Monday, December 31, 2007

Fresh Gust of Bipartisanship

One reason for my prolonged absence from this blog is that the news doesn't particularly merit comment (not that it did when I was blogging...), but this was amusing.

The latest news cycle has featured a good deal of buzz on the possibility of a Mike Bloomberg candidacy. A few retired Democrats are supporting him--but why? A cursory reading is instructive:

Mr. Bloomberg himself has become more candid in conversations with friends and associates about his interest in running, according to participants in those conversations. Despite public denials, the mayor has privately suggested several scenarios in which he might be a viable candidate: for instance, if the opposing major party candidates are poles apart, like Mike Huckabee, a Republican, versus Barack Obama or John Edwards as the Democratic nominee.

While it's quite revealing that Huckabee, an avowed economic populist, is the only Republican mentioned as unacceptable (to Mr. Bloomberg, one assumes), ultimately, this is nothing more than a (pre-Iowa) threat to Democrats who dare consider an alternative to Hillary Clinton--that is, if you attempt to engage in democracy, we will crush you.

How charming that a third party candidate is running on a platform of 'bipartisanship'; although it is understandable, given that the common mind cannot choose between more than two flavors.

Friday, March 16, 2007

On Freedom & Violence

One of the central arguments of this blog in the past few months has been that the disconnect between elite and public opinion on issues of economic, foreign, and military policy are evidence of a systemic deficiency entrenched in the heart of American (and, by no coincidence, European) democracy. Sociologist William I. Robinson has called the American system "low-intensity democracy"; the democracy America "promotes", by means diplomatic and military are, therefore, correspondingly superficial.

Perhaps it is obvious at this point to most of my readers that the bromidic self-infatuation of neoconservatives and their like-minded "liberal internationalists", who have, quietly, pushed out most opposition in the executive and legislative halls of power could not possibly be sincere. Sovereignty and democracy couldn't be goals of the Iraq invasion. Any kind of democratically-elected Iraqi government, free of foreign influence, would see a law like the one governing Iraqi hydrocarbons, designed by foreign oil companies and the US and British Governments, as detrimental to the country's already poor economic situation, not to mention its sovereignty. The response to a democratic election in Palestine, yielding a victory for Hamas, has also been instructive: democracy is only valid when it benefits US (and, where applicable, Israeli) interests. All other democracy is unacceptable, and should be crushed.

This approach is not specific to the Middle East. Low-intensity democracy, as per Robinson, is not only a domestic reality--it is the model that elite US interests would like to impose on all other countries. The veil of popular participation is a boon to interests that would like to separate all true decision-making from the democratic process, allowing, as it does the vague sense of a better future--thus the important role played by liberals, as I have noted. Some real manifestations of this system would be a government that responds to public disgust and rejection of an illegal war by escalating that war, or a government that, in times of expanding wealth divides and crushing poverty, furthers the very policies that created the situation in the first place.

For instance, a $9 trillion national debt, a good portion of which finances the aforementioned unpopular and illegal war, will indeed have to be paid over time at some point in the future. Like a previously hidden flat tax (by amount, not rate), servicing such a national debt have dire effects imposed on a population that with already negative savings (this is not to mention the coming period of stagflation which many believe to be unavoidable). Flat taxes (by rate) are seen by many as among the most regressive forms of taxation possible. A flat tax by amount isn't even discussed, because it would be even more crushing on non-wealthy classes, and hence politically suicidal (even in a low-intensity democracy). But, by stealth, a national debt functions as just such a flat tax. Did anyone ever vote for it?

The economic future of the West seems grim, and that is largely caused by the lack of meaningful democratic choices on economic issues. If voters think that the billions in tax cuts, loopholes, and subsidies for particular industries with little public accountability or transparency should instead go towards meeting employment, environmental, educational, and health care needs, for whom can they vote? What effect can be expected of a Democratic Congress? What reward can they expect? A slightly higher but still sub-poverty minimum wage?

If a voter does not support the uncontested flow of taxpayer dollars into the violation of international law, by the state itself and its most prized allies, for whom can they vote? If a voter doesn't like paying for a war in which his/her child, or neighbor's child, is killing and dying, for whom can they vote? Or should they just shut up?

Decision-making, the province of true democracy, cannot be accountable to public will for the corporate project to proceed. For economic (and foreign) policy to be molded to the generation of ever-higher profits at the expense of the environment and human lives, at some level people can't have control over their governments. Votes are no longer for economic or foreign policy (if they were, most western countries would be significantly further left than the left wings of their avowedly left parties), thus the rise in import of "cultural" issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and the like. The focus of political debate on bigotry, from Islamophobia to the emergence of nativist anti-immigration sentiment, homophobia, latent institutional racism in the criminal justice system and so on can be connected quite effortlessly to this decline in democratic choice, as it was in the interwar period in several European nations (current far-right parties may overtly draw inspiration from these precedents). The focus of political discourse on hatred is a common diversionary tactic in times of incompetence, impotence and corruption. Neoliberalism and racism, corporate interests and violence are umbilically connected.

In some possible world, all of this would perhaps be acceptable if the current economic model, empowering private tyrannies, were capable of creating economic and international stability. Thus far, contrary to the pretensions of free market devotees, the track record is one of minimal success. Why? Scholar John McMurtry says this:

The deepest confusion is the equation of private money stocks to “capital”. Real capital is wealth that produces more wealth - from ecological services and social infrastructures to scientific knowledge and technologies that produce life goods. All have been subjugated to private money-capital which produces nothing. Few recognize that money-capital is not real capital, but demand on real capital by private money-stocks seeking to be more. So every form of life capital is sacrificed to the growth of money capital concentrated in in the possession of about 2% of the population who always have more than the bottom 90%. This is not an economic order, but a system of predatory waste called “wealth creation”.

There would be less cause for alarm if any governments (besides the oft-mentioned and sadly marginal Latin American exceptions) were attempting to turn back this tide of plutocracy and imperialism. Of course, they are not, and the elite fealty to the growth of corporate profit, which at the same time externalizes environmental and human costs, has only had the effect of deepening existing inequalities--accordingly, the future is not hard to forecast. State failure may indeed have a strong correlation to market failure

The absence of economic security does not bode well for the possibilities of economic and political democratization in the coming decades. Perhaps it is this very paradox that characterizes the aims of reactionary governments like that of the United States; its economic policy benefits its own "base", which also laying the ground for a further curtailment of the moribund American democracy/simultaneous seizure of power. In his January 11, 1944 State of the Union address, FDR said as much:

"True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made."

Something to think about.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Congressman Gilchrest, Meet Lord Churchill

Here's a gem:

"What the British are doing, and what we really need to do, is to tease out the cultural complexities of this thing," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.). "On the one hand, they are signaling to all the Iraqi people, whatever sect they are -- Sunnis, Shias, Kurds -- they are not going to be an occupying force. That's a powerful signal to send. And the other signal is that they are passing the torch to the Iraqis, who are the only ones who can handle this ancient -- I'd say primitive -- sectarian dispute."

Remind me again, Congressman Gilchrest, did you vote to allow the invasion and occupation of this primitive, savage land?

