxious for unification and are content keeping the deterrent both conventional and nuclear? It is true that there have been some faint attempts at economic integration, but those had limited success as the realization of status quo serving all sides sunk in. Contrary to the hyperbolic rhetoric on the part of the US and its regional allies about North Korea as an imminent threat, no country wants a change in the status quo to the degree that it would risk regional war and drag China into the conflict, with Russia almost certainly to follow, largely because of Vladivostok as its prized commercial and strategic port.

    The relative economic decline of the US in relationship to China in the first two decades of the 21st century largely shaped the debate on Korea as the US used its historical role as a military patron for its regional allies that have been increasingly absorbed into the Chinese economic orbit of influence. Because the US is thoroughly integrated with China’s economy, the contradiction in its militarist containment approach has severe limitations. Not only would the US disrupt the entire trade network of the Asian continent, but the entire world economy, if it deviates from a policy of respecting the status quo.

    If everyone wants to preserve the status quo as history has shown because of mutual interest, then the intermittent noise is about containment at the very least and North Korea’s integration with the international community at best as history has demonstrated. Certainly with the rise of China’s preeminent economic influence in Asia and throughout the world and its insistence of military hegemony over the South China Sea, it is extremely unlikely that Beijing would simply forfeit North Korea as a useful sphere of influence any more than the US would renounce its historic “Pan-Americanism” hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.

    Even with its five successful nuclear tests since 2006, without intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver them, North Korea does not pose a national security threat to the US; and no analyst would claim otherwise unless they are either ideologically driven or working as consultants for the defense industry or right wing think tanks. No matter the level of inane propaganda unleashed by both government and corporate media in the West, North Korea is the rough equivalent of Cuba during the Cold War amid the Soviet-American confrontation. There is no denying that it is governed by an internationally isolated one-party dynastic regime with the bureaucracy and military behind it, but so is Saudi Arabia which has meddled militarily in the Middle East far more than North Korea.

    Naturally, the nuclear deterrent affords North Korea security cover and leverage, as far as its neighbors are concerned given the range of its missiles. However, China is there to keep North Korea fairly contained because China has proved it is far more interested in stability and preservation of the status quo than the US. Furthermore, Russia is hardly anxious to see North Korea become any more powerful given the share a border and its strategic Vladivostok port 700 km. In January 2016, Moscow strongly condemned Pyongyang for nuclear tests threatening border security and violating international law. http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0545-russia-condemns-north-koreas-nuclear-bomb-test-a-threat-to-national-security/

    Despite the realities about the internal and external limits of North Korean military power, Western neo-conservatives, and establishment political and military elites have been presenting North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” as did Bush in 2002, implying that it is an ominous military threat every time it tests a missile in the Sea of Japan or makes a bellicose statement. This line of argument is unrelated to North Korea’s actual power, as shown above, and directly linked to the US declining regional position and desire to retain its global military role. Claiming to be a Pacific Power to counterbalance and contain China, the US does not want to lose the hegemonic role it has enjoyed with traditional allies since defeating Japan in 1945.

    If North Korea is not an existential global security threat to the degree the US portrays it, than the issue must be the economic interdependence of China with Asian allies historically militarily dependent on the US. This along with China’s increased military strength is at the core of this issue and not any schemes by North Korea to expand through military means. The US knows about the asymmetry between military and economic power because it is a scenario that took place during Spanish-American War during the McKinley presidency.

    The dying Spanish Empire controlled Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, but the US was in the position of thoroughly integrating them economically, thus imposing its political hegemony and acquiring them as part of its imperial network. In the early 21st century, the US is a declining global economic power with diminished role in Asia. The only way to hold on to its imperial network is to use it as leverage to foster trade relationships. This is exactly how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) evolved during the second term of George W. Bush. http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-origins-and-evolution-of-the-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp/5357495

    Both a US-dominated economic integration bloc and a strategic one, TPP now defunct because Trump opted out and favors bilateral trade deals, was a broader containment mechanism aimed as much at China as to strengthen US-based multinational corporations. As China’s historic satellite and strategic buffer zone, North Korea has actually served to preserve stability and Pyongyang has shown no inclination to deviate from its historic role. With the exception of the invasion of South Korea in 1950, North Korea has no history of imperial expansion nor could it have such ambitions given that China and Russia would not permit it.

    By maintaining a large military network relative to the size of its civilian economy, North Korea affords all of its neighbors the pretext to maintain a strong military presence. Furthermore, it allows the US the pretext to use its military muscle as political and economic leverage – the US has over 28,000 troops in South Korea and about 170,000 in East Asia and the Pacific theater of operations with large bases both in Japan and South Korea. Besides using North Korea as a pretext for such heavy military display of power, the US has on its radar screen South China Sea claims by Beijing as the legitimate strategic zone of influence. Beijing will not negotiate the South China Sea territorial disputes that the US and its allies wish to internationalize (deprive Chinese control). However, US provocation short of war will remain ongoing so that it can remain a Pacific Power amid the inevitable reality of its economic decline. http://www.janes.com/article/66919/china-warns-against-south-china-sea-intervention-as-us-signals-tougher-stance

    As much as the US likes to act unilaterally, the reality of its declining economic power combined with skepticism about its role by most of its Asian allies does not permit unilateral action in Asia. After what the US and its allies did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen during the Bush and Obama administrations, the prospect of Pyongyang agreeing to an Iran-style denuclearization deal is out of the question for the near future, especially with a simple-minded righting Trump administration in office that fails to appreciates the complexities of international relations at all levels from trade to political influence. Just as the Iran nuclear deal was multilateral,   any diplomatic negotiation on North Korea will involve the regional players – the 10 ASEAN states – and especially China, Japan, and South Korea.

    As the US under Trump is looking to ameliorate relations with Russia, to the degree that Cold War Democrats and Republicans will permit and that is highly unlikely, it is essential to have enemies that help to justify increased defense spending as the Republicans have promised and Cold War Democrats acquiesce. Not just China, as president Xi Jingping noted at the Davos Conference in January 2017, but corporate interests in the US and throughout the world want to preserve the status quo and do not want instability and adventurism using North Korea’s rhetoric and missile testing as a pretext.

    Everything from the price of commodities to exchange rates and securities markets hinges on stability. It remains to be seen the degree to which US corporations will prevail on the White House and congress to maintain the status quo in the Korean peninsula as all presidents have done since the early 1950s. As congress assumes greater powers on the realization that the executive branch is reckless and simple-minded in its approach to foreign policy, the status quo may indeed be the only game in town even under Trump who barks but cannot bite unless the attack dogs of congress are behind him and behind them Wall Street.

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    American Police State Militarism And Gun Violence

    February 9th, 2017

     

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    Introduction

    Contrary to the Hegelian assumption that civilization progresses in a linear mode, the contradictions of capitalism between the promise of prosperity for all, on the one hand, and the reality of perpetual capital concentration, on the other, undermines bourgeois democracy and leads toward a more militaristic-police state. The nexus of structural and behavioral violence has not been lost even on apologists of the status quo who question the degree of the militarized police in America. No one should be surprised with the US adopting police-state solutions with behavioral violence at home, considering it mirrors its military-solution approaches to political problems abroad.

    The way a society approaches solutions to foreign policy crises and crime at home reflects its values and commitment to actualizing the social contract not for the privileged elites but for the people. Deviating very far from the liberal bourgeois ideals of the Enlightenment on which the American Republic was founded, militarist policies in the foreign and discriminatory policies in the domestic arena intended at social exclusion and marginalization of the lower classes reflect a country whose elites are prepared to sacrifice the Enlightenment values of the Republic in order to maintain their privileges. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27901-noam-chomsky-talks-us-militarism-and-capitalism-at-home-and-abroad

    Jeremy Travis, chair of the Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration in the United States wrote in the Preface to a study on the subject: The transformation of U.S. punishment policy during the rise in incarceration reflected not just deep changes in society, but also a change in thinking. The country experienced a tumultuous period of economic and political change, rapidly rising crime rates, and changing race relations. The politics of criminal justice policy became much more punitive. Policy makers enacted laws that were meant to send many more people to prison and keep them there longer. These changes reflect a shift in emphasis among competing values. Public and professional discourses moved from a focus on rehabilitation as the predominant purpose of punishment to just deserts, or retribution, as the primary goal. Stated in colloquial terms, “tough on crime,” “do the crime, do the time,” and “adult time for adult crime” became the public narrative. https://www.nap.edu/read/18613/chapter/1

    This brief essay shows that the US approach to the multi-dimensional and complex crime problem is not much different that the failed “war on drugs” and the “war on terror”.  Policies of social exclusion and economic marginalization combined with criminalization of minor offenses rather than rehabilitation reflects an authoritarian approach to social problems that does not address the root causes of crime. Just as there has been a sharp rise in drug use since Reagan signed the anti-Drug Abuse Act (1986) and declared the ‘war on drugs’, and a similar rise in global jihadist activity since the “war on terror” it is inevitable that there will be a rise in crime as social exclusion and marginalization increases. The deliberate absence of examining root causes and proposing political solutions to address them rather than focusing on the symptoms is a prescription for failure. All three cases have in common an expedient political use as propaganda by the state and the elites to maintain a culture of fear and conformity. All three have been the result of a political economy that seeks capital accumulation on a world scale that marginalizes the vast majority that it then seeks to repress by military force abroad and police force at home.

    The Nexus of Structural and Behavioral Violence

    In all societies throughout history there is a direct correlation between the level of violence and the state structure that reflects the social order and value system. If society is geared toward a militaristic/police-state model and celebrates the culture of violence it is hardly surprising that there would be manifestations of social violence and criminal activity, as in modern US history that predates the rightwing Trump administration. Because structural violence imbedded in the state structure gives rise to behavioral violence, invariably the solution has been more punitive measures without addressing structural issues thus exacerbating the cycle.

    Until the study on crime and punishment by the Enlightenment thinker Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), the Western World had dogmatically accepted the “Cain and Abel” (good vs. evil) Biblical assumptions to explain criminal behavior. Therefore, punishment as Hellish condemnation for the accused was morally justified from a religious dogmatic perspective; despite its inhumanity and regardless if it addressed the intended goal of crime prevention. Influenced by John Locke’s empirical philosophy on human nature (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689), Beccaria like other Enlightenment thinkers focused on how societal environment shapes human nature and determines human actions, including criminal behavior. Interestingly, both Locke and Beccaria had a profound influence on the American Founding Fathers, although Beccaria strongly opposed the death penalty and torture. http://digitalcommons.hamline.edu/jplp/vol37/iss1/1/

    With Western industrialization that ushered the advent of mass politics in the last two centuries, scholars made the connection between behavioral violence and a violent society geared toward militarism and police state methods intended to preserve a socially unjust society regardless of the social contract promising egalitarianism. From Rosa Luxemburg to Nikolai Bukharin and modern existentialists like Albert Camus, the correlation between the state as an agent of injustice and behavioral crime was very real and could not be obfuscated by any justification in the name of law and order, or crypto-Social Darwinist theories thinly veiled in liberal rhetoric. Structural violence leads to behavioral violence in reaction to social injustice. This has always been the case from the slave rebellion of Spartacus’ Third Servile War (73-71 B.C.) in ancient Rome to modern America’s more tamed mass protests such a Black Lives Matter and others since the anti-war Vietnam era. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22498-coming-home-to-roost-american-militarism-war-culture-and-police-brutality; http://www.laborstandard.org/New_Postings/Luxemburg_imperialism.htm

    Structural violence is a long-standing policy of the US political elites seeking to engender sociopolitical conformity of the masses by several methods, inculcating fear of the violent enemy within and outside of the country, and mass incarceration of minorities mostly for lesser crimes. The contradiction in such an approach is that the hegemonic culture celebrates violence in everything from the militaristic manner it conducts foreign policy to the way the police deal with unarmed black and Hispanic youth in the inner city, to the mass media glorifying militarism as patriotism, and motion pictures glorifying gun homicides as a sport that enthralls the human spirit. The hegemonic culture that promotes violence on a mass scale with small and large-scale wars abroad turns around and violently crushes behavioral and political violence as an expression of resistance to the status quo. Astonishingly, Republican lawmakers in ten US states went as far as proposing criminalizing political protests. In Indiana legislators proposed the police use any means necessary against demonstrators, and in North Dakota allowing motorist to run over and kill demonstrators in the way of automobiles. In short, the punitive method of dealing toward criminals – behavioral crime – extends to political dissent.  http://billmoyers.com/story/gun-culture-and-the-american-nightmare-of-violence; https://theintercept.com/2017/01/23/lawmakers-in-eight-states-have-proposed-laws-criminalizing-peaceful-protest/

    Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage the lower classes; minorities much more so than the white majority, as much in the US as in post-apartheid South Africa. Institutional forces of violence such as police, military, and all organs of the state employing such methods enjoying legitimacy have license to subjugate non-conformists outside of the privileged social classes. Social exclusion and marginalization of large segments of the population from mainstream institutions with the goal of perpetuating a hierarchical social structure, and the use of institutional violence to maintain such social order, necessarily leads to the creation of behavioral violence that the state criminalizes. http://www.structuralviolence.org/structural-violence/

    Because the US ranks as one of the world’s most violent societies, certainly number one in gun violence among all industrialized nations, it would stand to reason that there would be more resources to scientific research on gun violence and prevention. However, exposing the ugly reality of the convergence between behavioral and structural violence in a neoliberal society where corporate profits and the preservation of the institutional order is the only priority, the US congress since 1996 has blocked funding for such scientific research.  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-guns-scientists-idUSBRE90915F20130110; http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-gun-research-funding-20160614-snap-story.html

    The US has more gun homicides per capita than any developed nation, and more people killed by guns at home, given that there more guns per capita than any other country. Not just hunters or people with legitimate security reasons are able to purchase guns, but individuals that the FBI has on a terror watch list. If Congress has its way, even the severely mentally ill will be able to purchase guns without any background checks, indicative of the celebration of the Second Amendment (A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.) that transcends all other considerations in society.

    Although there is a lot of data on gun violence, scientific research has been thin since 1996 when government cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by passing the Dickey Amendment. The goal was to prevent any scientific study on a topic related to gun violence that would then be used by gun control advocates and liberal politicians to pass more restrictive laws. According to the World Health Organization the gun-related murder rate in the US is 25 times higher than in 22 other high income nations. One could argue that the absence of laws on gun regulation is a testament to the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying influence that gun violence research is limited to about a dozen people and most of the funds come from private sources. However, the issue goes beyond the NRA, its political allies and the profits of the gun and ammunition manufacturers. American militarism and the police state model applied to a political and socioeconomic problem is at the heart of the issue.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-u-s-gun-deaths-compare-to-other-countries/

    Whether in the battlefield as a soldier, as a police officer in a minority neighborhood or a petty thief holding up a liquor store and killing in the process justify the action either ideologically and/or as a matter of self-preservation. Invoking the Catholic Church’s (Thomas Aquinas) “just war theory”, one could argue that there is no moral equivalence of a soldier following orders to drop bombs that kill thousands, and a gunman killing in the process of a robbery. By the same token, one could argue that the police officer gunning down an unarmed black youth is acting in the name of law and order, similar to the soldier acting in the name of national security. Therefore, both the soldier and the police officer are morally absolved killing en mass in the name of preserving the social order rather than social justice. But does such moral equivalence obfuscate the thin line between behavioral and structural violence, the latter which gives rise to the former because it is the instinct of every species to survive? (David DeCosse, Authority, Lies and War: Democracy and the Development of Just War Theory, Theological Studies, 67, 2007; http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/)

    Certainly a segment of American society believes that the structural violence causes behavioral violence. Similarly, they believe that deadly violence by police targeting minorities is a very clear illustration of this argument, regardless of what politicians and judges argue. In December 2015, Harvard University Medical scientists requested US public health agencies to record deaths that the police cause (1058 killed in 2015) as an endemic public health issue. It is not just a segment of American academia that is convinced of structural violence reflects a society immersed in militaristic and police state policies, but most of the world sees the US as a very violent society whose history of warfare and its own lack of social justice reflects these conditions.

    In a 2016 Global Attitudes survey, half of those surveyed characterized Americans as greedy, arrogant and violent, with 68% of Australians and 57% of Britons seeing the US as a violent society, percentages greater than we find in Muslim countries. Half of US Democrats polled also see their society as violent, while just 29% of Republicans agree, indicative of a huge gap in the value system, ideology and tolerance for structural and behavioral violence. In other words, the attempts by the corporate media and political elites to accord legitimacy to structural violence and separate it from behavioral violence has limited appeal with people around the world and within US borders; much more so with Republicans. More than two million Britons have signed a petition not to permit President Donald Trump to have a state official visit, many holding a widespread view that government is the source violence owing to racism and xenophobia. http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/harvard-medical-police-killings-public-epidemic/; http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/06/28/americas-international-image/; www.independent.co.uk/news/home-news/britain-racist-violence-bullying-rise-far-right-groups-hail-donald-trump-election/

    Selling Guns to the Mentally Ill

    One could argue that to murder another human being requires temporary or absence of suppression of empathy either through indoctrination, environmental (existential) conditioning, and the temporary or permanent dysfunction of the brain or a combination of such factors. It can be argued that human beings are predators and enjoy killing as an instinctual predilection of survival like some other predators. However, mass killing of its own species is uniquely human and an integral part of structural violence rather than behavioral. If we are to accept that a segment of the population suffering mental illness could be prone to harm against others or self, does it stand to reason to make firearms available to those people? http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/09/human-violence-evolution-animals-nature-science/

    Shortly before leaving office, President Obama blocked the Social Security administration from providing disability benefits to individuals with mental disorders from applying to buy guns. Because so often the perpetrator is killed rather than arrested, it is difficult to determine with accuracy the percentage of murders carried out by mentally ill people. It has been estimated that at least one-quarter of gun violence acts, especially mass shootings, are carried out by individuals deemed mentally ill people. Despite the broad recognition about the dangers of having mentally ill people own guns, the House of Representatives on 2 February 2017 voted 235 (all Republican except for 6 Democrats) to 180 Democrats to lift the Obama ban on gun sales to the severely mentally ill. After all, President Trump ran a campaign on a stronger militaristic and police state society, so the Republican-controlled House was in line with the Executive Branch.

    Theoretically and for all practical purposes, mentally ill people are not able to have gainful employment but they ought to be able to buy a weapon as far as the majority of the House is concerned. Gun sellers would no longer be required to submit background check information about the buyer to the FBI. On the pretext that the “Obama rule” also applied to some benefits recipients needing assistance managing their benefits, 235 congressmen confirmed that the state as an agent of structural violence withdraws any restrictions that would prevent behavioral violence. Ironically, every time there is a mass murder or random killing, the media and authorities immediately relegate the incident to terrorism unless it is disproved after the investigation, thus using violence to further the political goal of justifying militarism and police state methods because terrorism is ubiquitous. http://www.politicususa.com/2017/02/02/house-republicans-voted-severely-mentally-ill-people-buy-guns.html

    Is there scientific evidence that there is a direct correlation between mental illness and gun violence?

    It is estimated that 32,514 people die from guns each year, with an average of 17,000 under the age of 19, and another 75,962 injured annually. Yet, congress has allocated ten times more money to CDC to research the common headache than to address the public health danger of gun prevention. Although 5% of those killed by guns fell victims to confirmed mentally ill perpetrators, authorities admit there is a gap of the diagnosed mental ill because so many die along with their victims. http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-community/health-care-policy/article/mental-illness-really-behind-most-gun-violence

    Psychiatric studies have concluded that while not all mentally ill people are violent because of their illness, there is a direct correlation between mental illness and violence. Those who were male, poor, and abusing alcohol and drugs were much more likely to engage in violent acts. In1968, the Gun Control Act prevented people with a mental illness history from purchasing firearms. As part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, the law of 1968 was reinforced after a fierce political battle, but was loosely enforced until the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Act of 2008. http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ps.41.7.761?journalCode=ps; http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/almost-link-mental-health-gun-violence; https://psmag.com/what-we-actually-know-about-the-connections-between-mental-illness-mass-shootings-and-gun-violence-4d550c45ee90#.k3np08eun

    About half of the NRA annual political contributions have gone to congressmen that will advocate for the mentally ill to own guns. As if giving guns to the mentally ill is not sufficiently worrisome, it is estimated that the FBI has between 5000 and 15000 people on such a terrorist list, all eligible to buy a gun. In December 2015, the majority of the Senators voted against Sen. Diane Feinstein’s proposed legislation to block gun sales and explosives to those individuals on the various terrorist data bases of law enforcement Just as US lawmakers have no qualms about restricting firearms sales to terrorist suspects at home, similarly, they have no such qualms about providing massive military sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that in turn support various jihadist groups from Yemen to Syria. http://www.factcheck.org/2016/06/suspected-terrorists-and-guns/; http://www.salon.com/2016/10/11/leaked-hillary-clinton-emails-show-u-s-allies-saudi-arabia-and-qatar-supported-isis/

    It defies logic that the same “law and order” Republicans and Democrats argue in favor of defeating terrorism at home and abroad have no problem with suspected terrorists buying arms and explosives. Beyond the gun lobby and the gun and ammunition manufacturers that provide campaign contributions to politicians, at the heart of the problem is American glorification of violence and militarism with a value system that places the rights of the individual to own guns above those of societal harmony and peace, not just with the current Trump administration but historically.  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38711-war-culture-militarism-and-racist-violence-under-donald-trump

    Despite legal battles at the federal level for stricter gun laws, states circumvented federal procedures allowing mentally ill people the right to purchase firearms. Because of a series of mass shootings during the Bush and Obama presidencies, carried out by mentally ill people (Virginia Tech, Tucson, and Aurora, among others), and because the mentally ill had legally obtained guns, there was popular and political drive to address the problem. The same simplistic arguments always emerge, namely, “people kill not guns, criminals have guns and so must honest citizens to protect themselves, and terrorists and illegal aliens are the culprits for much of the gun violence.” This too is a deliberate effort to pursue mass incarceration and more police state methods rather than address the problem by looking at the political economy that marginalizes and excludes large segments of people.  http://csgv.org/issues/guns-and-mental-health/

    Gun Violence and Rightwing Ideology

    There are an estimated 270-310 million guns in the US, or just about one gun per person, while guns kill 85 people per day, or more than auto accidents. About 5% of the world’s population, the US is estimated to have gun ownership rate of at least 35%. According to a PEW research study:  “Roughly three-quarters (74%) of gun owners are men, and 82% are white. Taken together, 61% of adults who own guns are white men. Nationwide, white men make up only 32% of the U.S. adult population. Gun owners and those who do not own guns differ politically. While 37% of all adults identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, that proportion jumps to 51% among gun owners. Among those in households without guns, just 27% identify with the Republican Party or lean Republican, while a majority (61%) are Democrats or lean Democratic.” http://www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/section-3-gun-ownership-trends-and-demographics/#who-owns

    Hardly convinced by the need for a class struggle against the tyranny of capitalism, it is evident from the Pew research profile of gun owners that they are ideologically and politically conservative. The American Dream of the rightwing gun owner is to be capitalist, a dream intertwined with the gun culture of xenophobic and racist groups that would have no problem ending the existing liberal bourgeois system and supporting an outright authoritarian regime. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the profile of the average gun owner and the militarist/police-state advocates.

    From the KKK to survivalist groups, ‘gun-Fascists’, as some liberal groups call them, have been used by the political and financial elites to break the solidarity of the popular classes and to inculcate fear into them so they submit to police-state institutional structure. As Newsweek noted in an article early in 2016, rightwing gun owners have killed more people in the US than jihadists since 9/11. Authorities have no way of documenting the degree to which survivalists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and other varieties of rightwing ‘gun enthusiasts’ mentally stable. http://www.newsweek.com/2016/02/12/right-wing-extremists-militants-bigger-threat-america-isis-jihadists-422743.html

    Apologists of the political economy, insist that America is not a quasi-police state as critics contend, and the lifting of the ban on mentally ill to own a gun proves nothing. After all, officials are elected from within the two-party system and the division and separation of powers proves that there is no concentration of power as would be the case in authoritarian countries. Despite differences in style and procedure as well as catering to different identity politics groups, of which the gun lobby and gun control advocates are a part, both political parties serve the same socioeconomic elites.

    As far as the division and separation of powers, judicial decisions from the lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court reveal that the system is the sentinel of the political economy and social order. Politicians and the courts alike have equated gun ownership with liberty as though it is a civil or human right. Absolving the gun and ammunitions manufacturers, the legislatures, the courts, socioeconomic conditions and unjust policies that give rise to behavioral violence, politicians and the media blame the individual, invariably arguing that it is the jihadist-inspired terrorist, the Mexican immigrant, inner city black youth, and minority drug gangs that are at fault.

    Hate-peddling in national and local politics is intertwined with culture. Xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms is an integral part of a society where the dominant culture reinforces divisions. Solutions, interventions, and fixes that take symptom for cause often push the deeper problems into the background like untreated wounds. For the elites and their followers that want to keep things as they are, it is convenient to blame the individual and never the institution for what takes place in society as though the individual lives all alone on Mars.

    Does a federal law easing gun control restrictions make any difference against the background of states passing the own laws?

    Besides the federal government’s schizophrenic gun policy as part of the root cause of structural violence, the states also play an important role. Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have relatively strict gun-control laws, had an average of only 3.4 and 4.9 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people, respectively, each year from 2007 to 2010, while Alaska and Louisiana, which have some of the loosest laws, had 17.5 and 18 per 100,000 people, respectively, the study revealed. “More than 20,400 pieces of gun-related legislation have been proposed following mass shooting events in the past 25 years. Of those bills, more than 3,000 have become law, according to a working paper recently released by researchers at the Harvard Business School. If you have a Republican legislature in your state and you have a mass shooting, the net effect if you look at the actual bills that get passed is there’s a significant increase in bills that loosen gun restrictions.” http://www.npr.org/2016/07/12/485726439/mass-shootings-influence-spike-in-gun-related-laws-at-state-level

    During the Obama administration there was a rise of police shootings of unarmed black youth. Yet, the African-American-led Justice Department rarely launched an investigation. Instead, it defended the police force and left it to the local courts and municipalities to deal with the issue. The courts rarely convicted police officers, leaving the black community to view structural gun violence so detrimental to all blacks that it gave rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

    At the same time of rising legal gun violence, a number of states introduced legislation to modify federal laws regarding firearms, or even make them inapplicable if it pertained to guns and ammunition produced, sold, and used within the state. The NRA and Republicans backed the states’ challenge to Congressional authority to regulate commerce of the states extending to guns. Although the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) contested states’ rights in this domain, it was never easy operating in a political environment of majority Republican state legislatures and governorships..https://www.nraila.org/articles/20170203/when-laws-collide-federal-preemption-and-state-firearm-freedom-acts

    The nexus of structural violence as the source of behavioral violence can be seen very clearly by what the federal government has done to foment violence in the inner city. In 1994, President Richard Nixon’s domestic advisor John Ehrlichman admitted that the administration deliberately criminalized small use and drug dealing, mainly targeting the black community and ‘white hippies” amid the anti-Vietnam War movement. It is important to stress that the billions from the drug trade that were laundered through banks and other legal businesses such as real estate in places like southern Florida remained beyond the reach of law, while the small time dealer and user languished in prison. This issue has received little attention by the corporate media because it is so explosive in its political dimensions. http://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

    In the 1990s, the CIA was dumping crack-cocaine coming from Latin America and flooding black communities especially in Los Angeles, California. When that case came to the forefront, the corporate media defended the CIA and kept their focus on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/10/gary-webb-dark-alliance_n_5961748.html The violent results in the streets involving guns can be traced to institutional root causes. If it were not for the ubiquitous drug problem, the rate of gun violence would be far less considering that drug homicides averaged 1,100 a year from 2006 until 2011. “The number of people murdered in the drug war inside the United States between 2006 and 2010 exceeds the US-troop death toll in the Iraq War since it was launched in 2003, according to a Narco News analysis of FBI crime statistics. The US drug-war homicide tally also is nearly three times greater than the number of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the first shots were fired in that war in 2001.” http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/bill-conroy/2012/03/drug-war-related-homicides-us-average-least-1100-year

    The media, the politicians, the judges, and of course most ‘expert analysts’ from corporate-funded think tanks never mention the structural-behavioral nexus because it exposes the entire political economy, institutional structure and social order as the culprits of violence. Focusing on the symptoms and on the individual, the political establishment and business elites demand locking up more people of whom the vast majority are minorities at the end of the chain of crime that starts with the elites.    

    Gun violence symptomatic of a culture that glorifies violence rooted in a militaristic/police-state

    There are countless books scholarly and media articles arguing that at the root of the gun violence problem is a culture that glorifies it. However, it is more than just the issue of culture, even the hegemonic commercial culture. This issue extends to the larger matter of militarism and police state approach to maintaining the social order and mass conformity. Obviously, we cannot compare the US or to a utopian society but to other nations like Japan with low violence rate that operates under the same capitalist world economy. Switzerland is one old society as a bastion of finance capitalism but so is Japan for that matter albeit very different in demographic composition. (Toni Hart, Gun Culture in the USA, 2016; http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38365729

    While the US ranks number one in the world for gun ownership, Switzerland ranks fourth behind Yemen and Serbia. Switzerland has a population of around 8.4 million and its firearms legislation is not much different than that of the US. In Switzerland, there are at least 600,000 automatic rifles and 500,000 pistols, according to one source. The percentage of gun ownership has remained steady through the years, whereas in the US gun ownership has doubled since Nixon took office and it really took off during the Obama presidency. Whereas the murder rate by gun in Switzerland is at 3.08 per 100,000, it is 10.54 in the US, or roughly three-and-a-half times higher. There can be similar comparisons with US and Japan for example, and the results are indeed eye-opening when looking at the data of homicides and suicides by guns. http://crimeresearch.org/2014/03/comparing-murder-rates-across-countries/

    America has a culture of gun violence that goes back to the Westward Expansion era of the late 19th century when the settlers with the army’s help cleared out the Indians from their land and forced them into reservations to make room for mining, commercial agriculture, railroads, etc. Nowhere on earth is gun violence celebrated more in the popular culture than in America. Motion pictures and TV shows are predominantly about gun violence as are comic books, video games, and novels.

    As much as the US prides itself as a law-and-order society it has a long history of celebrating the outlaw culture of gun violence and romanticizing those who live by the gun whether cops or mobsters. Despite mass shootings in schools, shopping centers, and other public places carried out in some instances by mental ill individuals, the national psychology of gun violence is dominated by a political climate the supports the right to own guns as a gesture of patriotism and identity, setting aside all other considerations.

    Chicago Gun Violence and the Police State

    “What’s going on in Chicago?” asked Trump rhetorically following with the police-state suggestion of sending federal reinforcements to crush the violence that has dominated in low-income neighborhoods. A recent wave of violent crime in Chicago has captured the attention of the national political debate with Republican President Donald Trump proposing to deal with the problem by reinforcing the city policy force with a federal force. Interestingly, he proposed sending US feds to Mexico to deal with its drug-related crime there as though Mexico is a colony of the US. Without addressing the causes of the problem because that would expose the structural flaws, the predictable solution is to meet street violence with greater police enforcement and punitive measures than already exist, thus exacerbating the vicious cycle in Chicago land of Al Capone and some of the most notorious historic links between organized crime and local politicians, police, and judges. The irony regarding the police-state solution is that it has been in effect for more than two decades, but violent crime actually kept rising sharply during that period.

    In February 2015, The Guardian published stories about the connection between the Chicago police department “black site” at Homan Square and the Guantanamo prison where terror suspects have been kept as political prisoners without ever been charged. An interrogation facility where prisoners were denied due process and subjected to torture, Homan Square operated secretly but its inmates were not jihadist suspects but local minorities. The mainstream media in Chicago and across the US largely ignored these revelations, giving them very little coverage because they exposed the de facto police state and its shortcomings, as well as flagrant human rights and civil rights violations. It is worth noting that the democratic mayors of Chicago collaborated with both Republican and Democrat US administrations in operating this facility, defending it in the name of “national security”. The Homan Square case illustrates the inexorably link between structural violence and behavioral and how the state violates it own laws – committing crimes and exempts itself from the law. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/homan-square

    There is no doubt, that Chicago has a violent crime problem. Scholarly studies attribute the causes of crime to poverty, racism, and an institutional violence that reinforces individual violence. People have been alarmed by the estimated 4331 shooting victims in Chicago and the government and media constantly reinforce the assumption that criminal activity is an innate trait that must be dealt with mass incarceration and deadly force. An estimated 75% of those killed are black and 71% of those doing the killing are also black. Deaths by shooting are at 83.4%, with 90% of the victims male and young in a city that has a black population of just 33% according to the census of 2010.  http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/chicago-75-murdered-are-black-71-murderers-are-black

    Chicago homicides are the largest in the US, reaching their historically high levels in 2016. Studies on Chicago crime point to certain common characteristics we see with crime in the inner city throughout America, namely, drugs, gangs and endemic poverty from one generation to the next linked invariably to minorities permanently marginalized by the institutional structure. Historically, the city spends the lowest percentage of taxpayer money in minority neighborhoods for schools, parks and recreational facilities, road maintenance, sanitation, and community development.

