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Tuesday, April 17, 2018


For many in the US and Europe, a cynical call for violence posturing as the wrath of the righteous will readily produce a distraction from the urgent issues of our time. Judging by the initial protests of last Friday’s Trump/May/Macron aggression against Syria, far too many have fallen for this hypocritical, dishonest maneuver.

For Theresa May, Conservative UK prime minister, an attack on Syria promises to add to her effort to claw back from the disastrous Brexit vote that wounded her party. Anti-Russia hysteria, unprincipled charges of anti-Semitism lodged against Labour opponent Jeremy Corbyn, and now a missile-administered scolding of Syria’s president, Assad, help her in the polls or, at least, that’s her calculation.

Early in March, Emmanuel Macron’s poll numbers sank to the lowest level since his election. His ongoing attack on French workers and his enthusiasm for bombing Syria are meant to bolster his “tough guy” image. Like May, Macron has little else but austerity to offer workers; hence, manufacturing threats promises to distract.

Trump’s approval rate has taken a nose dive in recent weeks as well. Battered from all sides, Trump needed some love from the war hawks populating both parties. A muscular move against Assad would also signal Trump’s defiance of Putin, the alleged “devil’s handmaiden.”

Of course that didn’t win over the MSNBC/NPR/CNN crowd, the Democrats’ über alles. Schumer and Pelosi saw the trap: the choice between praising Trump for his attack on Syria or rejecting aggression. They, along with most other elected Democrats, performed an exercise of Clintonian triangulation: ‘we want to hit Assad more than anyone, but Trump should have allowed us to call for military action.’

For MSNBC’s Trump-reviling star, Rachel Maddow, Trump bombed Syria for the wrong reasons-- a case of “wagging the dog”-- hoping to distract critics from his domestic problems. She badgers her war-hawk guests to agree that Trump’s war on Assad was not authentic. Implicit is the notion that Trump could have established more credibility by raining greater death and destruction and further baiting the Russian bear.

Easy distraction has led apparently sober, morally-grounded people to overlook the telling coincidence of an alleged outrageous gas attack with the imminent defeat of the so-called rebels in Douma. They see no suspicious connection between Trump’s surprising announcement of US troop withdrawals and a provocation to revoke that decision. And they see no distraction from the contemporaneous cross-border slaughter of unarmed Palestinians by the Israeli military.

They see no calculation in scheduling the bombardment of Syria on Friday, the day before the arrival of the investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who might bring some light to the charges of chemical weapons’ use. And they are too distracted to be puzzled by the US military plan to destroy the facilities alleged to contain deadly gases and consequently risk harming innocent Syrian civilians.

Never mind that the US and its allies could rely upon no more than cell phone pictures and telephone interviews (so called “public source” information) to evidence the claims of a gas attack. It’s an astonishing fact that even though the “rebels” are supposedly democratically-minded allies who welcome CIA aid, no Western news service dares to actively cover their side by employing reporters on the ground. This has been the case with the US’s Islamic fundamentalist allies since CBS’s Dan Rather faked a visit to Afghanistan decades ago. The commitment of “freedom fighters” to “freedom of the press” seems to be wanting.

Oddly enough, the “authoritarian” Assad government welcomes Western journalists, though they-- excepting a CBS news reporter-- prefer the friendly confines of hotels in Beirut, Ankara, and Amman where they have easy access to press releases from the US embassy.

An affinity for distraction leads very many major media corporations to place complete, unthinking trust in UK-based reportage from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It goes unnoted that the Observatory is a one-man show performed by an Assad-hating shopkeeper in Coventry who refuses to share his methodology, but admits to relying on his friends and acquaintances in Syria. Amnesty International, with its usual smug casuistry, judges the Observatory to be reliable, though it bases its evaluation on the same indirect, patchy evidence.

Anywhere but in Syria, these claims, based on second- and third-hand reports, anecdotes, and social media, would fail any and all journalistic smell tests. Imagine NBC News basing coverage of violence in Chicago on the network of contacts of an amateur sleuth in San Francisco.

Film critic Louis Proyect interjects, in an oddly timed article on Counterpunch, that a website dubbed Bellingcat “is perhaps the only place where you can find fact-based reporting on chemical attacks in Syria.” A quick look at the website will reveal some more UK-based amateur sleuths assembling second- and third-hand accounts and social media reports.

True to his film critic credentials, he likens the Syrian “rebels” to “the Arab version of John Steinbeck’s Joad family,” a bizarre innocuousness for the Douma-based, brutal Jaysh al-Islam that former Secretary of State John Kerry once characterized as a sub-group of ISIL. Promptly, the Obama administration was forced to “correct” Kerry, who was ignorant of the head-choppers’ rehabilitation.

Proyect chose the exact moment-- when the honest left was scrambling to mount some public opposition to war on Syria-- to attack the left for its skepticism of the official account, an historically justifiable skepticism given such devastatingly consequential deceptions as the Tonkin Gulf resolution and the 2003 weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco. The military and the security services lie. Skepticism is the only antidote to gullibility.

The one NGO that actually claims direct reportage in Syria, the opposition-based Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) has had its Douma office attacked numerous times by Jaysh al-Islam, forcing its active reporters out of the area.

Unmentioned by the tunnel-vision media, strong circumstantial evidence, Red Crescent confirmation, Kurdish accusations, and a near self-confession has pointed to Jaysh al-Islam employing chlorine gas in April of 2016.

In our era of Entertainment-Tonight-style distractions, of Trump’s sex life, of twitter-duels, of anonymous sources and calculated leaks, a principled, wise statement is a rare and welcome event. Tulsi Gabbard, the Representative from Hawaii addressed Trump with the following:
The people of Syria want peace more than anything else in the world. Attacking Syria will not bring their war-torn country any closer to peace. U.S. military action against Syria will simply escalate and prolong the war, resulting in more senseless death, destruction, and suffering...