Never mind that since the event that Shi'a Muslims mark as the martyrdom of Imam Hussein in the seventh century AD, there hasn't been any comparable dispute between Sunni and Shi'i Arab inhabitants of Mesopotamia. Never mind that Iraqis being tortured by other Iraqis or by Americans, asked "are you Sunni or Shiite?" may never have been asked such a question before the Anglo-American invasion. Once upon a time, Iraq was a secular state. Never mind that, despite this "ancient -- I'd say primitive -- sectarian dispute", there was (at least before CIA-backed strongman Saddam Hussein came to power) a relatively high proportion of Shi'i politicians and military officers in places of power in the Iraqi state. Never mind that this "ancient -- I'd say primitive -- sectarian dispute" wasn't raging before the Anglo-American invasion. So how primitive is it?

American lawmakers, and indeed many Americans in general, tend to see the Middle East as a land of perpetual violence and nonstop hatred (as with Webb's remark). They would be surprised to know that the Muslims are actually human, and many (I daresay most) would prefer to live their lives in peace. But this is a necessary illusion, because it extricates the US Empire from any blame in the tragedies daily facing the locals.

Such rationalizations are but a step away from this:

"I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes."

Divide-and-rule is an old imperialist trick. The west has used it on Iraq (and much of the Middle East) for nearly nine decades. The Iraqi people shouldn't be blamed that it is finally working. The west should be congratulated.

The willful ignorance necessary for such racist criminals to continue their fantasies of the wisdom and beneficence of the white man is astounding, as usual.

The Case for Reparations

As the stench of Bush-era Washington gradually spreads to envelop a globe where hypocrisy is the modus operandi of governments and the corporations they serve in every corner of the globe, Americans need to understand that they are not a uniquely noble people. The cultural malaise that has led to widespread abuses of "sand niggers" in Iraq cannot be blamed on Iraqis themselves; the democratic deficit that has led to a classic nineteenth century policy of spreading democracy and enlightenment to brown-skinned lands cannot be blamed on Old Europe. America is a dying nation, and it digs its grave almost happily.

Americans need to admit that they were lied into attacking Iraq, lied into killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and that the only acceptable penalty for such glaring stupidity is that they must pay massive reparations to the Iraqi people. The case for reparations is made with every suicide bomb explosion in Baghdad, every crisis, every death. If we take the median number of deaths for the Lancet study, the generally accepted estimate of deaths linked to US-UK sanctions after the first Gulf War, and the casualty figures from that first war, the West has violently killed some 2 million Iraqis, which is ten percent of the country's current population. A combined 3.5 million have been displaced within Iraq and in neighboring nations.

Imagine if Iraq had waged continual war on the United States from 1990 to the present day, and an estimated 30 million Americans had been killed, with 50 million more forced from their homes. Would reparations not be in order?

This war was about establishing a neoliberal colony in the heart of the Middle East; the (probably illegal) policies of Proconsul Bremer and the local raj that followed him have hollowed out Iraq's economy just as structural adjustment has done in countless Latin American, African, and Asian nations. Early on in his tenure, Bremer ended tariffs placed on food imports, an act that destroyed the millenia-old Iraqi agricultural tradition and has made the country completely reliant on other countries for its very survival. The food crisis in Iraq, like the alarming figure of deaths and displacements, can only be solved through reparations. Reparations are recognized under international law and laws of war as the appropriate penalty for an act of aggression by a wealthy state against an overwhelmingly poor one. This does not mean paying American companies to go to Iraq, hang out for a few months, and then leave without doing the reconstruction they have been entrusted. It means giving money to Iraqis and letting them do what they will. Even the widespread corruption in the Iraqi government (which began with the Bremer-led CPA) cannot be worse than that of the kleptocratic American reconstruction industry; as my fellow Iranian Reza Fiyouzat says in his recent tour-de-force, "in this day and age of post-industrialism, not even electricity is provided to the conquered peoples! That's how inept western imperialism has become. It can only destroy and do nothing more."

In any case, there is still profit from the veneer of reconstruction, with characteristic American superficiality--much as destruction has become a multi-billion dollar business, reconstruction has emerged as an industry to scoop up the second helping of profits from American state terror. This has been documented by various excellent journalists. The reconstruction industry can be seen as the natural extension of the military-industrial complex, long the jewel in the crown of American state capitalism. The cyclical nature of destruction and reconstruction allows for indefinite government investment, and thus indefinite private profits, often at the expense of any real reconstruction--but who cares? Ultimately, no one is going to see it except for the natives. Brilliant.

From a legal perspective, reparations should be required. From a moral and completely practical perspective, the billions spent thus far on reconstruction have not been effective--thus, reparations should be required. Reparations are the only humane way for the criminal American political class to contribute to stability in the country they have (most recently) destroyed. Any purportedly ethical discussion of withdrawal cannot leave out this issue.

Keep in mind, however, that on this issue, the US Congress (not to speak of the murderous MBA branch of government) isn't interested in even the standard ethical artifice; in fact, take note that "credible" mainstream resolutions on the de-escalation of the Iraq War do not call for full withdrawal of all troops (vs. "combat troops"). The relevant legislation put forth by heavyweights like Clinton and Obama call for redeployment. The corporate media, loathe to speak the truth, and the public usually unable or unwilling to seek it have not yet discussed the important differences between calls for withdrawal and redeployment (that last link is good for a laugh). There is a difference, and it has to do with something called oil.

The vapid, simple-minded narrative that "a new strategy" is justified because the United States has already invested plenty of "blood and treasure" in Iraq, and if Iraqis don't want to play nice, then we can't make them. It is nothing but repetition of the racist mantras necessary for the continuation of empire, as it presumes that the intentions of such an investment were noble, whereas the investment itself has been made entirely to the benefit of American capital. This is so glaringly obvious that members of Congress couldn't possibly talk about it.

Withdrawal isn't justified because Iraqis are too depraved to deserve American violence. It is justified because the war was a criminal act in the first place. It is justified because it what the Iraqi people, living under occupation, overwhelmingly want. This too should be obvious.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Commerce in Death

Whether or not the Bush Administration's extremely, even hilariously hypocritical belligerence (subtly aided by a criminal media) towards Iran is a precursor to a devastating regional war, it (along with the destabilization brought about by its occupation of Iraq) has had its effect. Gulf Arab states, with economies buoyed by the high oil prices--in large part caused by the war on Iraq--and paranoid about Iranian (and domestic Shi'i) retaliation in case of an American attack, not to mention these governments' concern about their own restive, impoverished populations, are engaging in a military spending bonanza mostly benefitting American death merchants.

The lionized Senator James Webb, supposedly a voice of anti-war reason in Washington, called the Middle East "a region that has never known peace." Aside from the glaring racism (and requisite historical blindness) of such a comment, the irony, in light of the unprecedented multi-billion dollar profits for the American church of brutality, cannot be missed. Indeed, as has been noted, time and again, most if not all of the violence in the Middle East comes at the behest (and benefit) of "US interests." To call a land that you are destroying "a region that has never known peace" is like calling Rodney King "a man who has never known law."