    Above all, the absence of job opportunities and low wages, to say nothing of substandard housing with prison-like bars on doors and windows is reminiscent of an impoverished Third World country; that is, until one drives just a few miles to the east and north where multi-million dollar condos line Michigan Avenue by the lake. The police are there to protect the rich from the poor whose neighborhoods are gang-infested owing to poverty and the breakdown of the family on the south side and the west side that have not changed ever since the Johnson administration constructed the so-called ‘projects’ to concentrate blacks into these reservations of chronic poverty.

    Symptomatic of poverty and no hope for the future, the rise in gang and drug activity has been accompanied by a rise in illegal guns. Although Chicago’s homicide rate is not that much higher than in New York, when guns aren’t involved, gun violence in Chicago stands out in comparison to the rest of the nation. In theory at least, Chicago has strict gun laws. However, in 2010 federal courts struck down the city’s ban on handgun ownership, and in 2014 courts struck down a ban on gun sales. Of course, one could easily drive to nearby East Chicago, Gary and South Bend (all on the FBI highest crime areas in Indiana) to purchase a gun. http://abcnews.go.com/US/chicagos-control-violence-produces-762-homicides-2016/story?id=44402951; https://www.roadsnacks.net/most-dangerous-cities-in-indiana/

    The Chicago violent crime case very clearly illustrates that public policy creates the endless cycle of poverty and violence. Contrary to Trump’s simplistic police-state approach to this complex problem, sending federal agents to Chicago’s south side and west side at a huge cost to the taxpayer instead of beginning to address structural problems will only increase violent crime long term even if it contains it short-term. The open society claiming to be a ‘democracy’ and preaching freedom to the rest of the world would suffer another blow by the police state methods. The only option for Chicago is to start addressing root causes of the problem and work out long term plan so that the next generations will not suffer as the ones before them. Because the neoliberals and militarists drive US policies, I fear that things in Chicago will remain the same if not become much worse.

    Does “Identity Politics” help advance or hinder the gun control?

    The politics surrounding gun regulation is an integral part of identity politics, both rightwing “macho politics” mostly in rural and semi-rural areas, and bourgeois liberal politics appealing predominantly to suburban housewives and the educated urban professionals. Although police officers have a history of killing black and Hispanic youth, Democrats embracing identity politics advocate for the minority community in isolation of the larger social order and within a socially unjust system, instead of seeing the issues from a class perspective. After all, it is the poor minorities not the wealthy blacks and Hispanics who have more in common with their white counterparts of the same class than they do with members of their ethnic communities.

    Precisely because politicians, the media, the gun lobby and advocates on both sides have relegated this issue to identity politics of conservatives and liberals, it has failed to mobilize support of the overwhelming majority who see the issue more from an ideological and cultural perspective and less from a class one. No matter the very high rate of gun violence in America vs. every other developed nation, the gun advocates will defend gun ownership as a matter of identity and patriotism. However, there are even progressives who believe that gun regulation goes against the spirit of Jeffersonian democracy in so far as federal regulation supersedes the power at the state and local level. In short, there is a false assumption is that states’ power and local power equals grassroots power that the central government must never usurp.  Because of identity politics, gun control advocates accept the assumptions of their opponents and never address the issue of behavioral gun violence as symptomatic of structural violence and societal inequality. This weakens the gun control group that has been relegated to just another Democrat interest group trampling of the rights of people exercising the Second Amendment and the rights of states.

    Correlation of American Militarism and Domestic Gun Violence Culture

    If structural violence leads to individual behavioral violence, then the solution can only be structural change rather than isolating cause from symptom or confusing the latter for the former and subordinating the larger issue to bourgeois identity politics intended to placate those concerned about gun violence. A very vivid case of transformation policy defaulted to unconventional warfare acts against the US is that of the tragic and reprehensible attack on the US on September 11, 2001. Nine days after 9/11, President Bush in an address to the Joint Session of Congress tried to explain why there was an attack on US soil by jihadists. “They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-wallechinsky/why-do-they-hate-us_2_b_957277.html

    Is there any empirical evidence that radicalized Muslims engage in unconventional war against the US mostly in the middle do so because of what Bush stated? Or is it because the US has a long history of overt and covert military operations in the Middle East to the detriment of the people in the region? Not just its massive military, economic and political support of Israel against Palestinians and various wars and covert operations against Arabs since the 1940s, but the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and military occupation of Pakistan simply proved the widespread perception that Muslims like the rest of the world detests US militarism for destabilizing their countries and denying them national sovereignty. How is a Muslim to interpret Trump’s statement about “while we were there (Iraq), we should have taken their oil”, a flagrant violation of international law that exposes the real intentions of US militarism.

    In contrast to assumptions about the driving motivation of Muslims that many American politicians, the media, and well-paid think tank and academics entertain, according to public opinion polls Muslims see the US as a government denying their national sovereignty, diluting their religious identity and value system, and collaborating with the corrupt authoritarian rulers to exploit the natural resources as the key problems in the relationship. In a public opinion poll of Muslims around the world, 66% view Americans as violent, 64% as greedy, and 68% as selfish, traits inconsistent with Islam and hardly virtues to emulate. There is nothing in the poll to indicate any envy for American freedoms, because Muslims like European Christians are aware of how the US treats minorities and the poor. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/22/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/

    The flagrant hypocrisy of the US political elites and the media invoking the doctrine of “Exceptionalism” is hardly lost on Muslims any more than it is on Australian or Canadian Christians. As the world’s largest military and police power, the US political and bureaucratic system reflects a violence-oriented ideological, political and cultural orientation. If we consider that Switzerland has a very high percentage of gun ownership, yet, it is one of the world’s lowest rates of gun violence, then how do we explain that gun ownership alone does not necessarily lead to gun violence?

    Unlike the US immersed in a militaristic-police state culture, Switzerland has no military, and its police force is bound to protect civil liberties of all people within the boundaries of the law without resorting to violent force. Some could argue that the absence of structural violence in Switzerland translates into a low rate of behavioral violence because it is so small and does not have military operations around the world as does the US. But how does one explain that Canada is much closer to the Swiss model than the US and that Canadians like Australians and Britons view the US as a very violent society?  

    During the Obama administration, it was easier to contain popular outrage in minority communities. That will not be as easy with an administration ideologically right wing, committed to police-state and militaristic solutions and very unpopular in minority communities. Public opinion polls indicate the economy, good paying jobs and living standards is the number one concern of Americans. Yet, on 6 February 2017, Trump chastised the media for not focusing enough on terrorism by providing a list that included some well-covered terrorist acts and some fictitious ones as part of the “alternative truth” people have come to expect from the new president. To distract from the reality of false promises he made regarding improving living standards and weakening both the political establishment in Washington and the economic establishment on Wall Street, Trump knows he can only weaken the middle class and workers that voted for him because he will be providing more tax breaks and corporate subsidies for the rich. Therefore, terrorism and foreign enemies abroad and crime at home are very convenient vehicles of social conformity as they were throughout the Cold War for all administrations trying to keep people loyal to the flag and distracted from the issues pertaining to everything from improved living standards to health and education.  

    The government cannot strengthen the capitalist class and have an eroding middle class and working class unless it becomes more militaristic abroad and adopt more police state methods at home. This will translate into more structural violence that would raise street violence and popular dissent at all levels, such that the US has not seen since the Nixon administration. America’s reaction to its relative decline in the world has been and it continue to be with more militarism abroad and police-state methods at home which is a prescription for taking closer steps toward authoritarianism. This regardless if it is under a brash tough-talking Trump administration or one that employs bourgeois liberal rhetoric with a smile while it deploys drones abroad and militarizes the police at home as was the case under Obama.

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    Divided America: Root Causes and the Road Ahead

    January 17th, 2017

     

    By Jon Kofas.

     

     
    US Culture Clashes and the Return to “Clash of Civilizations” Theory
     
    Based on the bourgeois ideals and value system of the Enlightenment, Western open societies are culturally pluralistic but have limits in social cohesion owing to the hierarchical structure created by the political economy of capitalism. Symptomatic of the market economy, social differentiation and exclusion are a permanent fixture regardless of what the social contract promises about social integration. Founded as a colony of immigrants who conquered the lands of North America and used Africans as slave labor, America carries the legacy of contradictions from the Age of the Enlightenment promising egalitarianism and integration but in practice institutionalizing social exclusion and differentiation that precludes social cohesion. These contradictions become intense in periods of economic expansion or contraction when fissures are exposed on the surface of the social structure because socially excluded groups strive to integrate into the mainstream and demand its reform. Such societal fissures undermining social cohesion are more evident in American society in the second decade of the 21st century than they have been since the 1960s.
     
    According to post-presidential election polls in 2016, America is more divided than at any time in post-WWII era, a reality that filters down from the political, corporate media and financial elites to ordinary people as skeptical about the legitimacy of their institutions as the elites. Republicans supporting the populist rightwing President Donald Trump have revived “Clash of Civilizations” (Samuel Huntington’s work, 1996) as a core value in US foreign policy in order to distract from the widening social divisions and presumably forge greater unification under a common foreign enemy. This theory as Republicans interpret it has broad ramifications for immigration policy, race and ethnic/religious relations and issues related to multiculturalism in an open society whose financial elites view the population as the consuming public than citizen with constitutional rights.
     
    The US is a divided society amidst its own socioeconomic and political polarization reflected in clash of cultures shaped in part by a changing demography and shrinking middle class. While Trump Republicans are looking to “Clash of Civilization” as a means of projecting strength and rallying popular support for the flag, their Democrat opponents are trying their best to revive the Cold War US-Russian confrontation as a catalyst to appeasing the militarist and corporate elites while unifying their divided popular base. Both strategies are manifestations of a bankrupt political system that perpetuates divisions and foments more domestic culture clashes and is dumbfounded about how to deal with the contradictions of social exclusion and differentiation that has become intensified under neoliberal policies in a climate of globalization.
     
    If people link their identity to culture and religion, according to those espousing the “Clash of Civilization” theory intended to explain the post-Cold root causes of future global conflict, then logic dictates that the same holds true for people of different cultures, religions, ethnicities, races, and ideologies inside the US. Considering the multicultural nature of the US demographic map and the dominant culture and institutions under the control of the descendants of European immigrants, culture clashes are just as inevitable when the country fails to deliver what people perceive as the social contract, namely the American Dream and keeping the nation strong in relationship to the rest of the world as Manifest Destiny promised when European immigrants created God’s “New Israel” in North America. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nineteen/nkeyinfo/mandestiny.htm
     
    To maintain political consensus among the disparate political, military, economic and socio-cultural elites “Clash of Civilizations” makes as much sense for Trump Republicans as the anti-Russia campaign does for Democrats. This is especially so in light of a Trump return to a Reagan-style ‘rightwing revolution’, particularly with regard to fiscal policy as the Republicans will be transferring even more wealth from the bottom 90% of the population to the top 10% by trimming social programs and raising the cost of government by contracting out more public services at a higher cost and less efficiency than if government kept control. http://www.politico.eu/article/willdonaldtrumpfollowinronaldreagansfootstepselectionsvictoryrepublican/
     
    While trying to expand their popular base, Republicans and the conservative media promote culture clashes as a means of mobilizing popular support among largely religious and cultural conservatives. This is especially in the white community that feels besieged in the age of globalization which has entailed de-industrialization and downward wage pressure; a phenomenon that has resulted in greater social exclusion from a group that identifies itself as representative of national values. Democrats and their supporters in the media also promote division largely by remaining focused on identity politics rather than restoring America’s eroding middle class and working class living standards. Culture clashes manifest themselves in congress and state legislatures over all sorts of issues, some with very broad significance such as health care others linked to narrow identity politics and lifestyle issues; all indicative of social exclusion from an institutional mainstream that claims its foundation are rooted in inclusion.
     
    There are cultural, ideological, political divisions so deep among disparate groups that one encounters two very different Americas when traveling from San Francisco, California to Jackson, Mississippi. The concept of America as an open society may very well apply to major cities, especially coastal and urban upper Midwest, but it is a stretch for much of the rest of the country. The media, political and institutional endeavors to suppress class consciousness and opt for identity politics and culture clashes only points to cracks in solidarity among the working class and middle class against the elites lining up behind the two major parties. Because social exclusion and differentiation assumes different socio-cultural forms in different parts of the country, the political elites are able to divide the population against itself and undermine class solidarity of socially excluded groups.  http://www.cultureclashes.org/book/8-conflicts/
     
    Public opinion polls in 2012 indicated that 69% if Americans viewed their nations divided, while that number jumped to 77%-80% right after the November general election in 2016. Just as significant, they indicate dissatisfaction with the way their society functions and see their prospects becoming worse not better. These same people do not see the forging of consensus any time soon, and fully expect deeper divisions, thus reflecting recognition of social exclusion and differentiation. A reflection of deep divisions, public opinion polls a few days before inauguration range from 37% to 44% approval rating for Trump, a historic low since such polls were conducted in 1992. As disturbing as such low numbers may be given that they are below those of the outgoing president’s, an even greater concern is that they will only decline going forward once congress implements policies resulting in lower integration and greater exclusion. http://www.gallup.com/poll/197828/recordhighamericansperceivenationdivided.aspx; http://www.trueactivist.com/trumps-approval-rating-plummets-to-historic-low-just-days-before-inauguration
     
    This does not mean that non-urban, southern and Plains States America is any more racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, sexist and less tolerant of non-natives than their counterparts in Russia, France, or Germany where there is a rise of ultra-rightwing political movements not much different than the populist wing of the Republican Party. Social exclusion and differentiation exists in all capitalist societies, some like the Scandinavian less, others, like Russia more. The demographic structure of US is changing and the realization of that incontrovertible fact has many whites reacting with anger amid eroding living standards and the economic pie so unevenly divided.
     
    Naturally, an apologist of the status quo could argue that the US is hardly the world’s most divided nation, considering there are developing nations immersed in civil wars or under authoritarian regimes that maintain the status quo by police methods. Apologists of the status quo point to developing nations as authoritarian and to the US remaining a defender of human rights and civil rights, despite a record of government practices that indicate otherwise. Apologists of the status quo refuse to accept that developed Western nations are experiencing the rise of extreme rightwing political parties challenging the neoliberal centrist and conservative ruling elites. This ‘revolution’ from the extreme right will result in even deeper divisions across the entire Western World as societies claiming the legacy of 18th century Enlightenment ideals of John Locke’s liberalism and  Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social democracy are evolving from liberal capitalism to an authoritarian neoliberal capitalist model. (Ian Bruff, “The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism”, Rethinking Marxism, Vol. 26, Issue 1, 2014)
     
    American Divisions in Historical Perspective
     
    American colonists and immigrants were bound by the common goal to seek a better material life and enjoy freedom from religious persecution. However, these freedoms never translated equally for all ethnic groups and social classes in a country founded as a colony of the British Empire to advance its imperial economic and geopolitical interests. Indicative of the lack of social cohesion and political consensus among the colonists, when the War of Independence was declared, Americans were hardly as united behind the independence movement. Interested in national self-determination, largely wealthy white colonists led the revolution at a time that the colonies had slavery as an entrenched institution. Representing the landowning and commercial class, the Founding Fathers drafted a constitution declaring all men are created equal but in practice social differentiation and exclusion prevailed.
     
    The chasm between what is declared in the Constitution about equality, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness and the reality in practice is at the heart of America’s historical divisions. The famous July 1852 speech “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglas reveals the deep divisions in American society that has relevance to this day. “The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. … it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes.
     
    Historical divisions and culture clashes stem from the gap between the political principles of equality and justice for all, and the reality of wealthy predominantly Anglo-Saxon protestant elites that owned most of the wealth and enjoyed institutional privileges from education to elected office. Institutional obstacles to progress for the lower classes, women, and minorities were overcome throughout the Republic’s history by peoples’ attraction to the promise of the constitution about equality and the pursuit of happiness for all, and by the prospect of integration into the institutional mainstream where the elites enjoyed society’s privileges. As long as the economy expanded and the social structure evolved to permit working people to move into the lower middle class and their children to secure education and create a better life, people conformed to the hegemonic culture and subordinated socio-cultural differences to the system that rewarded them at least in the domain of religious freedom and the promise for a better life.
     
    Despite massive economic expansion as a result of the Westward expansion, industrialization (187-1900), and imperialist expansion in the form of the Spanish-American War (1898), society remained at war with itself through the struggles of workers to unionize, women and immigrants to achieve equality of opportunity as their Western European white male counterparts, and blacks fighting to end institutionalized racism that is a permanent feature of America at war with itself. Unlike ethnically and culturally homogenous societies, America as a nation of immigrants that conquered the natives is at war with itself because its only common value system is the immigrant dream of wealth and cultural freedom. Deeply imbedded in the consciousness of the people are Manifest Destiny and the dream of greatness, even if by association.
     
    It is not only the case that 71% of Americans are Christians, but that there is a longstanding tradition of linking politics to Christian doctrine (America as God’s country with a mandate from Divine Providence). This has been the case from its early history to the present and it has been an integral part of the social contract that the elites have used to forge consensus and conformity among the masses. (Nicole Guetin, Religious Ideology and American Politics, 2009) Although the same phenomenon is less evident in urban-suburban areas and Coastal and upper Mid-Western areas where secularism and a more cosmopolitan culture prevail, the concept of expansion and America’s greatness mandated by divine providence is an unspoken underlying assumption. The degree to which political and financial elites can rely on religious leaders to help engender sociopolitical conformity and mitigate systemic divisions is an open question, although Christendom has been the catalyst to sociopolitical conformity for many centuries.
     
    The merging of pseudo-science and religion, Social Darwinism and creationism in American history has helped to maintain sociopolitical conformity to the institutional mainstream from the 19th century to the present. As a nation that took the concept of competition more seriously than Adam Smith, Americans found it easy to merge Social Darwinism that assumed human progress rested on competition which is found in nature. It is indeed remarkable that no less than twenty-four states enacted ‘sterilization eugenics legislation’ between 1911 and 1930 intended to “weed out” the mentally ill and criminals, and the American Eugenics Society advocated laws to limit inter-racial marriages.
     
    While Social Darwinism was popular among certain segments of society rejecting the concept of social cohesion and integration for all people as the US Constitution promises, creationism reinforced social exclusion and differentiation. With deep historical roots in culture clashes, creationist beliefs remain prominent just below the surface with a substantial percentage of Americans. In 2014, 42% of Americans believed in the creationist view of human origins, down 2% from 1982 when Reagan and the Moral Majority were contributing to the culture clash against those they demonized as humanist liberals. According to various public opinion polls, 13-28% of Americans responded that God was not involved in the creation of human beings and that evolution was responsible for life as we know it, while 51% accept the Bible as the word of God. By contrast, 69% of Britons believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, and 61% of Canadians. The striking differences are a manifestation of far greater social cohesion in the neighboring nation to the north also a former colony with not such a strikingly different historical experience. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2014/12/creationism_poll_how_many_americans_believe_the_bible_is_literal_inerrant.html
     
    A society steeped in the psychology of realizing it potential of greatness as Divine Providence mandated necessarily finds itself at odds its own disparate elites vying for influence and control to determine the nation’s destiny and preserve their privileges, while socially excluded groups struggle for integration. Advocates of the Enlightenment secular ideology as the foundation of modern society clashing with the more conservative ad religious-oriented groups associating secularism with the privileged elites have been a permanent fixture in society. Clashes become more evident in times of glaring contradictions of economic expansion but contracting living standards. While social cohesion and integration is important to the political and financial elites in order to maintain stability in the political economy and social order, the same system produced greater social exclusion and differentiation.
     
    De-legitimizing of the Political System
     
    In a fierce power struggle, the Democrat Party and Republican Party elites have been delegitimizing each other in the eyes of the public. Political de-legitimization was evident ever since Barak Obama became the first black president. Although many conservatives viewed Obama’s election as the end of white political monopoly of the executive branch of government, there was hardly any change in social integration and social exclusion under an administration that faithfully served the same elites as all its predecessors. In the 2016 primary season, Trump accused his Republican opponents and Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton of serving Wall Street for a price. Trump de-legitimized all others except himself because they were conduits of social exclusion. During the presidential election season, the increased journalistic interest regarding the division of American society assumed added dimensions largely because of the surprised election of Trump, now enjoying a Republican majority in the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as in most state governments and in the judicial branch.
     
    Skepticism about legitimacy continued when the Democrats did everything they could to link Trump’s election to alleged Russian hacking, one of the major distraction issues regardless of whether Russians were involved or not. This does not even take into account social media “fake news” and mainstream media intense propaganda campaigns reflecting and promoting the culture clash among disparate groups. America’s war against itself became more intense when Trump compared the practices of US intelligence and media organizations to those of Nazi Germany in reaction to alleged Russian video tape of Trump in a compromising situation. Ironically, the so-called ‘Nazi’ practices were attributed to the Obama-Clinton Democrats who have the institutional power to undermine the Republicans and persisted on the Russian hacking theme without ever providing evidence.
     
    By comparing the US to the Third Reich, Trump expressed the deep divisions among the political elites while lending legitimacy to the criticism of America usually reserved for leftist critics arguing that the US has been sliding down the road of authoritarianism. If Noam Chomsky, for example, leveled the same criticism as Trump, it would have no significance beyond a small circle of those who follow Chomsky. When Trump compared his country to the Hitler’s Third Reich, it afforded legitimacy to critics’ arguments that indeed the US has authoritarian aspects, while preaching democracy to the world. Moreover, it revealed the depths of division in America that goes beyond politics and into the nature of the country’s institutions failing both in social cohesion and political consensus.
     
    By refusing to accept Trump as a legitimate president, perhaps because he lost the popular vote or because of email leaks through WIKILEAKS via Russia as a possible source, black Civil Rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis contributed to de-legitimizing the new president in the eyes of the world. As a symbolic representative of the black community, Lewis was affirming that social exclusion and differentiation cannot be legitimized by a president who lost in the popular vote. Behind the de-legitimization efforts, the media, social, academic, and financial elites naturally take sides, as do many ordinary people who watch and wonder if these clashes entail that the politics of consensus are a thing of the past and polarization the new reality. According to a Pew Research study, the partisanship and animosity between Republicans and Democrats has never been greater than in the 2016 presidential race. Each side sees the other as closed-minded, immoral, dishonest, unintelligent, and lazy, thus lacking trust in the other’s ability to represent the social contract and lead the country.
     
    To distract from the internal clash, the Democrats keep focusing on Russia, with their European Union allies doing likewise as the latter fear Trump may be less committed to the world order as they inherited it since the demise of the Soviet Bloc. Keeping with favorite theme of racism and xenophobia, Republicans focus on the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis as a means to distract from Russia and placate the domestic elites and rally popular support behind the flag. Neither “Clash of Civilizations” with Muslims as a target nor Russia with the evil Vladimir Putin and the corrupt oligarchs is enough to quell the culture clash; and neither is a credible substitute for addressing income inequality, lack of social justice and growing social exclusion and differentiation.
     
    America at war with itself is unlikely to change toward the kind of consensus that existed in the early Cold War from Truman to Kennedy when the US was the undisputed superpower and upward social mobility kept the population hopeful about achieving the American Dream, at least for their children. In a world where power is shifting from the West to East Asia with a resurgent Russia despite Western containment policies and sanctions, the American elites are scrambling to preserve and expand their privileges while forging some kind of political consensus that will enable them to maintain the status quo. Against such efforts comes the reality that eight individuals, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg, all Americans, own as much wealth as half of the world’s population of 3.6 billion.
     
    The Nature of Division and Polarization in the US
     
    The topic of culture clashes has been analyzed by hundreds of books and articles dealing with the deep divisions in American society. These are multifaceted divisions rooted in identity politics and class struggle politics of the last two centuries. However, the rise of social exclusion and differentiation is more evident today than at any time since the anti-war movement of the 1960s. From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement to the controversial election of 2000 and the equally contentious election of 2016, more scholarly works and journal articles have been devoted to growing rift in American society and what it entails. According to one poll at the beginning of 2016, 56% of Americans believed that their children would be worse off than they were. Another poll indicated that 81% were worse off in 2016 than in 2005. By contrast, only 20% are worse off in Sweden for the same time frame, indicative of income stagnation amid massive capital concentration. While these statistics clearly illustrate a policy intended toward greater social integration in Sweden, the exact opposite is the case for the US.  Money.cnn.com/2016/01/28/news/economy/Donald-trump-bernie-sanders-us-economy/; https://mishtalk.com/2016/08/07/mckinsey-study-shows-81-of-us-worse-off-than-in-2005-france-63-italy-97/
     
    Polarization extends beyond the domain of income gap, encompassing geographic, racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and cultural issues and finding expression in the political parties and factions within factions of two major parties. Current polarized conditions are due to a general decline of the middle class and living standards among the working class at a time that identity politics – cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, and gender-based issues – is a necessary tool of the elites to prevent systemic institutional changes and maintain political consensus.
     
    More resistant to the well-established bipartisan cooperation on key issues, including foreign policy consensus, armies of journalists, consultants, analysts, lobbyists, and academics promote the divisions of the political and socioeconomic elites. If the energy sector has vested interests in US-Russia cooperation, while the auto industry has vested interests in NAFTA, and high tech in East Asia, it is understandable that the respective corporate lobbies, journalists, consultants, think tanks, and of course politicians would disagree about foreign policy consensus. Not only is US economic power reflected in its corporate structure at a time of national economic decline, especially when taking into account that debt as percentage of GDP stands at 105 and rising, but the nature of the US economy in comparison to that of Asia speaks volumes about its dim prospects and continued socioeconomic and cultural polarization. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GFDEGDQ188S
     
    Whereas China is strengthening its infrastructure and that of countries where it invests from Asia and Africa to Latin America, it also has sound domestic foundations in the primary and secondary sectors of its economy. While China has created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank involved in nine major projects in 2016 and planning many more in the future, the US was busy trying to forge trading blocs in order to exclude China while securing better terms of trade and higher profits for multinational corporations, as the Trans-Pacific Partnership illustrates, assuming it is ever implemented. http://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahsu/2017/01/14/how-chinas-asian-infrastructure-investment-bank-fared-its-first-year/#7acaad81f4d1; http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/14/06/2016/trans-pacific-partnership-against-and-prospects
     
    Unlike China, the US relies heavily on the service sector, largely speculative and parasitic, along with the defense industry that is even more parasitic than the financial sector. One could argue that high tech, especially robotics and biotech are pioneering areas with a great deal of growth since the 1990s and good prospects for the US economy. While many of those operations are at home they are hardly exempt from globalization. That US companies are keeping at least $2.5 trillion overseas and refusing to repatriate it under the current tax rate speaks volumes of their lack of commitment to economic nationalism. This is one reason that high tech corporations backed globalization advocated by Clinton.
     
    Despite Trump’s tariff threats which are an admission of inability to compete by trade rule the US established, the outward trend of US capital and production will continue because of low labor costs and market share competition. One reason that the Trump administration is viewing globalization with skepticism and downplaying the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2017 where globalists gather very year is because globalization favors the US less than China, Japan and other nations. For the first time ever, China will dominate the Davos conference a historically a Western-dominated affair.
     
    Whereas China is a producing country enjoying a trade surplus, the US is a consumption-driven economy with a balance of payments deficit and rapidly rising public debt financed in part by the artificial value of the dollar as a reserve currency still widely used around the world for transactions such as oil trade. Reflationary economics, combined with infrastructural and defense spending intended to stimulate GDP growth will work short term but add to the national debt, a prospect that will result in even greater socioeconomic inequality and greater sociopolitical and cultural polarization.
     
    Because countries producing about one-third of the world’s output have pegged their currencies in dollars, and 39% of the world’s debt is in dollars, the greenback has value much higher than any other hard currency. With its large productive capacity in all sectors of its economy and a large domestic consumer market, the US will remain economically strong. The question is for how long would the dollar continue to enjoy such a preeminent role; what happens when other reserve currencies become more competitive, and how long can the system sustain its viability under the weight of massive defense spending combined with a corporate welfare state. This inevitable development will further weaken the middle class and workers who feel increasingly marginalized but are confused about who is exactly to blame and how to fix the dysfunctional system.
     
    Trump’s inane slogan “Make America Great Again” by waving the magic wand  of economic nationalism and flirtation with neo-isolationism reflect the realization of decline and a highly symbolic approach to stop the inevitable decline that enriches US-based multinational corporations at the expense of the socially excluded segments of society that make up the majority. His insistence that companies selling products in the US must manufacture them domestically is a tacit recognition of the corporate sector profiting to the detriment of the weakened middle class and workers. However, asking powerful multinational corporations to cooperate with economic nationalist policies without massive tax incentives, corporate subsidies, and a much more relaxed regulatory regime is unrealistic. While the president could follow some variation of a statist model, Wall Street and congress will never allow any deviation from neoliberal policies, and Trump has demonstrated his interest is to enrich his family and supporters.
     
    Caught between policy contradictions and the realities of capitalism, the middle class and workers will pay the price because the government cannot find the money, unless it raises the national debt and slashes entitlements, for both the corporate welfare state and relaxed regulatory regime while maintaining a commitment to defense build up, higher living standards and protecting the environment. Just as the governor of Michigan opted for corporate givebacks at the expense of providing lead-contaminated water for Flint, the federal government will face similar choices and it will opt for corporate tax breaks, corporate subsidies, and privatization schemes that transfer income from the public sector to the private.
     
    The growing absence of political consensus and the intense competition of the elites to influence policy has swept away the masses and divided them politically, ideologically, culturally, geographically and demographically and unable to grasp why there must be perpetual social exclusion and differentiation if the economy is expanding as evidenced by the GDP and stock market. Amid this political-ideological-cultural war in which America is engaged, it is ironic that establishment Democrats are not fighting their opponents from a leftist position associated with FDR’s New Deal social safety net across the board with a strong central government role in the economy, but cling to identity politics – gay rights, environmentalists, blacks, Hispanics, women, etc. Trying to out-Republican Rockefeller Republicans who have more in common with the Cold War anti-Russia neoliberal Democrats than they do with the populist extreme right wing illustrates the bankruptcy of the Democrat Party as a realistic vehicle to social integration.

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    Russia: Enemy Of Western Democracy

    January 8th, 2017

    By Jon Kofas.

    There is a great deal of continuity in Russian history from the reign of Peter the Great until the present. There was clear discontinuity during the Bolshevik Revolution and the brief period when V. I. Lenin was in power, but then the USSR reverted to some very traditional practices in domestic and especially foreign affairs. Just as Tsars Peter the Great and Catherine the Great endeavored to modernize the country economically in order to strengthen it militarily so it would be competitive with Western Europe, so did 20th century Soviet leaders use economic modernization as a means of military strength rather than pursuing greater social justice.

    Naturally, the system collapsed under its own weight because it became corrupt and inefficient serving the few in the party bureaucracy to the detriment of the many. When Mikhail Gorbachev realized that another modernization attempt entailed scrapping the old Soviet system and its very expensive foreign policy of supporting satellites (spheres of influence), he unleashed a new era of an oligarchic crony capitalist system that the West welcomed as a triumph over the ashes of Communism. Because Russia does not have the tradition of Western European Enlightenment era bourgeois liberal tradition, its political economy was merely another layer upon others already there with more similarities of the Tsarist and Soviet past than with liberal-bourgeois democratic West.

    In foreign affairs, Tsarist Russia had been on the defensive throughout the 19th century largely because Western Europe, especially Great Britain and France, had a policy of contained as manifested in the Crimean War (1854-56). At the same time, Tsarist Russia was financially beholden to Western banks and it was as economically dependent on and exploited by the West as Latin America by the US. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the Putin nationalist-authoritarian regime of the early 21st century represent an attempt to assert greater Russian autonomy and lessen dependence on the West while claiming the traditional spheres of influence around their borders. The obstacle to such goals by the Kremlin has been Western imperialist policy as much under the Tsars and Soviet era as in the 21st century under the authoritarian—nationalist capitalist political economy.

    Against the historical record of the Russian Empire and the USSR, one can easily understand contemporary Russian foreign policy, especially if we consider that the breakup of the Soviet bloc and ensuing NATO expansion has entailed a much weakened Russian Federation. In the geopolitical arena where Moscow feels the greatest pressure, the policy of encirclement by the US and its European partners is at the core of the renewed East-West confrontation, rather than Russia annexing Crimea (March 2014) and using its role as protector of the ethnic Russian minority in the Ukraine since 2013.  

    Russia has taken advantage of the relative decline of the US as a superpower at a time that China has been rising as the world’s preeminent economic power invariably siding with Russia not just to preserve the balance of power in Eurasia but also in the Middle East. If China had been on the side on the US and NATO on foreign policy issues impacting everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran and Syria, then Russia would have been substantially weakened in its efforts to insist on preserving or even expanding its historic spheres of influence in Eurasia and the Middle East. The shifting global balance of power from the West to East Asia has actually created power vacuum that Moscow filled, taking advantage of the incalculable contradictions in US foreign policy – in general opposing jihadists, while selectively and indirectly supporting them as in the cases of Libya, Yemen and Syria. These contradictions that entail instability do not serve Chinese interests as the government in Beijing has made abundantly clear as it seeks stability around the world to expand its economic empire. China is hardly interested in strengthening Russia, but only using it as a counterweight of the imperialist West that seeks to destabilize because it sees this course of action as its only option to retain its global supremacy.

