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The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History November 10, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Trade Agreements.
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Roger’s note: Here are two articles that lay out what is at stake with respect to the three so-called trade agreements (TTP, TTIP, TISA).  This is pretty frightening stuff.  Keep in mind that a central definition of fascism is when corporations and governments are indistinguishable.

By Chris Hedges

November 09, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – “Truthdig – The release Thursday of the 5,544-page text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a trade and investment agreement involving 12 countries comprising nearly 40 percent of global output—confirms what even its most apocalyptic critics feared.

“The TPP, along with the WTO [World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history,” Ralph Nader told me when I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It allows corporations to bypass our three branches of government to impose enforceable sanctions by secret tribunals. These tribunals can declare our labor, consumer and environmental protections [to be] unlawful, non-tariff barriers subject to fines for noncompliance. The TPP establishes a transnational, autocratic system of enforceable governance in defiance of our domestic laws.”

The TPP is part of a triad of trade agreements that includes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). TiSA, by calling for the privatization of all public services, is a mortal threat to the viability of the U.S. Postal Service, public education and other government-run enterprises and utilities; together these operations make up 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The TTIP and TiSA are still in the negotiation phase. They will follow on the heels of the TPP and are likely to go before Congress in 2017.

These three agreements solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement.

The TPP removes legislative authority from Congress and the White House on a range of issues. Judicial power is often surrendered to three-person trade tribunals in which only corporations are permitted to sue. Workers, environmental and advocacy groups and labor unions are blocked from seeking redress in the proposed tribunals. The rights of corporations become sacrosanct. The rights of citizens are abolished.

The Sierra Club issued a statement after the release of the TPP text saying that the “deal is rife with polluter giveaways that would undermine decades of environmental progress, threaten our climate, and fail to adequately protect wildlife because big polluters helped write the deal.”

If there is no sustained popular uprising to prevent the passage of the TPP in Congress this spring we will be shackled by corporate power. Wages will decline. Working conditions will deteriorate. Unemployment will rise. Our few remaining rights will be revoked. The assault on the ecosystem will be accelerated. Banks and global speculation will be beyond oversight or control. Food safety standards and regulations will be jettisoned. Public services ranging from Medicare and Medicaid to the post office and public education will be abolished or dramatically slashed and taken over by for-profit corporations. Prices for basic commodities, including pharmaceuticals, will skyrocket. Social assistance programs will be drastically scaled back or terminated. And countries that have public health care systems, such as Canada and Australia, that are in the agreement will probably see their public health systems collapse under corporate assault. Corporations will be empowered to hold a wide variety of patents, including over plants and animals, turning basic necessities and the natural world into marketable products. And, just to make sure corporations extract every pound of flesh, any public law interpreted by corporations as impeding projected profit, even a law designed to protect the environment or consumers, will be subject to challenge in an entity called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) section. The ISDS, bolstered and expanded under the TPP, will see corporations paid massive sums in compensation from offending governments for impeding their “right” to further swell their bank accounts. Corporate profit effectively will replace the common good.

Given the bankruptcy of our political class—including amoral politicians such as Hillary Clinton, who is denouncing the TPP during the presidential campaign but whose unwavering service to corporate capitalism assures her fealty to her corporate backers—the trade agreement has a good chance of becoming law. And because the Obama administration won fast-track authority, a tactic designed by the Nixon administration to subvert democratic debate, President Obama will be able to sign the agreement before it goes to Congress.

The TPP, because of fast track, bypasses the normal legislative process of public discussion and consideration by congressional committees. The House and the Senate, which have to vote on the TPP bill within 90 days of when it is sent to Congress, are prohibited by the fast-track provision from adding floor amendments or holding more than 20 hours of floor debate. Congress cannot raise concerns about the effects of the TPP on the environment. It can only vote yes or no. It is powerless to modify or change one word.

There will be a mass mobilization Nov. 14 through 18 in Washington to begin the push to block the TPP. Rising up to stop the TPP is a far, far better investment of our time and energy than engaging in the empty political theater that passes for a presidential campaign.

“The TPP creates a web of corporate laws that will dominate the global economy,” attorney Kevin Zeese of the group Popular Resistance, which has mounted a long fight against the trade agreement, told me from Baltimore by telephone. “It is a global corporate coup d’état. Corporations will become more powerful than countries. Corporations will force democratic systems to serve their interests. Civil courts around the world will be replaced with corporate courts or so-called trade tribunals. This is a massive expansion that builds on the worst of NAFTA rather than what Barack Obama promised, which was to get rid of the worst aspects of NAFTA.”

The agreement is the product of six years of work by global capitalists from banks, insurance companies, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto and other corporations.

“It was written by them [the corporations], it is for them and it will serve them,” Zeese said of the TPP. “It will hurt domestic businesses and small businesses. The buy-American provisions will disappear. Local communities will not be allowed to build buy-local campaigns. The thrust of the agreement is the privatization and commodification of everything. The agreement has built within it a deep antipathy to state-supported or state-owned enterprises. It gives away what is left of our democracy to the World Trade Organization.”

The economist David Rosnick, in a report on the TPP by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), estimated that under the trade agreement only the top 10 percent of U.S. workers would see their wages increase. Rosnick wrote that the real wages of middle-income U.S. workers (from the 35th percentile to the 80th percentile) would decline under the TPP. NAFTA, contributing to a decline in manufacturing jobs (now only 9 percent of the economy), has forced workers into lower-paying service jobs and resulted in a decline in real wages of between 12 and 17 percent. The TPP would only accelerate this process, Rosnick concluded.

“This is a continuation of the global race to the bottom,” Dr. Margaret Flowers, also from Popular Resistance and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said from Baltimore in a telephone conversation with me. “Corporations are free to move to countries that have the lowest labor standards. This drives down high labor standards here. It means a decimation of industries and unions. It means an accelerated race to the bottom, which we must rise up to stop.”

“In Malaysia one-third of tech workers are essentially slaves,” Zeese said. “In Vietnam the minimum wage is 35 cents an hour. Once these countries are part of the trade agreement U.S. workers are put in a very difficult position.”

Fifty-one percent of working Americans now make less than $30,000 a year, a new study by the Social Security Administration reported. Forty percent are making less than $20,000 a year. The federal government considers a family of four living on an income of less than $24,250 to be in poverty.

“Half of American workers earn essentially the poverty level,” Zeese said. “This agreement only accelerates this trend. I don’t see how American workers are going to cope.”

The assault on the American workforce by NAFTA—which was established under the Clinton administration in 1994 and which at the time promised creation of 200,000 net jobs a year in the United States—has been devastating. NAFTA has led to a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada and the loss of at least 1 million U.S. jobs, according to a report by Public Citizen. The flooding of the Mexican market with cheap corn by U.S. agro-businesses drove down the price of Mexican corn and saw 1 million to 3 million poor Mexican farmers go bankrupt and lose their small farms. Many of them crossed the border into the United States in a desperate effort to find work.

“Obama has misled the public throughout this process,” Dr. Flowers said. “He claimed that environmental groups were supportive of the agreement because it provided environmental protections, and this has now been proven false. He told us that it would create 650,000 jobs, and this has now been proven false. He calls this a 21st century trade agreement, but it actually rolls back progress made in Bush-era trade agreements. The most recent model of a 21st century trade agreement is the Korean free trade agreement. That was supposed to create 140,000 U.S. jobs. But what we saw within a couple years was a loss of about 70,000 jobs and a larger trade deficit with Korea. This agreement [the TPP] is sold to us with the same deceits that were used to sell us NAFTA and other trade agreements.”

The agreement, in essence, becomes global law. Any agreements over carbon emissions by countries made through the United Nations are effectively rendered null and void by the TPP.

“Trade agreements are binding,” Flowers said. “They supersede any of the nonbinding agreements made by the United Nations Climate Change Conference that might come out of Paris.”

There is more than enough evidence from past trade agreements to indicate where the TPP—often called “NAFTA on steroids”—will lead. It is part of the inexorable march by corporations to wrest from us the ability to use government to defend the public and to build social and political organizations that promote the common good. Our corporate masters seek to turn the natural world and human beings into malleable commodities that will be used and exploited until exhaustion or collapse. Trade agreements are the tools being used to achieve this subjugation. The only response left is open, sustained and defiant popular revolt.

Chris Hedges, previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

© 2015 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Re-enserfment of Western Peoples

By Paul Craig Roberts

November 09, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – The re-enserfment of Western peoples is taking place on several levels. One about which I have been writing for more than a decade comes from the offshoring of jobs. Americans, for example, have a shrinking participation in the production of the goods and services that are marketed to them.

On another level we are experiencing the financialization of the Western economy about which Michael Hudson is the leading expert (Killing The Host). Financialization is the process of removing any public presence in the economy and converting the economic surplus into interest payments to the financial sector.

These two developments deprive people of economic prospects. A third development deprives them of political rights. The Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic Partnerships eliminate political sovereignty and turn governance over to global corporations.

These so called “trade partnerships” have nothing to do with trade. These agreements negotiated in secrecy grant immunity to corporations from the laws of the countries in which they do business. This is achieved by declaring any interference by existing and prospective laws and regulations on corporate profits as restraints on trade for which corporations can sue and fine “sovereign” governments. For example, the ban in France and other counries on GMO products would be negated by the Trans-Atlantic Partnership. Democracy is simply replaced by corporate rule.

I have been meaning to write about this at length. However, others, such as Chris Hedges, are doing a good job of explaining the power grab that eliminates representative government.

The corporations are buying power cheaply. They bought the entire US House of Representatives for just under $200 million. This is what the the corporations paid Congress to go along with “Fast Track,” which permits the corporations’ agent, the US Trade Representative, to negotiate in secret without congressional input or oversight.

In other words, a US corporate agent deals with corporate agents in the countries that will comprise the “partnership,” and this handful of well-bribed people draw up an agreement that supplants law with the interests of corporations. No one negotiating the partnership represents the peoples’ or public’s interests. The governments of the partnership countries get to vote the deal up or down, and they will be well paid to vote for the agreement.

Once these partnerships are in effect, government itself is privatized. There is no longer any point in legislatures, presidents, prime ministers, judges. Corporate tribunals decide law and court rulings.