Whether or not this was a primary rationale for the Bush era destabilization of the Middle East (and you can examine where neocon think tanks get their money yourself), it certainly has been a major effect. This escalating regional arms race, while almost exclusively benefitting the American military-industrial complex, ominously portends a militarized future for the Muslim world. But, in the service of capital, the victims of US aggression don't exist; put succinctly, they are unpeople.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Forgive My Feeble Mind (If, Indeed, It Is Feeble)

Addenda to 'Illusions & Hopes' nonsense:

If I didn't make it clear, essentially the point is that it is government policy that has made the very existence neoliberal model possible. The effect is to remove economic policy from transparent and democratic purview (which is essentially impossible in traditional models of representative democracy, in any case), but the act of removal can only be carried out with the aid of governmental institutions in the first place. Chandra & Basu explain in this article (also linked somewhere in the original series of 'Illusions & Hopes' posts):

[I]t is the state as the instrument of politico-legal repression that facilitates neoliberal expansion. Firstly, the state intervenes with all its might to secure control over resources - both natural and human ("new enclosures") - and secondly, to ensure the non-transgression of the political into the economic, which essentially signifies discounting the politics of labour and the dispossessed from affecting the political economy.

Simultaneously one can note that billions of dollars of government expenditure go into generating private wealth in the forms of publicly-funded research (taking place both in public entities like the NIH and countless institutions of higher learning and in private companies as in the aerospace and computer industries, to name a few) which is then passed on to private entities and sold for profit. National policy has similarly been shaped around the inefficient use of automobiles since the 1920s, and especially since the Second World War, a huge government endeavor birthing American life as we know it and representing the major source of profit for the US oil industry.

Noam Chomsky has aptly called this a system of socialized cost and privatized profit (highly recommended link). Hence the most profitable areas of the alleged "free market" of neoliberal acclaim, despite the harpings of corporate media, essentially represent a rentier-class benefitting from a particularly cruel, inefficient and destructive model of state capitalism--and due in part to its inefficiency and destructiveness, it is expansionist by necessity. The imperial character of American state capitalism is accordingly subsidized not only by the American public (as noted before) but by the people of "occupied" (and occupied) countries. In a mind-numbing array of directions, the costs of neoliberalism (American military action being interpreted as simply another arm of global capital, as is apparent in the legislative agenda of occupied Iraq) are nearly all borne by publics, which are nonetheless ignored by their governments.

As such, governmental policy can also be made to reverse the economic and humanitarian crises brought about by the Washington Consensus and the international financial institutions that promote it unrelentingly. In some Latin American countries, this has taken place; the poverty rate in Venezuela has been halved during the 8-year tenure of Hugo Chavez, despite the best efforts of that country's wealthy classes. In Argentina, worker-owned factories have represent a real alternative to the profit-driven production model of private capital, and in Brazil, despite Lula's apparent capitulation to the IMF and capital in general, useful models of participatory budgeting had been developed by his party in Porto Alegre in 1989. These advancements are significant not only in themselves but as means of building the base of knowledge and self-confidence of the working classes in these countries and showing alternatives to the world.

Of course the specifics of a post-capitalist globalization are as hazy to me as they are to anyone (if not more so), but it's pretty fascinating (and probably crucial) that many people are coming up with--and actually employing--alternatives.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Raimondo Is Wrong

I admire Justin Raimondo the editorial director and intrepid columnist for the indispensable antiwar.com, for his tireless dedication to truth (and for his ability to get paid for writing), and I'm grateful for his existence, but he is completely wrong on two counts.

Raimondo has been supportive, even zealous, in his promotion of the (Chuck) Hagel for President boomlet which has derived from that Senator's perceived opposition to the Iraq war. Fair enough. Hagel has gone further than most Democrats in his criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war. Regardless of whatever regrets Hagel may have, he did vote for the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq (2002)--as did a number of Democrats, of course. He is also a strong ally of the Pentagon, as Raimondo notes, and therefore of the American right to develop/maintain the means to eternal, apocalyptic violence. These two facts should be enough to convince any war critic, especially those of a libertarian bent, like Raimondo (an issue to which I'll return), that Hagel may not be the ideal peace candidate.

On top of this, add the fact that Hagel has a sordid past, having been the chairman (and maintaining part-ownership) of a "company that owns the company that installed, programmed, and largely ran the voting machines that were used by most of the citizens of Nebraska", as Thom Hartmann wrote in 2003. Hartmann goes on to note that eighty percent of his state's votes were tallied by the company's machines in Hagel's 2002 re-election, which the Senator won with...roughly eighty percent of the vote. This caused quite a bit of a scandal in 2003-2004, which seems to have died down--one wonders, what was the resolution? The scandal, after all, had less to do with Hagel's part-ownership in the company than with his having originally failed to disclose the fact. Nonetheless, it's not the stuff that peace candidates are made of; one can imagine that Hagel, as president, may end the occupation of Iraq, but will he do anything to reform the systemic defects that brought about the initial war and have allowed it to continue?

In Raimondo's belief, there seems to be but one such systemic defect responsible for the American invasion and occupation of Iraq: Israeli influence in US politics. He wants to disabuse us of "the tired leftist idea that this was a war for oil,'" since "I don't see any oil flowing"... "This war was about one thing and one thing only: advancing Israel's interests in the region." So, the oil industry hasn't seen any profits resulting in a rise of oil prices that might have begun in March 2003, right? And pre-existing Iraqi hydrocarbons laws haven't been changed to allow production sharing agreements in which the lion's share of initial profits go to the foreign companies investing in the Iraqi oil sector, right? And the Energy Task Force that Cheney won't talk about was just using this map as scratch paper to try out a fun new crayon set, right? And the fact that the US hasn't gotten Iraqi oil production back to pre-invasion levels proves that the war wasn't about oil, right? Future profits also don't matter to oil companies, right?

Right.

Mr. Raimondo may not have seen the record profits achieved by the oil industry in each of the past two years; they do not entirely result from the war in Iraq, but they're not independent of it, either. The fact is that whether or not the invasion of Iraq was a was a war for AIPAC/ Likud's view of what constitutes "Israeli security" (of course it was, to a degree), it also simultaneously served the interests of enormous US oil corporations and the neoconservative designs for perpetual American hegemony. The execution has been flawed, largely because of the immense, stultifying ignorance and arrogance of the involved parties. But to say that "[t]his war was about one thing and one thing only: advancing Israel's interests in the region" is a simply whitewash. The effect is of such rhetoric is, whether intended or not, to return the US image to its pedestal, by claiming that it has fallen so far only because of another country.

The imperial designs of Cheney et al. are generally long-term, though the profit motive is mostly short-term. American control of Iraqi oil, and positioning in the heart of the "arc of instability" allows for indefinite US control of the resources China and India (and the whole world, in fact) will need to develop. For a government headed by former oil executives to embark on a war in Iraq without considering all of the above is absolutely unthinkable.

Dilip Hiro, an excellent journalist who has recently written a book called "Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources", says as much.

The US and Israel are close not just because of the Lobby (which as I have myself indicated plays an important role in regulating discourse in the US), but because they actually share geopolitical interests. This should really be axiomatic at this point.

A problem with Raimondo's American brand of apparently conservative libertarianism is that without a critique of the political influence of multinational corporations in modern politics, and their effective control of the global economy, resistance to modern states is relatively toothless. If you can't recognize that the inherent structure of political power in the world and especially in the United States rests largely in the hands of private capital, and that by virtue of this fact nothing that happens in domestic or foreign policy is independent of the interests of said capital, then you're just tilting at windmills. (Raimondo may say that the multinational corporation is in fact an outgrowth, or indeed a creation, of national governments--that is fair, and I don't disagree.) There is a major systemic flaw besides Israeli influence that led to the Iraq war, and it ought to be addressed if future wars in the Iraq model are to be prevented.