    Taking advantage of the global destabilizing role of the US and its contradictory foreign policy, Russia took limited risks both with regard to Ukraine and Syria to assert itself as a regional power with rights to spheres of influence. This is at the core of the renewed Russian-American renewed confrontation and the propaganda by both sides over cyber wars. According to US intelligence services, in 2016 Russia without question broke into US Democrat Party computers and manipulated the American people when it came to choosing between presidential candidates in 2016. Although it WIKILEAKS released hacked emails during the last three months of the presidential campaign of 2016, and although Julian Assange denied securing information from the Russians, the US maintained that the source was Russia. For its part, the Kremlin asked for proof that it is behind the hacking, although it hardly concealed its enthusiasm for the defeat of the Democrat Party in the presidential and congressional elections.

    Russia’s role in Syria where the US was eliminated as a player in the negotiations of cease-fire and post-civil war plans could be one reason for the Obama administration insisting that the Kremlin was responsible for hacking which no one seriously believes changed the outcome of the presidential or congressional races. After all, the idea that an unemployed auto worker in Ohio voted for the Republican candidate because of Kremlin influence is too absurd to defend even for the most enthusiastic apologist of the renewed Cold War.

    Another reason that Russia made a convenient target was the challenge of Obama and the Clintons for control of the Democratic National Committee against those supporting Senator Bernie Sanders fighting for the party’s future. It could also be a naked attempt to weaken the incoming Trump administration that has individuals with close financial ties to Russia and seems more interested in targeting China as the new enemy than Russia. It is also the case that US is so institutionally immersed in anti-Russia propaganda going back to the Wilson administration (Bolshevik Revolution of 1917) that Russia always makes such an easy target. After all, China can only be alienated up to a point because of the immense US dependence on Beijing to buy government bonds and trade.

    Moreover, the world economy’s fate is just as dependent, if not more so, on China than on the US. Finally, Russia makes a convenient distraction because of the reality of decline not just in the economy but of the middle class and democracy in a country that preaches freedom and democracy to the rest of the world. If Russia is blamed for all of America’s problems, then there is no need to look at home for root causes for the twilight of bourgeois democracy. Whereas Trump wants to blame jihadists, Mexican illegal workers, China’s supposedly unfair trade practices, and globalization that takes jobs out of the US, the Democrats and establishment Republicans see Russia as a weaker and easier target to demonize.

    Did Russia manipulate “American democracy”? On the one hand, there was Trump the billionaire authoritarian charlatan who uses TWITTER obsessively even before taking office just to make his views known on everything from refusal to de-link himself from his business interests to the need for more nuclear weapons and engaging in trade war with China. On the other hand, there was Clinton the Cold War Democrat with a long documented history of corruption and questionable ties to Wall Street and wealthy foreign businesses and governments. She made it clear that she would become president on behalf of ‘identity politics’ rather than class-based politics that Bernie Sanders pursued. No “basket of deplorable” working class stiffs who lack the education and refinement to vote for a Wall Street neoliberal like her need bother voting because the Republican populist Messiah had hypnotized them with promises of making America great again.

    Amid such stellar ‘democratic’ choices, both candidates chosen and backed by the elites, the voters were asked to choose between a traditional Cold War neoliberal and an authoritarian populist promising even more tax breaks for the wealthy and more deregulation. Neither candidate was committed to social justice, equality and civil rights. Instead, they debated lifestyle issues as though they are the core concerns of the majority chasing the increasingly costly American Dream. They also debated the role of Russian computer hacking as catalytic to the electoral process, with Trump casting doubt on the legitimacy of the intelligence services as non-political entities, while some Republicans and all Democrats castigating the Kremlin for hacking into US computers.

    The Obama administration, the media and well paid analysts became anxious to drive across the point that American democratic society is in sharp contrast to Russian society where authoritarian politics and crony capitalism prevail. Unlike authoritarian crony-capitalist Russia, democratic US has never meddled in foreign elections; it has never tried to overthrow governments using the armed forces, CIA counterinsurgency operations, or any other means ranging from US multinational corporations and US government spending funds to help elect a favorite candidates. Nor has the US ever engaged in foreign surveillance through the NSA and CIA with the intention of manipulation foreign elections. In this oasis of democracy, the aggressive Russian bear, reverting to its previous Communist tactics, dared to disturb the political harmony by pointing out the occasional wart on the otherwise refined façade of the US.

    To convince the American people and the world that Russia is the arch enemy of the entire world because it breaks into computers of other countries, in sharp contrast with the non-interference policy of the US that has never dreamed of lowering itself to such practices, various unnamed US intelligence agencies provided news organizations, including the Washington Post, with evidence that Russia hacked the Burlington Electric Company’s main computer which controls the power grid. Of course, the company in Vermont denied that was the case, announcing that a laptop was infected but it was not linked to a mainframe.

    At least the corporate media did its duty reporting the information as the government passed on to protect citizens from the Russian menace, even if that information lacked any basis in truth. If there were those still unconvinced of Russia engaging in an act of war by revealing Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails among others, then the US government, corporate media and corporate sponsors have made available well paid analysts, journalists, and “experts” to convince the entire world that they are all in danger of manipulation by Russia. A number of European countries preemptively announced that they too could be targets. In order for world to keep its focus on Russia, here are just some of the activities the US has planned.

    1.      24/7 News and analysis coverage of “America Held Hostage by Russian Hackers”. Although hard evidence cannot be provided because it is simply too sensitive and will compromise sources, it is the duty of every God-fearing American or citizen of any Western nation to accept everything government and corporate media dish out without requiring empirical proof just as you require no proof that God exists.

    2.      There will be special TV and radio programs of how “The Russians did it and Must be Punished for it”. This special coverage will be repeated ad-nauseam to convince skeptics and Trump supporters that Russia, not the backing of the elements of the corporate media (FOX NEWS), billionaires, and populists frustrated with the establishment elected Trump. We know this to be an incontrovertible fact and we must punish the Commie Russians with more sanctions until there is nothing left to sanction including their fine caviar and vodka. 

    3.      TV movie of the week and perhaps a series to follow called “Armageddon: The Showdown with Russia”. This will allow the viewer to realize that the reason for lower middle class and working class living standards has nothing to do with the political economy resulting in capital concentration. No, the real enemy is Russia and that’s why the minimum wage in Omaha is not rising, that’s why housing is unaffordable for about one-third of the population, that’s why college debt is $1.3 trillion, that’s why credit card debt is at $850 billion and auto loans $1.4 trillion. It’s all Russian hacking to blame and it is your patriotic duty to accept it.

    4.      A Sondheim Broadway musical production of: “It’s Springtime for Trump and Putin: Hackers Can’t Fool the CIA and NSA!” If you enjoyed Mel Brooks’ “It’s Springtime for Hitler”, you will simply be enthralled by the Putin-Trump love story with the CIA and NSA just one step behind them singing melodious medleys for Hilary and Obama in “E Flat minor”, as the most comfortable note to sing in for the minority political party.

    5.      “Russian Hackers Must be Destroyed Now!” video game now available with a new app for either your cell phone or laptop. If you enjoy such wonderful games as “Full Spectrum Warrior” “Destroy the World” and others some used to train soldiers, we have a great one that will keep you and the whole family entrained while wanting to kill every Russian until they admit they did the hacking.

    6.      Merchandizing of everything from costumes to bumper stickers reading “Russia did it and we Know it” now available on AMAZON and other online retailers. By displaying this merchandise, you have the opportunity to let your friends, neighbors, and co-workers know how you really feel about that Commie Russia enemy of ours hiding behind Wikileaks, another Commie front organization pretending to do honest journalistic work. Remember part of the proceeds will go to fund the good deeds of the Democratic National Convention against rebel types like Bernie Sanders and the defunct New Deal wing of the party.

    7.       “Anti-Russia Hacking Parades and County Fairs” soon coming to your town or near you. These parades will be featuring not just Cold War Democrats and Republicans but a media circus sponsored by your friendly defense contractor whose patriotism can only be measured by cost overruns for the latest fighter jets. Soon there will be anti-Russian hacking parades at county fairs so people can enjoy shooting a full size doll of Putin while enjoying a corn dog and a Bud. For every successful hit of the Putin doll, the Cold War Democrats and Republicans will score another point with the public proving they are there to protect you from our eternal enemy.

    8.      Comic strips to run in all major newspapers and magazines entitled: “Do your Duty and Report Russian Hackers Near You.” Now the whole family can join in the fun by reporting to the FBI any neighbor or co-worker that doubts Russian hacking, or even a friend or relative that has just become a bit too annoying. This is the chance for all patriotic Americans to prove they are not US intelligence skeptics that is tantamount to being Russian internet trolls.

    9.      For skeptics who insist on hard evidence, CNN and other corporate media giants will make available a video game entitled “Can We Trust the Russians?” This entertaining video game approximates how Russian hacking was actually carried out in the world of virtual reality. Without revealing the identity of any US operatives conducting their own covert operations against “The Enemy”, this video game will convince you once and for all it was our eternal Cold War enemy behind all the calamities that have befallen upon us, including the lead poisoning in Flint Michigan.

    10.  In light of the US insistence that the Kremlin deliberately hacked into US Democratic Party and Podesta’s computers with the aim of undermining American democracy, the US government is announcing the creation of a new agency: “Anti-Russia and anti-Wikileaks Hacking Intelligence Network; aka  Putin and Assange Are Undermining our Perfect Society by pointing out our imperfections.” The agency will track our enemies foreign and domestic, and God only knows there are a lot of them. If anyone does not believe us, then Homeland Security will declare them traitors of democracy to be blacklisted and in extreme cases face deportation regardless of their citizenship status.

    There are fundamental policy considerations at work that go to the heart of America’s inability to live without demonizing its former Cold War rival. There are ideological, political, geopolitical, economic, cultural and institutional issues involved that demand a continued Russian-American confrontation. Even if there is amelioration of US-Russian relations by the Trump administration, in order to weaken or slow down China’s global ascendancy, the US will find it difficult to let go of its Cold War rival. In a future essay, I will analyze the highly politicized intelligence both rooted in fact and manufactured. There are obvious benefits to the financial and political elites for perpetuating the Cold War paradigm with Russia as the new old enemy and intelligence is only one dimension of this very complex issue. Unless the US decides what limits it needs to place on its own global reach and what perimeters it and its allies must place on Russian spheres of influence, the absurdity of the current policy will continue.

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    The European Union’s Future: Beyond Italy’s Referendum

    December 10th, 2016

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    Introduction: Is the EU Integration Model Viable?

    Alessandro di Battista, deputy of Italy’s Five Star Movement that helped to defeat the government’s Constitutional reform proposal in December 2016, has hinted that voters decide a possible exit from the euro-zone during the next election for prime minister. This may or may not take place, but Italy remains a possible candidate for exiting the euro. This hardly comes as a surprise after the referendum revealed a decidedly anti-EU sentiment amid the banking crisis and economic stagnation the country is suffering.

    Is the EU on the eve of disintegrating, or can it survive without England and Italy with other countries to follow? Does it really make much difference if it dissolves, considering that countries will forge bilateral and multilateral trade, investment, environmental and other agreements? Is the current EU integration model viable for all its members or merely for Germany enjoying economic hegemony over the euro-zone?

    Shortly after the deep recession that started with the subprime mortgage bubble in the US in 2008 that eventually spread around the world, the EU began to transform in significant ways. Just about everyone was so focused on the immediacy of the recession that there was no focus on the transformation of the integration model. The integration model under which the EU was founded changed to reflect the sharp division between the hegemonic core members led by Germany and France vs. the weaker periphery ones in Southern and Eastern Europe. Largely because the financial sector needed to absorb capital otherwise going to the middle classes and workers, the state became the conduit for altering the integration model by using the common currency, EU rules on GDP-to-debt ratio as a means of limiting public spending, loans and subsidies, all as leverage to enforce neoliberal policies and preserve the hard currency. The result was middle class living standards began to decline along with the prospects for upward social mobility as reflected in high youth unemployment, including college graduates, as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) noted. https://data.oecd.org/unemp/youth-unemployment-rate.htm

    Founded on the inter-dependent integration model, the EU led by Germany adopted the patron-client model once the great recession began to impact the banks requiring massive capital injections. Intended to raise GDP and living standards in the periphery countries that joined the euro-zone, the inter-dependent integration model was replaced with the patron-client model on which NAFTA and other US-dominated Inter-American trading blocs are based. The goal was for the hegemonic country to capture greater market share under low tariffs and low asset values ranging from labor costs to raw materials.

    Under the aegis of Germany, the EU adopted the patron-client model in order to remain competitive on a world scale by transferring capital from the periphery to the core through austerity measures as well as neoliberal policies. These measures entailed the considerable downsizing of the public sector that sold public assets to corporations, lower wages and benefits, deregulated market in everything from pharmacies to transportation, lower taxes and loopholes for big business while small businesses found it more difficult to compete because their taxes and costs of doing business were higher.

    Because it imposed on its members budgetary deficit restraints as part of the neoliberal economic course, the EU forced its members to eliminate the state as an agent of stimulating growth in the periphery countries. There are many ironies in all this, but I will only mention two as glaring examples. First, privatizing public utilities and selling them off while eliminating public service jobs was self-serving for the core countries where the private companies were based.

    Interestingly enough, France, for example, that had tried privatizing water, had such a bad experience that it reverted back to public control, given the issue was both of cost and health. Second, behind the change in the integration model and neoliberal policies were some of the most corrupt banks in the world, including Deutsche Bank which is still waiting to find out the amount of fine imposed by the US Justice Department – originally $14 billion, but still in negotiations for a reduction. These multinational corporations driving policy not just in the EU but across the world and backed by the IMF and World Bank brought immense pressure on the periphery to adopt austerity measures that further wrecked fragile economies and made them more vulnerable to foreign economic dominance.

    The illegal and fraudulent practices of banks included not only deceptive practices in residential mortgages and fixing rates, but money laundering, tax avoidance and terrorism financing, all of which the EU Commission has admitted drained capital from state treasuries and undermined the economies. The “Panama Papers” of the law firm Mossack-Fonseca revealed that major banks including many in the EU were deeply involved in illegal activities including transferring funds into offshore companies where money is hidden from tax authority. People are well aware that tax evasion by the wealthy entails that the tax burden falls disproportionately on the middle and lower classes. The EU, member governments, and the financial elites expected the average citizen to bail out the banks in the aftermath of the recession in 2008, never raising the option of fair and shared sacrifice.

    Concurrent with the change in integration models was the very clear and sharp decline in the social welfare state and rise in corporate welfare and neo-liberal policies that transferred income from small businesses and professionals that make up the middle class. Governments also launched an assault on labor unions and workers with the goal of exacting concessions on wages and benefits, diluting collective bargaining and strike laws, and imposing longer working hours. The argument was that workers were to blame for the recession because they enjoy generous wages and benefits. By embracing anti-labor and anti-middle class policies, governments of conservative, centrist, and Socialist parties across Europe began to lose credibility that the social contract at the national and regional levels was working for the benefit of all people. For their part, the EU, member governments and its apologist argued that downsizing the social welfare state and lowering living standards from the broader working and middle classes was necessary to remain competitive with East Asia where wages were low.

    Globalization under neo-liberal policies resulted in a sociopolitical reaction across Europe and polarized the electorate looking for alternatives to the mainstream parties. However, the ultra right wing was far more serious in opposing the EU than the non-Communist left running on reformist platform but invariably co-opted by the neoliberal establishment. Italy’s referendum defeated by both the reformist left and the extreme right was the latest example of voters rejecting the government’s anti-labor neoliberal corporate welfare policies intended to concentrate capital in the name of ‘saving the ailing banks’ while calling it ‘reform’ as though it is beneficial for the majority of the people.

    Italy’s Referendum and its Symbolic Significance for the EU

    On 4 December 2016, Italian voters dealt a major symbolic blow to neoliberal-corporate welfare policies that the EU has been imposing across the continent since the start of the great recession in 2008.  Voters rejected Prime Minister Mateo Renzi’s proposals for a stronger executive and a weaker legislative branch intended to push through neoliberal and austerity reforms that large banks and corporations demanded at the expense of smaller businesses, the middle class, and workers whose living standards have been on a steady decline since 1994 and accelerated after 2009. In 2006, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tried a similar reform of the constitution of 1948 but he did not have any better luck than Renzi ten years later. The goal was a stronger executive to pass legislation that would benefit big capital within the EU.

    With the decline of the middle class came lower living standards for workers and higher poverty rates, with more young educated Italians leaving their country for a better job; a process that will accelerate in the coming years regardless of whether Italy stays or leaves the EU. Italy is the Euro-zone’s fourth largest economy and the world’s eighth largest in nominal GDP along with Brazil. Interestingly enough, like Brazil, Italy has major structural problems. Its rising public debt is at 133% of GDP, but without the large informal economy estimated at $233 billion in 2014, debt to GDP ratio is closer to 150%. This is accompanied by unemployment of 11.6 percent, or three times higher than Germany’s but half of what Greece and Spain. Unlike Greece which has no industrial sector of any consequence and relies heavily on imports while suffering from unsustainable public debt and high chronic unemployment and underemployment, Italy has a solid industrial sector that offers some hope for its massive public debt problem and banking crisis.

    To address both the public debt and banking crisis, Renzi, backed by finance and corporate capitalists as well as the entire weight of the EU establishment, proposed a corporate welfare scheme to transfer income from the middle and lower echelons of society to the banks and corporations. This was intended to keep the banks under private control by injecting public funds, rather than nationalize them. The prime candidate for nationalization is Banca Monte dei Paschi that has failed stress tests and it has considerable international links that could have consequences for the entire banking industry in Europe. Recapitalization and ridding itself of bad loans required more time than the ECB was willing to permit the bank to raise an estimated at 5 billion euros.

    That the ECB rejected Monte Paschi request for state bailout just a five days after the referendum meant inevitable losses for shareholders and bondholders as well as Italian taxpayers. Of course the prospect for some EU assistance remained a possibility because of the domino effect fear across the EU. Against this background, if the US Justice Department imposes a heavy fine ($14 billion) on Deutsche Bank it would mean the only way to save that bank would be for the German government to bail it out and that would then set off another round of crises across the EU.

    The political attempt to resolve Italy’s banking crisis suffered a temporary setback because the anti-austerity, anti-EU Five Star Movement opposed Renzi’s proposals along with the nationalist right wing xenophobic ‘Lega Nord’ (Northern League). For different reasons, all political parties opposed Renzi’s constitutional reform proposal, but it was the populists of the left and the right claiming victory over the neoliberals who represent international finance capital and the multinational corporations in Italy and in Europe. It should be kept in mind that former prime minister and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, who in 2006 tried the same constitutional reform tactic as Renzi, sided with the Lega Nord against Renzi. This illustrates that not all Italian capitalists favored existing EU policies and the integration model, just as not all British capitalists favored remaining in the EU that they perceived as German-dominated.

    Renzi announced his resignation because it was a clear defeat of his policies and a resounding rejection of the disastrous road that southern Europe has been following under the aegis of EU and IMF since 2010. Nevertheless, in the days after the vote, EU stock markets rose sharply and the euro did not lose its value as a reserve currency as the neoliberals had been warning to scare voters into supporting Renzi’s policies. Short-term stock market speculation aside, the reality of Italy’s GDP growth close to zero, youth unemployment at 40% right behind Spain and Greece, and an economy about the same size as in 2000 hardly speaks well for Italy’s progress under the aegis of the EU.

    There are many dimensions to the Italian vote. I would like to focus on the following.

    1. Why did Renzi call for the referendum?

    By substantially reducing the size of the senate, it would be easier for the executive to pass ‘austerity and neoliberal reforms’ through the Chamber of Deputies. The changes would entail hastening the process of tax and labor reform that would in effect weaken labor and transfer income from the broader social classes to the banks and larger corporations. Italian banks carry a disproportionate number of unserviceable loans – roughly one-third of EU’s bad loans for an economy inexorably linked to the rest of the EU and suffering a growing public debt.

    Because the investment in Italian banks goes beyond the country’s borders, the banking crisis poses a major risk to financial stability in the EU unless reforms are enacted that would in essence transfer funds to strengthen the banks at the expense of the social welfare state and the working class. The insolvency of the Italian banking system will drag down with it the EU banking system under the ‘contagion syndrome’ that links the EU financial system, unless Germany permits the EU to inject billions to save the banks thus further driving down the value of the euro.

    2. Why were public opinion polls wrong as they were in the case of the UK referendum and the US presidential election?

    By now people across the entire Western World cannot take seriously public opinion polls because in 2016 in three different countries the corporate media has been wrong about election results. First, the case of BREXIT clearly showed that public opinion polls were either manufactured or the polling companies deliberately preselected a targeted audience for their questionnaires, so that they could achieve the desired result and influence the undecided voters to join the fictitious majority. More or less the exact same thing took place in the US, although one could argue that Clinton won the popular vote and still lost the Electoral College.

    Italy represents the third case in 2016 where public opinion polls were wrong leaving people to wonder if this was part of a pattern reflecting the interests of corporations backing a certain politician, political party or policy. It is one thing for polls to be off by the typical margin of error (3 to 5%) and another to be completely off the charts as in the case of BREXIT, USA, and Italy. If indeed they conducted honest polling, then one would think that they would be reconsidering the flawed method of research. However, it is hardly coincidence that corporate public opinion polls are not intended to reflect how people will vote but to influence the result. In short, polls have lost credibility as much as the biased corporate media that will go to great lengths to mold public opinion in support of neoliberal and corporate welfare policies as the panacea for the masses.

    3. Was the Italian referendum a ‘personal issue’ and ‘insignificant’ as many European officials and corporate CEO’s contended?

    There were also those who argued that the vote reflected societal shifts within the country about national sovereignty and the EU’s role in hindering growth and development. It was amazing to watch various European TV programs where Italian and European corporate representatives and EU officials argued that the vote meant essentially nothing and ‘reforms’ (anti-labor, neoliberal and corporate welfare) must continue as though the peoples’ vote was a futile exercise. Some argued that Italians did not vote to leave the EU as did their British counterparts in summer 2016.

    Others insisted that the vote was meaningless because it was all about personalities, namely Renzi vs. Giuseppe “Beppe” Grillo of the Five Star Movement and Silvio Berlusconi representing the populist right wing. Still others noted that this vote simply meant a more flexible policy toward the Italian banks by the European Central Bank. Some noted that the vote is not as serious because populists on the center left led by Beppe Grillo could never come together with the rightist populists of the Northern League. Therefore, the era of coalition government in Italy simply means a weak state that permits neoliberal and corporate welfare policies to prevail.

    4. Did the Italian referendum weaken the EU and the neoliberal and globalization course or was it a brief pause until the establishment political forces with the backing of big capital mobilize for a new strategy of co-opting both the League of the North and the Five Star Movement?

    Russian politicians hailed the vote in Italy’s referendum as a blow to EU unity, but that may have been wishful thinking because the blow was not to the head of the EU integration model. Nevertheless, no matter how much lipstick and makeup EU apologists of globalization and neoliberal policies try to apply on this little pig, it is still a pig and voters across Europe see it as such. This is the reason that a percentage of them turned to populism on the right or the left, leaving an increasingly weaker centrist arena to become more right wing by embracing xenophobia and racism. In short, this is not just a matter of the banking crisis but a crisis in bourgeois democracy.

    5. Do the Italian referendum, the US election of Trump, and UK exodus from the EU indicate a rising tide of right wing populism undermining globalization and neoliberal policies?

    It is indeed possible that we could see increased support for economic nationalist measures across the EU if the US goes that route as Trump has indicated. However, the structural course of globalization, neoliberal policies and corporate welfare are so deeply grounded in the political economy that it will be very difficult to reverse course. The symbolism of right wing populism is actually more important in so far as periphery EU countries may opt to follow this path that Trump and Putin hail as the new trend. Because the structure of the economy will remain essentially the same in the near term, living standards for workers and middle class will not improve and people will keep moving away from the centrist parties and toward the left or the xenophobic right, a phenomenon not just in Italy but across Europe.  

    As long as the EU represented the possibility of higher living standards and a higher quality life, people regarded integration in appositive light. Once the evidence began to show very clearly that the EU was a mechanism for the hegemony of big capital at the expense of the rest of society, the EU’s appeal began to decline. This manifested itself in right wing populism and ultra-nationalism across the continent, especially in Eastern Europe but also in France and Great Britain. Although Communist and non-Communist leftist political parties have expressed adamant opposition to globalization, neoliberal policies, and the patron-client integration model, political momentum rests with the right wing that has been riding the populist wave across Europe.

    Imminent Demise or Temporary Setback for the EU?

    Contrary to many analysts warning of Italy sending the EU into chaos if it voted against Renzi’s proposed reforms, Italy’s prospects after the vote are about the same after the referendum as before. Considering that the banking crisis of Italy can be dealt within the EU by an injection of both European Central Bank and Italian government capital combined with private and consortium investment, stability is possible although at a heavy cost to taxpayers. Moreover, despite the referendum, neoliberal and corporate welfare policies at the expense of social welfare will continue in Italy as they have in Greece, Spain, Portugal and much of the EU since 2010.

    Given the relative absence of inflation in the EU, and the European Central Bank’s projection that inflation will rise from 0.5% in 2016 to just under 2% by the end of the decade, the policy of monetarism (keeping a strong currency by tightly controlling the money supply) has been responsible for capital concentration, low jobs-creation climate, and income redistribution from the middle class and workers to the top ten percent of the wealthiest individuals across Europe. 

    Speculation by many academics, journalists, stock market analysts, and politicians that the EU is on its deathbed seems motivated more by ideological and political factors in some instances or trying to influence securities speculation in other cases. In most instances, people simply analyze headlines circulating around the mainstream media. This is not to suggest that the EU is not at its nadir since the Treaty of Rome in 1957, not that the EU is more stable after the Italian referendum than before. However, it is one thing to argue that the EU is indeed suffering a crisis, and it is entirely another matter to underestimate its resiliency because of hasty analysis or because analysts are paid by firms speculating on the euro and/or bonds and stocks, or for ideological and political reasons.

    Contrary to alarmist rhetoric from people in different ideological camps, as the world’s wealthiest economic bloc with NATO backing up its political and economic global reach, the EU is not in imminent danger of disintegration. Despite setbacks it suffered in 2016 with the United Kingdom leaving, Italy in serious banking and public debt crisis, and Greece remaining in permanent austerity mode after six years of EU-IMF measures that have only made the economy much worse than it has been at any time in its post-military Junta era (1974-present), the EU can revive assuming Germany and France modify the patron-client model of integration and dilute corporate welfare and neoliberal policies that have wrecked the economies and undermined bourgeois democracy.

    BREXIT was indeed a major blow to the regional economic bloc, but the UK was never part of the euro-zone and its economic role will continue with some modest modifications that will result in higher indirect taxes for the consumers. Considering the performance of the stock markets across Europe, including England since BREXIT, the alarmist rhetoric about UK leaving the EU now appears overblown and indeed politically motivated to persuade UK voters to stay. Not just biased media reporting, but biased public opinion polls proved that big capital was determine to go to great lengths in support of maintaining the integrity of the bloc. The barrage of EU threats against Britain were also revealing about the lengths to which big capital and its political backers will go to oppose any model of economic nationalism, even if that model continues with aspects of neoliberal and corporate welfare policies.

    The Italian referendum was a major setback for multinational corporations, banks and neoliberal-corporate welfare advocates. However, it is a stretch to argue it signals the beginning of the end for the EU. The doomsday rhetoric about the consequences did not materialize immediately as the pro-EU forces claimed and the European Central Bank as well as central banks of individual member nations is prepared to support the regional bloc with injections of capital.

    Because Italy’s banks need time to recapitalize and Moody’s rating agency changed Italy’s outlook from stable to negative, short-term stock and bond speculators influence the entire political landscape about EU’s dim prospects when combined with the reality of a rising anti-EU right wing xenophobic tide across Europe. The current ECB 80 billion euro a month of bond purchases continued until March 2017 and scaled back to 60 billion until December 2017 is intended to stimulate growth in a sluggish regional economy.  Monetary policy is a major tool that keeps the regional bloc viable. Considering the modest GDP growth of the core members of the EU, combined with the stronger than expected revival of China’s economy in the second half of 2016, the world’s largest trading bloc will remain strong but still wobbly in the next five years.

    Neither BREXIT nor Italy referendum will bring down the EU, but the glaring contradictions within the regional bloc will. One such contradiction is that members share a common currency and each member government must abide by certain fiscal policy restrictions despite the obvious uneven structure of the region’s economies. It defies rudimentary logic that import-dependent southern and Eastern EU members share the same hard currency as Germany that is a major industrial power on a world scale. This contradiction points to further problems that will only become worse under the current patron-client imperialist model which further strengthens the strongest members at the expense of the weaker ones.

    Europe’s ‘periphery economies’ (Southern and Eastern Europe) cannot sustain long-term growth and be regionally or globally competitive under a hard currency, fiscal and trade restraints imposed by the EU intended to continue with neoliberal policies, and an integration model designed to strengthen the strongest members at the expense of the weaker ones. Nevertheless, the large companies and capitalists in the regional economies share common interests with their northwest EU counterparts and they enjoy considerable political influence in their respective countries’ political decision to stay in the EU.

    Besides the scenarios under which the EU will dissolve revolve around the inescapable contradictions of the regional bloc, as I noted above, there is also the political decision of the larger members to end the bloc under pressure from national elites advocating greater national control of the economy and society. Unless Germany and France as the largest members and pillars of the bloc since the 1950s decide that it is time to end integration because their national economies would be better off, the EU will continue to exist until the next global recession.

    Even if the EU dissolves after domestic and regional political and economic pressures because it will cease to serve the majority of the people, a new integration model of European trade-financial realignment will replace the existing one. Geography cannot change any more for Europe than for the Western Hemisphere. For the near future, there will be some policy modifications at the national level and by EU at the central level in Brussels to accommodate the rising tide of right wing populism and critics from the left demanding to save the social welfare state. It is inevitable that the pro-EU political parties would be able to mobilize support and win elections because they will move closer to the positions of their right wing populist political opponents.

    Alarmist rhetoric is in long supply by political element on the extreme right because they espouse nationalism inseparable from xenophobia and racism. They see EU integration compromising their national sovereignty and they use the migration issue as a fear mongering tactic. Encouraged by the rising xenophobia amid the wave of Middle Eastern and North African migrants, Marine Le Pen of the French National Front and other ultra-nationalists across Europe has been riding the wave of anti-EU populism but with limited success as the elections in Austria showed in December 2016. The containment of the far right is partly due to the conservative parties adopting some of the right wing rhetoric and espousing the platform of the far right, especially talking tough about migrants, blaming largely non-white, non-Christian immigrants for all the problems facing the white Christian continent.

    The transition from the EU inter-dependent model of integration to a patron-client imperialist model that Germany espouses will eventually precipitate the downfall of the EU from within as the regional bloc is the cause for massive wealth concentration and increased social and geographic inequality. Considering the widening gap between the few wealthy and the increasingly squeezed middle class and workers, there will be more social and political instability forcing people to choose between the populist right wing political camp and the varieties of center-left and left political parties.

    There are many positive elements about European society that enrich it and make it unique in the entire world and permit it to make worthy contributions to its citizens and to the world. Those include the absence of capital punishment and respect for human rights, openness to global cultural influences, diversity of newspapers and political parties representing the entire political/ideological spectrum from the far right to the far left, identity with the nation-state and the EU, to mention just a few things that make EU members more democratic than many other advanced nations, including the US where authoritarianism has become mainstream and not just because of Trump who only reflected prevailing trends and took advantage of them to secure election to the presidency.

    There are also very dreadful elements of European policies. Those include the expansion of NATO and huge defense budgets in the post-Cold War era intended to carry out direct and covert military campaigns with the US as the senior partner under the pretext of ‘the war on terrorism’. The direct consequence of such militaristic policies have been jihadist attacks on innocent people in European cities, which in turn has entailed a sharp rise in Islamophobia and xenophobia as the platforms of conservative and extreme right wing political parties. These scapegoat issues distract from the core ones that concern the integration model and social order responsible for the downward mobility in Italy and the periphery member nations.

    Naturally, the mainstream media and politicians reinforce xenophobia by the manner they cover related issues, thus contributing to public distraction from the core issues. Given the current economic, and sociopolitical trends, Europe will find itself at some point in the not too distant future in the same course toward authoritarianism as the US. In a continent that has experienced Nazism, Fascism, and varieties of authoritarian regimes in the last century the signs are evident that indeed history is not a steady Hegelian line of progress but one of regression that reflects the irrational in human nature.