It is likely that these “partnerships” will have unintended consequences. For example, Russia and China are not part of the arrangements, and neither are Iran, Brazil, India, and South Africa, although seperately the Indian government appears to have been purchased by American agribusiness and is in the process of destroying its self-sufficient food production system. These countries will be the repositories for national sovereignty and public control while freedom and democracy are extinguished in the West and the West’s Asian vassals.

Violent revolution throughout the West and the complete elimination of the One Percent is another possible outcome. Once, for example, the French people discover that they have lost all control over their diet to Monsanto and American agribusiness, the members of the French government that delivered France into dietary bondage to toxic foods are likely to be killed in the streets.

Events of this sort are possible throughout the West as peoples discover that they have lost all control over every aspect of their lives and that their only choice is revolution or death.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts’ latest books are The Neoconservative Threat To International Order:  Washington’s Perilous War For Hegemony, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West and How America Was Lost.

Stand with Veterans For Peace on November 11 November 10, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Peace, War.
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Roger’s note: my annual November 11 “Glorify Way Day”contribution.

Over the last several years, Veterans For Peace chapters have taken the lead incelebrating Armistice Day on November 11.  We are reclaiming the original intention of that day – a worldwide call for peace that was spurred by universal revulsion at the huge slaughter of World War One.  In Canada and the United Kingdom, this day is known as Remembrance Day.

After World War II, the U.S. Congress decided to re-brand November 11 as Veterans Day.  Who could speak against that?  But honoring the warrior quickly morphed into honoring the military and glorifying war.  Armistice Day was flipped from a day for peace into a day for displays of militarism.

This November 11, it is as urgent as ever to ring the bells for peace.  Many Veterans For Peace chapters ring bells, and ask local churches to do the same, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, as was done at the end of World War One.

Visit the Armistice Day page for ways to get involved.

There are so many reasons we must press our government
to end reckless military interventions
that endanger the entire world.

  • In Syria, the U.S. has armed and supported rebelswho share its goal of overthrowing the Assad government. U.S. intervention in Syria has been a major factor in the ongoing tragedy that has made refugees of half of all Syrians, and has done irreparable destruction to the nation of Syria.  The U.S. government and military must end its support of the rebels and abandon its efforts at regime change.  It must join in sincere diplomatic efforts with the Syrian government and Syrian opposition forces, along with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  All sides know that the solution to the Syrian war is political, not military.  It is time to stop the bloodshed and the exodus of refugees, and to start talks that respect the self-determination of the Syrian people.
  • In Afghanistan, the deliberate U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospitalwas followed by a weak apology from President Obama, and his announcement that he would break his promise to end that war, and keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond his presidency.  Fourteen years of deliberate and reckless killing of thousands of Afghanistan civilians has not brought Afghanistan peace or stability.

    All U.S. troops, planes, drones, contractors and NATO allies must leave Afghanistan.  Let the Afghan people find their own peace and determine their own future.

  • Don’t Tempt Nuclear War – End the U.S./NATO Confrontation with Russia.  With Russia and the U.S. bombing different rebel targets in Syria, and with the U.S. and NATO pressing Russia on its very borders, the threat of yet another World War looms.  The U.S. and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at one another, with the capacity to kill many millions of people in each country.  Nuclear war between Russia and the United States, which was miraculously avoided during the tense standoff of the Cold War, has re-emerged as an all too real possibility.
  • In Ukraine, the U.S. poured in many millions of dollars to stir up opposition to the elected (if corrupt) government, even supporting fascist gangs who led a violent coup that brought a rightwing, western-friendly government to power. Russian speaking Ukrainians in the east were immediately targeted by fascist elements who took control of Ukrainian military and security forces.  The Russian speaking minority felt it necessary to organize armed self-defense. Russia facilitated a plebiscite in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet is based, leading to an overwhelming vote to rejoin the Russian federation.

    U.S. and NATO forces must pull back from Russia’s borders.  U.S. and NATO forces are stationed in Poland and the Baltic nations, encircling Russia on its own borders.  A coordinated international media campaign portrays Russian President Putin as the aggressor, while NATO carries out threatening war games and the U.S. beefs up its first strike nuclear capacity in Europe.

    NATO, originally organized to confront the Warsaw Pact forces of the Soviet Union, should be dismantled, instead of being used to intimidate Russia and morphing into an international intervention force serving the aims of those who believe in U.S. and Western global hegemony.

  • The U.S. should pull back from its so-called “Pivot to Asia,” where 60% of U.S. naval forces will be deployed, and where the U.S. is building regional military alliances to confront China.  In so doing, the U.S. has pressured the Japanese government to abandon its constitutional pledge not to deploy their military outside Japan’s borders, forced the South Korean government – against the will of its people – to build a naval base on Jeju Island, and continues to ignore the pleas of the Okinawan people to return a sense of sanity to their island by removing omnipresent military the U.S.
  • The United States, Russia and all nuclear powers must begin living up to their obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires them to negotiate in good faith to reduce and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons. The Marshall Islands is suing the U.S. and all nuclear powers because they are doing just the opposite.  The U.S. government recently announced a thirty year program, estimated to cost One Trillion Dollars, to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal.  In other words, the U.S. is building new generations of nuclear bombs and missiles.  This cannot stand.
  • U.S. drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond must end.
  • The U.S. must begin dismantling its 900 military bases around the world.
  • War Abroad Mirrors Racism and Violence at Home.  The militarization of U.S. foreign policy and use of violence and war around the world is mirrored here at home by racist police killings, and the militarization of law enforcement and schools, where military recruiters often have total access to students. Racism and xenophobia are used to dehumanize Muslims and others in order to justify killing them in war in their own countries.  We in Veterans For Peace realize this is the same hatred used here at home to justify killing black, brown, and poor people. It is the same fearmongering used to criminalize honest, hard-working people and tear immigrant families apart through deportation.

    This Armistice Day Veterans For Peace calls for justice and peace at home and abroad. We call for the end to racist policies, and for equality for all people.

  • Stop the War on Mother Earth.  Veterans For Peace also sees the links between war and the destruction of the natural environment upon which all living creatures depend.  Stubborn reliance on fossil fuels, and wars for control of them, are primary causes of the perilous climate change into which the world is descending. The ongoing nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan reminds us that nuclear power is neither green nor safe.  Shortsighted energy policies threaten to make entire regions of the planet uninhabitable, turning millions of people into climate refugees. New and dangerous wars for water, land and other precious resources are almost certain to follow.
  • Between nuclear war and climate disaster, we are facing the possibility of Hell on Earth, UNLESS we create a united worldwide movement for peace, justice, equality and sustainability.

For all of these reasons, stand with Veterans For Peace on Armistice Day, November 11, 2015

Remember to visit the Armistice Day page for ways to get involved!

Russia enters Syria war, exposing hypocrisy and contradictions of U.S. policy October 2, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Syria.
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Roger’s note: This article untangles the situation in Syria better than anything else I have read.  The Answer Coalition is almost always spot on.  That the US empire oriented foreign policy (US foreign policy = endless war), the chaos, the deaths, the infrastructure destruction, the refugees, etc., is indisputable.  Obama’s irrational and hypocritical stumbling makes it easy for Putin to look like a statesman.  I got a chuckle out of “expert” statements in the New York Times article to the effect that Putin can get away with anything in Russia because the media he controls will always report his narrative: as if the US mass media were independent of the party line!!!

And even if he is a hypocrite, Putin correctly unmasks the basic US objective of REGIME CHANGE, which not only is it in contravention of what is left of international standards, but is murderous and counterproductive.  One is reminded of what Netanyahu is doing to contribute to the ultimate destruction of Israel because of his imperial and racist obsessions.

By Brian Becker, ANSWER Coalition National Coordinator


Russia’s direct military intervention into Syria has dramatically changed the dynamics of a war that has raged since 2011. The fighting during the last four years has torn this historic Arab country to shreds, made millions of Syrians into refugees, and left more than 200,000 people dead.

The stage has been set for a possible major military counteroffensive against arch-reactionary Islamic military organizations who have been gaining more and more territory.

After four years of fighting against these groups, the Syrian army has been forced into an ever smaller portion of western Syria. The Russian intervention is meant to bolster their effort, stop the retreat before the armies of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), Al-Qaeda and others, in preparation for a military counteroffensive.

The main force preventing Syria from being completely overrun by ISIS and Al-Qaeda has been the Syrian Arab Army, the national army of the country. Between 50,000 and 85,000 Syrian soldiers have been killed in this fight already. Syrian Kurdish forces under the leadership of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) have also been heroically battling against ISIS. The YPG had earlier fought against the Syrian army in an effort to create a Kurdish-ruled autonomous area in the northern part of Syria.

Now the Russian military has directly entered the battle on the side of the Syrian national army. Russia may directly give assistance to the Kurdish fighters as well. Russia’s intervention was formally requested by the sovereign Syrian government led by Bashar Al-Assad and thus conforms to international law.

The stated position of the Russian government is that a long-term solution to the Syrian crisis is through political change, based on dialogue between the Baathist government and some of the opposition but not ISIS or Al Qaeda, and the retention and defense of Syria’s core state institutions.

The Russia-Syria connection

Russia and before it the Soviet Union were historic allies of the secular Baathist government in Damascus, with deep military, social and economic ties to the country.

It is critically important that progressive forces abandon the false language and political characterizations being spoon-fed to the public by the pro-imperialist media.

Assad is characterized as a “dictator” who is “killing his own people.” That works for demonization purposes, but it cannot help anyone establish an informed position about the social and political character of the different forces in the Syrian war. When reading the Western news, one would think every death has been at the hands of the Syrian government. There has been almost no mention of the social base of support for the Syrian government, or the 50,000-80,000 Syrian soldiers who have died fighting sectarian armed groups, including ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The Syrian Baathist government, like the Iraqi Baathist regime, banned sectarian-based religious parties. Saddam Hussein also banned the Communist Party while establishing a secular-based social democratic economic and social program. In Syria, the Baathists worked with some Syrian leftists and repressed others.

In 2011 and 2012, the Russian government hosted meetings in Moscow of Syrian opposition groups that stood politically against Assad and demanded far-reaching political reforms from the regime but rejected foreign intervention and armed struggle. Most of these opposition groups were secular.