If you are truly concerned about the suffering of the Syrian people, then you must do all you can to bring about peace. A US military attack against Syria will expand and escalate this war, increasing their suffering and causing more death, more refugees, and fewer resources to invest in rebuilding our own communities right here at home…

I call upon you to resist the loud calls of war and instead wield the power of the Presidency to help bring peace to the people of Syria, their devastated country, and the region.

Gabbard’s appeal is a stroke of sanity and maturity in a frightening rush to war lubricated by an unprecedented campaign of mass distraction, by the marketing of a Marvel-comic foreign policy.

Greg Godels

Friday, April 6, 2018

Stirring the Energy Pot

Since February of 2017, I have written frequently about changes in the global political economy of energy and the effects of those changes on imperialist rivalries and accompanying political trends: New Developments in Political Economy: The Politics of Oil (2-6-17), US Imperialism: Changing Direction (6-25-17), More on Energy Imperialism (7-26-17), Economic Nationalism: What It Means (12-28-17).

The broad gist of these articles was that (1) the era of global economic integration was severely challenged by the 2007-2008 shock; (2) a technological revolution in energy extraction moved the US-- the leading imperialist power-- towards energy independence; (3) the failure of OPEC and others to rein in US energy production and the continuing sluggishness of growth and trade prodded the US towards a further goal of energy dominance through competition in energy markets; (4) without the burden of dependence on stable, secure international energy sources, US imperialism stepped back from its role as the primary promoter and guarantor of global integration and stability; (5) intensifying competition in the context of stagnant growth fostered the politics of economic nationalism and the promotion of national self-interest in contrast to the politics of globalism.

Since the British navy and other navies converted from coal to oil-burning vessels in the early 1900s and with the burgeoning dependence of modern militaries on oil, securing energy sources has been a strategic centerpiece of imperialist strategy.

It is not too great of an exaggeration to see German expansion in World War II as accelerated by a thirst for reliable energy supplies (Romania, Soviet Union). And the denial of energy resources to the Japanese militarists similarly prodded aggression in Southeast Asia.

For the US, declining domestic production and increasing reliance on foreign oil, particularly from the Middle East, led to greater attention to security and stability in the Middle East. The US established a powerful gendarmerie to police the region: the Shah’s Iran, Israel, and the Arabian petrostates. Billions of dollars of military hardware bolstered these watchdogs at various times in an effort to guarantee stable supplies of oil. US security services worked overtime to install stable regimes in all of the petrostates and their neighbors. US dominance was sealed with the establishment of the dollar as the petroleum-trading currency. The dominance was so complete that the US was able to use low petroleum prices as a weapon against the Soviets during the Cold War.

But matters have changed radically with the technology-enabled explosion of oil and natural gas production in the US.

The New

Writing in The Washington Post (The US is about to be the world’s top crude oil producer. Guess who didn’t see it coming, 3-7-18), Charles Lane reminds us of how matters were before: “During his 2006 ‘addicted to oil’ State of the Union address, President George W. Bush bemoaned imports from unstable parts of the world and called for replacing 75% of Middle East oil imports by 2025.” Bush, like his father, spent great efforts-- lives and wealth-- policing and bullying those “unstable” oil producers.  

Energy writer James Blas explains in Bloomberg Businessweek (The New World Order of Energy Will Be American, 1-29-18) how matters are now, how the US no longer has to “tiptoe around oil supplying nations” whether they are “friends” (Saudi Arabia) or “adversaries” (Venezuela). Instead, “energy dominance” is on the agenda.

Blas notes that the US won the battle for dominance started by Saudi Arabia in 2014 when the Saudis drove the price of West Texas crude oil down to as low as $26 a barrel through massive overproduction, expecting to cripple US shale production. Thanks to huge investments, the shale oil companies survived the attack, cut costs, and roared back. Today growth is faster than pre-2014 when prices for oil were actually much higher. And imports are now below 2.5 million barrels a day, the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1973 (imports were 12 million barrels per day in 2008).

Thanks to geo-political “flare-ups” (generally US-instigated instability), US exports at one point in 2017 hit 2 million barrels a day, mainly to Canada and the People's Republic of China (PRC). Exports are fully expected to grow even more in the future.

Venezuela is Illustrative of the US’s growing interest in disrupting oil markets to its advantage. Through disinvestment and sanctions, Venezuelan oil production dropped nearly 30% last year. Similarly, the US-NATO destruction of Libya has succeeded in disabling its oil industry. The wreckage of the Libyan energy industry means that oil prices would have to reach $78.10 per barrel for the industry to break even. With prices trending well below that number, there clearly is little chance for the Libyan industry to recover, invest, or add to the country’s sovereign wealth.

With massive corruption and an expensive war to finance, Saudi Arabia now needs $70 a barrel to merely break even. Hoping to escape from dependency on an oil regimen, the Saudis had planned a public offering (a sell-off to private interests) of its national oil company, ARAMCO. In the current unfavorable competitive environment, that move has been postponed time and time again.

Formerly a price dove-- the world’s advocate for low oil prices-- the Saudis are now desperate to achieve higher prices. Their escape plan from their losing hand in oil competition-- Vision 2030-- is endangered by modest prices. To reduce supply and increase both demand and prices, the Saudis are a strong advocate for sanctions against Iran, as are powerful energy interests within the US ruling class.

The new, competitive environment has brought forth new, unexpected alliances. Russia-- a frequent foe of Saudi foreign policy-- has recently signed a comprehensive energy agreement with Saudi Arabia. For its part, Russia is offering to take a substantial position in any future IPO of ARAMCO, boosting its prospects (along with a similar offer from the PRC). Saudi Arabia, in return has agreed to invest in Russian LNG projects and Eurasian drilling. It appears that Russia and the PRC are looking to guarantee security, stability, and cooperation among the energy-producing states, a role that the US has now abandoned with its pursuit of energy dominance and a role that is a necessary condition for peace in the region.