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    Authoritarian Politics And Capitalism In Trump’s America

    November 10th, 2016

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    America’s Future after the Presidential Election of 2016

    Right wing political groups throughout the world are celebrating Trump’s victory but rather prematurely. They traditional conservatives and liberals are sufficiently delusional to believe that they are somehow far removed from Trump-style authoritarian politics when in fact they laid the groundwork for Trump to succeed. Meanwhile, some traditional conservative political leaders around the world are wondering if right wing populism flirting with Fascism is the way to political victory, never questioning if their policies drove people to the far right. Others are questioning if BREXIT and the Trump victory really mean popular discontent with globalization under the neoliberal development model. Many analysts are already decrying the rightwing course of the American electorate, as though Clinton was a New Deal Democrat rather than a Rockefeller Republican with a more pro-Wall Street and more hawkish foreign policy than Trump.

    Political correctness aside, the US was already a quasi-police state before Trump under both Bush and Obama. Therefore, the socio-cultural-political landscape was fertile for the new populist Republican leader, especially considering the corruption scandals that plagued Clinton. It is not at all the case as many have argued that US democracy suddenly became bankrupt because of Trump’s victory, because this was the case throughout history, with some exceptions when reformism became necessary to strengthen capitalism under the pluralistic society as during the Progressive Era and New Deal.

    Behind the new authoritarian figure that will become America’s president, and behind the Republican victory of both houses of congress, the real power is corporate America as it always has been. Wall Street, not Washington, will determine policy under Trump who promised economic nationalism vs. globalization, isolationism vs. interventionism, job-growth oriented economy vs. jobs export oriented economy. Mainstream politicians, the media, and the entire institutional establishment have always projected the image that elections are equated with democracy.

    The establishment wants people to believe that the electoral process affords legitimacy to the social contract. No matter how manipulated by the political class, financial elites and the media, elections put a stamp of legitimacy on what people believe constitutes popular sovereignty. As shocking as it was for many across the US and around the world, a Trump victory represents the illusion of democracy at work in a country where voter apathy is very high in comparison with most developed countries – the US ranks 27th in the world below Mexico and Slovakia in voter participation.

    Besides the illusion of popular sovereignty, elections inject a sense of hope for a new start in society – the eternal spring of politics intended to maintain the status quo. An even clearer picture emerges regarding the distasteful “steak or fish” choices, as President Obama alluded during the correspondents’ dinner a few weeks before the election to indicate with pride that there is no third political choice. The larger problem is the lack of differences between ‘steak and fish’ (Democrats and Republicans) in every policy domain, except social, cultural/lifestyle issues.

    Of course, the very high percentage of ‘negatives’ for both presidential candidates and the absence of alternatives other than those that the political and financial establishment chose for people to give their final approval reveals that people were voting for what each side deemed the ‘lesser of two evils’ – the ‘steak or fish’ choice that the establishment places on the menu and then the media ‘guides’ voters to choose one over the other as though it really makes much difference. This is hardly a manifestation of democracy and a testament of a system far removed from popular sovereignty.

    Unlike elections in many developed countries, American elections have an aura of finality about them. It is as though everything has been decided at the ballot box until the next election cycle and people must conform. Elections invalidate expression of dissident voices, but not for corporate lobbyists influencing legislation. Despite the aura of finality and the historic election of populist Republican supporting economic nationalism, after the presidential election the US remains more bitterly divided than it was during the last years of the Vietnam War under President Nixon; certainly more undemocratic because of the ubiquitous surveillance state and Homeland Security regime that is here to stay. Although these divisions are not expressed as part of a class struggle, given the absence of working class solidarity, they find expression in varieties of smaller social, religious and cultural groups at odds with each other.

    This is not to suggest that the US is as authoritarian as other countries claiming to be democratic. Nevertheless, there is considerable underlying sociopolitical polarization in a country hardly democratic as its apologists insist. Because of factionalism (socio-cultural-religious conservatives, isolationists/anti-globalist libertarians, traditional fiscal conservatives), Republican infighting will invariably manifest itself when the executive branch tries to push measures that congress will reject because corporate lobbyists oppose them. Animosity within the Republican Party and between the two major parties in congress will result in more gridlock despite a sweeping Republican victory of all branches of government. This is what Wall Street wants. Gridlock projects the image that both sides are fighting for the interests of the people when they are really fighting on behalf of corporate interests. Nevertheless, they present the process as the essence of democracy and the media reinforces that view.

    Trump’s quasi-Fascist America will be unacceptable to many Democrats who believed that pluralism and multiculturalism in a country with changing demographics must become a reality with a first female president symbolizing these changes. On the other hand, Trump voters will be very disappointed once reality sinks in that the flamboyant charlatan billionaires cannot deliver in the promise to make America great again in terms of raising living standards. Trump had raised expectations so high that he the first to be disappointed will be his own voters. However, he will deliver on the implied promise to take America back a few decades when white male supremacy was rarely questioned at home or abroad.

    Just days before the election, a FOX NEWS poll of its own audience indicated far greater pessimism about the country’s future than the general population. These people also fear deepening division in the country because the liberal establishment is an anathema to their cultural identity. With a Trump victory, the Republican popular base watching FOX NEWS will be hoping that their right wing messiah will lead them to the promised land of the early Cold War of the 1950s and to the elusive American Dream of yesteryear. Disillusionment has already set it on the part of many on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who see their dream of greater social justice far removed.

    Regardless of Trump’s promises to improve the lives of the poor and the middle class by bringing jobs back home, the only certainty is the hegemony of markets over the state resulting in continued political polarization in society that has turned sharply to the right even more than it was under Reagan AND Bush-Cheney. Globalization and neoliberal policies (the model based on state empowering the private sector in every domain and incentivizing it through fiscal policy and subsidies) will continue no matter what Trump promised/threatened, and that will result in further capital concentration and downward pressure on middle class living standards and sociopolitical polarization will become more evident.

    Parading the confederate flag and a hunting rifle, the Trump voter will continue to feel one with the apartheid culture of the past. Trump’s supporters will feel marginalized and will become more fanatical. By contrast, the Clinton voter supporting trans-gender rights and the woman’s right to choose will be optimistic that the time has come for pluralism to expand the all-inclusive socio-cultural net. By the end of Trump’s first hundred days, neither the Trump nor Clinton voter will see much evidence to celebrate a future rise in living standards.

    Many academic economists, private investment firms, the IMF, the World Bank, and OECD estimate that low growth will be accompanied by market concentration and jobs exported to cheap labor markets, keeping American wages low in the coming years. The average median net worth of Americans ranks lower than 18 other nations and dropping as personal debt is rising. Misplaced optimism on the part of Republicans will soon be replaced with pessimism almost as intense as that of the Democrat voter.

    Campaign promises to raise living standards have been made by every presidential candidate in the last four decades. Living standards have been declining and they will continue on that trajectory according to all studies on future economic prospects. Considering the low-growth global economic environment, the high US debt under a system that encourages more capital concentration and export of high paying jobs, no one expects inflation adjusted improvement in living standards during the next four years. Moreover, the low interest rates, which stimulated some very modest growth since the recession of 2008, are ending. The absence of monetary stimulus will further impact middle class credit and the consumer-driven economy.

    Contrary to appearances, Trump will be limited in what measures he can pass through congress that relies heavily on wealthy donors and lobbyists for campaign finance. The executive branch will be weaker than it was when Obama succeeded an unpopular president in 2008 amid a deep recession and US military intervention. The legislative branch will be more aggressive toward the executive branch than it was under Obama. The result will be greater political division that only helps corporate America. The share of the economic pie for the middle class and workers will continue to shrink This in no small measure because the sharp rise in the public debt will require higher indirect taxes, cuts in entitlement programs, and higher interest rates to attract buyers for US treasury bonds – presumably a risk free asset threatened by rising rapidly rising debt levels undermining the dollar’s value.

    Besides the structurally weak economy under neoliberal policies and corporate welfare, several factors will lead to sharper political division in the next four years. First, Republicans will be predictably hostile to any Democrat policy proposal from background checks on guns to relief for college debt aimed to further the Democratic Party’s popular base. Second, many conservatives will use the Trump victory to rally popular support for an extreme right wing agenda to keep the populist wing of the Republican Party strong. Third, Trump already set the divisive tone by alienating every social group in the country, but was well rewarded for it, thus reflecting the ideological, political and cultural milieu of the American mainstream now entrenched on the far right of the spectrum.  

    People who voted Trump will feel vindicated about their attitudes toward women, minorities and foreigner from Latin America and the Middle East. As their living standards decline, they will become more fanatic. Their church leaders and local civic leaders along with right wing talk radio and FOX NEWS will encourage right wing fanaticism because they all have an ally in the White House. To appease the Republican voters, along with local law enforcement, many in the military generally accepting of a police state, President Trump will likely focus on an infrastructural development program to create some new jobs. At the same time, he will strengthen defense while fighting out with mainstream Republicans about rapprochement with Russia and withdrawal from regime change foreign policies.  

    Co-optation of the Popular Base

    For both political parties, the biggest challenge will be to co-opt the masses while serving Wall Street and the defense/intelligence industry establishment. The Democratic Party is indeed an umbrella that includes elements ranging from Rockefeller Republicans especially suburban women opposed right wing populism, to progressive social democrats and even some espousing a form of socialism. As middle class living standards continue to decline, in accordance with IMF predictions among others, the ability of the Democrat party to remain a large umbrella will be diminished, especially after Clinton’s crushing defeat.

    Unless the Democrats revert back to FDR’s New Deal politics of the 1930s, something that neoliberals and their wealthy donors adamantly oppose as do Republicans, the party will have to choose between remaining in the camp of Rockefeller Republicanism like Clinton, or abandon its neoliberal commitments and move closer to the Bernie Sanders camp.

    The election of 2016 proved that Republicans have moved farther to the right than anyone could have predicted. Nevertheless, divisions remain between traditional economic/fiscal conservatives, some Libertarians, and populist socio-cultural-religious conservatives, including the Ku Klux Klan that endorsed Trump. For now, Republicans have the luxury to ignore the changing demographics – Hispanics and African-American voters along with younger voters.

    No matter how charismatic the Republican or Democrat political leader, it will not be easy to compensate for the growing chasm between rich and poor. As much as ideology matters, in the end the Democrat voter cannot pay her bills with LBGTQ bumper stickers any more than the Republican voter can do so with the confederate flag. No matter the obfuscating political and media rhetoric about disparate social groups transcending social class, socioeconomic factors determine class as they always have. Both parties will try to indoctrinate their voters to live by ideology alone, as churches convinced the faithful masses that salvation of their soul was the only thing that matters.

    Suppressing class struggle evident in all aspects of society, the media will continue to propagate for class collaboration using nationalism as the catalyst. Subservience to capital identified with the national interests is a historically rooted belief that has remained in the social consciousness as secular dogma and taught in schools as gospel truth. The media perpetually delivers the message that if there is a problem in the political economy the culprit is the political class, the elected official and not the financial elites; certainly not capitalism as a system engendering structural inequality.

    Trump will be no different than politicians of both parties that try to distract public opinion by directing attention away from domestic issues to foreign enemies new and old alike; pursuing the dream of Pax Americana despite its costs and limitations in a multi-polar world order where East Asia plays a dominant global role. The only leverage of the US is to keep Asia divided by demonizing China, as Trump has done repeatedly. Demonizing a foreign enemy to distract from focusing on domestic problems worked during the Cold War to engender sociopolitical conformity amid the triumph of Pax Americana. In the absence of a Communist bloc, the counter-terrorism ideology that replaced anti-Communism will be intensified under a Trump administration because it is in the interest of the defense industries.

    As we have seen since 9/11, there are limits and monetary and political costs to the counter-terrorism, considering that US policy and practices actually contribute to the growth of terrorism not its elimination. Even the most gullible right wing Trump fanatics realize that polluted water in Flint Michigan has nothing to do with ISIS, and everything to do with the massive tax breaks of the state’s Republican governor to corporations and the rich of that state. Similarly, people are aware that after several trillion dollars spent in Middle East wars and counter-terrorism, the US public debt has risen sharply and the economy weakened.

    Sociopolitical Polarization under Corporatocracy

    Even for the apathetic masses that do not bother with elections, the magic of the ballot box affords the illusion that people have a voice in the political arena. Politicians, pundits and the media remind the public that they have only themselves to blame for their elected officials. They rarely mention rich donors behind the political class that decides who runs for elected office. The realization that people’s prospects are not improving, that their children are not experiencing upward socioeconomic mobility, and policy works to benefit a small segment of society drives some to the extreme right and others to the left.

    The weakened center that Democrats claimed to represent in fact causes more people to rebel from the right because it is socially and ideologically acceptable as it has deep historical roots going back to the Civil War. Trump’s victory offers ample proof of this reality. By contrast, the US, unlike many countries around the world, has no historical tradition of sustained strong left wing politics, and see right through the hollow liberal rhetoric behind which is Wall Street financial interests.

    Just beneath the thin veil of conformity that the media, politicians and mainstream institutions promote, there is lingering sociopolitical polarization that will become more pronounced now that Trump is elected and legitimized neo-Fascism in America. The mainstream media actually reinforces sociopolitical polarization mainly caused by structural conditions in the economy and a political system representing corporatocracy (rule by the corporations). FOX News, right wing talk radio, among others advocates a more authoritarian/militarist/police state course for society. The rest of the media presents itself as ‘objective’ propagates for the façade of a pluralistic society that permits cultural diversity, but it is as committed to corporatocracy as the right wing. In short, corporatocracy led to the election of a populist Republican who is as close to an authoritarian leader and open to Fascism as any in the past.

    Regardless of whether it supported Republican or Democrat candidates, the mainstream media in search of the culprit for the public debt is critical of social security, subsidized housing and health care for the lower strata of society, school lunches, and social programs. At the same time, the media echoes Wall Street in blaming government for the conditions of poverty that the political economy creates. Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ slogan referring to Washington never mentioned the source of the swamp which is Wall Street and its lobbyists. Therefore, the media never blames corporatocracy but the elected officials serving it in order to preserve the system. By embracing the authoritarian Republican leader, the majority voters are revealing that they see greater hope for their future under such a regime that promises to fight corporatocracy than they do under a Democrat leader linked to Wall Street.

    Political Co-optation Strategy

    In their struggle to broaden their popular base, aspects of Bonapartism, the political strategy of projecting the impression of rising above classes, have been embraced by both political parties, especially the Republicans. Unless the political parties representing capital co-opt the disillusioned middle class and working class elements; unless they give them an outlet to express their disapproval with a political economy favoring the rich; unless they give them hope that the system works for them, then bourgeois democracy collapses and a form of authoritarianism ensues. This is already a reality in Trump’s America.

    A precursor to Fascism in Europe, Bonapartism would not be possible unless all mainstream institutions and not just the political parties and media contributed to the promotion of institutional conformity. Although a segment of the population sees past such efforts at conformity and supports the reformist candidates – Bernie Sanders in 2016 – invariably those candidates are co-opted by the mainstream and bring along the masses. This was the case with Senator Sanders who managed to lead a grass roots movement only to deliver it in the hands of the Wall Street candidate, as Sanders described Clinton.

    Partly because of the Sanders candidacy, Clinton succeeded to some degree in co-opting the progressive elements of the left into the Democrat Party. A continuation of the defunct Tea Party behind which was energy corporations and right wing billionaires, Trump’s populist ‘revenge anti-establishment politics’ was even more successful in co-opting the masses that the Democrats. While the Democrats efforts focused on de-radicalizing the progressive elements by securing loyalty of their leaders into the mainstream, Republican efforts focused on driving them even farther toward fanaticism as an expression of dissatisfaction with the Democrat status quo that implicitly castigated the corporate elites.

    Co-optation of the masses by Republicans necessarily entailed a populist appeal to social/cultural conservatives, mostly angry whites who feel besieged by demographic and structural economic changes in society. Instead of analyzing the root causes of structural inequality built into the system, Trump backers blame other social groups, but refused to criticize the political economy because it is unpatriotic to question capitalism. They believe that if all minorities somehow disappeared and no immigrants ever entered the land, then their social and economic problems would disappear as well and their status would magically flourish.

    Because of demographic changes and downward income pressures, the traditional Republican appeal confined only to fiscal/economic, and defense-security conservatives is no longer sufficient to elect a president. Revenge politics of extreme right wing populism was more the message of the Trump team promising to clean up Washington, to distance itself from the UN, dilute NATO, exit from international trade agreements or re-negotiate them, and discipline corporations while first incentivizing them so they do not take jobs into cheap labor markets overseas.

    Disgruntled social/cultural conservatives liked Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric against the political and economic establishment, against minorities, Muslims, and women. His emotional appeal similar to that of the Nazi Party (‘give people someone to hate’) worked because Republican right wing populism has deep roots and offers hope for reverting to a racist/sexist/xenophobic America of the past instead of the one that exists now under current demographic and economic conditions.

    The irony is that Obama’s America operated under a regime many would justifiably label quasi-police state and institutionalized racism was evident despite an African-American president. Police officers were shooting unarmed black males and a criminal justice system reflecting institutional racism not so far off what Trump and many of followers openly or covertly advocate as a reaction to political correctness and equal opportunity institutional access (affirmative action).

    Weak Executive Branch, Strong Wall Street

    Wall Street pharmaceuticals and defense-related stocks celebrated with a sharp rise to welcome a Trump victory. However, a weak executive branch is inevitable under the new president, but it should not be confused with a weak governmental structure typically characteristic of developing nations. In much of Africa, and parts of Latin America and Asia, states are unable to raise taxes and deliver basic services to their citizens. Although the state structure in the US is hardly like that of developing nations, there are signs that it is weakening at the expense of the masses under the neoliberal regime Trump will follow no matter his hyperbolic rhetoric against globalization. The only certainty about the US election outcome is policy continuity, which is what the markets want, regardless of a president-elected who mobilized popular support by appealing to racism, xenophobia, sexism and authoritarian style politics.

    To maintain corporate hegemony over the state, Wall Street and the media it owns can only prevail if the legislative branch is compliant and checks the powers of the executive that may dilute corporate welfare policies in order to maintain the social order by providing certain basic social programs from affordable health care and social security to affordable education. One glaring contradiction of the political economy is that people must be convinced that their interest is inevitably linked to the fortunes of big capital and not contrary to it; that big capital is not responsible for declining living standards for America’s middle class and workers in the last forty years; and that the enemy is the politician.

    The media helps to keep the focus on the politician (establishment political class of both parties) as the evil force behind the calamities that befall society; never on the capitalists on whose behalf the politician conducts policy. The media will always examine tantalizing stories of all sorts about the personal lives of politicians, stories that deserve attention because they reflect integrity of character. However, the media never examines the politician as a servant of big capital and the massive influence of corporate lobbies in determining legislation. The media will never cover social justice issues, because they lead back to the structural inequality built into the political economy. In other words, the business of perpetual mass indoctrination and distraction is essential to keep the majority under the illusion that they live in a democracy – rule by the people – when in fact it is Corporatocracy. In winning the presidential election, Trump gave the illusion to his followers that they have hope for structural change.  

    Culture wars and personality conflicts as distraction from social justice issues will remain front and center to distract people from focusing on the root causes of downward social mobility. While market hegemony is a reality of the nexus between state and capital, the media and politicians have convinced people into believing in the illusion of choice – ‘the future is in your hands’ and ‘the people have spoken’, as media headline read. The question for capitalists who were divided between Clinton and Trump is how to manage the economy and what role the state must play against the background of intense global competition and shifting balance of power from the West to the Far East. This is not to minimize the intense political rivalry, the partisanship of law enforcement and other institutions at all levels of government, or the ongoing struggle for policy influence.

    CONCLUSIONS: Revolt of the Extreme Right

    Trump’s victory temporarily sets into hibernation the majority popular base of the Republican Party while emboldening its more extreme right wing elements. There is nothing like the illusion of identifying with a political victory to appease those feeling marginalized among the lower layers of the social pyramid. Once it becomes evident that domestic conditions will continue as they have in the recent past, contrary to Trump’s lofty promises to the middle class and working families, disillusioned voters will have to be content with the Republican cultural agenda, strong law and order position, and strong defense policy. Republicans are more likely to support leaders advocating greater reliance on militarism and police state methods and less tolerance for dissent. The elements for an authoritarian society are already deeply rooted in the culture and will eventually come into the forefront more pronounced than ever.

    Ironically, both Republican and Democrats are responsible for the underlying causes of a revolt by the masses rallying around a right wing demagogue appearing to be in a struggle against the establishment. Judging by the performance of the US stick market, the establishment knows he represents Wall Street and not the unemployed worker in Cleveland. The media has convinced the average American that it is anathema, un-American to rebel from the left against the unjust system but patriotic to do so from the right. With the exception of the Klan label, there is no stigma attached to rebelling from the right against the establishment which includes not just Washington but corporate America. The job of the right wing politician will be to co-opt the popular base and keep it loyal to corporatocracy.

    While the corporate media sings the praises of globalization and subtly criticizes Trump’s economic nationalism, it can only carry that message up to a point without appearing unpatriotic. The dilemma for the corporate elites is not to be caught in contradictory messages when trying to rally support of the masses, something that has become exceedingly difficult because of the downward socioeconomic mobilization. This is where it becomes convenient to blame politicians, and to keep the executive branch weak and government divided so that people blame everything on politicians who are actually in gridlock in the first place because they differ about which segment of the economy and which corporations benefit more than others as a result of policy.

    Political campaign promises are like happy endings in children’s novels. People enjoy reading and dreaming about such things but they do not really expect that everyone lives happily ever after.  The lives of the vast majority of Americans will not improve no matter who had won the White House in 2016. Symbolically and not just because she is a woman, but also in terms of engendering greater social harmony among the disparate demographic groups, Clinton was better suited for the sake of continuity from the Obama administration. However, Trump will serve Wall Street and neoliberal policies and globalization just as faithfully because corporate America will give him no choice.  

    Because of objective domestic and international conditions in the early 21st century, the middle class is on a continuing downward slope that radicalizes people either on the right or the left will realize cannot be fixed by populist right wingers or mainstream Democrats. Hence polarization in society will continue and it will become much worse after the next deep recession in the US because the political economy is increasingly serving a much narrower social base than it has since the 1920s. Trump has broken all political and ideological taboos about crossing the line from traditional conservatism to flirting with Fascism. This is America’s political future and it has been here for some time only to manifest itself more candidly in Trump.

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    Destabilizing The Middle East: A Historical Perspective of US Foreign Policy

    September 3rd, 2016

    By Jon Kofas.

     

     
    (I wrote the first version of this essay in June 2014. I decided to update it partly because of some elements of neo-isolationist proposals from the Republicans Party and presidential candidate Trump who claimed that Obama and Clinton were the founders of ISIS. More importantly, I see a downward spiral in US foreign policy whether the White House is under a Democrat or Republican administration.)
     

    Introduction

    From 1953 when the CIA staged a coup in Iran to topple the democratically elected government of Mohammad Moddeq in 1953 until the Obama administration’s endeavors to replace the Assad regime in Syria, destabilization has been at the core of how the US policy toward the Middle East. US destabilization policy is not a post-9/11 phenomenon that can be defaulted to the ‘war on terror’ nor is it an aberration from US foreign policy and the mainstream media and various analysts claim.

    Regardless of warnings by neo-isolationist and anti-interventionist critics that the costs of such destabilization policies rooted in counterinsurgency operations and militarism are unsustainable for the economy, the US is unlikely to change course in the near future not only because such policies serve certain corporate interests in the US and Europe, but because the political culture in the US is immersed in a ‘military-solution mode’ to political crises in developing nations and especially the Middle East.

    Neo-conservatives advocating the preservation and expansion of Pax Americana and neoliberals interested in securing global market share for US and EU-based multinational corporations realize the gradual decline of the West amid the ascendancy of East Asia. In 1918 Oswald Spengler warned about the decline of the Western World. Europe’s decline took place because of the wars of Imperialism (1880-1914) that led to WWI, followed by the Great Depression and WWII. Inadvertently, Europe’s decline in the first half of the 20th century helped to propel US global ascendancy by leaving a global power vacuum after 1945. The US is not in a comparable position as post-WWII Europe. Nor does the ‘social cycle theory’ of repeating cycles of historical patterns adequately explain the complexities and uniqueness of the global power structure in the 21st century. Peter Turchin, Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, 2003)

    The demise of the Soviet bloc and rise of Asia with China at the core of the world economy and the inevitability of global power shifts at a time of relative US economic decline actually coincided despite academics, media and politicians alike celebrating America’s winning the Cold War and enjoying ‘the peace dividend’. All indications are that the ‘American Century’ is winding down, though this does not mean the US would lapse very far from the core of the world economy in the evolving cycle that Asia will dominate.

    Cycles of rising and declining empires are nothing new in history. People who live through such cycles hardly notice the subtle changes that appear to evolve at a snail’s pace; a theme developed by Fernand Braudel in his analyzing the transition from the feudal/manorial structure to capitalism (La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen à l’Epoque de Philippe II (1949). Militarism and destabilizing policies are archaic policy modes of a declining empire from the Roman Empire to the British Empire. Despite losing its global power status after WWII, Great Britain for example remained militaristic as a NATO member. The irony in transitions of global power shifts is that the entrenched elites in the declining country revert to militarist policies of the past when the country enjoyed preeminent power that the economy could support. The reason is not only ideological but it also serves the privileged interests of the political and socioeconomic elites to preserve the status quo.

    Naturally, policies that have been successful when a country is at the zenith of its power will actually hasten the decline simply because the economy cannot sustain the costs thus irreparably damaging the civilian economy. This is exactly the case of the US that experienced the zenith of its power during the Truman administration but began the long road to decline shortly after the Suez Crisis of 1956-1957 when the IMF secretly warned the Eisenhower administration that the dollar as a reserve currency was artificially overvalued because of chronic balance of payments deficits. Despite the warning that Eisenhower issued regarding the dangers of the military-industrial complex absorbing capital from the civilian economy and weakening the US, this monster dictating foreign policy remained alive and well, determining in large measure US foreign policy no matter the scope of the crises it has been creating since the early Cold War.

    The driving force behind US foreign policy has been to maintain the economic, political and social status quo at home by keeping its hegemonic role in the world. This is a foreign policy that the US adopted from the mother country – the sort of Empire as a Way of Life, as William Appleman Williams argued when explaining the historical continuity in US foreign affairs from the early years of the Republic until the Vietnam War. Destabilization as a modality of foreign policy in essence serves a multifaceted purpose, everything from maintaining the imperial network with military bases throughout the world and regional alliances, to securing a global market share and keeping the dollar as the dominant reserve currency. Above all, it serves to maintain the status quo at home by placing security above social justice and the need to address social justice and economic justice issues of the citizenry.

     

    Post-Cold War Crisis Convergence

     

    The post-Cold era was supposed to mark the triumph of American capitalism and its hegemonic role in the world – hyperpuissance as some French analysts labeled the US to describe its comprehensive superpower status. The end of the Soviet-American confrontation did not mean the end of US-Russian rivalry but rather its revival through client states allied with one side or the other. This was inevitable as the US and Western Europe scrambled to secure former Soviet republics into the Western political, economic and strategic zones of influence.

    Crisis convergence in the Ukraine and the Middle East during the Obama administration posed challenges for US foreign policy and its future prospects as the world’s policeman since the early Cold War. This seemingly irresolvable crisis with millions of victims in the theaters of military operations also demonstrates glaring contradictions and credibility gap in US foreign policy not just today, but as a historical phenomenon that has been evident since the early Cold War. This is not to suggest there is no logic to the Truman Doctrine for the time it was promulgated in 1947 amid the Greek Civil War and US goal of creating a security zone across Greece, Turkey and Iran (Northern Tier) to make sure that the Middle East remains free of Communist influence and the oil keeps flowing West.

    Similarly, there is an imperial logic to the strategy of “Military Keynesianism” introduced during the Truman administration (increased defense spending that would in turn result in broader economic growth) as part of a containment strategy of the Communist bloc and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Russia that led to the arms race. However, there is a price to be paid for remaining the world’s number one military power and pursuing an interventionist foreign policy as leverage for global economic hegemony when the dollar as a reserve currency is so artificially high for more than half a century and the public and private sector debt undermines the real economy. The result is the inevitable relative economic decline of the US in relationship to East Asia and Europe, and the four-decade decline of the American middle class.

    In the post-Communist era (the New World Order), US foreign policy is impractical given the status of the economy and its prospects. Sailing in turbulent ocean without any sense of direction or realism of where it wishes to go and for what purpose and resting on the foundations of a manufactured ‘war on terror’ that has only been expanding without any end in sight, US foreign policy has nowhere to go except to anachronistic Cold War models. Containment of Russia, a policy with roots in 19th century Britain and France, combined with US-NATO attempts to deny Moscow any role in influencing the balance of power in the Middle East and even with its own neighboring states have proved unsuccessful and costly for the West. This is partly because Russia is nearly self-sufficient in natural resources. Moreover, China that may have an interested in a weaker Russia than when it was part of the USSR cannot permit the weakening of its neighbor to the degree that it would afford the US and NATO hegemony in Eurasia.

    The situation in the Ukraine clearly poses challenges for Russia’s regional strategic interests that the US and its EU partners have been working to undermine during the second term of Obama’s presidency. Although there was no military solution for the situation in the Ukraine, just as there was none for Syria, which Russia, China and Iran supported, the US and its EU partners, especially Germany and Poland, pursued covert military means to bring down a corrupt pro-Russian government only to have it replaced by an equally corrupt pro-West billionaire totally dependent on the West for everything from military to economic assistance.

    In the absence of reaching an agreement with Moscow on natural gas supply and a host of other economic and strategic issues, as well as protection of the Russian-speaking minority, the Ukrainian crisis was as hopeless a failure for the Obama administration as regime change in Syria, even if Bashar al-Assad ultimately leaves as the US demands. As the power behind the client regime in Kiev, the US refused to reconsider a confrontational course reviving the Cold War that was destructive for the vast majority of Ukrainians given the horrible state of the economy and state finances. Western sanctions on Russia have proved a two-edged sword impacting Europe’s low-growth economies as well. Given the political opposition to any Keynesian measures to stimulate economic growth, the only course of action to stimulate growth amid a relative slump since the great recession of 2008 has been to increase defense spending, justifying on the basis of the threats that Russia and jihadist terrorism pose. Eventually the EU and the US will return to the negotiating table once there is no choice other than pursuing a political solution because the costs are too great to withstand.

     Similarly, the US is not backing down on the reckless military solution it has been pursuing in Syria, a manufactured civil war crisis that in June 2014 spilled over to Iraq and threatened regional stability even more than it was prior to the US and its European and Middle East allies trying to secure Syria as a Western satellite. Why has the US been pursuing destabilizing policies toward the Middle East and Ukraine? If the answer is containing Russia and Iran to determine the balance of power in the Middle East then the question is whether destabilization of existing regimes is the best course of action.

    I do not subscribe to theories that the people conducting US foreign policy are asleep at the wheel, dumb, uncreative, and lack the experience of their brilliant critics inside and outside of the US government. Nor are policymakers and professional diplomats implementing detrimental policies to US interests because they lack common sense. Foreign policy bipartisan consensus has been the rule rather than the exception since Truman, bringing into account geopolitical as well as corporate interests. The US has opted for covert operations, destabilization and militarism as a first option when dealing with developing countries while a multilateral approach that involves the United Nations has largely been a last resort only when it was absolutely necessary and the outcome favoring the US.

    Only when there was no other way but to negotiate a political solution with tangible political, military, and economic advantages, as in the case of the deal with Iran on the development of nuclear weapons, have the US and its partners abandoned the military option and destabilization policy (March-April 2015 – Permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany). The ‘Iran—P5 + 1 deal’ proved that the people conducting and implementing US policy follow certain perimeters and conforming to guidelines from top down after political consensus is reached between government and disparate business interests that stand to gain either by a military or political solution to US policy. While one cannot disregard ideological reasons behind US policy, invariably they serve to justify military/strategic and economic interests that play a catalytic role.

     

    Causes of Destabilization in the Middle East

     

    There are many causes that account for instability in the Middle East both internal and external. One long-term external cause stems from the fact that in 1916 the European colonial powers drew the regional map arbitrarily to serve their geopolitical and economic interests, rather than permit any sort of self-determination for the people affected in artificially-created nation-states. As the Ottoman Empire had lapsed into an economic dependency of Europe unable to retain control of its Arab provinces after the Greek War of Independence in 1821, England and France reduced the Middle East into economic dependency. In 1916, the French and British governments drafted the Sykes-Picot Agreement that drew the map of the Middle East along Europe’s neo-colonial interests. The Treaty of Serves in 1920 formalized the end of the Ottoman Empire and forced the Turks to renounce any claim in the Middle East and North Africa where the European imperialist powers had already laid claim.

    Despite the wish of some Arabs throughout the the 20th century for solidarity if not unity, pro-Western Arab rulers and a comprador bourgeoisie were content with neo-colonial conditions. At the same time, the Western European, Israeli, and American governments have been undermining any chance of Arab solidarity. However, the main sectarian divisions, which predate Western interventions, remain a major internal cause of regional instability. Besides tribal identity, religious fanaticism does extraordinary things to the human mind, including driving people to sacrifice themselves while taking down their brothers and sisters in suicide bombings. Added to religious sectarianism that has fanatics on all sides embracing military solutions, there are tribal and ethnic identity issues intertwined with alliances based on the cult of personality and clientist relationships built around it.