U.S. policy and the rise of ISIS

The United States, France, Britain and their allies in Turkey and Saudi Arabia took a different path. The United States and its NATO and regional allies have funneled weapons and money to right-wing armed sectarian groups since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. This quickly morphed into the dominance among the armed opposition in Syria of the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other groups.

In its reckless effort to smash the Assad government, as it did to Qaddafi’s in Libya, the Obama administration cared little about the political character of the “rebels.” In so doing, they created a monster they could not control.

Even as ISIS and Al-Qaeda grew stronger and grabbed more and more territory from the besieged Syrian army, the Obama administration aimed its fire at the Syrian government. The CIA kept coordinating massive weapons shipments from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that allowed the armed opposition to get ever stronger. In August 2013, John Kerry and the Republicans in Congress demanded the bombing of the Syrian national army and government military assets, not ISIS or the armed opposition groups.

Then in June 2014, ISIS shocked the United States by defeating the Iraqi army and seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, and much of Anbar province, and seemed to threaten U.S. assets in Iraq. In a panic, Obama suddenly changed course, sent thousands of U.S. military personnel back to Iraq and announced the open-ended bombing of ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq.

Obama announced the new military campaign against ISIS on September 10, 2014 but also reiterated that the United States would continue to work to topple the Assad government in Syria.

When he spoke to the people of the United States about the plan for “endless war” against IS in Iraq and Syria, Obama refused to tell the truth about the situation in the Middle East. He refused to acknowledge how his administration’s strategy for regime change in Libya and Syria, like George W. Bush’s earlier war in Iraq, were the fundamental factors that had led to the rise of ISIS and other extremist organizations in three out of the four most important secular states in the Arab world.

The feckless, reckless and shortsighted policy of the Obama administration in Syria and Libya was no less breathtaking in 2011 than had been Jimmy Carter’s and Ronald Reagan’s in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the CIA and Pentagon provided massive support to the “mujahadeen” fighters—among them Osama bin Laden—in a clandestine war against the socialist government that had taken power in Afghanistan. The U.S.-supported anti-communist guerrillas morphed later into Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Failed U.S. military efforts: ISIS has been winning

Not only did U.S. interventions open the political space for the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Libya and Syria, but Obama’s latest effort against ISIS has proven a miserable failure. If the goal was to “degrade and defeat ISIS” as promised, they have failed completely. ISIS is stronger. Tens of thousands of new fighters have joined ISIS in Syria during the past 12 months. Money and weapons kept pouring in. It is the Syrian army that lost ground, not ISIS.

Obama promised “no boots on the ground” in Syria. His even more right-wing and militaristic critics in Congress are also not calling for thousands of U.S. troops to go and do battle with ISIS. Public opinion in the United States will not allow another mass deployment of troops to fight and die in another Middle East war.

But from a military standpoint, the armies of ISIS and Al-Qaeda cannot be defeated by air assault. They can only be defeated by other forces on the ground.

When Russian President Putin spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, he implicitly blamed the United States for creating the current crises in the Middle East by invading and destroying the secular government Iraq in 2003, militarily destroying the secular Libyan government in 2012 and fomenting civil war in Syria.

At the UN, Putin called for an international coalition to defeat ISIS, similar to the “anti-Hitler” coalition in World War that allied the Soviet Union, the United States and Britain during World War Two. He also emphasized the need to stand with the sovereign government in Syria battling ISIS, Al Qaeda and the other armed organizations.

The Obama administration immediately rejected this proposal because it included collaboration with the Syrian government. This is merely a demonstration of arrogance and hubris by representatives of the Empire. In their eyes, Assad was not supposed to survive after they declared that his government must fall. Since Obama, Kerry and Hillary Clinton declared “Assad must go,” they are now unwilling to accept responsibility for the “humiliation” of their “great power” that would be implied by entering into an open alliance with the same government they declared had “no future” in Syria.

Contradiction and hypocrisy

Obama’s secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, says that Russia’s efforts in Syria are “doomed to fail” because Russia believes the fight against ISIS and other terrorist forces requires support for the Assad government and the Syrian military.

But the logical contradiction lies not with the Russian position but with the one espoused by the White House. ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-led coalition, while they sometimes fight each other, are fighting the Syrian army. The only reason they have not seized the entire country is because of the battle waged by the Syrian army.

The United States says it wants to degrade and defeat ISIS, and is bombing some of the ISIS positions, but it won’t send U.S. troops to defeat ISIS. It won’t support the Syrian military that is actually fighting against ISIS and an array of other terrorist groups. In fact, the U.S. government is sending arms and weapons and paying the salaries of anti-Assad fighters who are then fighting alongside Al-Qaeda.

The U.S. position appears not just as a “logical contradiction” or hypocritical but downright nonsensical.

Just step back and look: Obama officials are condemning the Russian bombing because it has targeted Al-Qaeda. Russian aircraft are bombing positions of several armed opposition groups including the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, which the United States recognizes as responsible for hijacking and flying airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

The need to destroy Al-Qaeda has been the principal rationale used by the U.S. “war on terror” conducted for the past 14 years in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somali and elsewhere.

Thus, the irony is unmistakable when the Pentagon and U.S. media now denounces the Russian bombing of the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. And the irony goes deeper. The Russian bombing has also struck CIA-funded armed groups fighting alongside Al-Qaeda.

That’s right. U.S. taxpayers are paying for arms and training and salaries for armed combatants who are fighting with, and not against, Al-Qaeda. Apparently Al-Qaeda is okay as long as they kill Syrians and not Americans, and help the U.S. overthrow independent governments in the Middle East.

This seeming contradiction and weirdness in U.S. policy regarding Al-Qaeda is not exaggerated by those of us in the U.S. anti-war movement who successfully mobilized to stop Obama and Kerry’s projected bombing campaign against the Syrian army that was planned in August 2013 and was only narrowly averted when Obama stepped back from the precipice at the last moment.

This is from the Oct. 1, 2015, New York Times:

“The strikes on Thursday targeted the Army of Conquest, a coalition of insurgent groups that includes the Nusra Front, the hard-line Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham and a range of less extreme Islamist groups—all of which are opposed to the Islamic State.

Often fighting alongside the Army of Conquest are relatively secular groups from what is left of the loose-knit Free Syrian Army, including some that have received United States training and advanced American-made antitank missiles. At least one C.I.A.-trained group was among the targets hit on Wednesday, which drew an angry response from Washington.”

John McCain himself confirmed strikes against “our Free Syrian Army or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there.”

Stop the U.S. campaign for regime change in Syria

The position of the Russian government is that the survival of the Syrian army is indispensable for a viable political solution to emerge that could end the war in Syria and prevent the country from being fragmented. That is precisely what happened in Libya and Iraq following the imperialist-led destruction of those two countries in 2003 and 2011, when the existing state structures were shattered.

Far from being a “logical contradiction,” this is fully rational. In his CBS interview with Charlie Rose on Sept. 24, Putin stated: “There is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism. But at the same time, urging them to engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform. … ” As a rejoinder to U.S. policy makers who insisted that “Assad must go,” he told Charlie Rose, “It’s only the Syrian people who are entitled to decide who should govern their country and how.”

The Syrian war has entered a new stage. The stakes are high. Russia’s intervention constitutes a pledge that the entire country will not be overtaken by ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

The fact that Russia has entered the Syria fray through the creation in Baghdad of a new international center for military coordination against ISIS that includes Russia, Iran, Syria and the government of Iraq must be regarded as a historical irony of the first order. When Bush and Cheney ordered the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the last thing they could have foreseen a decade later is a post-occupation Iraqi government providing a military headquarters in Iraq for Russia, Syria and Iran. The words “feckless,” “reckless” and “short-sighted” are not really adequate to capture the degree of incompetence of a foreign policy based ultimately on the arrogance of imperial power.

September 4, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, First Nations, Latin America.
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ECUADOR’S IMPASSE. By Jeffery Webber

by lalineadefuego.info

Left and indigenous forces in Ecuador are attempting to create an alternative to both Rafael Correa and the Right.



A woman at the indigenous march and People’s Strike in Quito, Ecuador earlier this month. Amazon Watch


30th August 2015

On August 13, an indigenous march and people’s strike converged on the Andean city of Quito, Ecuador’s political center. The march was coordinated principally by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and began on August 2 in Zamora Chinchipe, passing through Loja, Azuay, Cañar, Chimborazo, Tungurahua, Cotopaxi, and Salcedo before arriving in the capital. Demands emanating from the different sectors of urban and rural groups supporting the initiative were diverse, and sometimes contradictory.

But Alberto Acosta, at least, sees a certain clarity in the tangle of ideas and demands. Acosta was the presidential candidate for the Plurinational Unity of Lefts in the 2013 general elections. An economist by profession, he was the minister of mines and energy and president of the Constituent Assembly in the opening years of the Correa government. After the assembly ended, he and Correa parted ways, but Acosta remains an important shaper of opinion in the country. In the lead-up to August 13, he maintained that, contrary to popular assessments, there was a discernible political core to the protesters’ demands.

According to Acosta, the people in the streets are opposed to any constitutional changes that will allow indefinite reelection of the president and demand an end to the ongoing criminalization of social protest. They are outraged by a new agrarian reform initiative that will displace peasants and advance the interests of agro-business, and they are lined up against the expansion of mega-mines and their nightmarish socio-ecological implications.

The demonstrators are defending workers’ rights to organize and strike, elemental freedoms limited in the Labor Code introduced in April this year. They are aligned against oil exploitation in Yasuní, one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, and a zone that Correa promised to protect and then abandoned. Finally, the popular organizations are opposed to the neoliberal free trade agreement Ecuador signed with the European Union that erodes the country’s sovereignty. These overlapping concerns, according to Acosta, overshadow other divisions on the Left.

A Day in the Streets of Quito

Despite this shared mission, walking through the different sections of the August 13 march, it was difficult to miss the contest for hegemony unfolding within the opposition. Left-wing unions called for dignified wages and the right to strike, while socialist feminists chanted slogans against Correa’s Opus Dei-inflected “family plan” and anticapitalist environmental groups marched against extractivism — particularly the expansion of the mining, oil, and agro-industrial frontiers.