Because emerging US oil dominance (and sanctions: war by other means) threatens to disrupt the reliability and stability of existing petro-suppliers, the PRC has begun to negotiate crude-oil futures contracts in renminbis rather than petro-dollars.

Natural Gas

Much of the growing US animosity that is so apparent in US-Russia-PRC relations revolves around competition in the natural gas market. Through political fantasies, sanctions, threats, saber-rattling, and contrived affronts, the US has made every effort to wean Europe away from Russian natural gas, especially the expansion of pipelines to Europe promising consistent supply and favorable prices.

Some Eastern European countries, mired in historic anti-Russia enmity, have welcomed US liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments, constructing new receiving facilities. They accept inconvenience, inefficiency, and higher prices as the cost of the politically motivated anti-Russia campaign. The US is trying to browbeat the rest of Europe into giving preference to US LNG.

But the big prize is the PRC, the fastest growing natural gas market in the world. Both Russia and the US are fighting to supply natural gas: Russia has a pipeline project (GAZPROM) sales agreement to supply 1.3 trillion cubic feet a year, while the US (Cheniere Energy) has contracts to supply 1.2 million tons of LNG per year.

The recently announced selective, very selective US tariffs-- apparently really only against PRC-- likely have a covert motive. US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross suggested that increased Chinese purchases of LNG might have a happy consequence for tariffs by reducing the US-PRC trade deficit-- another shot fired in the energy wars.

Trade Tariffs

The sharpest edge of US economic nationalism is the emerging establishment and threats of trade tariffs. Short of embargo or out-and-out war, establishing disruptive trade barriers is the most hostile posture towards other nations. In the case of a powerful country like the US, tariffs constitute unabashed arrogance. As perceptive left commentators have noted, the US has always pressed its problems unto its weaker “friends,” but not with this hubris.

Lest anyone think this is a ‘Trump’ problem and not shared by fellow Republicans and Democrats, attention should be paid to what others are saying. When Trump announced the first round of tariffs directed at the PRC, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer was quoted in The Wall Street Journal: “I don’t agree with President Trump on a whole lot, but today I want to give him a big pat on the back.”

And Reuters reported on April 1 that Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking in Beijing:

The Massachusetts Democrat and Trump foe, who has been touted as a potential 2020 presidential candidate despite rejecting such speculation, has said U.S. trade policy needs a rethink and that she is not afraid of tariffs.

After years of mistakenly assuming economic engagement would lead to a more open China, the U.S. government was waking up to Chinese demands for U.S. companies to give up their know-how in exchange for access to its market, Warren said.

“The whole policy was misdirected. We told ourselves a happy-face story that never fit with the facts,” Warren told reporters on Saturday, during a three-day visit to China that began on Friday.

Clearly, broad sections of the US ruling class have joined the trend towards economic nationalism.

The implications for peace or war are stark.

Greg Godels

Friday, March 23, 2018

Running Amok

Periods of generalized fear and mass hysteria are not new to the United States. In the aftermath of both World Wars, a virulent Red Scare spread near and far. Thousands were caught in an official dragnet aimed at capturing Communists and other dissenters. At the same time, the government and powerful interests terrorized the rest of the population with fear of incrimination and stoked hatred toward those with ‘dangerous’ ideas. Threats were manufactured.

The suddenly shrunken ranks of principled civil libertarians, those yet to be cowed by the hysteria, saw parallels with witch hunts and inquisitions for good reason. They saw fear spawning outrageous claims and ridiculous charges. The fear of nuclear annihilation contributed to the madness of the 1950s, along with the cultural vulgarity of zombies and vampires. Flying saucers, alien invaders, rock and rollers, fluoride, motorcycle gangs, juvenile delinquents, and defiant atheists added to the terror of that time.

Some saw this as sheer insanity, but behind the orgy of fear was a calculated purging of domestic dissent and a stoking of foreign aggression and intervention, both essential for the crafting of a post-war political and foreign policy consensus. The calculation came easy to wealthy and powerful elements who had absorbed the lessons of the post-Civil War South, an era that nurtured outrageously contrived threats attributed to former slaves. The demonization of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction and after served well as the basis for the virulent racism that protected the privileges of the white upper classes. Fear sustained a terroristic, racist ruling class

Therefore, US elites readily recognize the value of fear-mongering as an instrument of persuasion, as an arm-twister, as a lever of consent. They foresee and secure the eager complicity of the corporate media in amplifying these fears.

True to form, the lapdog capitalist media accept their mission of uncritically following the lead of US policy makers in manufacturing conflict in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, Northern Africa, and, most diligently, the Middle East. Media bought and sold the contrived excuses for invading Iraq without a whimper of dissent. The current Western consensus on Syria is grounded from “reporting” bylined Beirut or Ankara, where US embassy press releases are readily and safely available, or from the claims of a London-based “observatory” that incredibly touts reliable sources from afar in every oppositional town or village in Syria.

The foundation for this perversion of objectivity is fear, fear of ill-defined “terrorism,” fear of Islam, fear of brown people. As a result of this madness, the Middle East is fractured.

The historic success of fear-mongering has emboldened US rulers to offer a further set of demons, another source of great evil-- Russia. At a moment of slack political credibility, at a time of lost confidence in the US electoral process, Russia-bashing is serving as a useful distraction. It’s difficult to discern an evil-inspired motive for Russia to want to destroy our rotting political system when its system resembles our own money-driven, elite-dominated, craven media “pseudo-democracy.” Maybe they hope to retaliate for the US intervention in securing political changes throughout Eastern Europe, especially on multiple occasions in Ukraine. Doesn’t anyone remember US diplomat Victoria Nuland crudely selecting the leaders for a US-friendly Ukraine?

Despite no evidence-- credible or otherwise-- that any real damage has been accomplished by Russian perfidy, the millionaire TV news readers and the screeching commentariat have succeeded in turning public opinion around in a short span. Gallup reports that in the winter of 2010, most US respondents (47%) had a “favorable” opinion of Russia. By a small margin, most people had put aside the Cold War craziness. But by the spring of 2017, 70% of the respondents now had an “unfavorable” view of Russia. A remarkable turnaround based on little more than fear-mongering and innuendo.