    Although there is no clash of Civilizations (Samuel Huntington, 1996) inherent between Islam and the Christian West that is divorced from political, military and economic motives on both the colonial powers and colonized, the concept of national identity is very different in Iraq, Libya and Yemen than it is in Norway, Canada or Germany. In the Middle East, alliances and alignments with disparate interests from the socioeconomic elites to the military are complex and often contradictory. In part, this is because capitalist integration entails broader societal integration in the culture while maintaining strong ties to Islamic institutions and traditional identity. This is evident not just in Turkey struggling to keep the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (founder of the Republic of Turkey and modernizer during the interwar era) but also Egypt once a non-aligned leader under Gamal Abdel Nasser where the Muslim Brotherhood and the military have long-standing historic roles influencing society. Authoritarian regimes based on consensus of domestic elites and foreign alliances have been the mechanism to keep society together in most countries.

    Another chronic source of division is the gap that exists between the Muslim-based culture, values system and way of life opposed to the forces of modernity identified with the increasingly xenophobic Christian West which is more materialistic/hedonistic in practice and much less spiritual than its religious and political leaders proclaim. Modernity encompasses everything from science and technology necessary for material progress and the ability to remain competitive in the world, to consumerist culture and value system that help to buttress capitalism in the age of globalization.

    It is difficult to adjust to the modern economic system that creates a middle class and materialistic values while clinging to traditional values and institutions rooted in religion at the core of society. This ideological clash was evident in Arab Spring uprisings in the first half of the 2010s and it continues to manifest itself among political opposition groups. Clearly, governments use Islam as a means of social conformity and political manipulation just as Western countries have used religion as a conformity mechanism. For example, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been playing the Muslim card by forging a coalition of nationalists looking back to the glory of the Ottoman Empire and counterbalancing the entrenched Kemalist elements.

    Another cause of internal divisions in the Middle East is directly linked to perpetual foreign influences through international financial and trade organizations, including the International Monetary Fund that promotes austerity and neoliberal policies resulting in wealth concentration and rising rich-poor gap. Geopolitics and political motivations primarily by the US have determined IMF and World Bank lending policies geared to open domestic markets to Western corporations. (J. Harrigan and H. El-Said, Aid and Power in the Power in the Arab World: IMF and the World Bank Policy-based Lending in the Middle East and North Africa, 2014).  Along with the impact of economic integration that benefits a few wealthy nationals and foreign corporations, covert and overt military intervention by the US and its NATO partners has historically kept the Middle East structurally underdeveloped even in oil-rich nations.

    Largely because of the importance of oil and Israel’s regional role that the US identifies historically with its own national interest, the influence of Western powers has been much higher in the Middle East than any other part of world. During the era of the non-aligned bloc when Nasser’s Egypt played a major role in the 1960s, nationalism and Arab autonomy gained some momentum but it was short-lived both because of regional and Western influences undermining it. As a nationalist reaction to the domestic (comprador) bourgeoisie and US support of the puppet Shah regime, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was as much a reaction to the West as the non-aligned despite the heavy reliance on Islam as a catalyst on the part of Iran.

    The M idle East-North African reaction to the hegemonic West continued to manifest itself with regimes that embraced strong nationalist leaders that the US adamantly opposed. Although under a corrupt dictatorship, Libya under Muammar al-Qaddafi was relatively stable as was Syria and Iraq when compared with what took place after US-Western military intervention. With all of his considerable shortcomings as a dictatorial leader, Qaddafi had managed to forge a popular consensus since 1969 and kept the country unified; a challenging task as history proved after the US, France and the UK toppled the Qaddafi regime and left the country deeply divided and in perpetual chaos in every sector from the political arena to the economy.

    This is not to say that Libya’s population was enjoying social justice and human rights before 2011. However, neither did Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that the US and its EU allies have been supporting. Of course, it is now well documented that much of the funding sources for what the US identifies as Islamic terrorism originated in Saudi Arabia, while Qaddafi was secretly working with Western intelligence to combat jihadists in his country and abroad. Choosing what regime to overthrow and what regime to preserve was never about freedom and democracy, but about economic, political, and military advantages accruing to the West.

    In the years after the US-NATO intervention in 2011, justified supposedly on the basis of enforcing a 1973 UN Security Council resolution, Libya remained chronically unstable. Suffering a marked absence of any human rights, Libya’s national sovereignty surrendered to the West and its prospects for economic development that would help its population were much worse than under Qaddafi. Worse of all, the country was reduced in a semi-civil war conditions with regional-local-tribal divisions and political violence raging on, and thousands of people trying to cross the sea over to Europe as refugee that Europeans do not want. Jihadist activity, symptomatic of the US-NATO intervention considering that the US and its allies assisted to remove Qaddafi from power with jihadist collaboration, backfired on the West and its puppet regime in Tripoli. The West found itself having to assist its newly-acquired satellite militarily to combat ‘domestic terrorism’ that Western destabilization (regime change) policy emboldened, while Italy was left to deal with Libyan refugee problem that became a European-wide political issue impacting British voters’ decision to leave the EU. 

    Like Libya, Egypt is now under a façade of a democratic regime, a very thin facade. The BBC was correct to label General el-Sisi’s regime something of a giant company running the country on the basis of a corrupt and decadent clientist system with ties to foreign corporations. As of August 2016, the IMF struck a deal with this corrupt regime to bring about austerity and neoliberal policies that would in fact transfer even more income from the lower classes to the wealthy. Everything from basic foodstuffs to utilities is much higher, adding to the political turmoil that the pro-Western regime has created. Even the pro-business magazine Fortune headline betrayed the ugly truth of what the IMF is doing in this poor country: In Egypt, IMF Deal Brings Austerity Few Can Afford. (fortune.com/2016/08/20/imf-egypt-austerity-consequences)

    Following the Egyptian uprising of 2011 that set off Arab Spring, the US proclaimed that it was on the side of popular democracy and against authoritarianism. Like Libya, Egypt surrendered its sovereignty along with any trace of social justice, merely because this was the way to survive for the Sisi government and it was what the US and its allies demanded. The West refused to accept the Islamic Mohammed Morsi regime that took power in June 2012 and deposed in July 2013 by the armed forces and army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The Islamic Brotherhood which Morsi represented was marginalized and repressed even more than it was under Mubarak, while the human rights situation is no better than it was before Arab Spring.

    What has taken place in Egypt under General el-Sisi is hardly much different in terms of forging a democratic facade than what existed under Hosni Mubarak. It is true that the ultimate goal of the US and its EU partners was to create more opportunities for multinational corporations and not have the economy under the tight control of Mubarak’s cronies. However, the assumption is that more globalization under neoliberal policies would benefit the majority of the people and strengthen the national economy; assumptions that have proved totally false as much in developing nations as in the advanced capitalist countries.  Therefore, we have in Egypt as much a suppressed minority situation as in Libya with lesser commitment to democracy and human rights than what existed under the previous authoritarian regimes.

    Both Libya and Egypt are in this current state of affairs in part because of deeply divided social-political groups but also owing to US-EU interference, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States. In both Egypt and Libya the end result was that the people were much worse off after the formation of pro-Western regimes than they were before Arab Spring that the West manipulated to make sure a pro-West regime secures power. Largely because of covert and overt foreign intervention, all of North Africa and the Middle East became far less stable than it was before Arab Spring.

    This is not to suggest the futility of popular uprisings or a Western conspiracy is operating in the Middle East, but rather a systematic US-NATO policy intended to keep the region politically, economically, and strategically subservient to the West, and its natural resources and markets secure. This precludes any attempt at national sovereignty Nasser-style of the 1960s, or Iranian style that resists integration under the ‘patron-client model’ with the hegemonic West. It further means denying Russia and China the region as a sphere of influence, and maintaining a containment policy toward Iran. In short, US destabilization policy makes perfect sense if one considers that its goal is to keep the region dependent on the West as it has been since the Sikes-Picot agreement in 1916.

     

    US invasion of Iraq and its Consequences


    1. As the British ‘Chilcot Inquiry Report’ (July 2016) made very clear, blatant lies on which the US and UK invaded the country, namely: a) Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and b) There was a link to al-Qaeda, when it was well known that the al-Qaeda organization was made up primarily of Saudis with which the Bush family as well as a number of well-connected Republicans had multi-billion dollar interests. The real reasons were the oil reserves, the US obsession to counterbalance Iran, and strengthen the defense industry in which Republicans and Democrats had personal financial interests. It is interesting to note, that the US defense and intelligent budgets skyrocketed as a result of this war combined with Afghanistan, while the US economy continued losing ground to China.


    2. War and occupation destroyed Iraq, resulting in millions of people displayed as refugees spread through neighboring nation s and others fleeing for the West. During the occupation, US forces committed war crimes, but the International Court has not dared to charge any US official. Just as the US destroyed Vietnam where it committed war crimes, and just as Vietnam has taken many decades to rebuild and it is still in the process of doing so, similarly it will take many decades to rebuild Iraq that the US and UK left in ruins. Yet, there is no talk about helping with the reconstruction of Iraq as there was with Japan, Germany and Italy after WWII; only about dividing and exploiting Iraq’s oil reserves and using the country as a strategic satellite.

    3. US tax payers paid for a war in order to advance the profits of Republican party-linked corporations in which the Bush family, Dick Cheney, Jim Baker, Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Republican administration were connected to corporations such as the Carlyle Group and Halliburton that defrauded the US government of millions of dollars in contract work in Iraq. This is the same Halliburton against which Nigeria filed corruption charges against Cheney as CEO, and the same company that was partly responsible for the Deep Horizon oil disaster in autumn 2010. This does not mean that Democrats, including the Clinton Foundation, have been above the money that influenced Republicans in their pursuit of a militarist foreign policy.

    4. Before the US-UK invasion of Iraq was not among the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world, but it advanced to the number #2 spot during the occupation! The US reduced the country into a concentration camp where corruption was the way of doing business. Focused only on oil and counterbalancing Iran, the US was unable to do anything with Iraq other than leave a devastated country that its people must rebuild.

    5. The issue of federalism and/or breaking up Iraq was one that concerned American politicians, think tanks, journalists, and academics after the US invaded. The question is why? While the Kurdish population has historically wanted autonomy, the US has never been interested in this minority group, otherwise it would demand that Turkey also submit to some type of federalist system. The goal is to keep Iraq weak and dependent on the US so that it can exploit its oil and counterbalance Iran, while also determining the regional balance of power.

    Iraq and Afghanistan represent the twilight of Pax Americana, the last vestiges of an imperial democracy operating on a foreign policy based on a predominantly Protestant missionary pretext about the White Anglo-Saxon Christians ‘saving’ the weaker dark-skinned non-Christian brethren whose land just happens to have natural resources that the West needs, and it just happens to be located in a place of strategic interest. The larger issue here is the credibility gap in US foreign policy, considering that ISIS would not exist if it were not for the US and its allies trying to remove Assad from power. ISIS was made possible by the US and its allies, including Sunni-dominated Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

     

    US Divide and Conquer Policy in Syria and Iraq 

     

    To demonstrate the logic of US destabilization policy, greater analysis is needed on the multifaceted reasons for US-led interference and intervention. Demonizing the US and the West, deflecting focus from internal political problems and regional conflicts owing to religious, political, and geopolitical reasons, or implying that the US and its allies are solely responsible for all the divisions among Muslims who are no different than Christians when it comes to sources of divisions does not explain underlying policy motives. By the same logic, modern versions of “White Man’s Burden” theories intended to blame the victim of imperialism as the Israelis blame the Palestinians for the latter’s chronic subjugated condition hardly reflects the realities of very complex problems.

    Having engaged in many wars since the founding of Islam, Muslims are not strangers to conflict in the last fourteen centuries; not much different in this respect than Western Christians who undertook the crusades (1095-1291) not just for the glory of God, but trade routes that Arabs and Byzantines controlled. In so far as wars go, it is Christians who have been responsible for some of the bloodiest conflicts from the era of the Crusades to the present, mostly against each other over land, ethnicity, spheres of influence, military, and political hegemony. The ‘Sacking of Constantinople’ and the creation of the Latin Empire (1204-1261) proved that the Western crusaders were in the last analysis more after land, trade, and power and much less for the glory of God.

    It is hypocritical for Western politicians, the media and analysts that reflect mainstream views to argue that Muslims create political problems entirely on their own for no apparent reason other than the historic Shiite-Sunni differences, innate personal traits rooted in Islamic culture, or the whole Middle East-West conflict is rooted in a clash of civilizations owing to religious/cultural issues.

    There were no Muslims during the Vietnam War when the US became involved in a covert war (CIA operations via AIR AMERICA) in Laos and Cambodia and backed the Khmer Rouge because Washington was losing the military conflict with North Vietnam. Just as the US created a catastrophic situation in Cambodia because of its covert operations intended to win the unwinnable Vietnam War, similarly, almost half a century later the US has created another monstrous mess in the Middle East. This is in part because it has been trying unsuccessfully to determine the regional balance of power where Iran is at the core in the region.

    One result of US destabilization policy is the Jihadist offshoot of al-Qaeda known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Part of the blame for the people failing to unite behind their governments must go to the corrupt and divisive regimes in Damascus and Baghdad for pursuing clientism and crony capitalism that neglect to serve the broader public interest. In this sense, Western critics are correct to argue that governments in question ultimately have the responsibility for their policies that only feed sectarianism and social strife. At the same time, however, it is reprehensible that Washington, London and apologists of Western imperialism without any sense of historical context and self-criticism insist that the ongoing civil war and rebel activity is a problem solely created by the Arab political leadership and disparate factions. Without the money, guns and ammunition, political support, and covert operations to facilitate such rebel operations intended to secure the goal of regime change how far would ISIS succeed in carrying out its operations?

    No one should be surprised at the arrogance of Western politicians and well-paid consultants and analysts echoing official policy when it comes to the Middle East and victim blaming which is official policy in Israel regarding the Palestinian Question and adopted by both Republican and Democrat politicians and the US media. This is archaic imperialist mindset applied by the West to the non-Western World dating back to the era of European colonialism. The Nixon administration, which created the tragedies of Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and early 1970s, turned around and condemned the very monstrosity it had created, blaming the very people it had been supporting against Vietnam. Even more hypocritical, the US covertly cooperated with the Khmer Rouge remnants during the Reagan administration at a time that the US was castigating terrorist activity by Iran, a country with which it also secretly collaborated in order to undermine Nicaragua’s duly-elected regime. 

    In November 1986, the world discovered that the US had made an arms sales deal to Iran to finance the Nicaraguan Contra rebels and in exchange for release of US hostages held by Lebanese-based Hezbollah. Despite the numerous legal violations, including the Boland Amendment (1982-1984) prohibiting arms sales to the contras, as well as failure of congressional oversight in this Watergate-style scandal involving a number of top Reagan administration officials, the bottom line is that the US accomplished nothing other than to destabilize both Central America and the Middle East through its double-dealing that violated US laws. Parenthetically, one could point out that defense companies, consultants and right-wing ideologues benefited but at what cost to the broader interests of the US? (L. E. Walsh, Firewall: Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up, 1997)

    In the summer of 2014, the US and Western European governments announced that they had done all they could to “help Iraq”, just as they “helped” Afghanistan. Considering that the thorough destruction of both countries by the US and its allies, the term ‘help’ must have been a reference to achieving the goal of regime change. It seems that the history of US interventionism and double-dealing is repeating itself in Iraq where there was a secular regime under Saddam Hussein, albeit a dictatorship aided by the US in the 1980s against the war with Iran. When Saddam became too independent of US policy, the latter decided to topple him because of the possession of non existing weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. In June 2014, President Obama claimed: “We can’t fix Iraq”, reference to nation-building policy.  

    It was indeed ironic for the US and Europe to argue that they had done ‘all they could to help Iraq’ at a time that they were doing all they could in Syria as well. Responsible for destroying Iraq during the first decade of the 21st century at a cost of $2 trillion dollars and half a trillion owed to veterans ($3.7 trillion when the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are included), and incalculable catastrophic costs to Iraqis, the US and Western Europe were prepared to ‘help’ in so far as securing the country as a strategic satellite. These grandiose proclamations were made was more than two years ago. Western ‘help’ promises for the people of Iraq have yet to materialize. (www.reuters.com/article/us-raq-war-anniversary-idUSBRE92DOPG201303)

    Arrogantly, the US and the Western Europeans declared in 2014, as they were deeply immersed in the destabilizing campaign against Syria, that it was time for the government in Baghdad to defend itself if it was under attack by ISIS Jihadists. This was indeed ironic, considering that Western allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey were helping ISIS logistically and financially while proclaiming they were trying to bring down the tyrant Assad. Two years later Turkey would turn on ISIS, but that was because of Western-Russian pressure and ISIS turning against Turkey.

    Until November 2015, the convergence of the goals of ISIS Jihadists to destabilize Syria converged with those of the US and its EU partners. Naturally, the ISIS goals went beyond the struggle against Assad to include the campaign to carve out a larger Islamic fundamentalist state in the Levant. Not until they started using operatives in a number of countries including Libya and even in Europe to carry out attacks against civilians did the West change its tune to contain ISIS. When the jihadists started targeting Europeans in the heart of their cities with Paris hit first in November 2015 with 137 dead, the US was forced closer to Moscow’s position on ISIS, while never abandoning the goal of regime change in Damascus.

    US volte face from collaboration with jihadists to confrontation is all too familiar a story. In the 1980s, the US-backed Mujahedin in Afghanistan fighting against the secular regime backed by the Soviets. After 9/11, the war on terror had replaced the Cold War as a permanent institutional structure of US foreign policy. However, the continued practice of selectively opposing and collaborating with terrorist groups remained. Even as the US and the West publicly proclaimed their resolve on the war on terror and opposition to ISIS, in June 2015 the Wall Street Journal carried a headline calling al-Qaeda affiliate Nursa Front in Syria a lesser evil and proposing that:  “In the three-way war ravaging Syria, should the local al Qaeda branch be seen as the lesser evil to be wooed rather than bombed?” http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-u-s-allies-al-qaeda-affiliate-in-syria-becomes-the-lesser-evil-1434022017 In November 2015,

    When ISIS bombed a civilian Russian plane in over northern Sinai on 31 October 2015, followed by an attack on Hozbollah in Beirut two weeks later, Western governments and media had no problem because the targets were pro-Assad. In fact, the Western media criticized President Vladimir Putin for striking ISIS targets, prompting the US to assist ISIS indirectly by providing air cover to protect certain pro-West assets in Syria along the Turkish border. Always reflecting US official position, the US media sent the message to the world that the problem at hand was really Putin and Assad, rather than the barbaric ISIS that Russian fighter planes were targeting; that is until the Paris massacre. The double-standard behind which rested the destabilization policy as a priority was revealing. It was one reason that eventually prompted even some Republican isolationists to accuse the Obama administration of promoting ISIS.

     

    Contradictions of US Policy Goals


    It is much more revealing of US goals in the Middle East top actually follow real practices, including logistical support, military aid diplomatic and intelligence support rather than following political rhetoric that does not always correspond to actions. What exactly are US policy goals in the Middle East depends whom you ask in different branches of government, in Congress, think tanks and various analysts.

    A) Deliver freedom and democracy? B) Fight terrorism? C) Closer economic, political and military integration with the West, while also safeguarding the interests of Israel that is not always in agreement with US goals? D) Redraw the map so it can determine the balance of power and limit Russia and China influence? E) Patchwork of different goals at any given week, mired in contradictions? F) A combination of all of the above with instability at the core to preserve its historically hegemonic role?

    From the Iranian Revolution (1979) to the present (2016), the US and its junior strategic partners in NATO have been trying to determine the balance of power in the Middle East based on the early Cold War model that divided spheres of influence, a model itself based on 19th century European and American Imperialism in Asia. The US and its partners contend that the goals of interference at the very least and military intervention at worst is to ‘help’ stabilize the region economically by integrating it into the Western-based market economy, promote “freedom and democracy” and secular institutions accordingly, and to secure strategic alliances that ‘help’ stabilize the region as part of the Western zone. Public statements notwithstanding, independent analysts assess policy based on results and the impact on societies at the receiving end of US-NATO actions rather than rhetoric intended for propaganda purposes.


    1. Have the US and its partners achieved any of their publicly-stated goals, including democratizing and stabilizing the Middle East?

    2. Has the US and the West delivered social justice, greater national sovereignty and economic prosperity to the region since Truman or has their only goal been to exploit its natural  resources and geopolitical importance in the global power struggle with its rivals Russia and China?

    3. Is the Middle East more stable because of US-NATO interference and aggressive intervention in the late 20th and early 21st century, or has the refugee crisis and chronic internal exposed the myths of the West?

    4. With the exception of a handful of corporations, has US-NATO intervention helped to stimulate economic growth and sustainable development in the Middle East?

    5. Has Iran, Russia and China, all rivals of the US and NATO, been weakened or strengthened as a result of US-led interference, military intervention and destabilization policies?

    6. Has the US-led interference and intervention in the Arab Spring revolts engendered greater democracy or simply resulted in recycled dictatorships of various types, massive refugee problem, and economic hardships for the people involved?

    Even the most pro-Western and pro-Israel analyst of US-Middle East relations would not conclude that the US and its allies have achieved their stated goals. Instead, they strengthened Islamic fanaticism and destabilized the Muslim areas from Pakistan to the Middle East and North Africa to parts of sub-Sahara Africa. This is in part because of the very selective course of action at times fighting against jihadists and others siding with them because of common goals centered on destabilization of regimes. At the same time, the US war on terror has given all countries around the world the pretext of defining their own terrorists that often include political opposition groups fighting for human rights, ethnic minority rights, and social justice. China for example has its own domestic enemies Uyghurs Muslim separatists it deems terrorists, while the US has refused to add this minority group in Xinjiang into the terrorist list. Moreover, the US has demanded that China join US war on terror and stop taking advantage of the spoils of war as in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan. China’s response has been to promote ‘stability’ so it can continue its global trade expansion.

    One could argue that the US is destabilizing the Middle East because it is becoming increasingly integrated under Chinese economic influence and to some degree Indian. Meanwhile, Russia has also been striving to keep its foot in the door as a regional power. Engagement and containment is official US policy toward China which uses its considerable economic power to capture market share in the Middle East and Africa. While the US continues to promote globalization under a neoliberal model, it is interested in doing so under its aegis rather than China’s in the Middle East and Africa. For the US to weaken nuclear-club members China and Russia directly would be self-destructive. However, it is practical, although costly, resorting to destabilization policies of countries under the influence of the Kremlin and Beijing.

    The nexus of power between economic and military hegemony is very real to Washington while for Beijing, at least judging by the fact it spends ten times less on defense than the US, much less so as they are focused on economic expansion. This is not to suggest that Russia and China are not imperialistic or just as determined to secure market share and have access to raw materials. They are just as intent on securing zones of influence to enhance their power and deny them to the US as the Western countries. In this respect, Spengler’s social cycle theory has a modicum of validity considering that some patterns of the early 21st century global power structure resemble those of the early 20th century when wars of imperialism led to the Great War.

     

    From Axis of Evil to Rapprochement: US-Iran Relations


    On 29 January 2002, President George W. Bush made the following statement in his “State of the Union Address”:  “Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom. … States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”

     If Iran was part of the Axis of Evil and at the core of world terrorism in 2002, why collaborate with that country to stabilize Iraq during the second term of the Obama administration, even before the conclusion of the deal on nuclear weapons development? If Bush was promoting war propaganda in order to secure public support for US military solutions to ‘manufactured crises’ of Islamic terrorism, what does the current ISIS crisis reveal about US policy failures?

    In 2012, I wrote an article arguing the assumption that Western governments have the arrogance to decide the kind of regime in Baghdad, Kabul, and other Muslim countries, while they would hesitate to do the same for predominantly Christian-Caucasian European countries, Canada or Australia. If Russia or China were doing exactly what the US has been doing in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq, the US and Western media would label it imperialism, just as they label Moscow’s conflict with Ukraine as such and Beijing’s role in the South China Sea.

    In 2012, it was difficult to predict that the fiendish imperialist scheme to divide Iraq would actually backfire on the US and its allies, resulting in the situation of summer 2014 when ISIS was threatening to draw the map of the Middle East and targeting Western European civilian targets in suicide bombings. All along, Iran and Russia were fighting against the jihadists, not out of humanitarian principles, but national interest to deny US hegemony over Syria in a post-Assad era. US foreign policy actually brought Iran uncomfortably closer to Russia over the Syrian/ISIS crisis, just as it did China.

    After years of negotiations, the US-Iran nuclear deal, which Israel and American right wing politicians and the media for the most part adamantly opposed, was an integral part of cooperation to stabilize Iraq and contain ISIS. Examined in isolation of the broader US-middle East policy, the Iran nuclear deal was a deviation from the long-standing US destabilization policy. The nuclear deal, which includes an Iranian commitment to further economic integration with the West – massive capital goods purchases to benefit Western multinational corporations – does not mean however, that the US has abandoned its policy of containment toward Tehran or giving up on its long-time US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel counterbalancing Iran’s role in the region. Besides the $40 billion dollar US aid for the next ten years that the Obama administration offered Israel, which it rejected as unsatisfactory, Washington has also been selling weapons to Saudi Arabia that is as anti-Iran as Israel, if not more so as the lingering civil war in Yemen has demonstrated in 2015 and 2016.

    On 16 June 2014, the US accepted Iran’s proposal for collaboration to stabilize Iraq by working together against ISIS. When the Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to maintain Middle East stability by respecting the status quo and fighting Sunni jihadists, while the US and its allies, which accuse Iran of destabilizing the region, has in fact been a major source of instability, though by no means the only one given the many regional players at work, the only conclusion is that US, Israel and Saudi Arabia benefit from instability.

    There is something seriously wrong that the US is in the odd position of having no choice but to selectively go along with Iran’s goal of stabilizing Iraq from ISIS jihadists, an admission of US policy failure both in Syria and Iraq. The glaring contradictions of US foreign policy have in fact resulted in Iran determining the balance of power, a point on which Israel and Saudi Arabia agree and vehemently object. If the goal of the US was to determine the balance of power in the Middle East and exploit its resources, then it has failed miserably toward that goal and in the process it has only created more problems for itself.


    ISIS and the Western Media

     

    After the jihadist Paris attacks on civilians in November 2015, the Western mainstream media began investigating the sources of ISIS financing and Turkey’s role. One question is why did the US tolerate its closest allies – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, all Sunni and all under a form of dictatorship – money transfers to ISIS going through Turkey? The US refused to listen to Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki about ISIS financing sources because the enemies of the Jihadist offshoot of al-Qaeda were against Iran and Syria that the US and its junior partners adamantly opposed. Therefore, it was not until after the Paris massacre of innocent civilians by jihadists that the issue of financing sources for ISIS began to concern the US. Once the imminent break up of Iraq and the consolidation of Jihadists who are greater enemies than Iran or Syria became a clear threat and once the ISIS operatives began to attack Europeans where they live, there was a policy adjustment, but only an adjustment. 

    Just as the US had turned a blind eye to ISIS financing until the Paris jihadist attacks, the Western media hardly covered ISIS as the world’s menacing terrorist organization. Even after the Paris attacks received world-wide publicity, the media’s attention only focused on the organization’s role in Iraq, not the devastation it caused in Syria and the millions of people displaced. After the Belgium suicide bombings in March 2016, the focus was on the influx of Middle Eastern refugees and Muslim immigrants in general as the root cause of terrorism in Europe. Ignoring Western counterinsurgency operations In Syria as a root cause of the refugee crisis, governments and the media focused on xenophobia and Islamophobia as the real problem confronting Europeans.

    Mainly backed by Saudi Salafi-Wahabi elements and covertly the Turkish government, ISIS have been spreading terror not just among Shias, but anyone standing in their way, including Sunnis. Yet, the media had not revealed anything about the Saudi-Turkish-ISIS connection, or the US indirect links to ISIS through third parties, including Ankara and Riyadh. Once the destabilization problem seemed to be affecting Western European interests, the Western media changed its tune about ISIS, following the main line of their governments.

    One of the most blatant lies to come out of Washington and repeated by the media was that the US intelligence agenies were taken by surprise when Jihadists moved in so aggressively against Iraq, coming so closely to the capital in June 2014. The Pentagon and CIA, among other agencies had tons of information not just about the movements of the Jihadists, but also their sources of financing and their ambitions to establish an autonomous state. In other words, the media was at the core of creating and perpetuating public distraction, blaming lack or faulty intelligence, misrepresentations of analysts’ reports, and other such details intended to cover up the obvious role of the US government and its allies in order to keep silent about the Jihadists until they became a serious threat to Iraq and hit European civilian targets. Manufacturing Consent is nothing new for the corporate media that has served to promote conformity to imperial policies since the Spanish-American War.

    It is understandable that journalists and analysts receiving a paycheck from an employer who reflects the US or a Western government official position simply present the official version, concealing from the public all sides of the issue. Some of the journalists and analysts have a poor command of the history of US-Middle East relations or even of the facts regarding the ‘war on terror’. Others, cover up the role of the US and its allies in the destabilizing campaign of the Middle East because if they do not their editors will not approve the story and eventually they will have no job. The credibility gap in US foreign policy is not just with the US government but the media as well, although one could argue that opportunism is imposed by the institutional structure and that the first responsibility of the individual is to her/his survival and not to social justice and human rights principles.  

     

    US Foreign Policy Credibility Deficit at Home and Abroad

     

    When Obama was elected president in 2008, many people in the US and around the world believed a new era in US foreign policy would begin; a sort of a Good Neighbor Policy applied globally and in sharp contrast to the military interventionism by the Bush presidency. There was the assumption that the US learned its lessons from the Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan wars that failed to achieve publicly-stated goals and left the occupied nations seriously damaged. After eight years of Obama, the world discovered the harsh reality of continuity in US policy and an even greater inclination to pursue destabilization after Arab Spring than under Bush. Obama resenting himself as a US president presumably less inclined to embrace military solutions to crises and more open to political negotiations and conflict resolution by addressing root causes of problems was nothing more than pre-election campaign slogan. The reality was drone warfare in East Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan where civilians were often casualties (collateral damage not war crimes), and military operations to destabilize North Africa and Syria.

    In the summer of 2014, the US and its NATO partners found themselves in the unusual position of sending military assistance to the Shiite Iraqi regime in order to stabilize it and protect the oil fields that ISIS Jihadists coming in from northwest Syria were threatening. Just a few days before the ISIS crisis in Iraq erupted in late spring 2014, Obama candidly admitted that it would be naïve to assume that the US can fight global terrorism on its own, proposing instead a broader partnership and putting $5 billion on the table toward that end. Although the new “terrorism” assistance program was in addition to others, it was extraordinarily naïve to believe that those programs mostly aiming at police/military solutions would be any more effective than spending one trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan chasing ghosts that have returned with real guns and threaten the very regimes the US set up through military means.

    When ISIS insurgents were threatening to take control of major parts of Iraq and disrupt oil flows, the question was where do they stop and what about the symbolism of their victories? Having seized Nineveh that includes Mosul, ISIS was disrupting cities and villages and planning to head south to complete their conquest of more territory. Although Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Peshmerga had been helping Iraq against Sunni Jihadists, preventing them from taking over the strategic city of Kirkuk, the government in Baghdad appealed for broader assistance to preserve the country’s territorial integrity. The approach from the EU and US was not to repeat the mistakes of the past by becoming involved with ‘boots on the ground’ as was the case under Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Iran had repeatedly suggested helping in cooperation with the US, a prospect that entailed the US would have to be on the same side with its arch-enemy in the region. Furthermore, it would mean that the US finally recognized Iran had been and would continue to determine the regional balance of power. In other wor4ds, stability actually benefited Iran not the US. The Jihadists that the US helped to create in the Syrian civil war seized major towns and oil refineries were roughly 60 miles from the Iraqi capital by summer 2014, prompting the US and its NATO allies to consider yet another form of intervention but still focused on bringing down Assad by military means. One problem for the West was that the Erdogan government was secretly facilitating the transfer of ISIS-produced oil, while also focusing on its own historic enemy the Kurdish minority and its political arm PKK as the real terrorist organization rather than ISIS.

    Mired in contradictions of strategy and goals, US policy makers were scrambling to justify why ‘limited intervention’ was the only option and it was up to Iraq to solve the problem that the US created. The irony of all this was that US intervention this time resembled the manner that the US helped to create al-Qaeda in its nascent stage in the 1980s when the Soviets were helping the secular regime in Afghanistan. Confronted with home grown jihadists given birth more by endemic poverty than ideology, many Middle East and African governments were seriously concerned that what had taken place in Syria and Iraq could easily take place in their own countries. Al-Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, for example have been among the more active jihadist guerrilla organizations, though the West hardly pays much attention to them in comparison to ISIS that has hit Western cities.


