Archive | June 1st, 2014

Capitalism and Climate Change

NOVANEWS
The Growth Problem

by ALYSSA ROHRICHT

Capitalism dominates the globe. It has become so enmeshed into the cultural narrative that it seems almost axiomatic. Private owners (of capital) control the means of production. The goal: build profits. The best part about it is that if everyone pursues self-interest, the market will grow and society will benefit. The invisible hand helps the market to self-regulate, creating socially desirable results.

Simple? 

No. When it comes to dealing with issues such as poverty, the income gap, unemployment, economic crises, human rights, war, imperialism, and the externalization of costs on society and the environment, the invisible hand that Adam Smith once imagined is not invisible, it is nonexistent.

We are currently experiencing, without a doubt, the greatest crisis to face human kind. Indications of climate change are being seen around the globe: accelerated melting of the Arctic sea ice, rapidly receding glaciers, rising sea levels, warming oceans and ocean acidification, more frequent and longer-lasting droughts, stronger and more frequent storms, higher temperatures than ever recorded, and a rapid extinction of species are direct result of a warming climate.

There is a scientific consensus that the climate is rapidly changing and that these rapid changes are due to anthropogenic causes. The science is clear: the human-caused emissions of great amounts of greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – are causing global environmental damage.

Many argue that market and techo-based approaches are the way to combat climate change. They push for carbon taxing and trading, geo-engineering, and renewable energy without considering the fact that the system itself is incompatible with sustainability. By its very nature, capitalism seeks only to grow and accumulate – an idea that is diametrically opposed to a sustainable existence. 

In this series, I will examine how the capitalist system has brought us to climate disaster, and why it cannot get us out of it.

The Growth Problem

Ecological economist Herman Daly perhaps best emphasized the issue of unlimited economic growth acting within a limited environment. He called the idea of sustainable growth a “bad oxymoron” that is simply impossible.

“Impossibility statements are the very foundation of science. It is impossible to: travel faster than the speed of light; create or destroy matter-energy; build a perpetual motion machine, etc. By respecting impossibility theorems we avoid wasting resources on projects that are bound to fail. Therefore economists should be very interested in impossibility theorems, especially the one to be demonstrated here, namely that it is impossible for the world economy to grow its way out of poverty and environmental degradation. In other words, sustainable growth is impossible.”

Earth’s ecosystem is finite, yet our culture has developed a system whereby economic stability is gained only through unlimited growth. Within the capitalist market system, growth is essential, and the larger the growth, the healthier the economy. When growth slows, or worse, stops entirely, the system is in crisis.

Ecological health, on the other hand, is experiencing its own crisis as climate change threatens the stability of the entire planet. We’ve already exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity, and yet unfettered growth of the world’s population and greater resource consumption have continued.The Worldwatch Institute estimated that if the world consumed resources at the same rate per person as the average person in the United States, the Earth could support only 1.4 billion people. A world population of 6.2 billion (a number we’ve already far exceeded) could only support an average per capita income at about $5,100 per year. In the US, the average income per year is about $28,000.

Yet reducing our consumptive habits is antithetical to the capitalist enterprise, which functions only if the economy is growing. We have created a world system where economic health is directly opposed to environmental health. Capitalism necessitates ever increasing resource use, while the natural capacities of the environment require a severe cutback in consumption.

John Stuart Mill recognized this problem early on. He saw that capitalism’s focus on unlimited growth within a limited environment would logically lead to immense environmental destruction. Yet, instead of dismissing the system all together, Mill argued for a “stationary state”, or a state where economic growth ceases.

“If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.”

Yet a stationary state would mean certain disaster for a capitalist economy. Growth is simply essential for its survival. Spurred on by competition, capitalism seeks to constantly re-invest surplus into more capital; a system of self-expansion seeking only greater accumulation. The concept of stationary capitalism is an oxymoron.