This is why supporting Hagel as a peace (or at least antiwar) candidate would be short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating (totally separate from his apparent antidemocratic credentials), as it will do nothing to beat back the culture of militarism that allows governments to wage illegal wars of choice nor will it limit the increasing confluence of private capital and government (a little something Mussolini called fascism), nor will it target the inequalities that said confluence preys on to sustain itself. I concede there may be no other choice for the anti-war movement, barring one of the allegedly "viable" Democrats currently in the race re-positioning due to pressure from the left (as Obama has already done, to a degree), or a run by Al Gore. In any case, even successful electoral politics by the anti-war movement will only be a bandage on the gaping deficiencies of US democracy that led to the crimes against peace that are the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that Raimondo knows this.

Illusions & Hopes of the Undead Age (Part Three: A Choice Is Presented)

In short, the Economist article touches on two issues that certainly do play a role (enabled by government) in keeping labor value below that of the cost of living in the developing world, but at the same time it completely writes off that even in the countries supposedly gaining from corporate globalization, like China, India, Kenya, South Africa, etc., foreign investment has exacerbated pre-existing environmental, humanitarian, and socioeconomic problems (in fact the former two have long violated key parts of the Washington Consensus, as did all other countries that ever actually developed, but that is neither here nor there). Those costs can be written off.

Although I am not convinced of the vice-like grip of "theory" on historical events I am becoming quite certain of the inevitability of the collapse of the capitalist system (the former is among the major reasons that I refuse to call myself a Marxist-Leninist, along with my reservations with regard to the Leninist tradition of democratic centralism--which is a seed of totalitarianism--and the latter is one of my reasons for nevertheless admiring Marx's critique of capitalism).

This is why the Economist article is particularly grating; in attempting to assign the perpetual misery of the working class to inexorable forces beyond government purview, like "technology" and "globalization", it fits neatly in the neoliberal model of expropriating economic policy from any accountable, democratic control and placing it in the hands of totalitarian institutions, namely multinational corporations, and instruments of neocolonialism, namely international financial institutions. If technology and globalization are the only answers to the question of why wages have stagnated (and real wages have declined), then the average worker can't do anything to make his/her life better. The assessment works to preserve and perpetuate the system (I don't know whether this is intentional or simply a reflex).

The global scale of this emasculation of democracy is the real reason for the declining worth of wage labor in developed countries, and it could be reversed if governments were to take control of their economies once more. This is not a "retreat" from the process of globalization, but a democratization of it. At the same time, political systems cannot function as binaries responsible for no real choices (thus relying more and more on fascist/jingoist/messianic rhetoric and Madison Avenue magic). Of course the opaque worthlessness of electoral systems the world over is simply symptomatic of their lack of control of politics over economics, but dead-end free-marketers will tell you that true democracy lies not in the demos but in the agora, unfettered from popular control (try telling them about the billions of dollars of state support in every productive sector of the US economy from high technology to pharmaceuticals to agriculture to ranching while they rail on the "distortions" caused by things like minimum wages and subsidies for the poor).

Their model, which has been empowered for decades, represents tyranny, with concordant results available for examination. Governments have shown, as the Democrats did with their pathetic minimum wage hike, that they don't understand what is happening to the world, or that they simply don't care. There are numerous alternatives that must be explored, but for immediate relief for the billions of poor on this planet, activism and nonstop political pressure are the recourse. Political actions can be taken to make globalization and technology work for labor--and therefore humanity--instead of capital. It is largely a matter of who controls their development.

Otherwise, the forthcoming decline of service-sector employment in the Global North due to technological advancements, the irreversible toll of Global Warming laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, local issues of pollution (water and air quality, access to food, etc.), massive poverty in the Global South and vast enclaves of South-dom in the North, and a "balance" further towards capital (in real terms) than at any previous time in human history ensure that the corporate model of globalization actually will inevitably self-destruct, either by wiping out humanity or by spreading so much misery as to guarantee massive social upheaval.

Take your pick, I guess.

Illusions & Hopes in the Undead Age (Part Two: Capital's Strawmen)

Naturally, the racial dimension of poverty in the world's wealthiest political/economic unit is also completely overlooked by such vague, corporate discussions of "balance" typified by the Economist piece; nearly 25% of the African-American population in the United States is under the extremely limited poverty level mentioned above. That means, of course, that when real costs of living are taken into account, the poverty rate among American blacks is considerably higher--but, even at 25% in poverty, the rate is comparable to that of poor countries of the Global South (and it's pretty bad in the Global South).

Not to overlook the rest of the above corporate sophistry; the debate on technology/globalization as the source of ever-lowering labor value, while a near-complete red herring meant to disguise the fact that inequitable wealth distribution is predominantly a result of plutocratic government policy, is interesting nonetheless--perhaps by virtue of its very function. Technological advancements will likely wipe out a great deal of service jobs in the United States alone in the next two decades. Unemployment driven thusly will create a larger unoccupied labor pool which will in turn serve to drive down the value of labor. Globalization has served for the past decades as a means of removing corporate "externalities" like environmental degradation and miserable labor conditions away from the consumer base so as to both take advantage of lower labor value and poor-to-nonexistent labor/environmental safeguards in the Global South while also being able to reduce the interaction of the consumer base with production (for more on the global-scale environmental destruction caused by rapid Chinese development, read this).

While much about labor and environmental issues arising from globalization has been widely noted by every radical/dissident (and some "progressives") under the sun, the issue of separation between production and consumption is overlooked more often, though it is worthy of attention: using the vast Chinese labor pool, for instance, allows not only ridiculously low consumer prices (which, as shown above, still can't be met by millions of people in the world's wealthiest political/economic unit) but also allows corporations themselves to became more and more capable of relying on manufactured as opposed to real images to market themselves. Regardless of this particular upside for capital, globalization will continue to hold down labor markets in the Global North while preying on the vulnerable ones in the Global South, and will continue to cause economic crises, like that of Argentina 1999-2002, in any countries that actually follow the Washington Consensus.

If the forces of global integration and technological advancement were controlled not by tyrannies for profit, but by transparent, democratic governments accountable and recallable to their polities, then globalizing forces could conceivably raise living standards by using the comparative advantages of various states synergistically (see Venezuela and Cuba) and technological advancement through even marginal public funding compared to what is spent on the joke missile defense shield in the US could make renewable energies economical in a matter of years and rapidly reduce carbon emissions much sooner than simply relying on "the market". Just in case you were wondering, this happens to be necessary for the survival of humanity. Moreover, technology may take many jobs, but it can create new ones, depending on how it is shaped by policy. The necessity is simply for that policy to be democratic.

Illusions & Hopes of the Undead Age (Part One: Or, Things Are Looking Up For Wage Slaves!)

True to form, here's a useless argument found in a January issue of The Economist:

For economists, the debate about whether technology or globalisation is responsible for capital's rewards outpacing those of labour is crucial, complicated and unresolved. One school, which blames globalisation, argues that the rocketing profits and sluggish middling wages of the past few years are the long-lasting results of trade, as all those new developing-country workers enter the labour market. This school says that technology helps workers by increasing their productivity and eventually their wages. The opposing school retorts that technology does not increase wages immediately, and some sorts of information technology seem to boost the returns to capital instead (think of how much more a dollar's worth of computing power can do these days). And it questions whether Western incomes will remain flat: recent wage rises in America and pay claims in Europe and Japan may start to reverse the balance back away from capital.