    Conclusions

     

    In the second decade of the 21th century, the world power structure resembles the “Wars of Imperialism” era (1870-1914) when the Great Powers were in a struggle for spheres of influence, global markets and access to raw materials. The small wars of that era eventually led to a global conflict. The ‘long fuse’ (1870-1914) finally lit in summer 1914 because the Great Powers, especially Germany, did not see an alternative to war. One key difference today in comparison with the ‘Age of Imperialism’ is that the Great Powers possess nuclear weapons which impose self-restraint, forcing governments to step back from the madness of the planet’s destruction. 

    Promulgated a year before the founding of the state of Israel, the Truman Doctrine afforded the US status as the world’s policeman, using Communism as the ideological justification for the struggle for raw materials, markets, and geopolitical advantage. How different the world would have been if the US had chosen the East-West co-existence path of Commerce Secretary Henry Wallace and how different the Middle East would have been if Washington pursued an even-handed policy toward Palestinian and Israelis. One could argue that in the early 21st century the US needs a new doctrine to reflect its actual economic power in the world and the reality that the global power structure is very different in the second decade of the 21st century than it was in the 1940s when Truman promulgated his doctrine of the US as the world’s policeman. The old Cold War policy intended to keep Pax Americana alive hardly has much relevance in the post-Communist era China at the forefront of the world economy enjoys such immense leverage in determining the balance of power.

    Ever since the Vietnam War, Pax Americana’s decline preserved itself by diminishing the national political, economic, and military sovereignty of other countries over which it exerted inordinate influence. Yet, the American middle class and workers are now paying a heavy for the privilege of maintaining America’s global role under the New World Order in which the US desperately tries to retain its superpower glory of the past. One of the reactions for the globalization process under US hegemony is nationalist reaction from other countries, an underlying cause of jihadist terrorism, among others related to local, national and regional issues. One has to wonder if Western militarism and economic imperialism, complemented by Western racism and religious prejudice is the most effective method of combating jihadist terrorism. If the only issue is to perpetuate a counterterrorism culture for a variety of reasons already discussed in this essay, then of course imperialism, militarism and destabilization make sense.

    By the end of the Obama administration, there were much greater and wider forms of terrorism than when the Bush announced the war on terror after 9/11. Intended to project the idea that government has the solution at hand and it is in position of protecting its citizens, public diplomacy and media propaganda run against the reality of rising terrorism. Jihadists already reside within the nations that they wish to strike and history has demonstrated that unconventional war has never been won by conventional military means.

    It is difficult to know the number of jihadists around the world, but estimates have it between 100,000 and 200,000 identifying with a group out of a total Muslim population number 1.6 billion. Even the US State Department statistics on “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” has the number of jihadists under 200,000, or roughly 25% fewer than the Homeland Security workforce. Meanwhile, 72% of Muslims in opinion polls disagree with violence as a political weapon, although this number can change depending on the perceived or real Western threats to Islamic societies. Alienating the vast majority of Muslims around the world with racist conduct and interventionist policies coupled with economic imperialism is hardly the way to win the war on terror on the part of the US and its European allies. Nevertheless, this is exactly what will continue to take place because it serves the Western elites and even some Muslims who are on the outside and want to be part of the power structure. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/26/opinion/bergen-schneider-how-many-jihadists/; https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140506/14033627137/how-many-terrorists-are-there-not-as-many-as-you-might-think.shtml)

    The prospects for the future of the Middle East, at least for the next five to ten years, do not look very good even under the most optimistic scenario. Part of the reason for pessimism is that there is low likelihood of any kind of resolution to the Palestinian Question. Historically, Arab governments, especially Saudi Arabia, have opportunistically used the Palestinian Question to show perfunctory solidarity when in fact they did absolutely nothing to democratize their own societies or help with a constructive solution in the Palestinian case. Blaming Israel as the ‘devil of the Middle East’ served as a distraction from problems Arab governments were unwilling to confront. At the same time, it is highly unlikely the US will change its pro-Israel policy or its Cold War militarist orientation and destabilization methods to embrace a multilateral approach through the offices of the UN General Assembly. As China becomes economically stronger and Putin consolidates power under nationalist policies driven in part by the anti-Russian US-led campaign, the US will continue to seek ways to destabilize Muslim countries. Destabilization is here to stay, until there are uprisings in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States where the US has vested interests. 

    Destabilization is part of a larger policy to expand NATO and SEATO as a means of containing Russia and China as well as their regional allies has been set and it will absorb higher resources in defense and intelligence allocations. Brown University’s Watson Institute estimated the costs of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at just under $4.4 trillion, an amount is roughly a quarter of the US public debt when Homeland Security is included.  Over 7.6 million have been displaced and reduced to refugee status and more than 210,000 civilians killed. This does not include the numerous human rights violations and charges by governments and international human rights organizations about wars crimes. The US and NATO always defaulted crimes to individual soldiers carrying out the acts and never to governments who conduct policy.  http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/

    The prospect of militarism hastening Pax Americana’s decline is not a perceptible reality for the vast majority of the political and socioeconomic elites any more than for the majority of the American people who accept the official policy version that the media constantly hammers into peoples’ heads. Although the majority of Americans polled want less military involvement, they favor greater defense spending because they view Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and Muslims as a national security threat. Of course, the media, consultants, academics, pundits and lobbyists, preachers and politicians mold public opinion in the process of manufacturing consent, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argued in the late 1980s. Because opinion makers have vested career interests, they rarely bother with the cost-benefit analysis of militaristic policies impacting society in general. Instead, they focus narrowly on militarism advancing security and corporate profits identified with the ‘national interest’ as defined by Wall Street and the Pentagon.

    Just as there was a culture of anti-Communism that existed throughout the Cold War and it was responsible for shaping American society and its institutions that revolved around it, similarly the government and private sector created a culture of counterterrorism after 9/11. It is not just the Department of Homeland Security, all intelligence and law enforcement agencies that revolve around this culture, but hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into everything from foreign mercenaries and intelligence outsourcing to domestic consultants and companies selling the latest high tech equipment whose fortunes depend on the existence of a counterterrorism culture.

    Contrary to the impression of some critics that half-crazed ideologues in their cubicles in the State Department, Pentagon, and CIA are trying to figure out how to destabilize the next Syria and Libya, the reality is far more disturbing. There is an entire institutional structure with hundreds of thousands of people working toward a common goal as an integral part of the culture of counterterrorism used to justify the continued strength of the military industrial complex. Whether policymakers or ordinary citizens, it would never occur to the people immersed in the counterterrorism culture to ask if a foreign power subjected the US to destabilization and militarist policies how they would react and whether a small segment of their countrymen would engage in armed resistance against foreign intervention.

    Because of the long history of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny rooted in American society, not just the political and socioeconomic elites, but ordinary Americans believe that the US is unique among nations and it has a mandate to transform the world after its own image. Moreover, conduct it condemns on the part of other nations and/or groups is excused and justified in the case of the US because its transformation doctrine justifies it. After all, implicit in American Exceptionalism is the concept of superiority of other nations. Since the US-Mexico War in the 1840s, outward expansion was attributed to the mandate from divine providence.

    As integral parts of US foreign policy, American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny are unfolding horrifically before the eyes of the entire world that reduces them to the lowest common denominator as ideological justifications for imperialism. The political and socioeconomic elites immersed in this ideology and driving policy are wearing institutional/cultural blinders deceived themselves that the mythology of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny inherited from the early 19th century is the road to greatness. They refuse to accept America’s inability to carry out transformation policy on a world scale as it did from the end of WWII until the end of the Vietnam War. They are blind to the dangers ahead resulting from such policies as much for countries on the receiving end of US conduct as for the US itself.

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    Obama and Clinton Co-Founders of ISIS?

    August 12th, 2016

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    On 10 August 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accused president Barak Hussein Obama and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of co-founding the jihadist rebel organization ISIS (Islamic State) operating mainly in Syria and Iraq but with operative in many Middle Eastern countries and around the world. Trump used Obama’s full name to provoke a racist-xenophobic response from the public about the Arabic-sounding name rooted in East Africa. Immediately, critics insisted that Trump made outrageous and ignorant comments about complex foreign affairs matters he does not fully comprehend.  

    The following day Trump clarified that he meant exactly what he said and not that Obama’s foreign policy inadvertently led to the creation of ISIS. Did Obama and Clinton create ISIS, or is this more of Trump right-wing populist hyperbole intended to rise in polls where is far behind Clinton? Considering that Trump has neo-isolationist tendencies, do such comments about Obama and Clinton creating ISIS make sense, or is he indeed an ignorant wealthy right wing populist appealing to the fears and prejudice of many citizens bombarded by media foreign policy distortions on a daily basis?

    On the day that Trump accused Obama and Clinton of creating ISIS, Turkish President Erdogan accused the US of protecting Turkish billionaire Fethullah Gulen who lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan considers Gullen and his ‘movement’ a terrorist organization that was behind the attempted military coup in July 2016. Moreover, the Turkish president considers the US a protector and promoter of terrorism, unless it hands Gulen over to Turkish authorities. Turkey is a NATO member, committed to the same goal as the US of regime change in Syria, and a frontline state to combat ISIS and terrorism; but what is terrorism and who is a terrorist? If Turkey and the US agree on publicly stated policy goals, despite the reality that Turkey itself has had a long-standing backdoor collaborator with ISIS and considers terrorist the Kurdish political organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which the US does not.

    Beyond the obvious reality that terrorism is a very subjective political reality that means something very different to each country, there remains the massive confusion within the US political arena because Trump’s accusation is one usually uttered by critics of US foreign policy around the world. Only critics of US foreign policy have been advancing the thesis that ISIS and other jihadist groups would not exist if it were not for the financing, diplomatic, military and logistical support by the US and its European and Middle East allies like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey. I know of no serious critic rooted in scholarly arguments that would argue what Trump did. In a number of articles, I have pointed out that the US goal of regime change in Syria led the US and its allies to back various rebel groups from which ISIS emerged in the last five years.

    The US plan was to gain greater leverage in the Middle East and deny Russia the geopolitical leverage it has historically enjoyed in Syria. This became important especially amid negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran and the reality that Iran emerged as the dominant player in the Middle East largely because of US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan where the results have been an unmitigated disaster measured by the criteria and goals that the US set out to accomplish. 

    Why then did the US pursue policies that in fact create terrorism through destabilization policies of anti-jihadist regimes, a policy replete with contradictions and one ultimately backfiring? Why support jihadist groups in a number of countries from Libya to Yemen, from Syria to Iraq when the result is greater jihadist activity throughout the Middle East and random hits against innocent targets in the West?  Post-Cold War US has a need to keep feeding the military industrial complex whose presence in Washington is strong given their lobbying efforts among elected officials. However, that does not explain fully the war on terror on the one hand, and policies that promote terrorism on the other.

    Besides the pressure from the defense industries for more government contracts to meet the dangers of our times, which includes ‘Islamic terrorism’, and besides the regional balance of power argument that diplomats advance, there is the question of using the war on terror to maintain the status quo at home in the face of external threats. Conformity to the status quo, especially amid a declining middle class and massive gap between the very rich and the rest of the citizens becomes paramount for the two political parties. This may actually be the biggest argument for creating terrorism than feeding more contracts to the defense industry and various parasitic consulting firms repeating what the hawkish elements in both political parties want to hear about a strong defense as a panacea to all of society’s problems.

    The lesson here is not that the term terrorism is generic and meaningless. Now that the Republican presidential candidate has given legitimacy to the theme that the US creates terrorism, a theme that is hardly new among serious analysts of the war on terror, the argument takes center stage no matter how much both Republicans and Democrats try to dismiss it. Trump’s comments reflect a populist frustration with a wayward government pursuing destabilization policies filled with contradictions and lack of clarity both in terms of procedure and outcomes. The lesson here is not just the lengths to which a presidential candidate would go to secure more popular support using rhetoric one would associate with politicians in less developed countries where political opponents have no qualms suggesting it may not be a bad idea to eliminate the other. The lesson is that no matter the propaganda by the media, pundits, politicians, academics, and all who pretend that terrorism came like the blob from another planet are now unable to hide behind this enemy.

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    The Crisis Of The Neoliberal Model Of Higher Eduction

    May 13th, 2016
     

     By Jon Kofas.

     

    Introduction
    A nation’s higher education system reflects the ideological and political institutional mainstream as a whole. This has been the case since the founding of universities in the late Middle Ages (University of Bologna, 1088; University of Paris, c.1150; University of Oxford (1167); even earlier for Arab universities (University of al-Qarawiyyin, 859; Al-Azhar University, 970). To this day, universities reflect society’s value capitalist system, prevalent ideological and political trends rooted in neoliberal thinking that dominates the political economy. The question is whether the neo-liberal model of higher education best serves individual students and society collectively or merely large businesses. 
     
    Based on the cosmopolitan ideals of the Age of Reason, the Humboldtian Model of Higher Education – named after Prussian philosopher and diplomat Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1767-1835 – endeavored to forge teaching and research in the arts, sciences and humanities for the broader purpose of general knowledge both theoretical and applied. The Industrial Revolution necessitated education at all levels including university level in order to expand. Therefore, the modern university became a necessary instrument to serve industrial capitalism’s needs (drivers of innovation where basic research and development took place).
     
     It stands to reason that the most thriving capitalist country, the United States with the world’s largest economy in nominal value at least, would have the best universities both private and public, especially land-grant colleges that started in 1862 under the Morrill Act. Although such schools started with the purpose of indeed buttressing the economy by creating an educated work force, they reflected an apartheid society considering that it was not until the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Education Amendment of 1972 that minorities, women and lower income whites had access to these institutions that were mostly for white middle class males. 
     
    In the early 21st century the problem is not one of access based on race and gender but rather class because of the commoditization of higher education model prevalent in the US and exported worldwide. Considering the number of US-affiliated colleges and university extensions overseas, but the degree to which non-US universities try to emulate the commoditized model, many around the world accept the commoditized neoliberal model of American higher education as the very best possible. 
     
    It is indeed true that the US has some of the world’s best universities, especially graduate schools if not so as much at the undergraduate level. It is just as true that since the end of the Vietnam War American higher education has become increasingly unaffordable and divided into the top tier schools with many at the bottom providing low-quality in-class or online education at a very high cost. This too is a reflection of broader societal trends such as downward socioeconomic mobility and good education as a commodity reserved for wealthy families. 
     
    Excluding loans, the federal government provides a mere 2% of the budget for higher education, despite a sharp decrease in spending by states since 2008. If we consider the federal student loan program estimated at $170 billion in the next ten years, the cost is still negligible given that the US has proposed foreign military aid of $40 billion to Israel for that same ten-year period; money devoted to continue the repression against the Palestinian people. Two-thirds of American college students graduate with college debt that currently stands at$1.3 trillion. In an economy of $17.5 trillion GDP, this is an enormous burden that has been rising commensurately with the average household debt over the last three decades.  Approximately 43% the student debt is not paid in regular payments and it is estimated that because of the absence of jobs about 20% will probably never be repay the loans. This would then leave the federal government with the burden of the guaranteed bank loans. Because the US economy has been experiencing downward socioeconomic mobilization concurrently with the massive rise in student debt and household debt in the last ten years, the problem was inevitable. 
     
    The position of the majority of the politicians is to do nothing, other than have universities raise endowments for scholarship money and force universities to depend even more on tuition and the private sector. However, as Warren Buffett recently noted, the university where he serves as a board member raised its endowment from $8 million to $1 billion but kept tuition at high levels instead of lowering it and it did nothing about improving. As we will see below, doing nothing about the current neoliberal model has many negative consequences for society both domestically and globally.
     
    Another option to fix a broken system is to cut the multi-million dollar costs of the top-heavy administration in universities where presidents, vice presidents, chancellors, vice chancellors, and deans have compensation packages as though they are executives in the private sector. The salary gap between a university president and an adjunct English professor is almost as wide as a worker and a corporate CEO. Clearly, the overhead costs of the bureaucratized universities entails that student tuition is unaffordable for the working class and the weakened middle class.
     
    Another option to fix the costs in higher education is to go tuition free. This is a proposal that Senator Bernie Sanders floated as part of his neo-Keynesian presidential platform that includes free health care for all Americans. This of course means putting an end to the neoliberal model. His reasoning is that students are punished for going to college. They come out with massive debt to start their lives in a job market that is hardly favorable to the majority of them. Considering that a college degree is roughly equivalent today to a High School degree in the 1950s-1960s when the US economy was growing and there was upward socioeconomic mobility, what purpose does the unaffordable tuition serve other than to keep college the domain of the wealthy or those willing to go deep into debt? 
     
    This is a question not just about economics and raising taxes of the rich to pay tuition of the poor. The fact is that the system already favors the wealthy and it is stacked against the lower class. This is an issue of social justice considering that the federal government and states have no problem providing billions of dollars in corporate subsidies and tax breaks for the richest Americans and setting aside a massive budget for defense, intelligence and homeland security and very little for human welfare. This is an issue of values, just like the blatantly racist criminal justice system that punishes the petty thief or small time drug dealer in the inner city, but rewards the bank executive whose bank had been laundering drug money, fixing rates, engaged in inside trading, etc.     
     
    The Rising Cost of Higher Education
     
    From 1978 until 2012 the increase in tuition and fee was 1,120%. An increase far above the level of inflation that generally ranges in the single digits represents a crisis in the cost structure of colleges and universities. Assuming a rise of just 7% between 2016 and 2030, the average annual cost for a public university will be $58,000, or $232,000 for a four-year degree. For a family with two children, this means the cost will be around the half-a-million dollar mark, and the difference between owning a home or sending the children to college and sinking them into debt when they graduate. 
     
    Since the Great Recession of 2008 states have slashed spending on higher education to raise corporate subsidies and provide more tax breaks for upper income groups. The result has been college affordability in 45 out of the 50 states has decreased for the average household which has seen a drop in its income during the same period. This means that households under $30,000 must devote 60% of their income to educate a college age teenager at a two-year college, while those between $40,000 and $100,000 (middle class) need 76% for a four-year college. In short, a very difficult choice for the average American family that must ask whether an undergraduate degree really means much in the workforce of today. 
     
    One could argue that a college education is well worth investment not only in terms of securing higher paying jobs in the future but because the quest for knowledge about the world and self discovery are very basic to human nature and society. Moreover, education goes to the core of a society’s claim to maintaining a merit-based system by developing the most creative minds that benefit the totality through the individual.  If higher education is a mirror of society as well as the source for progress, is it time to consider new models other than the existing corporate one that will best serve society and not just a very narrow segment linked to the corporate structure? A few voices including that of Bernie Sanders and his supporters agree the time has come for a new model of higher education. However, the entrenched business, political and media elites are adamantly against change. Interestingly enough, they allies among highly paid administrators who have a vested interest in maintaining the existing system. 
     
    Political Resistance to Changing the Neoliberal Model of Higher Education 
     
    The neoliberal ideology that took hold during the Reagan administration in society impacted higher education because government at all levels adopted a policy of transferring income from social programs, mental hospitals and education to corporate welfare through various subsidies and tax reductions. At the state level, governors and legislatures began seeking ways to reduce their allocations to public colleges and universities, forcing them to seek funds from the private sector. This entailed that they would have to emulate the private sector in everything from ideology to structure and at the same serve its needs rather than carry out work independently. 
     
    Not just the governance structure of higher education, but endowed chairs and entire departments or even colleges would be created to reflect the millionaire or billionaire donors’ wishes.  Everything from hiring faculty to reflect the neoliberal ideological orientation to setting priorities that link the institution to local and national businesses changed because of the inexorable relationship between university and the donors. Most college presidents and university top administrators serve on boards of local and national businesses, and they are as themselves business people and politicians rather than academics. In some cases, top administrators are as alien to academia as the local bank executive hobnobbing with the mayor, governor and congressmen. 
     
    Higher education has been reduced to a business and the administration views itself as such and students as customers as thought they are shopping for a new cell phone. No candidate of either party has dared to go along with Sanders’ proposal, although there is no shortage of those on the Democrat side promising “something must be done” but within the neoliberal corporate model that exists today. Politicians who raise money from wealthy donors for election and reelection are not interested in facing their benefactors to explain higher taxes to fund higher education. Higher education is a political issue in so far as politicians decide where it fits in as far as a national priority. It is hardly a secret that both political parties have national defense/terrorism/homeland security as a top priority followed by retaining the corporate welfare system.
     
    Between 9/11 and the end of 2015 the US had spent $4.4 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, various interventions in Libya and Syria, the war on terror and homeland security. During that same decade-and-a-half, the corporate tax subsidies from state and local governments cost $80 billion annually, while Export-Import subsidies cost an additional $112 billion. The combined corporate welfare program costs $1.5 trillion annually, but both political parties are committed to it as a national priority whereas higher education is a low priority. Just as the state government in Michigan had as a priority providing a tax break of $1 billion to the richest residents even if that meant cutting costs in the Flint water supply, similarly state and federal government have corporate welfare as a priority over higher education.
     
    The Media and the Corporate Model of Higher Education
     
    All of the mainstream media came out against the Sanders proposals of reexamining the neoliberal model of higher education, including the Washington Post and the New York Times promoting themselves as “liberal”. Every day their pages are promoting neoliberal economic policies and neoconservative foreign and defense policies, but they continue to project the fake image of a liberal media. No matter where one looks in the mainstream media, there is no support for making higher education a national priority, and certainly not at the expense of cutting defense and the generous corporate welfare programs that benefit the richest Americans.
    Although the Sanders plan would cover about 70% of college students, and it would cost an estimated $75 billion annually split between the federal government and the States, Republicans and most Democrats find this plan reprehensible because it calls for a new tax on Wall Street speculation. It must be stressed that the Federal government makes an estimated $11 billion profit annually from student loans. In short, the media has no problem with Wall Street speculation, higher defense costs and higher corporate welfare costs, but it decries free tuition for public colleges and universities. A number of prominent university professors on the payroll of corporations including media companies have come out in opposition to ending the neoliberal model arguing that free tuition would: a. stifle innovation and creativity; b. undermine private colleges and universities; c. too much government involvement in higher education would impede entrepreneurship in higher education; d. deprive people of “freedom of choice; and e. free tuition will necessarily mean that quality suffers. 
     
    Presenting itself as America’s premier newspaper and supposedly liberal, the New York Times came out against free tuition because: “free tuition means fewer resources to teach students. Unintended consequences could include reductions in need-based financial aid, which would harm the low- and middle-income students free tuition is meant to help.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/30/opinion/free-tuition-is-not-the-answer.html?_r=0 Oblivious to the current $1.3 trillion in student debt expected to rise sharply by 2030, the media insists that higher education must not become a national priority. After all, the majority of both Republicans and Democrats agree with Wall Street that the economy cannot afford free tuition when it has already set its priorities in the domain of defense and corporate welfare. Along with politicians, the media is silent when it comes to the for-profit online unaccredited colleges and universities that government subsidizes by providing subsidies for low-quality to dubious educational experience for students.
     
    It makes sense that corporate and business opposition in general would be forthcoming on this issue for a number of reasons. First, the businesses would lose the influence they currently enjoy over universities in every matter from curriculum to faculty and top administrators running the university on the existing commoditized model. When the most important function of its administration is to raise money rather than deliver a good education the question arises about the hold that the wealthy donors have on the university either by request or because the university is obligated to cater to the corporate ideological framework.
    Just as millionaires and billionaires have a hold on the political arena because they finance campaigns and control the media that provides coverage to politicians, similarly hundreds of millions have been flowing into universities from Koch brothers and other billionaires and millionaires wishing to influence what is otherwise academic freedom. 
     
    Most of the donations to universities go to the already wealthy private institutions, but almost always with conditions that determine everything from curriculum to hiring and program development.
    “In Kentucky, Papa John’s pizza founder John Schnatter teamed up with the Koch Brothers Foundation to fund business school programmes at the University of Louisville and at the University of Kentucky. Both donations came with the caveat that the donors can stop funding if they do not feel that their mission – the teaching of free market economics and business practices – is being carried out to their satisfaction. To some, such stipulations imply that students will be taught by professors sympathetic to the political and economic views of the donors.”
     
    In the past forty years, the faculty-to-student ratio has remained about the same, although the corporate model has meant relying increasingly on part time faculty. This reflects the corporate model of relying of low-paying part time employees and avoiding the costs of fulltime people. During the same forty-year period of a rise in part-time faculty, there has been an astronomical rise in the administrative bureaucracy that deals with the university as a business and injects a corporate ideology into an otherwise non-profit institution of higher learning. The least educated and most opportunistic elements invariably wind up in administration positions that pay much higher than any faculty position. Administrators identity and self-interest is not with the students but with the business community and they in turn project that value system into the university.  (Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and why it Matters. 2011);
     
    Corporatization of the University and College Administration
     
    It makes sense that private colleges would object to ending the neoliberal model and supporting Sanders because they would have to reduce tuition and costs. Of course, the wealthy that would rarely consider a public school in the first place will continue to attend private colleges. Moreover, the free tuition of public schools would permit the private schools to promise they are the elite. Representing 1000 private universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) opposes Sanders’ proposal despite its acknowledgement that costs are very high.  
     
    “But one of the things we very firmly believe is that as it has been for the last 50 years or so, that federal aid money must follow the student, and stay with the student.” In other words, do what you will with public schools, as long as federal and state funds also flow into private schools based on student choice. “There is no trend we can discern yet that suggests schools are going to start cutting back on the amounts of money that they need for the expanding services they offer. There may be a decrease in growth if tuition increases, but nobody is decreasing tuition, nobody is decreasing the number of services offered, and therefore schools are continually getting more expensive.”
    In every state where there is a major corporation its influence is heavily felt very clearly on the state institutions. Whether it is Eli Lilly in Indiana or 3-M in Minnesota, the influence of the long arm of the corporate world in ubiquitous in universities that fight amongst themselves to secure corporate funding no matter the cost to academic freedom.  Not just humanities and social sciences faculty, but those in the “hard sciences” are constantly fighting to secure grants for their research and as government slashed National Science Foundation money (16% cut proposed for 2016), faculty look to corporations. Scientists depend on the agrichemicals, pharmaceutical and biotech industry for research funding, so they structure their research around what the corporation expects. 
     
    In his article entitled “Higher Education or Education for Hire? Corporatization and the Threat to Democratic Thinking”, Joel Wetheimer writes:  “The effects of corporatization on the integrity of university research – especially in the sciences – has been well-documented elsewhere. Readers of Academic Matters are likely  familiar with the many cases of scientific compromise resulting from private commercial sponsorship of research by pharmaceutical and tobacco companies. Indeed, faculty throughout North America are already deluged with requests or demands to produce research that is “patentable” or “commercially viable.”
     
    A land grant school, the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana campus is one of many public institutions heavily indebted to the private sector. Upon accepting massive grants from agrichemical companies such as Monsanto, the university caters to the wishes of the donors to hire faculty in the field of expertise the company dictates, namely in genetically modified seeds and agrichemicals that would have a direct impact on its multinational business. In other words, this is just another very cheap way of outsourcing research and development. On the surface, there appears to be nothing wrong with this, expect that this is a public tax-supported institution whose work is geared to serve the corporation. In short, the general taxpayer is indirectly subsidizing corporations.
     
    As Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch put it: “Sound agricultural policy requires impartial and unbiased scientific inquiry, but like nearly every aspect of our modern food system, land-grant school funding has been overrun by narrow private interests….Private-sector funding not only corrupts the public research mission of land-grant universities, but also distorts the science that is supposed to help farmers improve their practices and livelihoods,” said Hauter. “Industry-funded academic research routinely produces favorable results for industry sponsors. And since policymakers and regulators frequently cite these university studies to back up their decision-making, industry-funded academic research increasingly influences the rules that govern their business operations.”
     
    The highly paid university administrators urge faculty to forge closer ties with the corporate world. They bring with them a corporate value system and worldview intended to make the university an institution that models itself after the corporate world. These leaders of the universities are among the most adamant opponents of doing away with the neoliberal model. Catharine Bond Hill, Vassar College president, a Clinton backer argued that Sanders is wrong to propose free tuition for public colleges. There is a vast administrative bureaucracy handling everything from loans to scholarships with layers of vice chancellors and vice presidents in the larger universities. One concern that college administrator have if the Sanders proposal goes through is the inevitable cuts in the administrative bureaucracy that will not be needed to deal with student loans, scholarships, and fundraising for student aid. From 1985 to 2005, the number of administrators rose by 85% and their attendant staff by 240%.  http://www.occupy.com/article/collegebureaucracyhoweducationforgotstudentsandbecamebusiness#sthash.G22kz58h.dpuf. People assume that tuition goes for the direct educational experience of the student. “This is no longer the case. Instead, a large chunk of a check made out for tens of thousands of dollars is feeding the burgeoning administrative staff on college campuses.  
    The cozy relationship between the corporate world and college administrators illustrates that the neoliberal model is not a theoretical construct but a sinister reality.  To university administrators and board of trustees invariably serve on the boards of businesses large and small. It may surprise the reader to discover that 42% of the Board trustees at public universities come from large corporations and they make the decisions about university governance and direction. 
     
     
    One reason Sanders has captured the vast majority support of voters under 30 years of age, especially college students is because they agree with him on free college tuition, among other issues such as addressing Wall Street control of politicians. Having lost confidence in the neoliberal model of the university system, the majority of people under 30 have lost confidence in the neoliberal political economy.         A Harvard University study recently shows that 51% of people between 18 and 29 oppose capitalism and 33% stated they support socialism.   https://www.qu.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2275; http://www.thenewamerican.com/economy/commentary/item/23078-harvard-survey-shows-millennials-oppose-capitalism-but-do-they-really; The youth in America is moving farther to left of its neoliberal political, business and academic establishment, showing the entire societal structure of which higher education is an integral part is not working for the benefit of most citizens. Despite this reality, the neoliberal establishment has deep institutional roots.
     
    Conclusions
     
    It is indeed amazing that the US model of higher education with all of its problems is actually one that other countries are trying to emulate. Although it has been cultural diffusion, especially the contributions of a global academic talent that has made American Higher Education as productive as it has since the end of WWII, many around the world and here in the US confuse this catalyst to success with the neoliberal governance and operational structure. The fact that high school students in Japan and many European countries actually score at par with US college graduates is indicative that the high cost of US colleges does not translate to better education. Graduation rates across the board are in the mid-50s, and for the lower tiered schools in the low 20s and high teens. Why is it that graduation rates are so low across the board, although tuition and fees keep going higher and grade inflation is a reality driven mostly by an administration that views students as paying customers? If the neoliberal model of education is the best one possible why do we have such grim results?
     
    Billions of dollars in endowments and funding for research from the federal government and states allows the top universities mostly private to buy the best academics in their respective fields. However, the pyramid structure of American higher education suggests that the very few at the top, mostly private with some public schools, enjoy the big money and reputation. Despite a second tier with good departments in all fields from humanities to business, the bottom of the pyramid is where most students attend and where the system shows its cracks. It is at the bottom of the pyramid – The following are all for profit mostly online mostly low-quality education that does not compare favorably to a state university and does not have commensurate weight in the job market.
     
    University of Phoenix at $35.5 billion
    Walden University – $9.8 billion;
    DeVry – $82 billion;
    Capella University – $8 billion;
    Strayer University – $6.7 billion
    Kaplan University – $6.7 billion
     
    The schools listed above have graduation rates in the low 20s compared with mid-50s for the national average. In short, these places take the students’ money but fail to retain them. The burden of very low graduation rates and such high level of debt falls on students that come mostly from working class backgrounds without the usual social/professional connections that the upper middle class students attending private universities enjoy. As more people find it difficult to afford the cost of public universities, they will turn to the degree mills mostly online that will result in high debt and low prospects for a rewarding career. The results of doing nothing with the current neoliberal corporate model of higher education will be the following: 

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    “Modernization Theory” and “Third Wave Democracy”: Internal and External Impediments to Democracy and Development

    May 3rd, 2016
     

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    Introduction

     
    Known mostly for The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996) Samuel Huntington, like Francis Fukuyama (End of History and the Last Man, 1992), caught the interest of apologists of Western capitalism’s triumph over Soviet Communism during the 1990s and early 2000s. The quest to articulate a unifying theory that explained the demise of the Cold War ‘bi-polar world order’ based on the two superpowers and the emergence of the new multi-polar order led many Western scholars right back to Cold War assumptions about the importance of maintaining Western global hegemony in every area from determining the balance of power to the political economy.
     
    This became especially important after 9/11 when the US institutionalized a counter-terrorism regime with Homeland Security, followed by a US-NATO war against Afghanistan and US war in Iraq. A permanent global war on terror, that replaced the old Cold War became the new rationale for perpetuating Pax Americana despite the realities of a US economy that could not possibly sustain such costs in the absence of downward socioeconomic mobility for its middle class and an unwinnable campaign focused on military solution to a political problem.
     
    If jihadists carrying out unconventional attacks against US and its allies were the new enemies instead of Communists, then the US and its allies needed to construct a new ideological justification for an imperial reach. In this respect, a number of scholars, including Huntington provided the ideological ammunition Washington needed.   Because globalization under neoliberal policies had been in effect already since the Reagan administration, the only question was to forge domestic and international political and a modicum of popular consensus for such policies.
     