Russia-bashing has long since moved beyond the charge of political influence that energized it. Like previous US infections of political hysteria, Russia now causes everything from tooth decay to impotence. One could see it only too clearly in a series of copycat headlines that appeared a week or so ago. BBC, Time, CNN, Reuters, The Times, ABC, and a host of other prominent media outlets featured a close variation of the headline Putin Ordered a Passenger Plane to be Shot Down. Some headlines were more shrill than others, some added that he called off the hit, but the lasting impression was that the callous Putin was about to order a commercial passenger plane to be blown up with the death of many innocent people before backing off. For those who bothered to read on, the plane was believed to be directed by a terrorist and heading for the Sochi Olympic games. Action was called off when the threat proved bogus.

Given that the emergency procedure would be and is a commonplace with any competent security service, it is difficult to understand why so many news services chose to highlight such an insignificant Putin anecdote, except to exploit the existing anti-Putin mindset.

No opportunity is missed to further expand the fears of a Russian plan to destroy the US, though no one has exposed a credible motive.

Nearly all previous fright orchestrations have parlayed fear of a foreign “enemy” into a domestic crackdown-- threats from Reds abroad mean threats from Reds at home, for example.

So far, the RussiaGate fanatics have seemingly sought few domestic leftist foes to boil in oil.

That may be changing.

An unlikely witch hunter, the iconic liberal Southern Poverty Law Center, served up a pot-boiler conspiracy theory linking the “Brown” with the “Red”-- the so-called “alt-right” and the anti-imperialist movement. The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left wing resentment, authored by Alexander Reid Ross, a geography graduate student at Portland State University, pretends to expose a kind of united front between left and right knitted together by dark forces involving Putin, Rasputin-like Russians, and Russian “soft-power networks.”

Ross expresses his debt to an intellectual godfather, an anonymous self-styled anarchist blogger, “Vagabond,” who devoted 46,000 words in January to a meandering, unhinged attack on the US left for its “crypto-fascism.” Oddly, the acid-tongued Vagabond even castigates his sycophant, Ross, for posting on Counterpunch-- the “red-brown cesspool.”

A sample of Vagabond’s writing captures its ominous, conspiratorial tone:
Now, why should the Stalinoid/Marcyite WWP and the PSL be shunned, apart from their obvious history of genocide denial and support for atrocities, lies in their alliance with fascists. The difference with Ross and the Marcyite parties is that Ross, while unfortunately published by CounterPunch, does not himself collaborate with fascists while the Marcyite parties are active collaborators of Lyndon LaRouche and Duginists.

The supreme irony of this innuendo-laced diatribe is that it is so reminiscent of the language of the attacks in the late 1960s on the National Welfare Rights Organization and the Marxist left by the National Caucus of Labor Committees and its guru Lyn Marcus-- the aforementioned Lyndon Larouche. Like Larouche, Vagabond equates sharing a position on a public issue, any and even the most casual associations, or even attending a meeting or conference with the sin of “active collaboration.” This ‘gotcha’ politics was once solely the posture of the McCarthyite right, but has now become a signature feature with phony ‘antifascists’ like Vagabond and Ross.

Sadly, this charge of “red-brown” alliance seems to have gained traction in some anarchist and ‘antifa’ circles. In contrast to Vagabond’s shrill rants, Ross chooses a slightly more measured tone, referring to the imagined left-fascist connection as “syncretic”-- “syncretic networks,” “syncretic news sites,” “syncretic figures,” “syncretic hub,” etc. Despite the attempt at academic-sounding cosmetics, both authors share the goals of guilt by association, of slandering the left.

Unshorn of the dubious web of ‘associations,’ the argument at the center of the attack-- if it can be dignified by calling it an argument-- is quite simply and transparently invalid:
The ‘fascists’ or ‘alt-right’ supports a multi-polar world

The Russians support a multi-polar world

The left supports a multi-polar world

Ergo, The ‘fascists/alt-right,’ the Russians, and the left are in alliance or, in a “syncretic” relationship.

Repeatedly, Ross (and others) build their case around the allegation that support for a multi-polar world-- a world without one solely dominant power-- is the tell in demonstrating underlying alliances, common networks, or sympathies. It must never occur to those seeing conspiracy that people could support the same end-- a multi-polar world-- for vastly different reasons. It must never occur to Ross, Vagabond, and their ilk (or the Southern Poverty Law Center) that the rational alternative today to a multi-polar world is a unipolar world like the one envisioned by the ruling class of the US. US elites brashly claimed that world for themselves after the demise of the Soviet Union, costing those standing in the way millions of lives.

But it is futile to reason with pathologies.

To add the illusion of seriousness, Ross supplies the reader with a pretentious network ‘map’ that obfuscates more than it clarifies, a Venn diagram that is not a Venn diagram, and a “conceptual model” that is a Venn diagram. The point of this exercise is only to present the Far Right and the Hard Left visually as overlapping or interlinked, just in case the narrative proved too convoluted and tenuous to suggest such a conclusion.

It is a curious picture, displaying a bizarre caricature of the left and singling out only those elements of the left that challenge the current US foreign policy line: active measures against Russia, Assad’s Syria, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, and others. From Black Agenda Reports’ Margaret Kimberley to ANSWER’s Brian Becker, outspoken anti-imperialists are labeled as part of a “red-brown” network. Workers World Party, Party of Liberation and Socialism, and even the Green Party’s presidential candidate, Jill Stein, are allies of the fascists in this demented picture. The leading anti-imperialist organizations, the ANSWER Coalition and the United National Antiwar Coalition are similarly charged with ‘brown’ affiliation.

Of course the glue that binds these individuals and organizations to the hard right, in the estimation of Ross and friends, is Russia, its foreign policy, and especially its media arms-- RT and Sputnik. An appearance on either medium guarantees the “red-brown” disgrace.