Not only does capitalism need to expand its resource production and consumption, it also must seek out new markets in which to establish itself. Population growth is basic to capitalism, which is always seeking to grow the labor force and increase production of goods and thus capital. Growth in population means demands increase for new housing, furniture, appliances, schools, roads, cars, agriculture, and so forth, creating a healthier capitalist economy at the great expense of the environment and all species that inhabit it. The more people there are to purchase a car and fill it with gasoline, the more money that floods the market. The more people we can get hooked on iPads, yearly cellphone upgrades, shoes, makeup,

Directly opposed to the constant need for growth are Earth’s natural systems and carrying capacity. Scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre analyzed several of earth’s systems and calculated the “planetary boundaries” for each that are vital to maintaining an environment livable for humans. Many of these boundaries have already been exceeded. In the case of carbon dioxide, the preindustrial value was 280 parts per million (ppm) concentrated in the atmosphere. The planetary boundary is estimated at 350 ppm. Currently, the earth is at 390 ppm.

The measurements for biodiversity loss read similarly dire. Some of the systems measured for the planetary boundary have not yet been surpassed, yet the data is hardly comforting: the phosphorus cycle (the quantity flowing into the oceans) had a preindustrial value of 1 million tons; the boundary is estimated at 11 million tons; and the current status is 8.5 to 9.5 million tons.

Ocean acidification, freshwater use, and land use are likewise teetering at the precipice of disaster. And yet, in the face of this potential catastrophe, capitalism would have us only grow more. Land use for agriculture and development are encouraged in order to grow the economy and increase capital, freshwater is being used at alarming rates for industrial production and industrial farming, rivers, lakes, and the oceans are being polluted with plastics, heavy metals, runoff from farmlands using pesticides and other chemicals, and as temperatures increase from the burning of fossil fuels, the temperature of the planet rises, further increasing ocean acidification and permafrost melt. This “healthy” economy is leading to a very unhealthy planet.

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The Fence-Sitting Pope

NOVANEWS
Papal Tour a Fizzer

by VACY VLANZA

When I was a kid we had fun letting off firecrackers. Most had quite an impact – going off with a mighty bang. A few were weak, feeble and fizzled out. We called them ‘fizzers’. The pope’s tour was a fence-sitting fizzer for truth and for Palestinian justice.

Still, Palestinians were warned in advance by the Vatican that the tour had “no political agenda” it was simply a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage, apart from the usual Christian holy sites, to the grave of Theodor Herzl where, flanked by two war criminals, Netanyahu and Peres, Francis, the Vicar of Christ, laid a giant wreath in honour of the mastermind of Zionism that unleashed the atrocities of the Nakba committed by Jewish terrorist militia; the massacres, rapes, looting, demolition of 500 Palestinian villages and the forced deportations and dispossession of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their beloved land…a paltry three years after the holocaust.

What a feather in the Zionist cap! A Catholic pope honouring Herzl the Zionist atheist! Francis’ rabbi friend, Abraham Skorka was spot on when he noted that it ‘could be understood as a nod to Zionism’. It was much more than a nod. For the gleeful Netanyahu gang, it was an imprimatur on the expansionism of Greater Israel negating Francis’ two-state solution.

Coincidentally? On the very same day, ten bills were submitted to the Knesset that “could lead to the annexation of Area C which “makes up about 60 percent of the West Bank, including all Jewish towns and settlements.”

In Bethlehem, the pope made an impromptu stop at the illegal Annexation/Apartheid WAll saying a quiet prayer. Vatican officials assured the Israeli Foreign Ministry that Francis “didn’t pray against the security barrier, but he prayed against the situation that forces such a wall to be built.”

So,tit-for-tat, it was agreed that Francis make an impromptu stop at the Israeli Memorial for the Victims of Terror (curiously Palestinian victims were not mentioned on its tablets). Afterwards, the pilgrimage dutifully arrived at the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem where Francis uttered the apogee of irony, “Never again, Lord, never again” and kissed the hands of 6 holocaust survivors.

He made no pilgrimage, laid no wreath to mourn the tens of thousands of Palestinians murdered by the terrorist state of Israel.