    At the same time, however, there was the question of the degree to which developing nations would be able to develop economically and democratize politically under a world order of Western imperial hegemony carrying out neoliberal policies to accommodate large capital at home and existing as well as new foreign investment. Globalization apologists promised that neo-liberalism would deliver these goals for the world, while at the same time they threw their support behind the war on terror as though it is just another conventional war with soldiers in a defined geographic location rather than dispersed in more than fifty countries.  
     
    This essay briefly examines how “Modernization theory” and the “Third Wave Democracy” thesis explain the evolution of the world political economy and how the empirical evidence in developing nations do not support the theory. I will analyze the inherent contradictions between the West publicly pledging to modernize and democratize the world when history has demonstrated that its imperial policies preclude both development and democratization. The essay concludes with the question of the degree to which modernization theory and the “Third Wave” democracy thesis explain the decline of democracy in the Western World and the concomitant decline of the middle class as the popular base of bourgeois democracy. In the interest of full disclosure, the theoretical framework of my scholarly work is based in part is the dependency school of thought and the structuralist interpretations usually associated with the UN Commission on Latin America.
     
     
    The “Third Wave” and the Modernization Theory as “Cold War Democracy”
     
    Huntington’s, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (1993) analyzes the transition from authoritarianism to ‘democracy’ in Portugal, Spain and Greece during the mid-1970s, in Latin America, Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan during the 1980s, and Eastern Europe after the Soviet bloc in the 1990s. The study is a theoretical attempt to analyze global trends and to attribute credit to the success of America’s transformation policy applied across the world since the end of WWII. Transformation policy as a means of integrating the world economically, politically and geopolitically under the aegis of the US as the Western superpower in a struggle against its rivals Russia and China marks its triumph at the time that Huntington was writing his “Third Wave” study.
     
    The “Third Wave” thesis as an integral part of the post-WWII Modernization theory developed in the US amid the early Cold War to justify Pax Americana’s global reach. In practice, US global reach has precluded democratization and development in periphery countries because of their economically dependent and politically and militarily subservient relationship with the advanced capitalist countries led by the US under a patron-client integration model. Even in traditional societies where Islam dominates such as those in the Middle East and North Africa had uprisings during the first half of the 2010s, the chance of their success was severely limited. This is because of opposition from the domestic elites including the military and the small capital class linked to Western interests, but also the US and its northwest European partners determined to impose their economic, political and military influence and deny national and popular sovereignty that would entail greater autonomy and less dependence on the West.
     
    It is important to emphasize that the definition of democracy by those embracing the “Third Wave” and Modernization theories is based on assumptions of American-style democracy equated with socioeconomic inequality and marked absence of social justice. This has been evident in the US socioeconomic structure historically with problems ranging from institutional racism and xenophobia to gender inequality, from the wealthy elites financing elected officials to political party establishment conducting policy to perpetuate an unequal and socially unjust society. 
     
    Of course, this is not the case only in the US but across the developed nations where capitalism is equated with bourgeois democracy where citizens select among the competing elites presented to them by the established political parties inexorably linked to the socioeconomic elites. This is the position that Joseph Schumpeter argued in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) where he advanced the “elite model of participatory democracy”. 
     
    American and European scholars conducting research during the Cold War accepted without much criticism the Modernization theory using to explain the transition from traditional preindustrial societies to the modern industrial world. After all, if the non-Western areas did not industrialize and adopt Western liberal-bourgeois institutions it must be because the obstacles to development and democracy are internal and not because the West imposed colonial control, or divided them into spheres of influence. One reason that Modernization theory became popular immediately after WWII was that Westerners were encouraged by the defeat of the Axis Powers and the decolonization movements that followed after the end of the war.  Condemning Stalinist Russia and its satellites, the same scholars, and along with them journalists and politicians assumed that democratization flows from the modernization development model, thus equating democracy with industrial and finance capitalism and its social order of inequality.
     
    Like William McNeill (The Rise of the West, 1964) who embraced the modernization theory, Huntington believed that the different parts of the world democratize as they modernize in stages. This is a theory that assumes their integration into the American-dominated world economy, political and military network whose goal throughout the Cold War was to bring down the Soviet Union and perpetuate Pax Americana. Walt Rostow (Economic Stages of Growth, 1960) was an advocate of modernization and implicitly the “waves” theory that Huntington later articulated. Influential not just during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations throughout the second half of the 20th century among politicians, Rostow’s thesis was part of the mainstream in media and academia.
     
    Like the paternalistic assumptions of Modernization theory with its categorical political goal, Rostow’s stages of growth theory implied that development entails diffusion emanating from the core (advanced capitalist countries) to the periphery (less developed); in other words, an endorsement of imperialism justified in the name of anti-Communism and a single path to development and democracy. Included in Rostow’s stages of economic growth and Huntington’s ‘Third Wave’ thesis is the transition from traditional society to democracy only in theory.
    In reality, the transition has been from corrupt clientist authoritarian regimes to corrupt semi-democratic ones under integration into the US-dominated economic and geopolitical global framework. In all cases without exception, countries falling into the “Third Wave” and Modernization theory framework in their political institutions became even more thoroughly dependent economically. This is as true for Latin America under US hegemony since the Spanish-American War as for Africa, Asia and Eastern and southeastern Europe under northwest European dominant influence.  Post-Cold War regional economic blocs have been dominated by the US, German-dominated Europe Union, and Japan and more recently China competing with the core countries in the world economy for spheres of influence and market share.
     
    If we accept the Modernization and Third Wave theories, then we accept the assumptions of Joseph Schumpeter (“Democratic Method”, 1947 and Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy) that democracy does not entail popular sovereignty and social justice, but it is simply an institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions – presumably through consensus by the socioeconomic and political elites in which individuals acquire power to determine who captures the popular vote. In other words, this is a top down process not very different than corporations competing for a consumer base where the consumer is able to choose corporation A vs. B.
     
    Even if we accept this definition and Huntington’s argument that the “First Wave” of ‘minimal democracy’ in the 19th century to the second wave after WWII and the defeat of the Axis Powers, elements of authoritarianism existed within Western Democracies, especially the US that excluded minorities from the institutional mainstream. Unless one invokes the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” both in foreign affairs as well as US apartheid practices with regard to Native Americans and Africa-Americans, democracy explained by Modernization theory provides a distorted picture of what has actually taken place throughout history.
     
    Studies carried out by scholars and institutions such as the World Bank on the correlation between high income level countries and democracy, and low-income level countries and authoritarianism throughout the Cold War contend that the catalyst to democracy is a viable middle class, not social justice and equality. Of course, it is possible to have an ascendant middle class without democracy as has been in the case of China, thus proving the “middle class-democracy” correlation is not necessarily true.
     
    It is interesting to note that the same studies linked traditional societies, especially Islamic ones where religion was at the core of the value system and institutional structure, as less compatible with democracy while secular societies much more so.
    Western scholars assume compatibility between Christianity and democracy while rejecting the same when it comes to Islam and Eastern religions, despite the empirical reality if India where Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are the main religions. (7) When it comes to the most populous Muslim nations of Indonesia, Western critics praise the compatibility of Islam and democracy because the country has embraced globalization and Westernization. Along similar lines, the West has historically embraced Turkey, a NATO member and candidate for the EU, despite its Muslim heritage and traditions.
    The Third Wave, Arab Revolution and Counter-Revolution
     
    At the cultural level and to a degree social level, there has been greater ‘pluralism’ in societies that transitioned during the ‘Third Wave’ because of decolonization following WWII. However, this has not translated to greater popular sovereignty and social justice comparable to what the Scandinavian countries enjoy, and after the austerity of 2010 there has been a decline both in democracy and living standards in countries that were part of the “Third Wave Democracy” trend.
     
    During the “Third Wave” with Portugal’s Carnation Revolution 1974, women and minorities acquired more rights; human rights became a basic component of government, freedom of the press and assembly was a reality. From the 1980s until the Great recession of 2008 there was upward social mobility in southern Europe. Largely because living standards needed to be raised for the periphery countries to qualify entranced into the euro zone after under Maastricht Treaty conditions as established in 1992, northwest European countries adopted an interdependent integration model rather than the patron-client model the US pursued in its relationship with Mexico under NAFTA.(8)
     
    After the austerity that the EU and IMF imposed on the periphery in 2010, it also imposed the patron-client model of integration that reduced the southern and eastern European members of the zone into subservient status serving the interests of the northwest core. This new model has meant decline not just in living standards but in social mobility for college graduates most of whom are unable to find employment in their fields of study if at all; weaker welfare state and trade unions, and weaker democratic institutions as there has been a transition from the welfare state to corporate welfare under the advocacy of neoliberals that includes the IMF and the European Central Bank. The benefits of the “Third Wave” in the periphery countries of Europe accrued mostly to those in the upper income groups and not across the board, and certainly there were not sustainable as the post-2008 recession crisis has proved.
     
    Whether part of the “Third Wave” or not, developing nations have compromised their sovereignty by surrendering to the globalized market economy to a much greater degree than they had in some cases under authoritarian regimes that tended to support ‘national capitalism’ more than international capitalism. This is as true of Eastern Europe as it is of Latin America. The people of Portugal, Greece and Spain, all previously under authoritarian regimes that were part of the ‘Third Wave’ continue to elect their national leaders who only follow and execute policies in accordance with the rules of the market economy and under considerable pressure from the US and EU directly or indirectly through the IMF, World Bank, OECD, European Central Bank.
     
    To what degree do Portugal, Greece and Spain enjoy national sovereignty when the monetary and fiscal policy that impact living standards and result in social engineering comes as a result of what the IMF, central banks, and the domestic and foreign financial elites? The ballot box gives the illusion of freedom of political choice and popular sovereignty when all aspects of the citizen’s life are surrendered to an institutional structure under the control of the financial elites whose interests the political class serves. The national economy and public finances are surrendered to national and global finance capitalism that operates with comprador bourgeoisie at the national level. This is especially true in Greece, one of the “Third Wave” countries reduced to a virtual semi-colony under IMF-German imposed austerity since 2010.

    If the ‘Third Wave’ did not result in the type of social justice that one would associate with a Norwegian model of democracy but rather with a Latin American one, why would the imaginary ‘Fourth Wave’ be any different taking place now in the Middle East, especially after the failed uprisings that NATO countries and regional players like Saudi Arabia subverted as part of a counter-revolution that followed? Furthermore, the suggestion that modernization can come solely or primarily as a result of diffusion of ‘ideas’ from the West to the rest of the world is in many respects a reflection of Western imperialism, merely another version of Kipling’s White Man’s Burden thesis.
     
    The assumption among many Westerners arguing that Muslim countries are or ought to be undergoing democratization is based on the Western model of “liberal bourgeois” democracy under the neoliberal economic model that favors international finance capital. Even the “Third Wave” is not based on assumptions of social, economic, and political equality or grassroots democracy, any more than it is based on self-sustaining horizontal economic and social development. Considering the assumptions of “Third Wave” about democracy of limited popular and national sovereignty, then the Afro-Arab Spring uprisings were probably more successful than it may appear on the surface.
     
    There are several hundred books dealing with Afro-Arab Spring uprisings, as well as counter-revolution leading to even greater political instability, polarization and socioeconomic inequality than before. This is not only the case in Libya and Egypt, but across all countries that tried to have genuine grassroots revolts. Most authors agree these were indeed unfinished revolutions and subverted by forces other than the grassroots participants who were themselves ideologically and politically divided on what kind of regime they wanted. The democratization wave was never given a chance to evolve because domestic elites, neighboring states among them Saudi Arabia fearing any spillover impact of political change as well as the US and its European allies played a role in undermining the popular movements through various means including NGOs posing as friendly democratic entities.
     
    The grassroots movement to democratize Egypt failed after former army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi muscled his way into power. Despite the veneer of the electoral process, the reality since 2013 has been repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and secular Egyptians wishing popular sovereignty rather than a military-dominated state. Nevertheless, President al-Sisi insists his government is democratic, despite ruling by decree. Western governments back him despite Human Rights Watch and other independent organizations condemning the regimes as repressive. Not much different than Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, Sisi is following an existing pattern of cronyism. Because Sisi has cooperated with the West on geopolitical issues and is not confrontational toward Israel like Iran, and because he has worked with the IMF and is open to foreign capital and neoliberal policies that have resulted in sharp cuts in subsidies and other welfare state measures, Western politicians, media and pundits view Egypt more favorably as democratic than Iran that has only recently agreed to economic integration with the West and cooperation on the nuclear weapons development issue; this despite the fact that Iran has been fighting against al-Qaeda and ISIL.
     
    Regardless of how Western powers view social movements in Islamic countries and how they try to manipulate them so they could exert hegemonic influence, Islam as a coherent ideological force is an integral part, but not the only one, of societal issues intertwined with the faith, especially in Egypt where the Islamic Brotherhood played a key role. This was also the case in Yemen, Tunisia and everywhere where grassroots movements took place during Arab Spring. In the absence of a secular political ideology, religious doctrine is what the masses rally around, Islam played a catalytic role, although various religious factions – sectarian politics especially Sunni vs. Shiite – were engaged in a struggle for dominant influence and control.  

    The Arab Spring uprisings were heterogeneous in their ideological orientation, as much as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that the Shiite clergy eventually dominated and used to create an Islamic Republic. Precisely because of the heterogeneous nature of opposition to authoritarian regimes in Islamic countries reflecting largely the urban-secular middle class vs. the rural and some urban traditional masses clinging to Islam as the unifying force in society it became easier for the armed forces as in Egypt or comprador bourgeois class linked to foreign interests to prevail over the disparate masses. The question for the advocates of Modernization theory is whether revolution inspired by Islam intended to bring about social justice to society fits the theory, a question that a number of scholars raise as they try to place Arab Spring into a theoretical framework.  
     
    By August 2013 the counterrevolution was in full swing with the backing of the US northwest Europe, and reactionary Arab regimes. In Egypt the duly-elected government of Mohammad Morsi was toppled and the Raaba Massacre took place resulting in more than 1000 people dead all in an effort to crush the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power. Although this massacre was far worse than Tiananman Square (1989), there was hardly the US or European outcry against it because the West and its regional Middle East allies did not want democracy in Egypt any more than they did in the region as a whole. Whereas the Western media, politicians, pundits, and various apologists of Western capitalism vociferously condemned the Chinese government for crushing democratic protests in 1989, the reaction in 2013 by the same sources was one of outrage for the massacre but support for law and order against Egyptian democratic protesters because they Muslim Brotherhood elements viewed with suspicion as potential jihadists.
     

    Using the “jihadist” theme, implicitly intertwined with the war on terror, as the explanation for siding with the new elites that emerged from counterrevolution, analysts argued that there must be an alternative to jihad as the opposition force to regimes – authoritarian or elected – closely integrated with Western interests and policies.  Crony capitalism that existed before Arab Spring continued after the dust settled, just as the Western influence that existed before remained very much alive in geopolitical and economic domains.  Post-Islamism manifesting itself in the rise of urbanization and youths embracing the new communications technology as a means of grassroots organizing and consciousness-raising was just one factor in the revolts during the first half of the 2010s. This does not mean that there is a shortage of hypocrisy on the part of leaders in the opposition embracing the uprising in the name of Islam any more than on the part of rulers claiming to defend the faith. Piety has its limits when it comes to political goals as much in the Islamic Middle East, as in the Christian West. Nevertheless, there is no stigma of “jihadist terrorism” attached to Christianity and Judaism. Whereas the identity of a Muslim emanates from the faith as well as the nation-state, social status and lesser factors, the identity of a Christian in France or US is rooted in multiple institutions mostly secular, that may or may not include nation-state and faith.

    Accepting some of the theoretical assumptions of the Modernization theory, French-Moroccan author Rachid Benzine emerged in Europe as a representative of the Arab Spring generation to articulate the events and dynamics in North Africa and the Middle East in the early 21st century. Following a long-standing tradition started by Bernard Lewis, Fazlur Rahman, and Edward Said who was a critic of conventional scholarship, Benzine argued that the failure of the Arab world, and more widely the Islamic world, to undergo an intellectual revolution (Renaissance and Enlightenment like Europe), invariably linked to social development, owed to a ‘misreading’ of the Koran and in failing to recognize and respond to specific historical situations?

     
    As a traditional society that has not undergone a Renaissance, a Scientific Revolution, an Age of Reason and Industrial Revolution, and in addition it has been subject to foreign conquest that imposed monocultural economic structures (export-oriented economies), the Arab world finds itself confronting the contradictions of wanting to preserve its cultural identity on the one hand, keeping up with the western world on the other in order to lessen exploitation of its resources and labor, and strengthen national sovereignty, while finding it impossible to avoid integration into the world-system of the market economy which entails dependency at some level. Embracing Modernization theory as a framework to understand Arab Spring in essence suggests trying to fit Islamic institutions and society into a secularized Western-dominated world is not revolutionary, but actually conservative.
    Is Egypt and the entire Islamic world  part of a ‘Fourth Wave’ toward democracy and development merely another dream designed for the convenience of those who want to make sense of events and be optimistic that the modernization theory works – equating modernization  with Western concepts of bourgeois capitalism? ‘Transformation policy’ that the US began implementing after WWII as a means to integrate the rest of the world into the global system of capitalist institutions was inevitable not just for Egypt, but the entire Arab world, as the counterrevolutions proved once the dust settled and regime change took hold.
     
    In the absence of a regional (Middle Eastern-North African) economic bloc, in the absence of some revival of Nasser’s dream for Afro-Arab solidarity with a multilateral foreign economic policy as leverage in the international arena, Egypt along with the rest of the Islamic world will remain thoroughly integrated into the capitalist system as it was under Mubarak who had set up his own fiefdom and made billions in the process. The only question is what leverage does Egypt or any Islamic countries have?  As much the US, as the Europeans and Chinese demand that Islamic nations conform to the rules of the marketplace, to the IMF and World Bank, to the World Trade Organization (WTO), and that they observe all of its foreign treaty and other obligations; exactly as the US demanded from the Egyptian army under Sisi so that the foreign aid can continue pouring in under Obama, despite human rights violations.
     
    Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and the entire Arab world, will remain Western dependencies in most cases worse off than before Arab Spring, with the possible exception of Tunisia despite more than 6000 Tunisians joining ISIS in a nation with about 16% unemployment rate and per capita GDP average of just under $11,400 or 65% of the world’s average in PPP terms. External dependency on the core countries entails few changes in the status quo throughout the Arab world; merely enough to satisfy those that have fought to end authoritarianism in some countries, while disappointing to the vast majority.
     
    While it would be a great development to have greater social justice, more respect for women and broader observance of human rights in general, the trend for the Middle East is westernization through commercialism – consumer products and services, pop cultural influences, telecommunications, media and technology – which entails influencing the value system so that gradually Islamic countries becoming more like Turkey that seeks full membership in the European Union and Indonesia inviting foreign capital investment. This subtle form of infringement on Muslim sovereignty to which Arabs object for economic, political and cultural/religious reasons comes slowly, and it contributes to popular uprisings. Along with the broader recognition that the Muslim world is made up mostly of poor people, while the Christian West is prosperous, immersed in materialistic, hedonistic values and lifestyles, there needs to be a realization that the Christian West has been profiting off the Muslim Middle East since the Treaty of Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774). The closely integrated globalized economy entails withering cultural identities and that is the case in the Muslim world where just beneath the relative calm a new wave of social uprisings is brewing and will explode eventually.

     

    Undermining Self-determination and Popular Sovereignty in Traditional Societies
     
    According to the Modernization theory obstacles to democracy and progress are all internal, resting within national borders. The US government, politicians, media and pundits have been claiming ever since Wilson’s Missionary Diplomacy (denying recognition to Mexico and Latin American government if their policies were antithetical to American interests) that the goal is to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. The record of US foreign policy especially toward developing countries since the Spanish-American War has demonstrated that the US accomplishes the exact opposite of the stated goal because democracy in less developed countries minimizes US economic and geopolitical influence in those countries. As the following list of CIA operations that undermined democracy indicates, the US was hardly a promoter of democracy as the advocates of Modernization theory and those claiming the only goal is freedom and democracy claim.
     
    1. Italy 1948 elections sabotaged by CIA to make sure that the pro-US Christian Democrat Party;
    2. Iran 1953 CIA-engineered coup that results in the overthrow of duly-elected Mohammed Mossadeq;
    3. Guatemala 1954 CIA-engineered coup that results in the overthrow of duly elected Jacobo Arbenz and the installation of a pro-US military dictatorship;
    4. Dominican Republic 1961 CIA assassinates a formerly-backed pro-US dictator Rafael Trujillo,
    5. Congo (Zaire) 1961 the CIA assassinates democratically-elected president Patrice Lumumba.
    6. Ecuador 1961 CIA forces democratically-elected president Jose Velasco to resign.
    7. Brazil 1964 CIA-backed military coup if democratically elected Joao Goulart ;
    8. Indonesia 1965 the CIA helps overthrow democratically elected President Sukarno and replaces him with the dictator Suharto who went on a reign of terror against his political opponents;
    9. Greece 1967 the CIA helps to remove the duly-elected government of George Papandreou and back a military Junta for the next seven years;
    10. Chile 1973 the CIA overthrows democratically-elected Salvador Allende.
     
    The above list includes only the most blatant cases of US intervention and does not list military interventions or countries where the US backed authoritarian regimes, including South Africa under apartheid regimes.
     
    Even in cases where there have not been counterinsurgency operations but direct or indirect military intervention, from Vietnam to Nicaragua, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from Libya to Syria, the net result is greater destabilization under a new type of authoritarian regime. Just two days after Vice President Joe Biden visited Iraq to announce an additional 250 US troops, mass demonstrators stormed the fortified Green Zone on 30 April 2016 in a show of popular anger against the corrupt, unrepresentative and ineffective regime that the US set up. Although these were backers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who has been calling for sweeping reforms, the reality is that US invasion and occupation left the country utterly devastated and it will take decades for it to recover, let alone become free and democratic as the US government argued it was there to deliver.  Despite Washington’s shallow claims that its goal is freedom and democracy, its actual goal is economic, political and economic integration under American aegis in an era of intense global competition owing to China’s ascendancy.
     
    Considering that there has been a long-standing policy of subverting national and popular sovereignty abroad because it clashes US and more broadly Western corporate and geopolitical interests, how do we reconcile the Modernization theory with the empirical reality of American foreign policy record?  Under the aegis of the US, Wall Street, and international finance capital, IMF austerity programs since the early 1950s have been responsible throughout the developing countries of undermining democracy by lowering living standards for the working class and the middle class. If external economic and financial intervention thwarts economic development and democracy, how can advocates of Modernization theory argue that all obstacles to development are internal?
     
    Because Modernization theory advocates accept the capitalist political economy as “natural”, they do not analyze how austerity policies result in downward socioeconomic mobility and polarized sociopolitical conditions that either takes place under authoritarian or semi-authoritarian conditions or result in such regimes. IMF austerity is intended to concentrate capital among the domestic elites and foreign corporations, thus resulting in diminished democratic commitment of regimes that carry it out. In the process, the middle class and workers become disillusioned and often turn to right wing or left wing political parties or movements, abandoning the bourgeois consensus of the liberal center. This is as much the case in the EU’s periphery countries since 2010 as it has been the case in developing nations from the 1950s to the present.
     
    In addition to monetarist austerity that results in further capital concentration and weaker middle class and working class, the neoliberal policies of weakening the welfare state to strengthen corporate welfare while strengthening defense have also accounted for increased political orientation toward the politics of illiberal democracy. In an integrated world dominated by core countries led by the US as the world’s largest military power compelling both allies and foes to spend more on defense that deprives the civilian economy of resources it is simply naïve to claim that the sources of undemocratic regimes are archaic traditions and non-Western religions when it is in fact Western governments and the considerable power that multinational corporations enjoy over governments.
     
    Neo-liberalism and the Decline of Democracy in Core Countries
     
    The triumph of the capitalist West over the Communist bloc coinciding with the global economic ascendancy of China has actually delivered less democracy, greater socioeconomic and political polarization, fewer human rights, and decline in social justice under the neoliberal model of development. How do we then reconcile the Modernization theory that assumes a Hegelian model of steady economic development and democratization under capitalism and the “Third Wave” that assumes developing countries emulate the Western political economic model when the same is showing very clear signs of fracture?  Even if one accepts Modernization theory and Huntington’s “Third Wave Democracy” as theoretical frameworks to explain development and evolution toward bourgeois democracy, how do we explain the decline of democracy in the advanced capitalist countries since the end of the Cold War? On the 25th anniversary of Fukuyama’s “The End of History”, The Atlantic published an article arguing that “history isn’t over, and neither liberalism nor democracy is ascendant”.
     
    As much in Europe as in the US, right-wing populist demagogues are challenging bourgeois political elites that come from the business elites, or become wealthy in the process and join the business elites in the pursuit of neoliberal policies that concentrate wealth? While a handful of billionaires own most of the world’s wealth, the corporate owned media has moved to the right as much in the US as in Europe, paying only lip service to political correctness regarding racism, xenophobia, while hammering at the rights of workers and all issues pertaining to social justice while defending neo-liberalism. This has in turn emboldened extreme right wing groups whose differences are not so distinct from mainstream conservative political parties.
     
    According to a State Department public opinion poll in 2000, Europeans and Americans generally favored globalization.  By 2014, things had changed largely because the Great Recession (2008) resulted in massive income transfer from the middle class and workers and into the pockets of the top one percent income earners. A Pew Research poll in 2014 found that only 17% of Americans believed that (free) trade leads to higher wages, and only 28% believed that foreign companies buying US companies was good for the country, thus reflecting a sharp rise in economic nationalist sentiment.
     
    Anti-globalization from the right in the US as well as Europe comes in the form of opposition to trade agreements favoring large multinational corporations at the expense of the national economy. Just as the right wing is split on the issue of globalization, it is so split on the issue of regional military blocs, especially NATO and the burden of its costs. The neo-isolationist foreign policy agenda of a number of Republicans in the US, including Donald Trump reflects exactly this trend. Although it is unlikely the US will isolate itself from military blocs any more than it will retreat from globalization despite the costs to its public debt and shrinking middle class, these matters will only become more pronounced as Asia assumes an increasingly dominant role in the world economy and outcries about costs and benefits become louder.
     
    With a history of fascism and authoritarianism, Europe has extremist political groups that emerged on anti-Islam, anti-foreign, anti-progressive platforms designed to attract the masses guided by fear, ignorance, and insecurity about the future as well as assertion of cultural/ethnic identity myths. Right wing populist demagogues tend to become increasingly part of the mainstream. With each cyclical economic crisis that leaves people questioning the present and longing for ‘the good old days’ of ‘traditionalism’ when the masses obeyed authority and the social order worked just great as far as the elites were concerned, Europe and the US will become more right wing because this is where the media and the elites will lead the masses. The debate not just among Americans but also European political elites regarding isolationism and economic nationalism reflects a concern that globalization increasingly favors China and other non-Western countries rather than the West that enjoyed global econo

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    AN IMF PLOT, GREECE, THE EU and BREXIT

    April 4th, 2016

    By Jon Kofas.

     

     

    • On 19 March 2016, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission team for Greece held a meeting on how to force Greece into further austerity measures. These would entail deeper wage cuts, more social security cuts, higher taxes and more rapid conformity to IMF-EU policies intended to transfer capital from the middle class and workers to wealthy Greek and Western creditors. The conversation between two IMF officials (Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF’s European Department, and Delia Velkouleskou, IMF Mission Chief for Greece) and an EU official was recorded and someone managed to pass it on to WIKILEAKS. In essence, the IMF representatives were essentially plotting a strategy to force Greece to accept harsher conditions of austerity after five years under such failed policies. 

     

    That the IMF was actually caught plotting to force a sovereign nation onto the verge of bankruptcy while creating chaos with EU members sounds like a conspiracy theory, if it were not for the fact that the entire conversation was recorded and released through WIKILEAKS. The IMF conspiracy reveals that blackmail tactics are used by the Fund that have absolutely nothing to do with its original mission when it was created at Bretton Woods in 1944. The IMF covert plot reveals the extent that the organization is willing to go in order to achieve its goal of imposing austerity conditions that results in the impoverishment of nations and massive wealth concentration in the hands of creditors. However this also reveals the extent to which governments of periphery nations have lost all pretenses of any control over their own policies affecting the fate of millions of people.

     

    Clearly, there is convergence of several factors at work here. 1. The Syrian-Iraqi refugee crisis in Europe through Greece; 2. The real possibility that the United Kingdom may not stay in the European Union, and even if it does it would continue to be a thorn on its side; 3. The desire of the IMF to make sure that austerity and neoliberal policies that results in massive wealth concentration continue uninterrupted; 4. The real possibility that the European Union is weakened not just by austerity but also the refugee matter that US-NATO foreign policy has created, and the possibility that the future of the regional bloc would continue to weaken.  

     

    This means that Troika  (IMF ECB, and European Commission) funds would be withheld forcing panic conditions in Greece. Athens under SYRIZA, a leftist government that has fully embraced austerity and neoliberal policies just as its arch conservative predecessors, has repeatedly accused the IMF of using delaying tactics that prevent funds from flowing into Greece. At the same time, Greece has a major problem with private banks’ “non-performing loans” that essentially have driven the stock prices of the banks down to a tiny fraction of the pre-austerity values. These are the tactics that the IMF has been using to make sure that even harsher measures, deeper cuts in the social security system, deep cuts in wages and public sector jobs, and higher taxes are impose on a country bleeding from IMF-EU austerity since May 2010.  

     

    All of this would take place against the background of the United Kingdom’s vote on the referendum  either to stay or leave the EU in June 2016. At the same time, the IMF would threaten to abandon TROIKA, thus forcing Germany to go along with the Fund’s proposal for debt relief. Debt relief would be in the form of extended maturities for existing EU loans, longer grace periods, and very modest interest rate reductions; all issues that the IMF has proposed in the past but Germany rejected. The tool the IMF would use is the bailout tranche, which it would delay using the pretext of “Review”. This would then entail that Greece is unable to meet its interest payment obligation to the IMF, thus a “credit event” would be created artificially that would in turn afford all leverage to the IMF vis-à-vis Greece for much more severe austerity measures, while also putting pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel for debt relief.

     

    The IMF scenario assumes that the UK vote on remaining in the EU may not be favorable, and that would impact the entire European continent. Poland and Hungary may start creating noise about staying if the UK leaves. Greece would most likely use the occasion to secure easier terms for itself so that it does not continue cutting wages and pensions while raising taxes that only lowers living standards and raises the GDP to debt ratio, forcing the country into an endless downward cycle of debt relief just to meet interest payments in foreign loans. 

     

    Austerity has meant that: 1. Massive exodus of college graduates and professionals seeking opportunities around the world. 2. Public hospitals lack just about everything from essential medications to treat patients to toilet paper that patients’ family bring from home.  3. Social unrest in every sector from journalists to farmers demanding  an end to austerity. 4.  Massive devaluation of all asset values, especially real estate. 5. Continued NATO pressure to keep defense spending at pre-austerity levels despite the loss of about 25% of GDP. The following statistics further illustrate the failures of austerity to deliver on its promises.

     

    1.      Greek GDP-debt ratio: 173.8% (2015), while in 2009 before austerity GDP-debt ratio was 129%.

    2.      Unemployment: 12% in 2010 – 27% 2015 and expected at around 20% in 2020 – youth unemployment 50%.

    3.      GDP: $330 billion 2010 – $235 billion 2015.

    4.      $31,700 annual average per capita – 2008 – $18,900 – 2014.

    5.      GDP  growth rate: 2010 -5.45%; 2011 – 8.86%; 2012 – 6.57%; 2013 – 3.9%;  2014+0.77%; 2015 – 2.27%

     

    The emphasis of the IMF and its TROIKA partners has been to realize “primary government budget surplus” no matter the sacrifice in terms of raising the unemployment rate, driving wages and pension lower and taxes higher. The IMF is even more determined that Greece maintain such a surplus, as though the economy is at the same level of dynamic growth and development to sustain the hard currency as Germany using the same currency.  When the WIKILEAKS revelation made headlines around the world, the Greek government immediately demanded clarification from IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.  Instead of calling for a political unity to leave the European Union entirely, the Greek government engaged in rhetorical threats and grand standing to demonstrate that it has a modicum of control over national sovereignty when in reality it has none.   

     

    The decision to target periphery nations for austerity has always been political since the founding of the IMF in 1944. The US and the core countries essentially decide that the periphery nations undergo austerity as a means of remaining in the periphery of the capitalist world system. Just like the US decided to reindustrialize Germany and  Japan for essentially geopolitical reasons, and just like it did likewise with Taiwan and South Korea, it also decided that Latin America and Africa would be relegated to the periphery. More recently, the Balkans is in the same category and for this region the decision was made in Germany with the help of the IMF and the cooperation of northwest core European countries.