For those in power, for those who crafted the imperialist policies that brought death, destruction, and chaos to the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and a host of other countries troubled by US intervention, an attack on the small, but dedicated “red” US left could not be more welcome.

History has shown that the vaunted liberal US values of fair play, due process, measured judgement, presumption of innocence, etc. are only credible when they are exercised under duress. Civil liberties are of greatest use precisely when they are most unpopular.

History also shows that in the most challenging times, in times of witch hunts and inquisitions, few liberals will step away from their comforts in defense of their values. Liberal fidelity runs thin.

With the endorsement of Ross’s baseless slander of the anti-imperialist and Marxist left, the Southern Poverty Law Center adds another chapter to that liberal history of disappointment, hypocrisy, and spinelessness.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has, on March 14, taken down the Ross posting. It is no longer accessible. In place of it, an “Explanation and Apology” has been posted that is neither an adequate explanation nor a sincere apology for the contemptible views originally posted. As SPLC sees it, “the article did not make the “point as clearly as it could or should have”, an explanation worthy of an adolescent caught in a fib. Further, the apology is extended to “those who believe they have been falsely described in it…”. There is no concession here that they have been falsely described. In my view, this weaselly “correction” only underscores the treason of the liberals in these dangerous times.

Greg Godels

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Collapse of the Center, Where is the Left?

With both the Italian elections and the German effort at a so-called “Grand Coalition” in the recent news, much attention has turned to political developments in Europe. For those of us in the US, interest comes not only from the impact of European politics on our own affairs, but also from the fact that US and European trends have often traveled parallel tracks.
For example, in much of the post-war period, governance in Europe has revolved around two centrist political poles that can be roughly characterized as Christian democracy and social democracy. Insofar as both poles defend capitalism and oppose Communism, support capitalist institutions, and are content to peacefully alternate rule, they mirror the US two-party system without the stricter institutional backstops that preserve the electoral system for the Republican and Democratic Party in the US.
Certainly, the Western European political systems were nominally multi-party after the war, but the dynamics of those systems steered political developments toward the center. The far right was appropriately neutered by the discrediting of Nazism and fascism as a consequence of World War II. The revolutionary left-- the Communists-- were overtly and covertly thwarted by the Cold War, the NATO consensus. Where the Communists enjoyed formal legality, the centrist parties, the US, and the NATO allies worked hand-in-glove to deny participation in government.
While both European Christian democracy and social democracy were firmly committed to the capitalist course, social democracy wittingly served as a buffer against the attraction of a workers’ state by advocating a kind of faux-socialism, a socio-economic safety net. As an insurance policy against the ascendency of European Communist Parties, Christian democracy tempered the right’s conventional economic liberalism of minimalist government, unfettered markets, and austere budgets, grudgingly accepting social spending and a more “humane” social contract.
Frustrated with the de facto barrier against Communist parliamentary success, many European Communist Parties began a process of concessions, of shedding revolutionary principles and prospects, creating a left-social democracy dubbed “Euro Communism.” A few Parties resisted this opportunistic path.
The demise of the Soviet Union and the European socialist states proved to be a watershed for European politics and, particularly, the left. The Euro Communist left, stripped of its untenable raison d'être-- Communism without Communism-- collapsed, leaving a void to the left of social democracy. Social Democracy, in turn, cast off faux-socialism for public-private partnership under the direction of monopoly capitalism: markets, and not social policies, were to provide for the masses. And, without the threat of Communism, the right returned to its fundamental character, aggressively pressing unrestrained class politics: anti-unionism, fiscal austerity, deregulation, privatization, and chauvinism.
Without the fear of Communism, capitalism found no need for an accommodation with the working class.
In the 1990s, Continental Europe followed the path blazed in the UK and US over a decade earlier by the Thatcher/Reagan axis. Faced with shifting alignments and the 1970s failure of Old Labour/New Deal policies (specifically, the Keynesian economic framework underlying both approaches), a new consensus began to emerge in both countries.
From the mid-1980s into the next decade, the new consensus spread to nearly all major political parties and around the globe. In its essence, it was a return to Whiggism, the political, social, and economic ideology of the bourgeoisie: parliamentarism, negative rights, and the economic liberalism of minimal regulation, preference for private over public initiative, and markets as decisive of all matters and in the last instance.
Pundits are fond of labeling this development “neo-liberalism,” a statement of the obvious. But the superficiality of that term obscures the fact that the turn is more than a mere policy. In fact, it is a response to the failings of the previous consensus and it constitutes the capitalist norm when the specter of Communism does not loom large over the future.
Social democrats in the US and Europe promoted the notion of a “third way” to mask their capitulation to classical capitalism and its totalizing influence over all aspects of society, over every global nook and cranny. In fact, after the demise of the Soviet Union and its socialist neighbors, there was the one way in the US and EU.
With capitalism marching triumphantly into the twenty-first century, most of the US and European left conceded that capitalism was resilient and here to stay. An inflated memory of a kinder, gentler capitalism might be the best that could be imagined.