Alongside these groups were social-democratic and revolutionary socialist and anarchist collectives, some with significant strength and long organizational histories, others little more than affinity groups. These eclectic expressions of a Left — broadly conceived — dominated the streets in numbers and political sophistication, but they have yet to cohere into a unified left bloc, independent of Correa.

CONAIE issued a public manifesto after a three-day conference in February, outlining demands that are clearly distinguishable from the politics of the Right — contrary to the suggestions of state officials — and reiterate longstanding aims of the indigenous movement.

It’s patently clear that Correa’s Manichean worldview, in which the population is with the government or with the Right, obscures more than it reveals. Still, the social bases, potential or realized, of the myriad faces of the right-wing opposition — Guillermo Lasso, the largest shareholder in the Bank of Guayaquil and 2013 presidential candidate for the Right; Jaime Nebot, the conservative mayor of Guayaquil; and Mauricio Rodas, the mayor of Quito — were also visible in the avenues and byways of Quito.

This politics found material expression in middle-class banners defending families and freedom, and audible resonance in the chanted echoes of “Down with the dictator!” President Correa points to the large demonstrations of last June against taxes on inheritance and capital gains as evidence that this Right is a real and imminent threat to stability.

The immediate battle lines of the demonstration — on the Left and Right alike — were delineated by the various participants’ desires to demonstrate social power in the extra-parliamentary domain, but anxious anticipation of the 2017 general elections weighed on every element of the day’s events. No one knows if Correa will amend the constitution and run a third time as the candidate for PAIS Alliance (AP), the party in power since 2007, and under Correa’s leadership since its inception.

Golpe Blando?

During the commodities boom, life for Ecuador’s poor improved. According to official figures — which use $2.63 per day as the baseline — poverty in Ecuador declined from 37.6 percent in 2006 to 22.5 percent in 2014, while inequality income (measured by the Gini index) also improved.

In that economic context, Correa could maintain his popularity through a fluctuating amalgam of co-optive measures and targeted retaliation vis-à-vis the principal social movements, especially the indigenous movement, which is fighting a two-pronged battle centered on socio-ecological conflicts around mining and the integrity of indigenous territories. Under charges of “terrorism and sabotage,” several nonviolent indigenous leaders have been jailed and are serving punitive sentences for activities like blocking roads or preventing mining companies from gaining access to their (ever-expanding) concessions throughout the country.

But recently, amid an extended rut in oil prices and looming austerity measures, the Correa administration has suffered significant declines in popularity. According to the indispensable conjunctural reports regularly published by sociologist Pablo Ospina Peralta, polling data show the president has lost between ten and twenty points in popularity over the last few months.

In the face of growing discontent, the Correa administration has responded defensively by framing the demonstrations as either intentionally, or naively, playing into the hands of the domestic right and imperialism, reinforcing the destabilization of the country, and laying the groundwork for the Right to enact a golpe blando, or soft coup.

One AP congressperson, María Augusta, casually told the media that the CIA financed the indigenous march, although she offered no evidence for this claim. Correa himself blames indigenous and labor “elites” for the demonstration, arguing they have no sense of the interests and sentiments of their rank-and-file bases.

Activism has become sedition, and left-wing dissent betrayal of the country. Two prominent indigenous leaders were arrested at the end of the day on August 13 and roughed up by police: Carlos Pérez Guartambel, of the Andean indigenous organization ECUARUNARI, and Salvador Quishpe, the prefect of Zamora Chinchipe. Manuela Picq, a French and Brazilian academic and journalist who has lived in Ecuador for eight years on a cultural-exchange visa and is Pérez Guartambel’s partner, was also arrested and threatened with deportation.

Vying for Hegemony

Just as the right-wing anti-tax protests in June were a sign of the political fragility ofCorreísmo in the medium term, the weighty presence of the Left in the recent protests suggests that the popular sectors sense a change in the balance of forces as well. “What is at the center of the national debate is the exit from Correísmo,” Acosta explains. “How, with whom, towards what, and on what terms.”

Yet, as Alejandra Santillana Ortíz recently suggested, it can be misleading to map the trajectory of dissent leading to the present moment using proximate catalysts, like the falling price of oil. Ruptures between social movements and the state began to surface in earnest as far back as 2009 and have intensified measurably over the last three years. Their culmination in the strike on Quito is at least as much a question of this medium durée as it is the response to political-economic developments of the last couple of months.

Sociologist Mario Unda’s recent snapshot comparison of the country’s principal socio-political lines of demarcation in 2007 and 2013 (the first year of the first and second administrations of Correa, respectively) echoes this perspective. For Unda, the outset of the first Correa administration conflict was overdetermined in many ways, by the Right’s fear of Correa’s potential radicalism and the Left’s hope for the same.

Conflict gravitated around the political-institutional terrain of the state, with the Right still retaining control of the National Assembly and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Alongside this institutional competition with the Right, big private media corporations lined up against Correa, increasingly playing the role of conservative opposition, as the traditional parties of the Right imploded into irrelevance. The principal business confederations in the country also adopted an extremely confrontational stance in the face of the new government.

At the same time, even in 2007 it was possible to identify certain lines of conflict between the AP government and popular movements and sectors. Some of these were marginal and localized — disputes over rural and urban service provision, labor disputes, pension disputes, and so on. However, in the countryside the indigenous movement was already being drawn into battles with the state and multinational capital on the extractive fronts of mining, oil, water, hydroelectricity, and agro-industry.

Far from marginalia, these issues proved central to Correa’s development model in the years to come. In 2009, for example, a pair of laws on mining and water sparked the largest protests witnessed in the first three years of the Correa administration.

The mining law facilitated the rapid extension of favorable concessions to multinational mining companies throughout the length and breadth of the country, while the water law privatized access to communal water sources (crucial legislation for large-scale private mining initiatives), limited community and indigenous self-management of water resources, and relaxed regulations on water contamination. With mineral prices soaring on the international market and oil reserves diminishing in the national territory, Correa staked the country’s future on the gold under the soil.

By comparison to 2007, the divisions were much clearer in 2013. The scene was determined not by the axis of right-wing contestation with the government, but rather by the government’s growing disputes with popular movements and their historic allies. There were conflicts with the bourgeoisie to be sure, but these disagreements were only with certain sectors of the elite, and face-offs with capital no longer accurately captured the determining dynamics of the terrain.

Instead, the Correa government’s principal enemy had become the indigenous movement and “infantile” environmentalists, and consequently, the government threw all its coercive and co-optive powers in that direction. At the same time, Correa sharpened his relations with public-sector workers, most notoriously laying off thousands through obligatory redundancies.

High schools — students and teachers — were another live field of contention, as the government tried to ram through “meritocratic” reforms in the educational sector. All the while, criminalization and control of social protest and independent organizing was a primary concern of the government.

Ideologically as well, the Right had taken on novel forms by 2013, relative to their collective demeanor in 2007. Sections of the traditional right continued to battle for a purist retention of neoliberal axioms, but there were also new experiments — like Creando Oportunidades and the Sociedad Unida Más Acción — that sought to present a public image of moderation and modernity, appropriating much of the language of the Correa administration for itself.

The economic organizations of the bourgeoisie were also developing in interesting directions. The confrontational disposition of business confederations was largely eclipsed by 2013, and most federations had elected new leaderships whose mandates were to negotiate and reach agreement with a government seen to be far more flexible than originally anticipated. The negotiation hypothesis of the Right paid dividends in the creation of a new ministry of foreign trade, and the signing of the Ecuador-EU free trade agreement, which had the enthusiastic backing of all the big capitals.

Unda argues that the dispute between the government and the bourgeoisie had metamorphosed into an internal dispute, and while control of the state apparatus was still a domain of contestation, the field of consensus on capitalist modernization — a fundamentally shared vision of society and development — defined the broader politico-economic backdrop.

Of course, this did not mean the obsolescence of sectional and conjunctural conflict, but it did mean the bourgeois-state axis of conflict had been eclipsed by that of the state–popular movement. The disputes with business and the Right were disputes over control of the same societal project, whereas battle lines between popular movements and the state were drawn over distinct visions of society, development, and the future.

Latin America’s Passive Revolution

Massimo Modonesi’s reading of Antonio Gramsci’s “passive revolution” is useful for making sense of the trajectories of progressive governments in South America over the last ten to fifteen years. In Modonessi’s interpretation of Gramsci, passive revolution encompasses an unequal and dialectical combination of two tendencies simultaneously present in a single epoch — one of restoration of the old order and the other of revolution, one of preservation and the other of transformation.

The two tendencies coexist in tandem, but it is possible to decipher one tendency that ultimately determines or characterizes the process or cycle of a given epoch. The transformative features of a passive revolution mark a distinct set of changes from the preceding period, but those changes ultimately guarantee the stability of the fundamental relations of domination, even while these assume novel political forms.

At the same time, the specific class content of passive revolutions can vary within certain limits — that is to say, the different degrees to which particular components of popular demands are incorporated (the transformative tendency) within a matrix that ultimately sustains the fundamental relations of domination (the restorative tendency).

Passive revolutions involve neither total restoration of the old order, the full reenactment of the status quo, nor radical revolution. Instead, they involve a dialectic of revolution/restoration, transformation/preservation.

Capacities for social mobilization from below in early stages are contained or coopted — or selectively repressed — while the political initiative of sections of the dominant classes is restored. In the process, a new mode of domination is established that is capable of enacting conservative reforms masked in the language of earlier impulses emerging from below, and thus achieving a passive consensus of the dominated classes.

Rather than an instantaneous restoration, under passive revolution there is a molecular change in the balance of forces that gradually drains the capacities for self-organization and self-activity from below through cooptation, encouraging demobilization and guaranteeing passive acceptance of the new order.

In the context of Ecuador, Agustín Cueva’s Marxist theorization of impasse in the 1970s parallels Modonessi’s passive revolution most closely. There have been recurring moments in Ecuadorian history where the intensity of the horizontal, intra-capital conflicts, in combination with vertical contests between the ruling and popular classes, was simply too much for the existing form of domination to bear. As politicians sought new and more stable forms of domination, instability reigned in the interregnum, until an impasse was reached.