     

    In January 2015, Greece elected a government that called itself Socialist and promised to end austerity and neoliberal policies; to restore national sovereignty and the social safety net; to give the country back to the people. In about six months after its election the regime embraced fully the exact policies it had renounced and pursued the exact same road of foreign dependence – a semi-colonial role – as its conservative predecessor. The people are thoroughly demoralized and deeply divided ideologically and politically. Some are convinced that there is nothing they can do because the pro-austerity, neoliberal media – some of the journalists actually re-trained by the IMF – owned by barons whose fortunes are tied to foreign capital and the EU constantly project the impression that the alternative is to wind up isolated like North Korea.     

     

    BREXIT may actually present the best opportunity for Greeks to rebel and overthrow the pro-austerity regime. The possibility that a military dictatorship could emerge is not so farfetched. The EU does not permit its members to have non-elected authoritarian regimes. However, the IMF-EU austerity since 2010 has been a form of authoritarianism and foreign control of the country that is hardly any different than a 19th century semi-colony. Even if BREXIT does not take place, the EU will continue to weaken because the pressure will increase from rightwing ultra nationalist elements across Europe against the regional trading and monetary bloc that has deprived nations of their sovereignty for the benefit of large capitalists in each nation and ultimately to allow for German hegemony that in some respects is just as intrusive and detrimental in the lives of Europeans as policies pursued in the Age of Imperialism (1870-1914).

     

    For all practical purposes, Greece a semi-colony as are all of the Balkans whose role is not much different today than it was during the late 19th century.  The future of these periphery countries entering the EU integration model based on a patron-client relationship means almost total absence of national sovereignty on important issues from financial and social policy to defense. This also means even less focus on social justice in the near future. While one could argue that the masses would rise up to rebel against such conditions, the more likely scenario is sociopolitical polarization and probably an increasingly stronger right wing course justified by the fear of Muslims entering Europe because foreign-instigated war has drove them to refugee status. Indeed, the US-led war on terror and interventions in the Middle East only help to strengthen the right wing across Europe. This leaves very little room to be optimistic for those hoping that social justice. The angry masses are clearly divided but the right wing has the upper hand because historically the right wing in Europe has played a greater role than the left that is currently very weak and divided.

     

     

     

     

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    Art of the Deal Politics, Billionaires’ Wars, and the Decline of America

    March 5th, 2016

    By Jon Kofas.       

     

          

     

    Is Trump a reflection of America, at least a segment of the population that has proved it wants him as the next president, or is he a historical accident, an aberration from the norm in politics? Despite both Republican and Democrat, conservative, liberal and leftist critics that Trump is not a reflection of the American mainstream, the astonishing results of the primary voting process reveal a very different story for a man who could easily win the nomination. This would be especially the case if the Republican Party establishment owned by billionaires like Trump supports his candidacy instead of undermining it in every respect possible.

    Although Trump has opportunistically toyed with right-wing populism – racism, xenophobia, misogyny, jingoism – and although he is indeed a con-artist as Marco Rubio calls him and a fraud as Mitt Romney calls him, he is very much a reflection of mainstream America as much as Bernie Sanders representing the anti-neoliberal pro-Keynesian wing of the Democrat party.  It is indeed true that he is an embarrassment at home and overseas because of who he is and because he is a right wing populist approaching as close to neo-Fascism as any candidate for president.

    However, Trump is a product of and reflects the traditions and institutions as much as any Republican who in essence represents the same ideological and policy position.  Nor can it be argued that the corrupt billionaires and Republican political establishment is against Trump on moral grounds as though these people are on a higher moral plane like Pope Francis who criticized Trump for lacking compassion for the poor trying to cross the border. Therefore, the issue comes down to the degree to which the Republican political and business establishment wants Trump as its presidential candidate no matter what the voters want, and the degree of control the party machinery and billionaires wish to exercise in the political arena as they are looking beyond the presidency to House and Senate seats that may be at risk because of Trump at the head of the party ticket.

                                                                                     

    Legitimacy and Democracy

    Regardless of whether Trump becomes the nominee or the next US president, the larger issue is one of a “bourgeois democratic” society’s institutional mechanisms and sources of legitimacy. If legitimacy rests with the party machinery and the wealthy people funding it, then the system parading as democratic is a fraud, and it is not just Trump. The issue of legitimacy is at stake in American democracy and especially with this campaign of 2016 where the frontrunner and presumptive nominee after striking a deal with the party bosses finds himself isolated from the party bosses and those funding the party.

    In US, does legitimacy emanate from the political party apparatus that chooses candidates and presents them to voters for election? If the people by majority vote for a candidate that the political party establishment has chosen to be on the ballot but does not want that candidate does this mean that popular vote is meaningless as is the electoral process? According to 19th century German sociologist Max Weber, the sources of legitimacy converge in an open society and they are based on tradition, charismatic leadership and legal authority. Based on a constitutional system and laws, legal authority by elected and/or appointed officials is one source of legitimacy.

    The powers of legal authority are not without limits considering checks and balances in the US democratic system and popular consent as the underlying source of political power, at least in theory. It should be stressed that Max Weber never created linkage between social justice and political legitimacy, whereas his contemporaries ideologically to the left did exactly that. The question of popular sovereignty and legitimacy is one with limits in American history that had excluded slaves, women, and for all practical purposes the poor and minorities from the voting process. Although in the early 21st century the system ideally permits for all citizens to vote for pre-selected candidates of the party machinery, the issue of legitimacy remains a big question mark because the preservation of the public and private institutions take precedence over any elected official whose goal must be to serve the institutions and not change them without congressional authorization.

    The Historical Role of the Wealthy in Politics

    Historically in Europe the very wealthy recognized the symbolic significance of not running for office and simply manipulating the political process from behind the scenes. After all, money has always bought political influence at all levels of government, and one way of protecting the interests of capital has been to rely on the legislative branch of government because one never knows if the executive deviates from serving capital as faithfully as the socioeconomic elites expect. This rule of the very wealthy staying out of politics was broken in the Age of Imperialism in Europe (1870-1914) when the stakes became so important that competing interests at the national and international levels were fighting for market share on a world scale.

    More recently, there have been billionaires like Silvio Berlusconi who was Italy’s prime minister and many European politicians have used their political office as a vehicle of moving into the socioeconomic elite class. Last spring a millionaire businessman Juha Sipila was elected to Prime Minister of Finald by promising to make the country competitive just as Republicans have been advocating, never mentioning income inequality or social justice. Therefore, Europe is not entirely free of the businessman-politician promising the moon to voters.

    From its founding, the US carved a different path than Europe that tended to be skeptical of wealthy oligarchs in political power. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt were all multi-millionaires and saw their class interests converging with the nation’s interests, without necessarily neglecting completely the marginalized in society.  It is true, of course, that after 1850 and the era of Lincoln we have layers and professionals with a record of public service running for office, but they were just as representative of big capital’s interests as the wealthy presidents. The Gilded Age (1870-1900) proved as much despite presidents in the White House that were not super wealthy like Washington and Jefferson. There are remarkable parallels between the late 19th century Gilded Age and the new Gilded Age of the late 20th-early 21st century America.

    The Progressive Era (1900-1920) that started at the local level in Wisconsin during the age of mass consumerism as the Industrial Revolution was expanding the economy prompted calls by the rising professional middle class for limits on the role of the wealthy in politics. After all, American politics was blatantly bought and paid for by the wealthy in all levels of government to the degree that calling such a system democracy could not be taken seriously.

    Ironically, Theodore Roosevelt who was very wealthy and a Republican favored the role of the state as an arbiter of capital and he favored reforms that would rationalize the political economy. He recognized that capitalists left to their own devices were predatory and the rise of big business meant the need to create large government bureaucracies to regulate and assist the private sector. In short, Roosevelt had no illusions that capitalism must be rationalized otherwise it would cause havoc in society and destroy democracy rooted in pluralism. He knew first hand that the wealthy had politicians in their back pockets and tried to broaden the process to integrate the lower middle class into the political mainstream largely to afford legitimacy to a corrupt system. Progressivism only regulated big businesses and hardly placed restrictions on capital accumulation to the detriment of labor.

    The Great Depression forced Franklin Roosevelt to expand on many programs of the Progressive Era that started at the turn of the century under Roosevelt and continued under Wilson. Despite opposition by the wealthy who did not want the state used as an agent of growth and development and an arbiter in society, FDR had no choice if he wanted to save a system from chaos and collapse. He broadened the political process and co-opted the lower classes into the Democrat mainstream, thus affording legitimacy to the system. When the Second World War ended, however, the US began to slowly deviate from the premises of government’s role in society, justifying it on the basis of the Cold War and the need to compete in the world considering the US was the world’s number one economy having inherited Europe’s and Japan’s imperial role.

    Just as people today complain of wealth concentration among the top one percent, so did the people in the late 19th century. Just as people today complain that government is corrupt, bought and paid by the rich, so did the people in the Gilded Age (1870-1900). Just as people today are receptive to populism from the center-left and the extreme right because the so-called middle represents the very rich, so did people in the Gilded Age. The fundamental difference is that the US economy was expanding very rapidly in the late 19th century in every sector from agriculture, mining, manufacturing and services. In the early 21st century there is no comparable expansion, making politics and the role of the billionaires in society much more controversial. Finally, whereas in the late 19th century the US had room to expand its middle class, in the recent Gilded Age from Reagan to the present the middle class has been contracting and the future prospects are very bleak for upward mobility.

                                                               

    Billionaires and Trump

    The challenge for Republican or Democrat party politicians who represent the existing social order and capitalist political economy has always been to forge consensus by securing a broad popular base in order to govern in what is supposed to be a bourgeois democracy. It is never easy to convince people from the middle class and working class that their interests rest with a political representative of the rich, although it has been done around the world for the last two centuries. The politicians with the ability to make their case and secure public support win elections.

    The Republican Party invited Trump knowing that it needed a “star quality” candidate, a celebrity billionaire with mass appeal to broaden the party’s popular base. This is exactly what this man did but the idea was to broaden the popular base, not to win. Someone more mainstream establishment would actually be the one to win the nomination. Political parties have always sought popular figures to run for office precisely because of their mass appeal and ability to convince voters to identify with the candidate, despite the reality that the candidate is beholden to those who chose him/her to run for office.

    The Trump brand in the age of pop culture sells as much in real estate development as in politics. After all, Trump made hundreds of millions of dollars selling his name that he equated with business success; this despite massive losses and three bankruptcies, failure of an airline business, the phantom Trump University, etc. Just like the Democrats, the Republicans are a well oiled political machine and no one can run without the blessing of the party hierarchy as Trump is doing with self-financing campaign, which in essence means he does not have to answer to campaign donors. The billionaires and party operatives invited Trump to run because they knew he was selling the brand name to voters, mostly white and male without a college degree that aspire to dreams of becoming billionaires or at least identify with the anti-establishment nationalist rhetoric, often bordering on Fascist considering he has borrowed quotes from Mussolini that Trump preaches to win votes.

    Just in case there is any doubt that the wealthy own politicians, just follow the money trail and look at newspaper endorsements and media coverage. The media built up Trump as a political messiah so that people would vote Republican. The media follows the marching orders of its billionaire and millionaire owners. On 3 March 2016, FOX news instructed its reporters and guests to stop giving Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio any sort of favorable coverage. In itself this is hardly newsworthy that a news organization would pick favorites, considering this is how it has been throughout the history of the press. However, it does reveal the factionalism within the Republican Party at a time that the economic elites in the US are split over which candidate even within their own party best represents finance capital. Usually, the wealthy rally around one candidate and recognize the need to sell that individual to voters as though he is a popular choice. There have been cases from the 19th century to the present when the elites have been split about political parties and leaders, mostly obviously during the election of 1860 that brought Abraham Lincoln to the White House.

    A number of billionaires, including the founder of Home Depot, the Ricketts family that owns the Chicago Cubs, the Koch brothers and many others have become public with their adamant opposition to Trump. Considering he too is from the billionaire class just like Mitt Romney who ran on the Republican ticket in 2012, there is no reason to oppose Trump if his policy positions are not so very different from Romney’s and if he is as malleable as some like Jimmy Carter believe. There are of course many reasons that conservative billionaires oppose Trump to the degree that some have publicly stated Hillary would make a better president.

    The underlying assumption that there is solidarity among capitalists is simply wrong, although there is indeed a common interest among them to keep profits high, and wages and their taxes low. There are competing capitalist interests and always have been in the political economy.

    1. The inability to buy the election, as Bernie Sanders and Trump have argued, frustrates billionaires, even if the candidate is one whose policy positions are very close to theirs.
    2. There are competing interests that believe Trump will favor one or the other. For example, he has argued that drug companies are engaged in price gauging and that Apple is taking away jobs from the US and shipping them to China. Clearly, he would probably favor construction firms because he is on record favoring rebuilding of the aging infrastructure, probably with mob-connected firms, although there is hardly a difference between mob money and legitimate one given the interactivity that takes place between banks and the mod.
    3. His proposal of taxing Hedge Funds has not been well received by Wall Street and the banks involved in such products.
    4. Defiance toward congress, even toward Majority Leader Paul Ryan that Trump threatened of getting along or paying a big price is no way to forge alliances in Washington and on Wall Street. This kind of bravado and reckless rhetoric is what the billionaire-politician Romney alluded to when he asked Americans to oppose Trump.
    5. Promising to do something about illegal immigration but in essence winking at the elites that the Obama policy will continue does not sit well with right wing ideologue billionaires of the Republican party.

     

    A closer examination of Trump’s positions on policy, without actually knowing what he would do once in office if elected, reveals that he is indeed no different than his colleagues still in the race and hardly different on many issues from Hillary Clinton a many issues once the hyperbolic populist rhetoric is taken out.

    1. Ever since Republican presidential candidate announced he would run for office. Trump began to denigrate Mexicans, women, Muslims, and just about every non-white male Protestant group, including Catholics offended by Trump’s trashing of Pope Francis. The reasons for this is that a segment of American society that includes the establishment agree with Trump, but disagree on the modality of expressing such views considering one must abide by political correctness to cover up bigotry in America.
    2. Although he proposed assassinating the families of ISIS jihadists, a war crime as the United Nations defines it, the media stayed silent because they agree and would never dare support international law.
    3. When he berated the Pope, the media sided with Trump against Francis who argued that Christians built bridges not walls. Pope Francis is the most leftist Pope in modern history and a critic of American consumerism and the culture of greed that the US media and establishment support as part of the value system.
    4. When he proposed sending back more than 11 million illegal aliens, conservatives found it difficult to justify defending illegal aliens, except to argue that they do provide cheap labor and it would cost too much to ship them back. How could they oppose Trump considering this is a core issue for the Republican Party that rhetorically opposes non-white immigrants but in practice uses them for cheap labor just as Trump has in his hotels and construction projects?
    5. When he argued that he would go to an economic war against China, Japan, South Korea and Mexico, no politician or media bothered pointing out that the world economy is tightly integrated and economic nationalism makes no sense for the US at the core of globalization. How could anyone argue that that products coming from Mexico and China are made by US firms and in Japan and South Korea exporting companies in which US investors have a stake. How could anyone argue that Japan finances the US debt and unleashing an economic war would also have geopolitical consequences that would only strengthen China and weaken US strategic allies in Asia?
    6. When he argued that he would have the Chinese “get rid of” the leader of North Korea, no one criticized such a proposal because political assassinations and coup d’etat hardly pose a problem for either Republican or Democrat.
    7. When he proposed cutting the Department of Education, no Republican or the press asked why because they agree. After all, the teachers and their unions have a long-standing history of usually voting Democrat. Moreover, the media and the Republicans have cultivated the perception that the Department of education is to blame for all calamities befalling the country’s educational system. Never mind that schools well funded in rich communities have excellent schools while the ghetto suffers along because its schools are underfunded owing to funds going to support prisons.
    8. When Trump argued that he would send in massive forces to defeat ISIS, no one in either political party or in the media bother pointing out that jihadists operate in roughly fifty countries and employ unconventional methods of warfare that have proved almost impossible to eliminate with conventional means in the last two decades.
    9. When this man employed the nebulous slogan “Make America Great Again”, only Clinton insisted that America is already great because she is running on the Obama legacy, such as it is with a record of pursuing neo-liberal policies that make the rich richer. No conservative dared to argue that America is already great because that would be an endorsement for Obama. Therefore, Trump reflects their view.
    10. When he proposed eliminating OBAMACARE, no Republican or mainstream media objected because it is an anathema for the conservative elites and big business to support social welfare. However, they have no problem when Trump proposed lowering corporate taxes at home and to have corporate money repatriated. How could the media and the conservatives criticize Trump for wanting to erode social welfare and strengthen corporate welfare?
    11. When he proposed cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, there was no criticism from the Republicans because they advocate the exact same thing.
    12. When he offered unqualified support for the Second Amendment, neither his Republican colleagues nor the media argued that something must be done to bring under control the epidemic of shootings with handguns.
    13. When he admitted that he hates to pay taxes and there are reports he pays very little taxes, no one had a problem with this issue because it is ubiquitous among conservatives who want the working class and middle class to carry the brunt of the tax burden through direct and indirect taxation. There are studies indicating Trump’s proposed tax cuts for the rich would cost an estimated $1 trillion per year; this in a country that has $19 trillion in public debt soon to rise at $21 trillion. The irony here is that Trump has said his plan would lower the debt but non-partisan groups looking at his tax policy insist the opposite would be the case.
    14. Although he is on record opposing the war in Iraq, and argued that Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest “funder of terrorism”, he has repeated the need to bomb ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and placing troops on the ground to bring down Syria’s Assad.
    15. Trump alarms US allies so he is unacceptable. Reagan alarmed allies as did George W. Bush, but they were both presidents that much of the world viewed very unfavorably and destabilizing for the world. Why would Cruz or Rubio be any less destabilizing for the world than Trump the deal maker? It is indeed true that conservatives, centrists and leftists around the world are amazed that the US has Trump as a frontrunner, but they would be more interested in making sure he does not pursue economic nationalism or start new wars as his hyperbolic rhetoric would suggest. They have the exact same concern about Cruz and Rubio, and they realize that any president would have constraints from congress.
    16. When he publicly stated that he wants to repeal the law to after the media legally on libel cases, there was no outcry by politicians, business people or even most of the media about the First Amendment and freedom of the press.
    17. Even when he was forced to repudiate David Duke, a well known KKK member, many conservatives argued that this is not as bad as some present it because the late West Virginia Democrat Senator Robert Byrd was also a former KKK member in his youth during the 1940s. Ultra right winger Mike Huckabee among others noted that Sen. Byrd endorsed Obama and that was acceptable but Duke endorsing Trump is an anathema. In short, we are all Klansmen here under these three-piece suits so let’s just stop pretending.  Trump’s hesitancy to denounce emphatically the KKK has been cited as proof he does not belong in the Republican Party. However, institutional racism as manifested in the criminal justice system,  the educational system, infrastructural policies such as the Flint Michigan water poisoning afflicting blacks, all these are acceptable.  
    18. Business deregulation that would be in line with the neoliberal mainstream all administrations have pursued since Reagan. This would result in fewer environmental, labor, health and safety regulations.Republicans and many Democrats hardly have a problem with neoliberal policies such as these considering this is the general direction they have been going in the last three decades.

    Many critics of Trump pretend as though he is a recent visitor from a distant planet, as though he is not a reflection of the Republican Party and at least a segment of American society. Although “Trumpism” has similarities with “Reaganism”, among them Nativism and xenophobia, underlying racism and sexism, jingoism and right-wing populism embodying the popular issues already part of the Republican Party mainstream, there are many who insist he is outside the mainstream of Republican politics.

    Organized Crime: It is true that he may be an embarrassment because Trump has worked with organized crime in New York. When confronted with the allegations, he replied that he had to work with organized criminal elements to have his hotels constructed because organized crime controlled the cement business. A number of US banks have paid fines for laundering drug money, so why should Trump be an exception to major banks?

    Trump University: He may carry a stigma because he created an unaccredited makeshift real estate university that was in essence a “get-rich quick scheme” where students’ tuition ran as high as $35,000. Trump University turns out to have been another of the billionaire’s many ways of making money promising the moon and delivering nothing. The US government has been investigating a number of online and brick and mortar colleges that promise the moon and deliver fast food jobs to their students. Why should Trump be any different?

    Illegal Workers: It is true he may have hired illegal workers knowingly and had to pay more than $1,000,000 in fines. He publicly justified on the basis of worker shortage, not low wages. It is also true that he used tax abatements to make money in real estate and there are reports he probably pays very little or no taxes.

    KKK: Only when Trump was not emphatic and categorical about disavowing former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke and the Klan did some elements of the mainstream media turn on him. It is one thing to embrace aspects of the Klan’s belief and entirely another to remove the thin veil of political correctness that exposes a mainstream politician as just another Klansman and neo-Nazi. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants want to project the appearance of respectability by distancing themselves from neo-Nazis and the Klan, while all along wholeheartedly supporting institutional racism as evidence by the criminal justice system that weighs heavily in the black and Hispanic communities; poising blacks in Flint Michigan for profits; police shootings of black youth in the inner city; black youth unemployment at 50%, and a series of other real life measures that keep the apartheid society alive and well. Obama not Trump has been the president in the last seven years when all of this has taken place. If Obama is not doing much about racism, why should a right-wing populist trying to win the White House?

    Conclusions

    It hardly stretches credulity to conclude that Trump is not the ideal candidate for a “normal” individual to be displayed at a psychologists’ convention. Nevertheless, within the realm of what is acceptable as normal in politics, Trump may be granted a generous pass. One could argue that a politician would have to be inhuman to propose massive displacement of 11 million illegal immigrants; or the deaths of thousands of innocent people as a result of a jingoistic foreign policy? But Reagan and George W. Bush were harsh toward minorities and carried out foreign interventions resulting in millions dying and displaced. Yet, Reagan and Bush are heroes, while Trump who advocates similar measures is outside the Republican mainstream?

    I am amazed that even leftist critics of Trump have difficulty assessing the situation. Some have argued that the Trump phenomenon represents white anger and fear because society is changing demographically and the economic pie is becoming smaller. Demographic change and smaller economic pie has actually hurt minorities more than whites, but it is true the absence of upward social mobility among whites has driven a segment of them to the right politically. Another critique by the left is that the Trump phenomenon represents a breakdown of society and or the two-party system essentially representing the same class. It is true that both parties have always represented the same capitalist class, but it is just as true that American society was on verge of breakdown during the depression of the 1890s and of the 1930s. Yet, it bounced back and revived itself.

    What is so different in the early 21st century? The US has actually slipped very rapidly into a role of interdependence with China that is headed for global economic hegemony. This is hardly good news for those who believe in the American Dream accessible to all who work hard. The increasingly secondary role of the US in the world economy and its dogmatic insistence on policing the world as political and economic leverage is running its course and will continue to erode living standards.

    All candidates agree that the debt at $19 trillion will rise to $21 and probably well in the upper 20s in the next ten years. This means that unless there is a radical shift in the political economy, America of the 2030s will probably resemble that of the 1930s. The political arena reflects the ugly realities in the economy and society. In the end the larger question is how the electoral process has exposed the reality of the wealthy in control of the political class trying to sell a dream to voters, a brand like the “Trump band” when in fact there is nothing but empty air behind it because the real economy is faltering under the existing system. The future is bleak and the stakes very high for the wealthy trying to make sure they retain their privileges as the economy is on its way to a long steady decline relative to China and Asia at large.

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    An American-made crisis: Europe’s Muslim concentration camp in Greece

    February 28th, 2016

     

    By Jon Kofas.

     

    The entire world is well aware of the humanitarian crisis arising from Muslim refugees fleeing war-torn countries that include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The countries are all Muslim and the common trait they share is that the US and its European and Middle East allies engaged in military solutions to political crises that have not spilled over into a massive trans-continental refugee crisis. The refugee tragedy is a massive humanitarian one according to the United Nations, and it is becoming worse because the principal country, namely the US, causing the refugee crisis is absolving itself of any responsibility from this crisis and only focuses on where to create the next military intervention. This does not mean that Russia backing the Assad regime is free of culpability. However, the Russians are trying to weaken the jihadist elements in Syria that are forcing the mass displacement of people. http://www.thenation.com/article/europes-refugee-crisis-was-made-in-america/

    In the official White House web site, the US states that 12 million people or half of Syria’s population has been displaced since 2011 and it is entirely the fault of the Assad regime.https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/15/what-you-need-know-about-syrian-refugee-crisis-and-what-us-doing-help\ The US position is that along with the Syrian government, Russia, Iran and to a lesser extent China are really responsible because they would not permit the US and its regional allies – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – to remove Assad from power and place a regime of their liking. In other words do exactly what they did in Libya where things have worked so remarkably well since the US and its allies along with al-Qaeda removed Muammar Gaddafi from power.

    Although by no mean the sole culprit, the US was the driving force behind military interventions that destabilized every one of these countries and caused the dislocation of four million refugees from Syria lone and millions more from the other Muslim war-torn nations that the US and its allies decided to destabilize for geopolitical and economic advantages in the last fifteen years. Although the West presents itself as humanitarian, developing countries host more than 80% of the world’s refugees. According to the United Nations, the world refugee population hit 60 million in 2014 and it surpassed that figure in 2015, largely because of conflicts invariably created not owing to local opposing groups – government vs. rebels – but foreign interventions of one type or the other.  http://www.unric.org/en/world-refugee-day/26978-new-report-developing-countries-host-80-of-refugees- \http://www.unhcr.org/558193896.html

    Those who read about the refugee crisis from a distance may see Greece as Europe’s warehouse. However, a closer examination of the refugees in Greece reveals that this tiny Balkan country could evolve into Europe’s concentration camp in many respects minus the “final solution”. This is not only because of the dreadful conditions that prevail for refugees everything from lack of food and medicine, but because the number one reason for the humanitarian crisis and the reaction of the entire Western World is racism. Non-white Muslims trying to enter the predominantly white European continent is an anathema to Europeans whether they are neo-Nazis, conservative or even liberal in many cases who do not want their way of life, social structure and culture contaminated with Muslim influences. Of course the European businesses love the cheap labor migrants provide, but they detest the people that provide cheap labor. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-25/greece-warns-of-humanitarian-disaster-from-isolation-on-refugees

    European racism and religious prejudice toward Muslims has deep roots that date back to the crusades. The Muslim refugee crisis has intensified such latent prejudices and it has made the Muslims the scapegoats for all calamities that have fallen on Europe amid contracting economies and slow job and income growth. People would much prefer to blame the Muslims running from their war-torn countries that the West ravaged than their governments and corporations responsible for the crisis in the first place. The US war on terror resurrected racism and xenophobia to new heights and the Muslims are now the new Jews of the Western World. (J.L. Thomas, Scapegoating Islam;http://socialistworker.org/2016/02/08/europes-rising-tide-of-refugee)

    On 25 February 2016, the EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels centered on Austria’s proposal to lock out all refugees from entering Europe by essentially keeping them in Greece. This would mean that Greece, which has lost an estimate 30% of its GDP because of IMF-EU imposed austerity since 2010, would be saddled with the Muslim refugee crisis that many around the world predict would explode into a massive humanitarian crisis very shortly. Considering that one-third of Greece’s population is in effect below poverty and official unemployment is 25% with unofficial rate at closer to 35%, the country would revert to its 1950s status as one of the world’s poorest nations, if the refugee crisis is added as a permanent feature to the rest of the economic problems it is facing.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/25/europe-braces-major-humanitarian-crisis-greece-row-refugees

    Greece simply lacks the physical facilities to accommodate refugees that need housing, hospitals and clinics, food and clothing until a permanent solution is found at the EU and/or United Nations level that seems to be doing very little to solve this crisis. Imagine one nurse per 25-30 patients in a hospital that frequently runs out of bed sheets and all kinds of basic medication. Imagine a country that can hardly feed its own people having to feed an additional one to two million refugees in the next few years.

    The EU expects Greece, a country that is in complete shambles because of austerity, to stem the refugee flow to Europe. Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greek conservative politician and EU commissioner for migration warned earlier this month that the humanitarian crisis in very real amid a deadlock among the EU members on the issue and the US wiping its hands clean and arguing it is a European problem. The irony here is that the entire world knows the culprit is the US that caused the crisis by going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and destabilizing the rest of the Middle East by backing various jihadist rebels from Libya to Syria that eventually turned against the West. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/10/eu-gives-greece-one-month-to-improve-conditions-for-refugees

    Even a number of Republicans have argued that the Obama and Bush administrations caused the crisis in Muslim countries that gave rise to the refugee problem. However, no Republican or Democrat is willing to provide the appropriate humanitarian assistance or accept refugees that the US created. No Republican or Democrat is willing to open the borders for Muslim refugees. On the contrary, there are those like Donald Trump who want to keep all Muslims out and screen them on a case by case basis because the assumption is they are terrorists, even if they are children. Of the 50 states I the US, 31 have declared they will not accept Syrian refugees. If the US refuses to accept its responsibility for the crisis it has created with its allies, and the Europeans are very divided on this issue with Germany playing the role of moderate, this leaves the problem for Greece. http://time.com/4126371/these-5-facts-explain-americas-shameful-reaction-to-syrian-refugees/

    Since January 2015 Greece has been under the SYRIZA Party that calls itself leftist but whose policies are a mirror image of the neoliberal ones that the previous conservative government followed. Under the SYRIZA regime, the country deteriorated faster because the IMF and EU demanded even greater cuts in pensions and wages, even greater cuts in social programs, including health and education, and higher indirect taxes that fall on the masses. On top of impoverishing Greece by imposing austerity, the EU plan according to SYRIZA leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to reduce the country into a refugee warehouse. On 24 February 2016, the prime minister stated: ” We will not accept the transformation of our country to a permanent warehouse for human beings, while at the same time we continue to operate in Europe and at summit meetings as if nothing is happening. We will not put up with a series of countries that not only erect fences on their borders but at the same time do not accept to put up a single refugee.http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/

    Greece is a country that is in shambles politically, economically and socially, and Tsipras is partly to blame because he won election on the promise to end austerity and he has continued it to the detriment of the popular base that elected him. The austerity measures that the Greek government has accepted and the capital flight by the country’s few thousand wealthy people has resulted in the complete de-capitalization and utter dependence on the EU. Instead of leaving the EU and making a fresh start under a national currency, Greece opted to remain under the German-imposed patron-client model of integration. This integration model relegates them to a status not very different from that of the rest of northern Balkan countries. On top of the financial and economic crisis that essentially dismantled society as the Greeks knew it before austerity, the EU imposes a refugee problem on a country that is essentially not much better off than its northern Balkan neighbors.

    As I stated above, most refugees in the world are in fact in developing countries. There are more than four million Syrians who are now refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and even Iraq a country from which people are leaving for the West. Although the EU struck a deal with Turkey not to allow refugees across the Aegean Sea into Greece, the Turkish government accepted the promise of $3.3 billion payment from Europe in exchange for cracking down on the refugee trafficking business that is very lucrative for human smugglers.

    Turkey has allowed about one million refugees through the Aegean Sea and by land into Greece. It is estimated that more than 3000 have drowned and many thousands died along the way trying to reach Western Europe. For its part, Turkey argues that it cannot perform miracles and stop refugees from crossing over to Greece. There are stories of tragic proportion with children having lost track of their parents and continuing to walk across Greece trying to reach northwest Europe only to be stopped somewhere along the way in Eastern Europe because Hungary is adamant about taking any refugees in the country. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/turkey-refugee-crisis-time-europe-action-160210115931274.html

    Much of eastern and northwest Europe as well as the UK refuse to accept the slightly more generous German proposal for shared responsibility. If nothing else, the refugee crisis has fractured the otherwise weak EU solidarity threatened by the UK as well as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and of course the perennial Greek crisis. German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has stated that his country could accept up to 500,000 refugees per year for several years, but he demands the rest of EU share the responsibility. Recognizing that Greece will simply become Europe’s concentration camp for Muslim refugees, the German government is asking for cooperation partly because the crisis has intensified nationalism at all levels and some countries are openly questioning the benefits of staying in the European Union. http://www.ecfr.eu/refugee_crisis

    The tragedy of the US-made refugee crisis in the Middle East that has spilled over into Europe is that a) it will probably take a long time to be resolved and b) the US will continue creating such crises in the near future regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is elected president in 2016. The EU has shown that at its core racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice runs very deep and it is unlikely to change. Muslims are as much the new Jewish scapegoats of Europe as they are for the US. Although anti-Semitism is not exactly erased in the Western World, the new focus of white Christian prejudice is on Muslims whose lands the West has been ravaging since the era of European colonialism in the 19th century. No European leader could win political office advocating a more tolerant policy toward Muslims any more than an American politician can win office without advocating a tough position on the war on terror, a euphemism for the continued military-solution option to US-instigated political crises in the Middle East.

    The US will probably start another military intervention and most certainly continue to destabilize the Middle East under its next president, whether Republican or Democrat. This will lead to a more intensified crisis that will mean more refugees and an even greater humanitarian crisis than we are seeing in 2016. The defense industry in the US is very powerful and the political and ideological orientation toward militarism is deeply ingrained in the culture of PAX AMERICANA. War, intervention and destabilizing governments are all part of a way of life for the imperial America that continues to see itself as the world’s policeman and the world’s preeminent superpower despite its rapidly eroding economic role against the reality of China’s global economic hegemony.

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