But the triumphant project ran aground, crashing on the rocks of economic crises. The capitalist accumulation process imploded in 2000 and, again, even more severely, in 2007-2008. “Recovery” re-established accumulation, but left millions of broken, desperate people in its wake. Inequality, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, insecurity, and alienation afflicted millions in the US and the EU (and, of course, the rest of the world). Capitalism recovered, but the people did not. For the people, the entrenched ideological options of conservatism and social democracy offered only the thin gruel of austerity.
Mesmerized by rising equity values and restored profitability, and impressed with the growing wealth and well-being of the bourgeoisie and the visible and vocal petty bourgeoisie, ruling elites labor under the illusion that all is going well. In Europe and the US, the never-changing meal of celebrity-worship, sports, anti-social social media, and other distractions nourish a false sense of security and satisfaction.
But in towns and villages, neighborhoods and suburbs, people are suffering. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictions are taking a demographic toll, unseen by high-income, physically segregated elites. As insecurities and dysfunctionality grow, millions feel a growing difference-- an often poorly expressed class difference-- between the beneficiaries of the capitalist economy and themselves, the losers.
Anger seethes.
Without the compass of a revolutionary ideology, without the vision of socialism, this anger remains unfocused, directed vaguely at government, the media, existing political parties, and, too often, convenient scapegoats.
As the anger emerges politically, it is met with elite derision, contempt, or condescension. It is seen by their “betters” as a product of the uneducated, the backward, the uncultured. As Hillary Clinton so famously put it: “the deplorables.”
The insularity of US and European elites-- divided from the masses by culture, social practices, power, status, and wealth-- leads directly to the political crisis that spawned Brexit, Trump’s election, the rise of “populist” or alternative political parties, and most decidedly, the discrediting of historically centrist parties. This last week’s desperate attempt to preserve a coalition of the center in Germany and the collapse of the center left and the shocking success of the Five Star Movement and extreme right in Italy only underscore the distance between the masses and the political parties carefully crafted by the bourgeoisie to contain the aspirations of those masses.
Behind these political developments lies a stagnant, sputtering global economy. It is apparent that segments of the ruling classes are uneasy with or reject the globalist ideology of open markets and are moving towards economic nationalism. The failure of growth to return has led many in the capitalist class to call for a change in direction: protectionism. The emergence of support for nationalism and protectionism has energized the Euro-skeptics, the extreme right, and Trump.
Of course, the other side of this political coin is the failure of the left, especially the left that is yet untainted by the stain of ineffectual social democracy. For the most part, the non-establishment left has failed to deliver a militant, persuasive message to the working people in Europe and the US. And where there is a still a credible militant Communist left, the waters have been muddied by false prophets-- for example, SYRIZA in Greece.
In many countries, the retreat from Marxism became a rout after the fall of the Soviet Union. In its place, ideologies like anarchism, utopian socialism, and cooperativism-- ideologies that had long been discredited by Marx himself-- are revived. The peculiarly North American mania for procedural democracy-- the view that justice will flow spontaneously like a natural spring when we unleash a radical version of Robert’s Rules of Order-- has returned to prominence as shown by to the now collapsed Occupy movement. And of course, left-lite liberals immerse themselves in the battles for self-identity and against “micro-aggressions” while minority identities are actually ravaged by the macro-aggressions of class war and capitalist exploitation.
In light of recent poor electoral showings, some have sought to explain the sorry state of the US and European left as a result of structural changes in capitalism. They see a new working class, the “precariat,” as superseding the traditional proletariat (even The Wall Street Journal has fancied the term). The “precariat” notion derives from the realities of a changing workplace of part-time, contract, temporary, and dispersed employment, an optimal realization of the classical liberal economic dream. This trend in employment has made organizing workers difficult, certainly more challenging than with the world of the traditional worker engaged in one lifetime or semi-lifetime job under a factory roof.
Of course, the structural changes cited are, to a great extent, the result of the failure of trade unions and political parties to defend the interests of workers against predatory capitalists. Moreover, the difficulties that these changes bring forth are obstacles to union organizing, less so to political parties. And history teaches that establishing militant political parties precedes organizing militant trade unionism. No task before the union movement today presents greater impediments than was the task of building industrial unions in the US in the 1930s. The challenge of establishing the CIO was only met, was only possible, because of the leadership and effort of Communist and socialist workers.
Needed is the return in influence of historically informed workers’ parties that draw upon the social theory of Marx and the organizational insights of Lenin (that is to say, parties that reject the backward Cold War dogma of Anything but Communism), Without the strong option of Communist or Workers’ Parties, the European and US working class will continue to face the repellent choice between decadent, rotting centrist parties and a host of new charlatan parties offering fool’s gold policies, magic elixirs, and vulnerable scapegoats. 
Only an independent, working class-oriented movement informed by Marxism-Leninism can provide a “third way” apart from the disaster of free-market globalism or the trap of economic nationalism.
The old saw that workers deserve their own party is more true today than ever-- an authentic anti-capitalist party that returns to the revolutionary legacy surrendered to opportunism and parliamentary illusions.