Overcoming such impasses, as sociologist Francisco Muñoz Jaramillo points out, has been the work of populists, in Ecuadorian history, of Caesars and Bonapartes. Think of the left-military government of Guillermo Rodríguez Lara (1972–75) or that of left-populist Jaime Roldós (1979–1982), which took up the ideological mantle of newly emergent bourgeois layers against some of the interests of traditional oligarchs and incorporated the popular sectors through corporatist techniques of sectional negotiation and bargaining.

Between 1982 and 2006, the dominant classes of the country attempted to introduce neoliberal restructuring through a variety of channels. It was a deeply unstable period, reaching an apex in the 1999 financial crisis, followed by a series of mobilizations that threw out various heads of state in succession before their mandate was completed.

The orthodox neoliberal governments of León Febres Cordero (1984–88), Sixto Durán Ballén (1992–96), and Jamil Mahuad (1998–2000) tried and failed, in many ways, to carry out far-reaching structural adjustment programs, giving birth to right-wing populist experiments, such as Abadalá Bucaram (1996–97) and Lucio Gutiérrez (2003–5).

Accused of embezzlement and corruption, mass protests succeeded in forcing Bucaram’s impeachment. A military man, Gutiérrez, after participating in a short-lived coup against Mahuad in 2000, ran on a left ticket in the 2002 presidential elections, but governed from the right, and thus was overthrown as well.

Correa and the Left

These were two decades, then, of a neoliberal variant of Cueva’s recurring impasse. Correa calmed the storm and restored profits in sectors like banking, mining, oil, and agro-industry, and has simultaneously coopted or crushed most independent social movement activity.

Rhetorically, the government has employed vague ideologies, from buen vivir (an indigenous conception of “living well”) in the beginning of the administration, to the techno-fetishism that has dominated the last several years (best exemplified in theYachay Tech university debacle, and some dystopic model cities in the Amazon, as the excellent research team at the local think tank CENEDET has pointed out).

At the end of the day, Correa has been functional to capital. However, this isn’t the same as saying he is capital’s first choice — like all his populist predecessors, Correa is expendable. With the price of oil falling, capital is scrambling to collect what’s available and regain more direct control of the state. It’s an uncertain period ahead, and the sentiment on the Right is that Correa should go. A recent piece in the Economistcaptures this nicely, essentially thanking him for his service while showing him the door:

Mr. Correa faces a choice . . . He could persist in his bid for permanent power and risk being kicked out by the street, like his predecessors. Or he could swallow his pride, stabilize the economy and drop his re-election bid. He would then go down in history as one of Ecuador’s most successful presidents.

The various forces of the Left, broadly defined, are meanwhile trying to rebuild and regain initiative and forge the bases of a societal project that is a genuine alternative to both Correa and the Right. But the Left is starting from a point of weakness and disarticulation, and the present ideological and political landscape could scarcely be more complicated.

Original article: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/correa-pink-tide-gramsci-peoples-march/


Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, First Nations, Latin America.
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By Gerard Coffey

by lalineadefuego.info

August 27 2015

One of the things the 2013 presidential candidate Alberto Acosta remarked on after the left’s comprehensive defeat, was that the political stability Rafael Correa brought to the country after a decade of chaos had been a major factors in his victory at the polls. People had appreciated it more than was evident at the time. The thought comes to mind now, in the wake of August’s major anti-government demonstrations that in all probability are only precursor of an even greater test of strength in the next few months. The Pax Correana may be finally be coming to an end.

The president rather unsurprisingly dismissed the protests as the work of a few, adding insults for good measure, as is his wont. Few they were not however, although diverse they certainly were. And after days and nights of tear gas and anti Correa chants, of arrests, violence and the de facto deportation of an indigenous leader’s partner[i], a respectable number were still protesting a week later. Tenacity was certainly not lacking. Although the marches and demonstrations may have come to an end, this is not the end, the protestors will be back in mid-September. Round two promises more of the same.

The government’s customary confrontational attitude exacerbated everything, but then no one expected Rafael Correa to lie down and be rolled over; the South American Margaret Thatcher, though clearly with another agenda, is not for turning. But Margaret Thatcher was finally turned, by her own people. Decisiveness and strength may be useful in a politician, cutting through Gordian knots is a talent, but limits there are, and in the end strength can too easily become weakness, as Thatcher found out. The hope is that the comparison between the two leaders will not be lost on any government official or legislator that cares to think about it. Unfortunately, few likely will.

A major difficulty is the country’s political structure. The indigenous populations, there are a number in the country, have been denigrated and ‘repressed’ since the time Columbus stumbled into the Caribbean, and the long fight for recognition and equality is not yet in sight. Nor has racism disappeared and can be counted on to erupt when the ‘indios’ claim their rights, in particular hen the government denigrates them in the name of governing for the great majority. At the same time, trying as Rafael Correa has to impose the evidently unsuccessful French model of the supposed equality of all – we are all Citoyens in Correa’s Ecuador – was never likely to succeed in the multicultural world of the Andes. One of the indigenous groups’ deepest fears is disappearance, a slow melting away into an amorphous population that might acknowledged their (its) past but not their present or future.

Anything that may consequently hasten that evaporation – loss of control over territory due to large extractive projects such as mining and oil, loss of influence over water supply as a result of recently passed legislation, added to lack of support for the small scale farming on which many, and the internal market, still depend – will as a result be fiercely resisted. Understanding that man does not live by bread alone is crucial. In addition, we have the President’s tendency to insult anyone getting in his way, and as the group with the most to organize against him, the ‘indios’, have consequently received special attention. Given their history it is hardly surprising that derision is not appreciated.

So the indigenous people have legitimate claims, but no way to make them heard, or rather have them resolved. As a minority, representative democracy does not work in their favour, but as a special case, and few would care to deny that this they are, they deserve better. They know it and so do we; so when they say that building roads, schools and hospitals is not enough, we should be listening. If we do not, if the government does not, because as the President likes to repeat ad nauseum, he has an electoral mandate, then the obvious answer for indigenous groups is to use whatever tools they may have at their disposal: blocking roads being one of them.

Blocking roads is of course prohibited, and to emphasise the point President Correa stated the obvious: that roads would be cleared, more or less ‘at any cost’. Fortunately ‘at any cost’ did not come to pass, but costs in the form of violence and arrests came quickly enough. The use of the police and military to control the population in times of trouble may be necessary, the government can hardly be expected to hand over control to whoever cares to challenge it, but the cost will be high, both in terms of people injured and credibility lost. And all sides know it[ii].

The pattern is familiar: the police attempt to dislodge the protestors who in turn resist, at times violently, the police, hardly known for being gentle in these kinds of situations, react with even greater violence, and so on, and so on… the protestors finally lose and the road is cleared. No one accepts any responsibility, not police, who have their own injured to show for their efforts, or the government, which claims that it is just trying to maintain order and that the police are heroes, or even the indigenous groups, whose protest may be legitimate, but whose tactics may be questionable unless the idea is to use the victims of police violence as evidence of the state’s lack of legitimacy.

Whatever the case may be, the outcome of the latest battles will not bring peace. This war is not over. Neither the violence, nor the arrests, nor the confrontational rhetoric, nor the clumsily belligerent threat of legal action against the head of the country’s most important indigenous organization will be enough to stop the next march, or the one after that. In all likelihood they will have the opposite effect. And there is also the small matter of the debate in the National Assembly over whether to allow Rafael Correa to be indefinitely re-elected[iii]. Planned for December, insistence on passing the measure without a national plebiscite (according to the polls eighty percent or more are in favour of being consulted) will bring a lot more people onto the street: the indigenous groups, the right, the left, the center, the good, the bad and the ugly…

The indigenous agenda is not the only one of course; there are many grievances – the use of the justice system to hound political enemies; the setting up of government sponsored social organisations to divide the opposition; the decision to drill for oil in Yasuní National Park; the imposition of Catholic values on a constitutionally lay state; the president’s bellicose style, etc. etc. – but it is the central theme around which the others will likely gel. Even the right will support it to some degree, until it regains power.

That all things pass is not at issue, the real question is the timing. Rafael Correa’s time as President has not yet been defined: he might survive to run again, he might even win, but the end of his tenure and of the region’s ‘progressive’ governments seems to be drawing closer; only the faithful or those with vested interests would argue the contrary. On the other hand, his reign has not been a failure; many good things have happened over the last eight years. But added to the erosion of his personal credibility, the political and economic atmosphere is not what it was in 2005 when he first ran for President, witness the situations in Brasil and Venezuela. Ecuador is not Venezuela, not yet at any rate, and no major corruption scandal has stained the government as in Brasil, not yet at any rate, but as in that country the rapidly deteriorating economic situation will almost inevitably increase disillusion with ‘progressive’ leaders, and consequently add to the President’s woes.

The only bright spot for Rafael Correa and his supporters is that until now no credible opponent has appeared, certainly not on the left, which has no real electoral structure and appears to be betting everything on the protests. The tactic would appear to be somewhat shortsighted as despite the dire economic situation[iv] people want to believe in something, in the possibility of a brighter future, however defined. Optimism is the opiate of the people as Milan Kundera once concluded and Rafael Correa is if nothing else the master of optimism, a sort of Ecuadorian pied piper if you will, whose approval rating is still at a healthy fifty percent. Correa seems far from finished, but then again the same appeared to be true in Brasil before Dilma Rousseff ran for reelection; now she hangs on for dear life and makes deals with the neoliberal right. Despite the wisdom of the old adage, previously disdained opposition candidates have a habit of becoming credible in the face of already known and increasingly unpopular devils.

[i] Manuela Picq a Franco-Brasilian academic who has also written for the Al Jazeera English Network, is the partner of Carlos Pérez Guartambel, the President of Ecuarunari, the country’s principal Kichwa organization. She was arrested during the protests, was about to have her visa rescinded when she decided to leave voluntarily. She is unlikely to be allowed back in.

[ii] It has been suggested that infiltrators were used by the government to provoke attacks on the police and discredit a pacific protest.

[iii] According to the country’s reigning Constitution, approved in 2009, the President can only be re-elected once. Amending the Constitution can be done in two ways: by popular vote if it the changes are deemed to alter the fundamental nature of the state, or if not, by a two thirds parliamentary majority, which Correa’s party has.