Neither was a papal plea of “Never again, Lord, never again” heard nor even a single flower was laid at the simple graves, of young Muhammad Abu al-Thahir and Nadim Nuwarah shot in the back ten days previously by the peace-loving Israeli military. Of course, the cavalcade avoided the old Muslim cemetery defaced and desecrated to make way for Israel’s Museum of Tolerance.

Franicis’ speeches give the distinct impression that the Palestinian and Israeli narratives are equal i.e. that the Palestinian state which has no army, navy, airforce nor nuclear armaments is a match for Israel which is the fourth largest nuclear military in the world;

“To this end, I can only express my profound hope that all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement.”

To President Abbas, he talked on and on about the importance of religious freedom perchance unaware that not Abbas, but Netanyahu’s government imposed restricted access at Easter for Palestinian Christians to the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or that it was Jews not Muslims who perpetrate hate-crimes against churches as well as sealing plans to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque.

While expressing his “closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict” the pope glaringly omitted mention of Gazan families who really do suffer the most, living, correction, barely surviving 46 kilometres away from His Holiness; perhaps not close enough.

Out of habit, though Abbas is in the middle of negotiations with Hamas for a unity government, he also neglected mention of Gaza and its severe humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s illegal and cruel blockade.

Much has been made of the pope’s acknowledgement of ‘the state of Palestine’ in his speeches. It’s nothing to get excited about; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, made the referencing to Palestine as a state (no longer a territory) official in March 2013 after Palestine was overwhelmingly voted into the United Nations as an Observer State in November 2012.

Despite the clichéd content of the speeches all round, there were standup comedy moments albeit black black comedy:

Pope Francis lauded President Peres as, “a good and wise man”; the same Peres who supplied arms and offered to sell Israeli nuclear warheads to apartheid South Africa violating international embargoes, launched in 1996 ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’ causing nearly half a million Lebanese to flee their homes, promoted war against Iraq, Iran and Syria and repeats his “denial of the native Palestinians and his reselling in 2013 of the landless people mythology …he denies the existence of approximately twelve million people living in and near to the country to which they belong.” (Ilan Pappe)

The pope said to Abbas, “You are known as a man of peace.” Seriously? Abbas, the head of the American trained Palestinian Authority security forces that brutally suppress Palestinian resistance to Israel ?
Now here’s a doozy from Netanyahu: “Your Holiness, in the heart of the Middle East, the turbulent and violent Middle East, where Christians are often persecuted, Israel is an island of tolerance. We safeguard the rights of all faiths. We guarantee freedom of worship for all and we are committed to maintaining the status quo at the Holy sites of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.” LOL.

The pope’s speeches, infused with diplomacy-speak and euphemisms that inoculate against reality, against the truth, diminished the potential influence for justice and peace he could have wielded not only in the Holy Land but globally. Then again popes are not known for having the courage of true Christ-like convictions.

Francis’ tepid understatement, “I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.” recalls the tepid statement of the WWII pope, Pius XII:

“Defenders also point to his one public statement as evidence of his concern for the Jews. This is a reference to his 1942 Christmas message, which said, “Humanity owes this vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or gradual extinction.” The statement conspicuously fails to mention the word “Nazi” or “Jew.”

Guenter Lewy, quoted by Cornwell: “A public denunciation of the mass murders by Pius XII, broadcast widely over the Vatican radio and read from the pulpits by the bishops, would have revealed to Jews and Christians alike what deportation to the East entailed. The pope would have been believed, whereas the broadcasts of the Allies were often shrugged off as war propaganda.” Mitchell Bard

Sure, Francis’ speeches contained ambiguities (whom is he addressing) such as;

“[Shoah] enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink when, spurred by false ideologies”

“Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were God? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.

“So I express my hope and prayer that this blessed land may be one which has no place for those who, by exploiting and absolutizing the value of their own religious tradition, prove intolerant and violent towards those of others.”