Greg Godels

Friday, February 23, 2018

Patriotic Paranoia

.....  I find the view… that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective, but dangerous as a guide to political action.
This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another… country; this routine exaggeration of... military capabilities...: this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another... people...; ...this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of…[their] conduct and our own, this failure to recognize, finally, the commonality of many of their problems and ours...: and the corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims;  these, I believe, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power...
And we shall not be able to turn these things around as they should be turned, on the plane of military and nuclear rivalry, until we learn to correct these childish distortions... If we insist on demonizing these… leaders -- on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear and hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction -- that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them, if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else, either for them or just us.
The above, edited-for-clarity quote comes to me courtesy of a thoughtful friend, E. Martin Schotz, and is taken from George Kennan’s 1982 book, The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age. Kennan is widely recognized as one of the architects of the Cold War. His post-World War II writing on the supposed Soviet threat spurred the US policy of containment. Some thirty-five years after he helped spark a wasteful arms race that threatened to destroy the world, Kennan had the powerful second thoughts reflected above.
I purposefully excised the references to the Soviet Union in the Kennan quote with the hope that others might see how unerringly Kennan’s words capture US foreign policy today towards our newly contrived “enemies.” Without much imagination, one could credibly substitute the names of countries that have been anointed “incorrigible enemies” of the US in recent years: Cuba, Yugoslavia, Serbia, Iran, Venezuela, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Russia, China, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Unfortunately, despite George F. Kennan’s never-too-late regrets, the arrogance of empire remains a deeply embedded disposition of US ruling elites. The frequent and persistent wars of aggression underscore the Marxist-Leninist thesis that a reach for dominance over all rivals or those daring to show independence is an essential, inescapable feature of mature capitalism.
If we take seriously Marx, paraphrasing Hegel, asserting that history repeats “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, then we must believe that we live in times of frightening absurdity. The irresponsible demonizing of Milosevic, Saddam, Gaddafi, or al-Assad has tragically sacrificed well over a million lives to US and NATO aggression, but the painting of Russia, DPRK, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) as absolute evil today reaches previously unimaginable levels of madness and danger.
Last week’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities only underlines the vacuity of the Mueller investigation. Over nine months of probing, interviewing, and developing evidence has produced (1) an  admission of lying to the FBI by General Flynn, an indictment based on his efforts on behalf of Israel (and not Russia), (2) an indictment of Rick Gates, a lobbyist, fundraiser, and political operative accused of working unregistered for a previous Ukrainian government, (3) an indictment of a bigger fish, Paul Manafort, who for four decades represented any and every shady international character with the wherewithal to pay his fees. He, too, was accused of failure to register, laundering money, and making false statements, practices that occupied him for his whole career, (4) a guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, a bit player with an ego far larger than his résumé, who habitually met with any contact that he could impress that he was a “player,” (5) an indictment of and guilty plea of Richard Pinedo, an internet hustler who stole identities (any connection to Russia was “unwitting”), and most recently, (6) the guilty plea of Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who earned a brief imprisonment by lying to the FBI about the date of his last meeting with Gates, placing it in mid-August instead of September.
For a fishing expedition, the taxpayer-funded Mueller excursion has landed few trophies. Until last week’s indictment, it was hard to find anything importantly connecting Russia, the Russian government, or the highest levels of the Trump administration. No doubt the paucity of connections or evidence of “collusion” spawned the latest indictments.
But even assuming that there is evidence forthcoming to back up the latest Russian indictments (they are, of course, merely formal charges unless prosecuted), it is more than curious that there is no direct claim of linkage either to the Russian government or to the Trump presidency. Instead, we have a charge that a wealthy, well connected caterer has established an organization dedicated to injecting information onto social media and, in a few cases, staging modest political events in the US. This, surely, is a far cry from the primary mission of the Special Counsel: to establish “any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.…”
Judging by last Friday’s indictments, one might be inclined to view the machinations of Concord Catering, the Internet Research Agency, Concord Management and Consulting, and their alleged mastermind, should the charges be true, as very much akin to the private operations of the intrusive NGOs funded by billionaires George Soros or Bill Gates in numerous countries. In all cases, wealthy individuals use their resources to change the direction of target countries in ways that conflict with the current leadership.
As weak as the Mueller investigation has been, it continues to stimulate a hungry news media bent upon demonizing Russia. And there are plenty of pundits and opinion-makers ready to accommodate.
One of the most ridiculous “contributors” to the RussiaGate fiasco is Harvard Law professor, Laurence Tribe. A liberal icon with academic and policy gravitas, Tribe claimed, according to Glenn Greenwald, that Russian President Putin may have been responsible for the death of an important, conspiracy-related person in a recent airliner crash in Russia. Tribe never bothered to verify that said “victim” was on the flight. He wasn’t. But never mind.
Thanks to the RussiaGate hysteria, the FBI and CIA now enjoy more credibility than at any time since the heyday of Joe McCarthy. The Pew poll reports that, for the first time, Democrats now have more confidence in these illiberal institutions than do Republicans.
Both the Washington Post and NPR have found their own FBI expert in the person of a three-year veteran of the agency, Asha Ranappa. Now serving as a lecturer at Yale University, her articulate, confident voice and intoxicating earnestness make one forget that a very brief tour as an agent hardly constitutes expertise on the history and workings of the FBI any more than my three high school years selling shoes in a department store make me an expert on the shoe industry. Nevertheless, the attractive Ranappa is the darling of the networks, even Comedy Central. She’s not above discussing with an interviewer that she was voted “America’s hottest female law school dean.”
In a Washington Post op-ed published earlier this month (and in a more recent NPR interview), Ranappa enthusiastically defends the FBI against the highly publicized Nunes memo. She rests the argument on a tissue of weasel phrases-- “would have,” “could include,” “would probably have,” “suggests that” and so forth-- that amount to a “just-so” story and not a robust defense of the FBI. She emphasizes the fact that FISA warrants are difficult for the FBI to acquire and renew. They are not. Out of 35,529 FISA requests for electronic surveillance from 1979 to 2013 only 12 have been denied! Unless one zealously believes that the FBI never oversteps its bounds, this speaks poorly for the scrutiny of a secret process by a secret court and Ranappa’s faith in the process.
On the thin basis of the Nunes memo, Ranappa stops a “could have” short of accusing Carter Page-- a target of FBI surveillance-- with being a Russian spy: “...the memo suggests that the Trump campaign could have had an active Russian spy working as a foreign policy adviser.” [my italics] No one but Ranappa has gone beyond collusion to lodge such a serious charge. In better times, without new evidence, this would surely be grounds for libel.