It has been pointed out repeatedly in dissident media that even when the new minimum wage increase is fully implemented (over the next two years), it will only amount to a roughly $15,000 annual salary for a full time, 52-week-per-year minimum wage worker. This is actually thousands less than the US government estimates to be the national poverty level for a family of three, and as you'll see, even this number represents a significant miscalculation. In 2007, the official federal poverty rate (measured in terms of annual income) for a family of three is $17,170 as set by the Department of Health and Human Services; this poverty rate, nonetheless, is calculated primarily on the basis of the minimum cost of three meals a day, not taking housing, health care, transit, clothing, and other basic necessities of a decent modern life into account. Paul Street notes this, citing an Economic Policy Institute study that calculates these additional costs and accounts--as the federal rate does not--for geographic variations in the cost of living, establishing what it calls the 'basic family budget'. In Casper, Wyoming, Street notes, the basic family budget is $24,948. One would be hard-pressed to find a lower-cost location, and nonetheless the basic family budget is over 50% more than the federal poverty rate. Street also quotes Martin Luther King's 'Time to Break a Silence' speech: “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Spending on violence and the injustice it defends, as is obvious, is nowhere near spending on peace and justice.

So, full-time minimum wage work ever after the new minimum wage increase is less than the federal poverty rate and significantly less than the real minimum cost of living (note that, still, Republicans and many in the business press are kicking and screaming). What does this mean?

The new minimum wage increases still maintain government sanction for extreme sub-poverty wages. The optimism of the "opposing school" referred to in the Economist article would seem to be somewhat misplaced; the so-called "balance", by design, will remain strongly on the side of capital, and the nominal tweak by the Democratic Congress will not be enough to meet the minimum requirements of almost any minimum wage earners. Can we even discuss "balance" while nearly 50 million people in the world's wealthiest political/economic unit have no health care? Or while the government congratulates itself for raising a subpoverty wage to a slightly higher subpoverty wage? Or while nearly a quarter of the federal budget is spent on violence (as opposed to the mendacious figure of 4% of total GDP bandied about by dime-a-dozen hawks in government and "free" press)? Or while nearly 16 million in said political/economic unit live in deep poverty?

This is wage slavery without even the minimal, self-serving frills imagined by Henry Ford. And a supposedly progressive Congress is pushing it and taking credit for it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Wretched Kabuki (Part Two)

The cases of Jimmy Carter and Wesley Clark's run-ins with the Zionist lobby display that whether you're a former President with unquestioned humanitarian credentials and a Nobel under your belt, or a four-star general proven to be as ruthless as any American hero, you can't just say what you want in the US. Carter's book and Clark's statement about "the New York money people" weren't necessarily important in their criticism in Israel--indeed, both attempted to go out of their ways not to criticize Israel. Carter claimed that Israel is "a wonderful democracy" when, in fact, that is not so clear-cut, as I have also pointed out and Clark went out of his way to say that "the Jewish community is divided" which it is.

If the crimes of Carter and Clark were not simply in their ire towards the actions of the Israeli state, why have they invited such sustained indignation from the lobby and the American punditry/academic community whose function is ostensibly to be pro-Israel?

It is not that they criticized Israel, which they attempted not to do; their crime is, in fact, that they criticized the lack of debate about Israel policy within the United States.

Ever so briefly, these two men lifted the Wizard's curtain and pointed to the fact that there is something ominous about the narrowing of acceptable dialogue in a purportedly democratic country, that something was not right about the fact that special interests not only dominate government, but that they dominate the public sphere so completely as well. Until now, the machinations of AIPAC and the corporate/elite origins of its funding had not been commented on in polite company. That these men highlighted that fact is the primary reason for the viciousness of the responses they have received from the likes of Alan Dershowitz.

Cracking the ice on the topic of the Israeli occupation is useful; if it weren't, I wouldn't expect Dershowitz to enter the fray with his tiresome brand of charlatanism. Public debate could lead to a genuine reassessment of American policy there, though it is unlikely that the current model of representative government would change its policy, which includes the shipment of armaments and fighter jets to a state as it is conducting air raids on a neighbor, attack helicopters while it is conducting campaigns against an occupied population, and sanctions against that occupied population when they vote for someone Israel (and by extension the US) can't co-opt as easily as their predecessors, followed by shipments of arms to the aforementioned rival faction within the occupied population to exacerbate tensions which have precipitated in the deaths of twenty individuals over the past week. If a country other than the United States were following such a policy, it would rightly be denounced as criminal in the United Nations, and appropriate action would be taken. The veto powers have precluded that from ever happening (though even a majority of the American public is willing to give up a Security Council veto, interestingly).

While government policy towards Israel would likely not change, popular action could take place in the forms of boycotts and pressure for divestment (and other political and economic pressure), which are all currently being discussed and promoted by numerous activists. Citizens' pressure could have an effect in an age when government has no interest in true stability or justice, as foreign policy has been corporatized.

In the absence of democratic foreign policy (since its inception), the United States has long been (since, let's say, 1945) the world's leading state sponsor of terror.

Foreign policy, be it with regard to an aggressive ally or the indirect violence of neoliberal globalization, is not remotely a matter that can be effected by elections. Not only is this the case in the United States. Take the evidence of Brazil, where a coalition of grassroots movements elected a formerly poor union organizer only to have him abandon their aims. The state is not only unwilling to be accountable to its citizens when it comes to international relations--it won't even hear of alternatives. Apparently, there is no alternative.

How long has it been that way? Have you noticed it?

What is to be done?

At the risk of sounding repetitive, the crisis of democracy in the West, as underlined by the shift towards anti-democratic, authoritarian, unaccountable foreign policies, is systemic and can only be solved by grassroots action. The state, corporate, academic, and trade union structures that have become glorified orchestrations of democracy over a foundation of (sometimes) subtle tyranny can be circumvented by the organization and action of citizens, in a truly deliberative, ground-up democratic fashion. On issues economic, environmental (often in response to 'development'), political and humanitarian, even with regard to Israel, people are attempting to do just this. It isn't easy, and there are innumerable pitfalls. But a democratic future requires concerted democratic action in the present.

"Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?"

A Wretched Kabuki (Part One)


Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?


These were the pronouncements of a dyed-in-the-wool (no pun intended) Iraq war supporter on the eve of the invasion. No need to discuss the inherent lies in this straw-man argument. I've done enough of that. I'd only like to point out that the invasion and occupation of Iraq represent a failure of democracy, not a triumph of it. The current situation proves it beyond a doubt by any rational assessment, as I've pointed out. I'm not going to link to my previous comments, because I've actually linked to them a couple of times before (you know, the polls showing that Americans and, above all, Iraqis want an end to the American occupation while Bush has shown a disdain for such public sentiment), and it's getting seriously passé.