But Palestinians in real-time suffering under Israeli apartheid and occupation do not glean hope from ambiguities and diplomatic neutrality. However the truth can set them free.

For the sake of justice, it is beholden of Pope Francis to imitate the plain-spoken Jesus who cleansed the temple with, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” or, at the very least, take a skyrocket from the feisty Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s box of pyrotechnic authenticity:

“I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. My conscience compels me to stand with the Palestinians as they seek to use the same tactics of non-violence to further their efforts to end the oppression associated with the Israeli occupation.”

“‘Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

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The Democrats’ New Fake Populism

NOVANEWS
Global Research

It would have been hilarious were it not so nauseating. One could only watch the recent “New Populism” conference with pity-induced discomfort, as stale Democratic politicians did their awkward best to adjust themselves to the fad of “populism.”

A boring litany of Democratic politicians — or those closely associated — gave bland speeches that aroused little enthusiasm among a very friendly audience of Washington D.C. politicos. It felt like an amateur recital in front of family and friends, in the hopes that practicing populism with an audience would better prepare them for the real thing.

The organizers of the conference, The Campaign For America’s Future, ensured that real populism would be absent from the program. The group is a Democratic Party ally that essentially functions as a party think tank.

The two co-founders of Campaign for America’s Future are Robert Borosage — who works closely with the progressive caucus of the Democratic Party — and Robert Hickey, who works with Health Care for America Now, an organization that prioritized campaigning for Obamacare. On the Board of Directors is the notorious liberal Van Jones, no doubt carefully chosen for his non-threatening elitist politics.

The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.”

The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:

“We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.”

“We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we’re willing to fight for it.”

“We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we’re willing to fight for it.”

“We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we’re willing to fight for it.”

It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake.

The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population.

How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:

1) – Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.

2) – Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

3) – Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.

4) – Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.

Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking.

What’s preventing the Democrats from becoming inspirational? They know all too well that by venturing too far to the left they could easily instigate a real mass movement. And such a movement is not easily controlled and would inevitably demand much more than the corporate-minded Democrats are willing to concede, which, at this point, is virtually nothing aside from musty rhetoric.

Unlike the Republican’s populist turn to the right that created the now-defunct Tea Party, a true left turn would mean have the potential to rejuvenate the millions’ strong labor movement, while engaging tens of millions more into active political life, driving people to participate in mass marches, rallies, labor strikes and other forms of mass action.

This was what happened during the “old populism” in U.S. history, which the Democrats are taking their trendy namesake from. The populist movement of the late 1800’s was a genuine mass movement of workers and farmers, which briefly aligned in an independent political party, the People’s Party, also known as the populists.

The populist movement that included strike waves and local rural rebellions had nothing to do with the lifeless politics of the Democratic Party, and threatened the very foundation of America corporate power. The Democrats are keenly aware of this type of real populist “threat,” and they are willing to do anything to stop it.

For example, the Occupy movement proved that the Democrats fear real left populism much more than they fear far-right populism. We now know that the Obama administration worked with numerous Democratic Party mayors and governors across the nation to undermine and destroy the Occupy movement through mass arrests, police violence and surveillance. And because Occupy succeeded in changing the national conversation about income inequality, the Democrats were forced to engage with the rhetoric of the movement they dismembered, and now use the plagiarized language as proof of their “populism.”

Aside from Elizabeth Warren, the other rock star of the “new populism” conference was the nominally-independent “socialist” Bernie Sanders, who essentially functions in Congress as a Democrat. Sanders’ politics fits in perfectly with the rest of the progressive caucus Democrats, which is why he was invited to the conference. Sanders can perhaps outdo Warren when it comes to anti-corporate-speak; but like Warren he keeps his solutions vague and his movement building aspirations negligible.

If by chance Sanders chooses to run for president as an Independent — as many radicals are hoping — his fake populist politics and empty rhetoric are unlikely to drastically change, limiting any chance that a “movement” may emerge.