[iv] Since 2000 Ecuador’s currency is the US dollar, which presently stands at an almost historic high against other currencies. Without the capacity to devalue the country’s exports are suffering, at the same time that the price of oil, the country’s major export has dropped below $40 a barrel. The president recently suggested that Ecuador’s income from oil would amount to no more than US$40 million this year.

#BlackLivesMatter and the Democrats: How Disruption Can Lead to Collaboration August 17, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Hillary Clinton, Race, Racism, Revolution.
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by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The #Black Lives Matter organization may believe that it is confronting, rather than collaborating with, the Democratic Party, by disrupting candidates’ speeches. However, the tactic inevitably leads to “either a direct or indirect, implicit endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s).” In the absence of radical #BLM demands, “all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats.” That’s not movement politics.

If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it is doomed.”

A year after the police murder of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, an incipient mass movement struggles to congeal and define itself. The emergent movement is rooted in resistance to systemic state violence and repression in Black America, yet its trajectory wobbles under the push and pull of the contending forces that have been set in motion, and is further distorted by relentless pressures from a power structure that pursues simultaneous strategies of both cooptation and annihilation.

Physical annihilation is a constant threat to the “street” component of the movement, such as the young people of Ferguson whose defiance of the armed occupation inspired a national mobilization, and whose urban guerilla language resonates in all the inner cities of the nation. They are the cohort whose social existence has been shaped and defined by a mass Black incarceration regime inaugurated two generations ago as the national response to the Black movements of the Sixties. The clearly visible fact that many of the cops that occupied Ferguson during this week’s anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder were physically afraid – and that the “street” brothers and sisters were demonstrably not – is all the proof we need that Black youth in what we used to call the “ghetto” remain eager to confront their tormentors.

Physical annihilation, or a lifetime of social death through imprisonment, is also only a presidential executive order away for the “above ground” activists of the movement, whose comings, goings and communications are carefully tracked by the First Black President’s secret police, as reported byIntercept. The various components of what is collectively called the Black Lives Matter movement are on the domestic enemies list of Homeland Security, overseen by Jeh Johnson, a Black man, and the FBI, under the overall direction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a Black woman.

“Black youth in what we used to call the “ghetto” remain eager to confront their tormentors.”

Lynch, like her predecessor, Eric Holder, believes her race entitles her to play both Lord High Prosecutor and Black role model. Thus, as a Black “elder” and “credit to her race,” Lynch purports to have the moral authority to define what the movement should be doing to commemorate Michael Brown’s murder. “The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing,” she said – as if people should reconcile themselves to a system that kills a Black person roughly every day, has resulted in one out of every eight prison inmates in the world being an African American; a system that cannot possibly be healed. “But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night,” Lynch warns, switching to her Lord High Prosecutor persona, “are contrary to both that message, along with everything [we] have worked to achieve over the past year.”

What the Obama administration has spent the year trying to do, is co-opt the same activists they are building dossiers on, in preparation for possible future detention. There are clear limits, however, to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that, like all Democratic and Republican governments in the United States for the past 45 years, is totally committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime – albeit with some tinkering at the margins.

The greatest asset of the movement cooptation project is the Democratic Party, itself, an institution that thoroughly dominates Black politics at every level of community life. Not only are Black elected officials overwhelmingly Democrats, but virtually all of the established Black civic organizations – the NAACP, the National Urban League, most politically active Black churches, fraternities and sororities – act as annexes of the Democratic Party. Two generations after the disbanding of the Black grassroots movement and the independent politics that grew out of that movement, the Democratic Party permeates political discourse in Black America. And the Democratic Party is where progressive movements go to die.

“There are clear limits to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that is totally committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime.”

If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it is doomed. Yet, the #BlackLivesMatter organization, a structured group with a highly visible leadership and chapters in 26 cities, is now circling the event-horizon of the Democratic Black Hole. To the extent that it, and other movement organizations, have gotten money from labor unions, they are accepting Democratic Party cash, since organized labor in the U.S. is also an extension of – and a cash cow to – the Democrats. Indeed, labor union money in a presidential election year is far more dangerous to the independence of the movement than grants from outfits like the Ford Foundation. Labor wants measureable results for its dollars, and will make its money talk at the ballot box.

#BlackLivesMatter activists may convince themselves that they are confronting the ruling class electoral duopoly by disrupting presidential candidates’ speeches, but the tactic leads straight to cooptation. What is the purpose? If #BLM’s goal is to push the candidates to adopt better positions on criminal justice reform, what happens afterwards? The logic of the tactic leads to either a direct or indirect, implicit endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s). Otherwise, why should #BLM – or the candidates – go through the exercise?

Former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor Martin OMalley, whose draconian street-sweeps resulted in the arrest of 750,000 people in one year – more than the total population of the city – submitted a full-blown criminal justice system proposal after being confronted by #BLM. Will it be graded? Is #BLM in the business of rating candidates? If so, then the group is inevitably acting as a Democratic Party lobby/constituency, and is wedded to certain electoral outcomes. At that point, it ceases being an independent movement, or an example of independent Black politics. It’s just another brand of Democrat.

If the goal is to pressure candidates to put forward “better” positions on criminal justice or other issues, then what #BLM is actually doing is nudging Democrats towards incremental reform. In the absence of radical #BLM demands, all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats. (None of this works with the Republican White Man’s Party.)

The #BLM tactic avoids formulation and aggressive agitation of core movement demands. But, a movement is defined by its demands – which is one reason that the current mobilization is best described as an “incipient” movement; a mobilization with great promise.

“Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced Democratic president and sometimes ally Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War, in 1967, and rejected even the appearance of collaboration with the ruling class duopoly. King understood that his job was to move masses of people towards their own empowerment, not to act as an interest group or lobby in the corridors of the system. (Malcolm X, and later, the Black Panther Party, would have pilloried King if he had.) Half a century later, the Democratic Party is full of Black officials, but, in light of their performance in office, this is more evidence of defeat than victory. Two months before Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, 80 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus – four out of five full-voting members – supported continued Pentagon transfers of military weapons and gear to local police departments, including the Black congressman representing Ferguson, William “Lacy” Clay.

The Democratic Party, like its Republican duopoly cousin, is a criminal enterprise, polluting the politics of Black America. Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes. They are the enemies, within, the people who have facilitated the mass Black incarceration regime for two generations. “Lacy” Clay and his CBC colleagues have killed thousands of Michael Browns.

People’s core demands ring out in every demonstration. When Black protesters shout, “Killer cops out of our neighborhood,” they aren’t referring to a couple of especially bad apples; they’re talking about the whole damn occupation army. That’s why the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, which holds its national conference in Philadelphia,August 22 and 23, believes “Black Community Control of the Police” is a righteous, self-determinationist demand. Other groups may feel strongly about other demands, and that’s fine. Movements are lively places. But, a movement cannot congeal without core demands.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted atGlen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Mississippi Stuntmen August 7, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Police, Race, Racism.
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by BAR poet in residence Raymond Nat Turner

Our poet in residence reflects upon the unique

and innovative skillsets deployed by those who

allegedly take their own lives in police custody

Mississippi stuntmen

by BAR poet in residence Raymond Nat Turner




Everybody knows about

Mississippi goddamn, Mississippi goddamn!”

But who knew about Mississippi stuntmen?

Hey Hollywood, get hip, headhunt,

Hire stunt men from Mississippi jails,

Recruit from backseats of Arkansas

police cruisers, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout-

like men, prepared to off themselves—

wizards using everyday objects; hanging them-





Hire Mississippi stuntmen, men with sick skill-

sets, leaping up in jail cells, NBA hops and hang-


men making Michael Jordan, Dr. J, LeBron look like

weekend-warrior/couch potatoes, defying physics,

gravity, logic, performing impossible physical feats!

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, superb actors, too—

acting normal, hiding severe depression, recurring

suicidal thoughts, until the scene shifts behind bars

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, made for mysteries,

thrillers, whodunits, horror flicks; Masters of the

suicide scene, hanging themselves with anything

on the set—gaffers tape, super hero’s cape, head-

phones, chicken bones, eagle feathers, trailer tethers—

Garbage bag geniuses!

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, …”everybody knows about

Mississippi goddamn,” but who knew about Mississippi

stuntmen? David Copperfields in orange jumpsuits making

Handguns appear out of thin air, making dash-cam video dis-


Hey Hollywood, get hip, headhunt,

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, one take wonders

who’ll bring your blockbuster in under budget!

Independent contractors in right to work states

of mind: No pensions, 401ks, no social security,



Mississippi stuntmen travel and teach in Texas,

Arkansas, in fact, all over the U.S…. Up south,





Anywhere south of the Canadian Border!

Mississippi stuntmen come certified by CWS:

Crackkkers With Stars!

Raymond Nat Turner © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Kids Who Die August 6, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Police, Race, Racism.
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Israel Clears the Bench in Iran Fight August 2, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Racism.
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Israel – in its desperation to kill the Iran nuclear deal – is exposing its often-denied influence over the U.S. political/media process. Israeli officials are even using football analogies to rally U.S. lawmakers while emptying the bench of friendly “experts” to mount a goal-line stand


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a joint session of Congress in March. (Photo: AP)


Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, acting like the coach of a football team, instructed congressional Republicans to “leave everything on the field” in the fight to defeat the international agreement with Iran over its nuclear energy program, a sign of how openly Israel now feels it controls the GOP.

Israel wants the Iran deal killed so it can keep open options for bombing Iran and imposing “regime change.” And, immediately after Dermer’s locker-room-style pep talk, Republican members of Congress began falling into line, lashing out at Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials who negotiated the agreement reached earlier this month between six world powers and Iran.

House Speaker John Boehner announced that he would “do everything possible to stop” the deal. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told Kerry that he’d been “fleeced.” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican candidate for president, said the next president – presumably meaning himself if he’s successful – could overturn the deal because it’s not a binding treaty.

All this was remarkable even to The New York Times, which usually looks the other way when Israel flexes its muscles in Official Washington. A Times article by Jonathan Weisman noted the extraordinary image of the Israeli ambassador using sports analogies to rile up Republican congressmen to overturn a key foreign policy initiative of the U.S. president.