That the neoconservative future, as an arm of corporate globalization, relies upon generalized, unrealistic dichotomies and the production of otherness (in this case, of the Muslim world vis-à-vis the civilized West) is illustrated thoroughly by bombast like that of Michael Kelly. What is interesting is that, as the (overtly, at least) belligerent side of the neoliberal project which supposedly has designed a postnational (multinational) future, neoconservatism actually relies upon the reification of national borders, nationalism, and ultimately racism towards all that is subaltern; there are subtle collaborations in this process by some natives, but the effect is nonetheless dehumanizing. The Lou Dobbs wing of the immigration debate in the United States, with its parallels in Europe, also reflect this essentially bigoted side-project of globalization (often referred to as a "reaction to", overlooking its sanction by the major conglomerates benefitting from so-called "free trade"). As a cultural enterprise, it is but one act of the kabuki for popular consumption (the above article is highly recommended).

Now that we have that out of the way, I'm going to talk about Israel/Palestine (again).

In the mind of the American information consumer, there can only be one kind of political discourse about Israel--namely, shrill competition for the crown of most hawkish. Legislators, administration officials, and prospective candidates struggle to define themselves as more supportive of Israel, while not mentioning what, exactly they support Israel in doing. Vaguely, there are references to Israel's security, without any real discussion of what that security requires (or entails).

Thus, Americans have a very limited sense of what's good for their own country with regard to Israel and, similarly, they have perhaps no sense of what's actually good for Israel. But, if they have the time to pay attention, they know what their politicians are saying.

John Edwards, on the fictional "Iranian threat":"Iran must know that the world won’t back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table."

Hillary Clinton, same topic: "U.S. policy must be unequivocal.  Iran must not build or acquire nuclear weapons….We have to keep all options on the table…."

Wes Clark, same topic: "How can you talk about bombing a country when you won't even talk to them?" said Clark. "It's outrageous. We're the United States of America; we don't do that. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the military option is off the table -- but diplomacy is not what Jim Baker says it is. It's not, What will it take for you boys to support us on Iraq? It's sitting down for a couple of days and talking about our families and our hopes, and building relationships." (note that he was slammed for this)

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, same topic: "Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, there's no doubt about it. There's no debate among experts. It's seeking a nuclear weapon at its plant at Nantz." (there's actually no evidence of that)

Newt Gingrich, same topic: "[C]itizens who do not wake up every morning and think about possible catastrophic civilian casualties are deluding themselves. Three nuclear weapons are a second Holocaust. … I'll repeat it. Three nuclear weapons are a second Holocaust. … Our enemies are fully as determined as Nazi Germany and more determined than the Soviets. Our enemies will kill us the first chance they get. If we knew that tomorrow morning we would lose Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, what would we do to stop it? If we knew that we would tomorrow lose Boston, San Francisco, or Atlanta, what would we do?"

Mitt Romney, same topic: "Soviet commitment to national survival was never in question. That assumption cannot be made to an irrational regime [Iran] that celebrates martyrdom."

George W. Bush, same topic: "All options are on the table."

While Clark did, before being forced to backpedal, have something going for him, he mentioned keeping "all options on the table", as did John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush. Transparently, this only means one thing: 'we reserve the right to nuke Iran when we want.' I've pointed out that this kind of talk is actually in contravention of the UN Charter (not to mention the NPT), a violation of international law, and in fact an act of terrorism. But in the context of a political campaign, really, anyone (Bush, Edwards, Clinton, Clark) willing to say such a thing about a totally fictitious threat to a purring audience for political gain is too dangerous to be near any kind of real military power.

One needn't point out the obvious hypocrisy of denying the Iranian right to peaceful enrichment guaranteed by the NPT (the only thing that can be proven to be going on) on the grounds of protecting a state that has a sizable nuclear arsenal of its own, outside of any legal framework or monitoring.

In general, all of this talk of Iran before ultra-Zionist audiences, while ignoring facts proving that there is no Iranian threat, is quite dangerous/irresponsible because it buys into the neoconservative fabrications, thereby reinforcing them. People believe what they hear, even if it's a lie. This is obvious.

It is, however, only a recurrence of the double-standard leitmotif present in all such discussions of Israel, be they in front of Zionist audiences or television cameras. Witness the following:

Condoleezza Rice, on "the need for a partner for peace": Obviously you can't be a partner for peace if you don't recognize the right of the other partner to exist even, and so it's extremely important that those conditions be met. But there would be nothing better than to have all Palestinian factions united around a program that is -- that accepts the past obligations of Palestinian leaders and past agreements.

Condoleezza Rice, on "Israel's right to defend itself" as it was forcing the dislocation of 25% of the Lebanese population: "There is a great concern on all sides about civilian casualties. There is a great concern about damage to civilian infrastructure. I don't think that there is anyone here who would say that Israel does not have a right to defend itself. And I think that everyone here would note that the extremists who are attacking not just Israel, but the very foundation for peace need to be stopped."

Hillary Clinton, on the "separation wall": "This is not against the Palestinian people," Clinton said as she gazed over the massive wall. "This is against the terrorists. The Palestinian people have to help to prevent terrorism. They have to change the attitudes about terrorism." (Compare this to Amnesty International's initial report on the wall's effects, before much of the impact was realized/the path of the wall was changed.)

Israel, while being the occupier, is innocent and cannot be condemned. Palestinians, with no state or acceptable infrastructure, "have to change the attitudes about terrorism." It sounds reasonable, but it's actually totally vacuous on the political level, coming, as it does, along with an endorsement of the illegal separation wall, 80% of it built on Palestinian territory, making everyday life next to impossible.

The effect of media selectivity and the double-standard (effective not only on the issue of Israeli occupation) applied either knowingly or not by all office-holding or office-seeking politicos has had the effect of completely aestheticizing the issue of American support for Israel and leaving the substance in the hands of interested parties. This wretched spectacle of inspired brutality, an exaggerated competition between those would-be pious American supporters of Israeli crimes, is a cynical ploy that directly prevents peace from ever becoming a possibility. AIPAC can be blamed, as it has, for the lack of public debate, but American politicians are complicit. Blaming the Lobby and the Lobby alone becomes a nationalistic veneer that overlooks these crimes of ambition.

This is standard form, and it insults the intelligence of the American whose tax dollars pay for the wall and the violence always required by land appropriation. The debate on Israel is managed by deliberate ambiguity, skewed stories, and other media tactics, which mostly take care of public opinion. The lobby also enforces this management, especially in opinion-making circles and Congress. This has all been demonstrated for some time in the dissident media. But if the pro-Israel consensus is bipartisan, how would the American public even know that there is a debate to be had on Israeli policy?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Politics of Outrage, &c.

The coming weeks will, in large part, determine the fate of the Iran, the Middle East, and the world. While the likelihood of an American attack on Iran is great, it is not a foregone conclusion. In saying that, however, it is important to note that there is nothing that the US Congress or the American people can do to stop the Bush regime and assorted neoconservatives in the Pentagon from launching their long-awaited aerial assault.

Congress, especially the Democratic leadership, though it is "conducting itself foolishly"--as Israeli General Oded Tiran recently said, is essentially powerless. The lone congressional resolution that is being debated that would hinder the administration's ability to attack Iran is known as Walter Jones Resolution or HJR 14, which states: "Absent a national emergency created by attack by Iran, or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran, upon the United States, its territories, possessions, or its armed forces, the president shall consult with Congress, and receive specific authorization pursuant to law from Congress, prior to initiating any use of force on Iran." Needless to say, there are few co-sponsors of this resolution and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, having already declared her support for military action before an AIPAC conference (scroll down to read the speech itself, and go here for more), seems intent on preventing the resolution from coming to the floor.