These are not better times.
Of course, the trusted FBI, working diligently with Mueller and feeding gossip to the mainstream press, failed abysmally to find and thwart the 19-year-old mass murderer in Parkland, Florida, despite multiple alerts from private citizens and a Facebook threat with the perpetrator identified by name! It never dawns on the pundits in the monopoly corporate media that these devastating, catastrophic errors suggest a more universal incompetence.
This failure did not deter NPR from offering the following inflammatory headline: “As An American Tragedy Unfolds, Russian Agents Sow Discord Online.” The source for NPR’s sensational story accusing “agents” of “sowing discord” over the Parkland shootings is a well-financed website dubbed Hamilton 68. As Julian Assange points out, H68 is less a watchdog over Russian propaganda than itself a source of propaganda. Its leaders and advisors are veteran Cold Warriors and intimates of the US national security apparatus, less-than-independent, less-than-objective monitors. Curiously, the identified ‘Russian agents’ that they monitor are the state-supported news and entertainment agencies that Russia has established internationally. They are only “agents” because the US government has insisted that RT, Sputnik, and others now register as such. Supposedly, the same logic would apply to NPR-- itself a government-supported news and entertainment agency. ‘Agents’ are lurking everywhere!
But the reigning award for Russia-baiting must go to former Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra, who has maintained that two years ago he overheard Vladimir Putin discuss grandiose plans to create a Greater Russia hacked out of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When it was demonstrated that he could not possibly have overheard any such comments, he backed off and claimed that he had overheard a friend who had overheard… The ensuing kerfuffle forced his resignation.
Finian Cunningham reminds us that former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski also claimed that he personally overheard Putin express similar expansionist plans in 2008. He, too, was forced to retract, labeling his claim as a “surreal joke” (Sikorski is the spouse of the rabidly anti-Soviet, anti-Communist Washington Post pundit and Cold Warrior, Anne Applebaum).
And now (2-20-18, Code Red for America), The New York Times resident village idiot, Thomas Friedman, weighs in with a host of hyperbole: Russia presents “the biggest threat to our democracy today,” “ undermine the very core of our democracy,” “ poison American politics.” In his servile mind, “Our FBI, CIA, and NSA, working with the special counsel, have done us amazingly proud.”
Is it war that Friedman wants? He asks that “we bring together our intelligence and military experts to mount an effective offense against Mr. Putin-- the best defense of all.”
Russiaphobia and Putin-fever continue to reach absurd levels.
China and the DPRK
The PRC is also a target for hysterical patriot paranoia. FBI Director Christopher Wray, addressing the Senate Intelligence Committee, explained: "One of the things we're trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat on their end, and I think it's going to take a whole-of-society response by us." With this tortured “whole-of-society” explanation, the Director and his staff see danger from Chinese students, visitors, scholars, businesspeople, athletes, and entertainers-- all would-be “collectors.”
Presumably, US students, scholars, businesspeople, athletes, and entertainers (the “whole-of-society”) should be vigilant and active against the Chinese threat. Another step towards a vigilante society.
Predictably, The Washington Post picked up on this bizarre forewarning with an op-ed from the breathless Josh Rogin. Rogin expands the Chinese machinations into a “massive foreign influence campaign” (China is Infiltrating US Colleges, 2-19-18). Quoting the deranged Marco Rubio, Rogin sees a nefarious plot to implant a pro-China bias in innocent, vulnerable students and faculty in the Chinese university-affiliated Confucius Institutes. Established as a language proficiency and cultural link to US higher education, Rogin and his friends see a conspiracy lurking behind this innocuous facade.
Rogin offers a curious and contradictory defense of campus free speech: “Confucius Institutes must… yield full control over curriculum to their American hosts and pledge not to involve themselves in issues of academic freedom for American or Chinese students.”
Protecting “academic freedom” by denying it!
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is no newcomer to demonization. It has long been on the US and EU lists of “evil” actors despite neither owning foreign military bases nor pursuing any overt aggression. More than any other country, DPRK foreign policy revolves around the simple demand that they be left alone. The only official corollary to their isolationism is the goal of Korean unification.
Nonetheless, the US and some of its allies have been picking a fight with DPRK for several decades. As tensions mounted, the DPRK made overtures to the new Moon government of the Republic of Korea, including several highly publicized, well-received gestures surrounding the Winter Olympics.
A promise of peaceful, rational discourse was met with a feverish mania in US ruling circles and with their media servants. The Washington Post called the demure DPRK visitor to the games, Kim Yo-jong, “the Korean Ivanka Trump,” a witless comparison that serious people should find embarrassing.
Justin Peters, writing in Slate, gives the DPRK cheerleaders a proper smart-ass thrashing: “Why did the cheerleaders make the trip? Because North Korea is an oppressive totalitarian state that hopes to use every facet of its involvement in the Pyeongchang Games for propaganda purposes. The objective is to project strength, confidence, and unanimity, in the process extending the influence and stability of the Kim regime.”  He offers his explanation for their prowess: “I suppose it is easy to mastermind mosaics on a large scale if participation is compulsory and missing your cue carries a hideous punishment, but, still, impressive stuff...To be clear, the cheerleaders’ enthusiasm is likely compulsory and the cheerleaders themselves are surely being monitored ceaselessly by state minders during their stay in Pyeongchang.”
Not to be outdone, The Guardian gave a slightly different spin: “At the end of each row, older male minders sat still for the entire game, a reminder that despite appearances, these women were also prisoners of one of the most brutal regimes in the world.” (Check out the video supplied by The Guardian and see if you can find the elusive “male minders.”)
But The Independent deviates from this slave/prisoner narrative. The cheerleaders are not intimidated into their cheerful performances, they are “picked for having the right ‘ideology.’ They are closely vetted to ensure that they’ll properly represent North Korea both at home and abroad, according to local reports, through a process that checks whether they’re related to Japanese sympathisers or defectors.”
Clearly, the corporate media do not know what to do with the DPRK cheerleaders-- The New York Post headline exclaimed: Kim impersonator a hit with North Korean cheerleaders, while the infamous Washington Free Beacon headline disagrees: North Korean Cheerleaders Were Not Impressed by Kim Jong Un Impersonator. Skye News thought the cheerleaders were ”appalled” and Reuters saw them as “caught off guard.”
Like the media lapdogs who, generations ago, demeaned any spark of humanity exhibited by Soviet citizens, today’s patriotic “journalists” stamp out any hint of human sentiment or empathy towards the “enemies” anointed by the imperialist state.
As the US empire recognizes its decline, it engages in more and more desperate means to shore up the sinking credibility of its institutions. The compliant media, two political parties that can only agree on manufactured enemies, and even a spineless left, join in conjuring evil spirits in need of an exorcist. Unfortunately, we live in a world of destructive, devastating weapons that threaten the very existence of the planet. As George Kennan’s belated apology reminds us, the folly of demonizing, fostering manufactured enemies, fear-mongering, and bear-baiting court disaster. We are well along that destructive path.
One can only hope that wiser heads will emerge and call for a retreat from this course.

Greg Godels