“Mr. Dermer’s plea — which is widely expected to be followed by a mail, television and radio assault in Democratic districts during the August recess — demonstrates the power that the Israeli government and supportive interest groups in Washington maintain over congressional Republicans,” Weisman wrote.

Obviously, some of this Republican opposition is driven by a deep-seated animus toward President Barack Obama, but the confidence that Dermer, a onetime aide to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, showed in rallying Republicans to Israel’s foreign policy priority of hostility toward Iran reveals the degree to which the GOP as a party now ties its agenda in the Mideast to Israel.

Connections between Republicans and right-wing Israelis have grown tighter since the presidency of George W. Bush who began implementing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy of “regime change” against countries on his enemies list, starting with Iraq in 2003. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

Since then, wealthy Israeli backers, such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, have funneled huge sums of money into Republican campaigns. In 2012, Netanyahu virtually endorsed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And, on March 3, House Speaker Boehner invited Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress that was remarkable in its overt appeal to American lawmakers to embrace Israel’s foreign policy regarding Iran – over the head of the sitting U.S. president.

Clearing the Bench

In its current pull-out-all-the-stops to show who controls the U.S. political/media process, Israel also is throwing other key assets into this high-stakes fight. For instance, Steven Emerson, who has long posed as a professional journalist and then as a terrorism expert, was a featured speaker at a Times Square rally urging not only death to the nuclear deal but death to Iran.

“So now we have the situation that unless Congress acts, I believe ultimately, it’s going to be left up to a military strike to take out the Iranian capabilities to take out the world,” Emerson told a cheering crowd of a couple of thousand. “If we don’t take out Iran, they will take out us. … Because if you don’t your children will never forgive you – never forgive you for not protecting this country from a holocaust. For not protecting the state of Israel from a holocaust that will occur assuredly just as it did 70 years ago.

“Rarely in our lives do we have an opportunity to change history. Now is the time to do it, and it’s your responsibility all of ours, to go do it.”

Earlier this year, Emerson, who has longstanding close ties to right-wing Israeli officials, was caught in a blatant falsehood – and slur – about British Muslims. Appearing on Fox News as a “terrorism expert,” he claimed that Birmingham, England, is now a “Muslim-only city” and that in parts of London “Muslim religious police … beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire.”

Emerson asserted that Muslim areas have become “no-go zones” for non-Muslims and cited as an example “actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.” Yet, Birmingham, Great Britain’s second-largest city of more than one million people, is nearly half Christian, with the Muslim population less than one-quarter and with significant numbers of Sikhs, Hindus, Jews and non-religious.

As Emerson’s Muslim-bashing remarks drew criticism from the media watchdog group FAIR and ridicule across the United Kingdom, he acknowledged that his “comments about Birmingham were totally in error” and vowed not to blame someone else for his slander.

“I do not intend to justify or mitigate my mistake by stating that I had relied on other sources because I should have been much more careful,” Emerson said in an apparent attempt to do exactly that, shift the blame to some unnamed source for supposedly misleading him. [For more on Emerson’s history of distortion, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Sorry Record of a Muslim Basher.”]

The heated debate over the Iran nuclear deal is bringing out of the woodwork other longstanding alarmists about Iran’s nuclear program, which has not produced a single bomb, even as some of these same “experts” have studiously ignored the reality of Israel’s rogue nuclear arsenal.

For instance, David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security (with the now unfortunate acronym ISIS), is back in the pages of the mainstream media warning about possible gaps in the Iranian nuclear deal.

Albright was sought out for comment by the Times’ neocon national security writer Michael R. Gordon, who co-authored the infamous “aluminum tube” story in 2002 that was used to frighten Americans about “mushroom clouds” if they didn’t support an invasion of Iraq. On Thursday, Gordon’s latest story quoting Albright was entitled, online, “Verification Process in Iran Deal Is Questioned by Some Experts.”

An Iraq War Reunion

At times, this Israeli-driven battle to stop the Iran deal almost seems like a reunion of discredited journalists and “experts” who helped guide the United States into the disastrous Iraq War. In 2002, around the same time Gordon, along with Judith Miller, was penning his “aluminum tube” story, Albright and his ISIS were key figures in stoking the hysteria for invading Iraq around other false allegations of its WMD program.

At the end of summer 2002, as Bush was beginning his advertising roll-out for the Iraq invasion and dispatching his top aides to the Sunday talk shows to cite Gordon’s “aluminum tube” article and warn about “smoking guns” and “mushroom clouds,” Albright co-authored a Sept. 10, 2002, article – entitled “Is the Activity at Al Qaim Related to Nuclear Efforts?” – which declared:

“High-resolution commercial satellite imagery shows an apparently operational facility at the site of Iraq’s al Qaim phosphate plant and uranium extraction facility … This site was where Iraq extracted uranium for its nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. … This image raises questions about whether Iraq has rebuilt a uranium extraction facility at the site, possibly even underground. … The uranium could be used in a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.”

Albright’s alarming allegations fit neatly with Bush’s propaganda barrage, although as the months wore on – with Bush’s warnings about aluminum tubes and yellowcake from Africa growing more outlandish – Albright did display more skepticism about the existence of a revived Iraqi nuclear program. Still, he remained a “go-to” expert on other Iraqi purported WMD, such as chemical and biological weapons. In a typical quote on Oct. 5, 2002, Albright told CNN: “In terms of the chemical and biological weapons, Iraq has those now.”

After Bush launched the Iraq invasion in March 2003 and Iraq’s secret WMD caches didn’t materialize, Albright admitted that he had been conned, explaining to the Los Angeles Times: “If there are no weapons of mass destruction, I’ll be mad as hell. I certainly accepted the administration claims on chemical and biological weapons. I figured they were telling the truth. If there is no [unconventional weapons program], I will feel taken, because they asserted these things with such assurance.” [See FAIR’s “The Great WMD Hunt,”]

Albright may have been “mad as hell” for being “taken” but he suffered little, especially compared to the nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of slain Iraqis, not to mention the millions of others who have suffered from the chaos that the likes of Emerson, Gordon and Albright helped unleash across the Middle East.

In recent years, Albright and his institute have adopted a similarly alarmist role regarding Iran and its purported pursuit of a nuclear weapon, even though U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran terminated that weapons project in 2003.

Nevertheless, Albright transformed his organization into a sparkplug for a new confrontation with Iran. Though Albright insists that he is an objective professional, his ISIS has published hundreds of articles about Iran, which has not produced a single nuclear bomb, while barely mentioning Israel’s hundreds of bombs.

An examination of the ISIS Web site reveals only a few technical articles relating to Israel’s nukes while Albright’s ISIS expanded its coverage of Iran’s nuclear program so much that it was moved onto a separate Web site. The articles have not only hyped developments in Iran but also have attacked U.S. media critics who questioned the fear-mongering about Iran.

A couple of years ago when a non-mainstream journalist confronted Albright about the disparity between his institute’s concentration on Iran and de minimis coverage of Israel, he angrily responded that he was working on a report about Israel’s nuclear program. But there is still no substantive assessment of Israel’s large nuclear arsenal on the ISIS Web site, which goes back to 1993.

Despite this evidence of bias, mainstream U.S. news outlets typically present Albright as a neutral analyst. They also ignore his checkered past, including his prominent role in promoting President Bush’s pre-invasion case that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD.

However, since Albright and these other propagandists/operatives were never held accountable for the Iraq catastrophe, they are now rushing back into the game to try to block the Iran nuclear deal – and potentially turn the ball over in pursuit of another Mideast war. Netanyahu and his team appear to be clearing the bench for a goal-line stand.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism July 31, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Imperialism.
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Roger’s note: Sort of like Woody Allen not wanting to join a club that would have someone like him, my take on the US presidency: if a person could actually get elected you wouldn’t want her, and if there were a person you would want to be president, she couldn’t possibly get elected.  If by some impossible miracle someone truly committed to justice and peace and the dismantling of the imperialist ‘s military industrial complex actually got elected, what could that person actually achieve between election day and assassination?

To one degree or another, all heads of capitalist governments, including so-called socialists, “are Tsipiras.”

Those investing emotional and physical energy in the Bernie Sanders campaign are engaged in a huge waste of time.  This would be true even if Sanders wasn’t at bottom just another opportunistic pseudo left politician.  The essential question of just what is the United States presidency is nicely approached in the following article.  I found it worthwhile trudging through the not so clear to me historical analysis to get through to the meat at the end.

Ongoing left debates regarding Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign are frequently characterized by a shared premise. Whether arguing, for instance, that Sanders is dismissive of race or countering that his emphasis on economics necessarily entails anti-racism, both sides tend to assume that Sanders would be able to meaningfully advance his politics if he were to become president. That is, both sides generally presuppose the liberal notion of pluralism, which conceives of a neutral and malleable state that can be shaped and reshaped by those who govern it.

The history of the presidency illustrates a very different story, one in which the political party and personal inclinations of presidents (let alone candidates) are generally irrelevant to how they wield power. Presidents – whether Constitutional Law professor/community organizers or religious zealots with MBAs – historically have advanced the objective interests of the nation-state, prioritizing its international power and the profitability of its economy above all other considerations. Notwithstanding cogent left criticisms of Sanders, the key question is not whether Sanders is a phony but what, if elected president, he will in fact be sworn to do. In other words, what are presidents?

The Constitution was of course designed to replace the Articles of Confederation, whose preservation of revolutionary anti-monarchism (“The Spirit of 1776”) resulted in what the framers came to fear as a dangerously weak state. The decentralized Articles did not have an executive and instead placed power in the legislature (the “People’s Branch”) and the states. Not only did such decentralization preclude national coherence but it also prevented the national government from raising taxes and thereby armies, leaving it, among other things, unequipped to suppress mass debtor insurrections.

Encouraging state legislatures to eliminate debts through inflating state currencies and issuing “stay laws,” debtor insurrections horrified leaders who argued that revolutionary liberty had gone “too far.” Indeed, debtors’ repudiation of property rights (sometimes destroying debt records directly) reflected the growing power of Hamilton and Madison’s dreaded (if not oxymoronic) “majority faction,” which according to Madison threatened not merely the small creditor class but the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community” as well.