Even if, by some unforeseen miracle, the Democrats do pass the Walter Jones resolution, it is not outside the realm of possibility that a "demonstrably imminent attack by Iran upon the United States [impossible], its territories [also impossible as the nearest one, not counting Iraq and the Gulf States, is the island of Diego Garcia, whose inhabitants were forcibly relocated decades ago to make way for a Cold War-era NSA listening post and a naval base--they still are prohibited from returning], possessions [once again, does Iraq count?] or its armed forces" could easily be simulated to get around this particular resolution. Passing HJR 14 would, at the very most, necessitate a false flag operation resulting in the destruction of one of the innumerable US military assets in the vicinity of Iran. Indeed, the unsubstantiated rhetoric claiming an Iranian origin of some explosives being used against American forces in Iraq is a ready-made "attack by Iran" upon US armed forces (it is notable, however, that recently the Bush administration has been forced to curb rhetoric to this effect due to its lack of evidence). From an administration of unparalleled arrogance and mendacity, a false flag operation like the Gulf of Tonkin incident during the Vietnam War would not be difficult. If the decision has been made to attack Iran, no amount of political pressure from congressional Democrats (which, keeping with tradition on matters of war and human life would be muted) and/or Republicans will be able to change that course. A sizable portion of the American public has already demonstrated a willingness to believe an administration that it recognizes as having lied it into another war of agression (okay, two), and the Bush administration doesn't care about them either.

Then why am I not absolutely certain that Iran will be attacked? --To be sure, it does appear that the military preparations have been made.

Firstly, many have already commented extensively on the fallout and direct retaliation that would accompany an attack on Iran, throwing much of the Middle East into further chaos and virtually insuring a disaster for American servicemen--and, notably, the imperial/corporate designs they serve--in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Bush, Cheney, and the neoconservative courtiers in the Pentagon and the American Empire Institute clearly could care less about American deaths (Muslim ones don't count, at least not unless they're a sign of "progress"). They do, however, care about the supply of oil flowing through the Persian Gulf, and no amount of naval genius from "Fox" Fallon, the new regional overlord of American Empire, is going to insure that. Tankers have to be insured, and insurance prices do take regional instability into account. This is reflected in the price of oil, which would skyrocket. Normally, again, that would scarcely trouble the administration, but in this case, it may just speed the coming global depression if the US were to attack Iran.

I'm not sure whether the Bush administration cares about that, either, though the oil industry does, and may not want an attack on Iran at this time, as evidenced by James Baker and the foreign policy establishment's desire for a more conciliatory, diplomatic Iran policy. It remains uncertain whether Bush will actually order an attack without the approval of the oil industry, and that is the primary uncertainty with regard to an attack on Iran.

At the same time, the actions of the Islamic Republic do have some significance in the issue. If, as Trita Parsi suggests, the Iranian regime chooses to suspend enrichment before the February 21 deadline, their American and Israeli counterparts will most likely be unable to continue with their plans to attack Iran.

Rising internal criticism of Ahmadinejad, mostly turning him into a scapegoat for the regime's systemically corrupt, unjust, and suffocating economic system, suggests that the regime is willing to sacrifice the hardline rhetoric in return for a de-escalation on the nuclear front. This would be consistent with its long-standing dedication--like that of any state--to maintaining its own power, above all else.

Some have suggested that the current positioning of American naval assets in the Persian Gulf area, along with the leak to Bulgarian news that US Air Force bases in the country will be used for an attack on Iran, is all simply a "tactical feint" of gunboat diplomacy meant to force the Islamic Republic to comply with American demands (though those demands are, indeed, illegal, as is the use of force or the threat of force to influence policy, an action commonly called "terrorism", as in the American military definition of the term). The "tactical feint" scenario is possible, though it would be a level of strategic depth heretofore unseen from the current warmongering cabal.

While current indications vis-a-vis Bush administration rhetoric and military posturing still lead to the assessment that an attack on Iran is imminent and already has been decided upon, they could indeed be an orchestrated attempt at forcing the theocratic regime (in Tehran, not Washington) to blink in this moronic, destructive game of chicken. Who knows? Only God, and, of course, the Devil.

Over the next few weeks, we will know. Oil futures markets and the actions of the Iranian regime will be far more reliable indicators of the state of impending conflagration than American rhetoric, which is heavily fact-deficient at any rate.

A suspension of enrichment, in the fashion that Parsi suggests (after revealing the achievement of a full fuel cycle), could function as a face-saving act for both the Islamic Republic and the Bush administration. The latter could claim that it's aggressive, terroristic version of "diplomacy" has achieved results, and probably gain enough popularity to steamroll any prospective (though unlikely) congressional efforts to tie its hands in Iraq. If, however, the neoconservatives close to Bush have already made their moronic decision to attack Iran, then a late-stage suspension of enrichment would be sneered at and probably questioned, with the corporate media in full compliance.

At this point, it's a coin flip, with millions of possible victims. Remind me why this is happening?

Friday, February 02, 2007

"Free Speech", Inc.

Things You Can't Discuss in Polite Company in Washington, DC:

The suspension of disbelief integral to the Lobby's conception of Israeli security.

The Lobby in general.

Ethnic cleansing by allies.

Genocide by allies.

Ethnic cleansing by the US.

Genocide by the US.

International law, as it applies to the above.

A world without hegemony.

The word 'imperialism' (though it's okay to talk about empire).

The word 'neoliberal' (check out how bogus that link actually is!).

The word 'evidence' preceded or followed by a truthful statement (this applies especially to members of the Axis of Evil).

The number of deaths by starvation caused by neoliberal agricultural policy.

The oil industry in relation to the Iraq War, even during criticism of administration policy.

The non-American death toll of the occupation of Iraq.

The racial element of the prison system, the legal system, or the socioeconomic imbalance that aids them.

Perfectly feasible and economical alternatives to fossil fuel consumption.

Corporate welfare.

The "modernization" of anti-trust law necessary to allow over $3.8 trillion in corporate mergers in one year.

Presidential Freudian slips

&c.

Actually, if you have to go to Washington, just try not to say anything.

...But ask yourself, why are these important issues never mentioned?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Milton Friedman--Liar or Lunatic?

This interview with an aging Milton Friedman is particularly instructive as to the depth of the man's mendacity, or, failing that, complete disconnect with reality.


INTERVIEWER: It seems to us that Chile deserves a place in history because it's the first country to put Chicago theory into practice. Do you agree?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: No, no, no. Not at all. After all, Great Britain put Chicago theory in practice in the 19th century. (amused) The United States put the Chicago theory in practice in the 19th and 20th century. I don't believe that's right.
INTERVIEWER: You don't see Chile as a small turning point, then?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: It may have been a turning point, but not because it was the first place to put the Chicago theory in practice. It was important on the political side, not so much on the economic side. Here was the first case in which you had a movement toward communism that was replaced by a movement toward free markets. See, the really extraordinary thing about the Chilean case was that a military government followed the opposite of military policies. The military is distinguished from the ordinary economy by the fact that it's a top-down organization. The general tells the colonel, the colonel tells the captain, and so on down, whereas a market is a bottom-up organization. The customer goes into the store and tells the retailer what he wants; the retailer sends it back up the line to the manufacturer and so on. So the basic organizational principles in the military are almost the opposite of the basic organizational principles of a free market and a free society. And the really remarkable thing about Chile is that the military adopted the free-market arrangements instead of the military arrangements.