Significantly, the Framers discussed the threat of foreign invasion and the threat of domestic insurrection in the same vein. But while the former would clearly challenge the national character of the state, the latter – conducted by citizens after all – would not. That is, Madison and Hamilton’s nation-state is not a clean slate of pluralistically competing factions but has instead always been intrinsically defined by the general interests and demands – if not the personal economic interests of the founders – of the propertied class. Aggregating concrete competing interests into an imagined national community, the framers established antagonistic property relations as the cornerstone of the nation-state and, more specifically, guaranteed that the propertied few would be protected from the property-less many. Accordingly, the Framers designed a government that “multiplied” and “diffused” factions while “filtering” the “violent passions” of the masses through “insulated” and “responsible” “elites” in order to obstruct the majority’s inevitable “rage for paper money, for abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project….”

Steward of the State

The Constitution not only centralized power but also eliminated the legislature’s dominance by establishing a bicameral Congress and a “separation of powers” that enabled the executive to become supreme. Article II granted the president a powerful veto, and its provision for unity and relative vagueness provided the executive with the tools for the “energy,” “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch” deemed necessary for “strong government.” Aghast at the power of the Constitution in general and the new executive in particular, Patrick Henry warned that the “tyranny of Philadelphia” would come to resemble the tyranny of King George.

Predictably, George Washington exploited Article II’s vagueness, invoking the “take care” clause to crush the Whiskey Rebellion and capitalizing on the omission of Article I’s qualifier “herein granted shall be vested in” to issue the Neutrality Proclamation. But it was not until Thomas Jefferson’s presidency that the objective character of the presidency became manifestly clear. It is indeed an emblematic irony of U.S. history that while the Jeffersonians won most of the early presidential elections, continental and international imperial pressure to expand led them to frequently implement Hamiltonian policies once in office. While Washington and Adams (one also thinks of the Alien and Sedition Acts) expressed Hamiltonian political orientations, Jefferson personified a diametrically opposed U.S. political tradition. Whereas Hamilton was a loose constructionist who advocated for a large national government and a strong executive that would pursue manufacturing following the British model of development, Jefferson was a strict constructionist who advocated for a small national government and weak executive that would pursue agrarianism following the French model of development. Yet, in spite of his lifelong principles, Jefferson in significant respects presided like a Hamiltonian, violating his strict constructionism via the Louisiana Purchase and the Fourth Amendment via his aggressive, albeit unsuccessful, Embargo Act.

Andrew Jackson continued this pattern, expanding the power of the executive as well as the national government notwithstanding his previous advocacy of small government and states’ rights. Beyond his unprecedentedly aggressive use of the veto (Jackson was the first president to use the veto on policies he merely disliked instead of those deemed unconstitutional), Jackson threatened to use military force against South Carolina if it did not yield to the national government during the Nullification Crisis. And it is notable that when Jackson did support states’ rights after Georgia violated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, it was in the name of expelling the Southeast’s Native-Americans in order to clear the land for profitable exploitation by African American slaves. That is, Jackson supported the states as long as they were pursuing nation-building rather than their own parochial interests.

And though the growth of the executive was neither even nor always linear, its long-term evolution has been characterized more than anything else by massive and bipartisan aggrandizement. Even periodic setbacks, such as the Congressional backlash against Nixon’s “imperial presidency,” proved to be ephemeral. Reagan merely danced around the War Powers Resolution in his illegal funding of the Contras, while Obama circumvented the WPR by declaring that his war on Libya wasn’t in fact a war. By the time of the George W. Bush Administration, the executive – usurping the Congress via signing statements and the courts via military tribunals, among countless other encroachments – had unprecedentedly expanded its power. Contrary to liberal mythology, Bush was hardly an anomaly, as his response to 9/11 built upon Clinton’s attack on civil liberties following the Oklahoma City bombing, just as Obama’s “kill lists,” surveillance, and drone warfare have expanded Bush’s apparently permanent state of exception.

Manager of Capitalism

It is important to note that this expansion of executive power did not occur in a vacuum. On the contrary, executive aggrandizement has more often than not correlated to emergencies in general and capitalist crises in particular. As “steward” of the system, to use Theodore Roosevelt’s appellation, the modern president is devoted not only to expanding the power of the state vis-à-vis international competitors but also to maintaining the conditions for the capitalist economy with which it, in large measure, competes. Jackson aimed to open new arenas for capitalist accumulation not only through the primitive accumulation of Indian removal and chattel slavery but also through eliminating corrupt, monopolistic, and ossified economic institutions such as the Charles River Bridge Company and Biddle’s Bank.

Jackson’s incipient capitalism had become a mature and complex system producing enormous social and political problems by the turn of the century. In turn, Theodore Roosevelt radically expanded presidential power by inverting Jefferson’s interpretation of the Constitution: while Jefferson claimed that the president can only do what the Constitution explicitly permitted, Roosevelt claimed that the president could do anything that the Constitution did not explicitly forbid. As such, Roosevelt intervened in the Coal Strike of 1902 and threatened to seize and run the mines after failing to initiate arbitration meetings, while the Hepburn Act saw the U.S. issuing price controls for the first time.

Although progressives applauded the executive’s reinvention as a “trust-busting” “referee” after decades of pro-business policies, the presidency had in fact remained consistent in its relationship to capitalism. When nascent capitalism required primitive accumulation and (selective) laissez-faire, Jackson gave the system what it needed; when rampaging capitalism threatened to destroy its own social and economic bases during the Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt did the same.

Before (if at all) considering the interests of the people that he nominally represents, the president must insure that they constitute a ready and exploitable workforce in the case of economic expansion or that they do not threaten the state’s social and political stability in the case of depression. Indeed, the president (though typically not more myopic business leaders) has frequently recognized the danger of killing the golden goose during capitalist crises, a point made explicitly by that giant of the liberal imagination, FDR.  As recounted by Neil Smith in The Endgame of Globalization, FDR explained his rationale for the New Deal to business leaders: “‘I was convinced we’d have a revolution’ in the US ‘and I decided to be its leader and prevent it. I’m a rich man too,’ he continued, ‘and have run with your kind of people. I decided a half loaf was better than none – a half for me and a half for you and no revolution.’” Such cynical calculations allow us to reconcile the “good FDR” of the New Deal with the “bad FDR” who interned Japanese-Americans and firebombed Tokyo, Dresden, and other urban centers.

Notwithstanding the limitations of the New Deal (which among other things emphasized selective social redistribution at the expense of preserving mass exploitation), the Keynesian rescue package had run out of gas by 1973. Amid renewed global competition and the increase in oil prices, profit contracted, but for the first time since the postwar “Golden Age of Capitalism” had begun, spending no longer mitigated the effects of the glut. According to Tony Judt, Labor Prime Minister James Callaghan had “glumly explained to his colleagues, ‘We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession…I tell you, in all candour, that that option no longer exists.’”

It was within this context that laissez-faire, now refashioned as neoliberalism, rose from the dead, as it provided the apparent solutions (e.g., privatization, tax cuts, and deregulation) that Keynesianism could not. Put differently, capitalism generated a second wind not only by moving investment from industry to finance but also by cannibalizing the apparatus that had helped rescue it from its previous crisis. The growing chasm separating postwar liberal politics from the post-1970s new economics gave rise to “new” liberals including Clinton, Blair, Schroeder, Obama, and Hollande, who, operating within an increasingly limited range of action, attempted to manage liberalism’s strategic retreat. In so doing, liberal politicians have frequently compensated for their exhausted economic programs by embracing cultural issues, a strategy that has been termed, “Let them eat marriage.” While liberals accurately note that the monstrous right would be “even worse,” their warning is nevertheless dishonest insofar as it ignores that liberals are wedded to the political-economic system whose noxious effects produce such reactionaries in the first place.

Lest we conclude that this is a case of the domestic political cart leading the economic horse, it is crucial to reiterate that the collapse of economic liberalism has been a global phenomenon, whether expressed through Bill Clinton’s declaration that “the era of big government is over,” Francois Mitterand’s assertion that “‘The French are starting to understand that it is business that creates wealth, determines our standard of living and establishes our place in the global rankings,”’ or anti-austerity Syriza’s ongoing implementation of austerity.

That is, assuming that it would be desirable, the New Deal is unlikely to return (although a new world war or some other catastrophe can indeed press the “restart” button on capitalist development assuming there’s anyone left to exploit). Given the enormous global economic and structural constraints delimiting the presidency, it is possible to argue that Barack Obama, demonstrating prodigious “activity,” has done a remarkable job in advancing his domestic and international agendas. Rather than being “weak” or a “sell-out,” Obama very well might be, as liberals stress, the best we can hope for – a possibility that more than anything else radically indicts the system itself.

Obama’s political victories on Iran, Cuba, healthcare, and gay marriage should not be compared to his failures. They should instead be compared to his other, far more reactionary, achievements including Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, the Tran-Pacific Partnership Trade Treaty, mass surveillance, and the prosecution of whistleblowers, policies regularly conducted with Hamiltonian “energy,” “decision,” “secrecy,” and “dispatch.” These latter policies neither contradict nor are inconsistent with Obama’s liberal successes. Their common denominator is the presidential articulation of the primacy of the nation-state – and thereby capital accumulation – above all other concerns. The voters’ concerns are considered only when they are serviceable to these paramount interests.

Given the enormous powerlessness of the voter, it is unsurprising that the injunction “hope” so often accompanies political campaigns. Bill Clinton was “The Man from Hope,” Obama campaigned on “Hope,” and, overseas, Syriza promised that “Hope is Coming.” Selecting who will rule without any ability to control the content of that rule, the voter casts the ballot as an act of faith. Investing political and emotional energy into nothing more than the good name of the system (election nights are always exercises in flag-waving celebration of a system that lets us choose our rulers), voters incorrectly argue that voting is better than doing nothing and condemn those who abstain. Yet, the disillusioned are not to blame for forces that they have no control over. And if the disillusioned do become interested in challenging the abuses of everyday life, it will not be through voting but through criticizing the system that voting acclaims. The opposite of hope is not despair. It is power.

Joshua Sperber lives in New York and can be reached at jsperber4@gmail.com.


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