During the 19th century, Great Britain had secured a vast portion of the world's land and resources, as well as a great deal of its population as both cheap labor and insured markets. As this excellent article illustrates, under British domination, the Indian share of the global economy fell precipitously. Previously, India had had a developed industrial base far beyond that of any European country. That base collapsed. The wealth of India disappeared. Where did it go?

Is that what Friedman means by saying that 19th-century Britain employed the Chicago Theory?

More on Chile:

INTERVIEWER: When you were down in Chile you spoke to some students in Santiago. In your own words, can you tell me about that speech in Santiago?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: Sure. While I was in Santiago, Chile, I gave a talk at the Catholic University of Chile. Now, I should explain that the University of Chicago had had an arrangement for years with the Catholic University of Chile, whereby they send students to us and we send people down there to help them reorganize their economics department. And I gave a talk at the Catholic University of Chile under the title "The Fragility of Freedom." The essence of the talk was that freedom was a very fragile thing and that what destroyed it more than anything else was central control; that in order to maintain freedom, you had to have free markets, and that free markets would work best if you had political freedom. So it was essentially an anti-totalitarian talk. (amused)
INTERVIEWER: So you envisaged, therefore, that the free markets ultimately would undermine Pinochet?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: Oh, absolutely. The emphasis of that talk was that free markets would undermine political centralization and political control. And incidentally, I should say that I was not in Chile as a guest of the government. I was in Chile as the guest of a private organization.

Of course, Chile had developed democratic institutions and a flourishing political climate over a century before the US-supported coup that was the culmination of Mr. Friedman's (and General Pinochet's) career.

INTERVIEWER: In the end, the Chilean [economy] did quite well, didn't it?

MILTON FRIEDMAN: Oh, very well. Extremely well. The Chilean economy did very well, but more important, in the end the central government, the military junta, was replaced by a democratic society. So the really important thing about the Chilean business is that free markets did work their way in bringing about a free society.

As Walden Bello writes, the Chilean economy did not do well at all. One of the only reasons that the economy didn't go completely under, of course, was the state-controlled copper industry, always so integral to the Chilean economy.

Indeed, the rising poverty during the dictatorship was a major reason that Pinochet was overthrown.

What a delicious layer-cake of irony!

The Use of Sanctions

On Sanctions and Marginalization

The recent Security Council sanctions on Iran have caused much stir in the nation; Khamenei has rebuked Ahmadinejad and indicated the possibility of a new nuclear negotiating team, effectively placing the President's main policy focus under his own purview. I highly doubt that the Bush administration will attempt to negotiate even with a team that is willing to back down on every sovereign right, but it would be amusing if the Iranian nuclear program were brought to a halt and the west engaged thanks only to the intervention of the authoritarian bodies of the Islamic Republic.

Then again, the democracy-promotion agenda has sort of been dropped from the Bush administration's foreign policy rhetoric of late, and it would be unlikely that they would notice the irony anyway. In any case, the Security Council sanctions on Iran, limited as they are, would be one of the few cases of successful economic sanctions.

Sanctions against unaccountable authoritarian regimes rarely achieve their avowed political ends, and in most cases those avowed ends aren't the real ones. As the case of Iraq from 1990-2003 illustrates, not only to they cause disgraceful humanitarian disasters that some scholars called "genocide", but they also entrench domestic forces that are in a position to exploit a deprived population.

With the case of North Korea, sanctions meant to "punish" Pyongyang only drive it further away from the international community, encourage the development of its nuclear program, and preclude constructive changes leading to national reconciliation. Its neighbors, of course, recognize this.

Then what are economic sanctions really supposed to accomplish? Are they mostly manifestations of domestic policy? In that light, how can the sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa be interpreted? Interestingly, the character of apartheid didn't change significantly between the early 1980s, when the Reagan administration considered South Africa a valued ally, and later in the decade, when sanctions were put into effect.

Similarly, sanctions against Iraq didn't follow its US-supported illegal war of aggression against Iran, which was a pariah state in the eyes of the American state and most of its allies. Indeed, as declassified documentary evidence clearly illustrates, the United States not only aided Saddam's war from behind a veil of official neutrality, but it played a role in mitigating international backlash against his illegal use of chemical weapons (obtained from American and European companies) against Iranian soldiers. Only when Iraq invaded an American outpost, Kuwait, with considerably less loss of life, did it merit United Nations sanctions. Supposedly, sanctions were meant to "punish" Saddam; he continued to live in opulence while his people languished. They simply ruined Iraq and primed it for later military conquest.

The character of the violations culminating in sanctions is rarely significant, and, I'd bet, sanctions without incentives are rarely intended to work.

Addendum to "Lost Memo"

Addendum to "Lost Memo":

Stan Goff, a 25-year veteran of US Special Forces, is succinct when he refers to the "one, absolute, bottom-line point of agreement" between the DC foreign policy establishment represented by the late Iraq Study Group and the Bush Administration, namely the passage of Iraq's Hydrocarbons Law and the "privatization" of the oil industry. "The rhetorical scuffle between the two entities is not the what, but the how".

The disconnect between reality and rhetoric is simply too great to hope for alternatives or cure-all reform.

If people in power aren't willing to openly admit that the occupation of Iraq is about oil and nothing else, and that the violent rhetoric against Iran is not about the thoroughly unproven nuclear ambitions or a nonexistent threat to Israel, but about both oil and the Israeli Right's fears about the "demographic problem", there isn't a conversation to be had and there is no set of policy recommendations worth making. Democrats and Republicans alike aren't actually going to do anything responsible with regard to the Middle East until they are willing to admit that American foreign policy is primarily about corporations and imperial control, not about the interests and security of the American people or the freedom and well-being of sundry Muslim nationalities. Before they'd listen to anything the actual rod would have to say to them, they would need to come clean, and admit that they're imperialists. They're not willing to admit that, so there's no conversation worth having. Apparently, conversation requires a common language.

There's no reason to have faith in politicians prone to spouting the racist subterfuge about "Iraqis taking responsibility for their own security" after supporting over a decade of crushing sanctions, bombing campaigns, and then a brutal invasion based on malicious lies, all of which would tear apart any society. There's no reason to have faith in them if they continue to limit themselves to tactical critiques of an illegal war of aggression--not just the newcomer Obama (whom I and many left writers on the internet have decided to take to task for the same criminality all of his colleagues engage in) but all of his colleagues as well. The recommendation of a policy tweak here or there could not suddenly create a post-imperialist, post-capitalist peace-loving American foreign policy.

I chose to talk about reforming the democratic process (public funding of elections & steps against voter fraud) only in very minimal terms not because I think that it will cure the problems of accumulated power in the United States, but because it is a first step towards "building the new society in the shell of the old". That is what actually needs to be done, I think, from as many directions in as many places as possible (and it already is being done, right now). It's so important that I wish I were experienced in movement-building so that I could write about it more authoritatively. I can't, and that's why I'll shortly be starting a new blog with a number of other like-minded writers. More as it develops.