It’s doubtful that many people have been fooled by the “left turn” of the Democratic Party. But on a deeper level the politics of “lesser evilism” still haunts labor and community groups, and keeping these groups within the orbit of the Democratic Party is the ultimate purpose of this new, more radical speechifying. Until these groups organize themselves independently and create their own working class political party, the above politics of “populist” farce is guaranteed to continue.

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The US Empire is in Decline

NOVANEWS
Krauthammer is Right, for Once!

by DAVE LINDORFF

I was shocked to find myself in almost perfect agreement today with a recent column by the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer.

Usually Krauthammer has me groaning, but yesterday his column nailed it.

He was writing about what he correctly observes as the end of “American hegemony” in the global political sphere.

As Krauthammer lays this “grim” picture out, six years of President Obama’s weak-kneed foreign policy, “compounded by” his “proposed massive cuts in defense spending, down (sic) to pre-Pearl Harbor levels,” have allowed a revanchist Russia and a newly aggressive China to make “an open challenge to the post-Cold War, US-dominated world that Obama inherited and then weakened beyond imagining.”

Krauthammer cites as his main evidence of this “major alternation in the global balance of power” the deal just struck between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who, during a visit to Shanghai last week by the Russian leader, inked an agreement for Russia to tell some $400 billion worth of its natural gas to China over the next 30 years. The deal would include the building of a $70-billion pipeline from Russian gas fields in Siberia to China’s industrial heartland, and would “deflate” a threat made by the US and Europe during the current Ukrainian crisis to end Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.

Krauthammer also pointed to President Xi’s call for a new Asian region security system that would link China, Russia and (gasp) Iran — an arrangement which, if implemented, he warns could “mark the end of a quarter-century of unipolarity and … herald a return to a form of bipolarity — two global coalitions: one free, one not — though with communism dead, not as structurally rigid or ideologically dangerous as Cold War bipolarity. Not a fight to the finish, but a struggle nonetheless — for dominion and domination.”

Setting aside Krauthammer’s breathless horror at this new “bi-polar” global political environment, and his ideologically-blinded description of the US/NATO “side” as “free” as opposed to the Russia/China “side’s” being “not free” (and adding a note that actually, a $400 billion deal over 30 years is really not that big a thing, working out to just some $13 billion a year), there is much here that does accurately portray what is happening.

Missing from Krauthammer’s analysis, of course, is the history behind this development.

US global domination, which could be said to have begun with the collapse in the early 1990s of the former Soviet Union, was destined to be a short-lived affair. By 1990, the Soviet Union had been bankrupted by President Reagan’s massive military spending campaign, and the USSR’s political and economic implosion did leave the US, by default, as the world’s last and only “superpower,” but left unremarked was that this country’s massive military spending had also effectively hollowed out the US economy, too. And instead of turning inward at the end of the Cold War, and investing in a revitalization of America’s crumbling physical, social and educational infrastructure, which might have rectified things, the problem was made worse by two more decades of continuous war economy, driven by the very neoconservative ideology that Krauthammer still espouses.

Wars were launched: first the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1990-1 (which continued until the 2003 invasion of Iraq with the maintenance of “no-fly zones” over parts of Iraq), then the Bosnian and Kosovo wars in the mid and late ‘90s, followed by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And when that was not enough, a fake “War on Terror” was launched to convince the gullible American public of the need of continued massive military spending.

Instead of shrinking the bloated US military, successive presidents — George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and finally Barack Obama — all kept increasing military spending to the point that this country under President Obama has been spending as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.  And to make things worse, the US has been losing its wars. that is not the kind of thing designed to instill fear in potential adversaries.

At the same time that the US empire was bankrupting itself through extravagant military spending, it has been relentlessly pushing its weight around everywhere in the world, subverting or trying to subvert democratically elected governments in places like Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Haiti and Venezuela, and even seeking to undermine governments in states like Russia, Ukraine and Iran.

Something had to give, and as Krauthammer correctly notes, something finally has given.

America’s bluff is being called.

Fed up with the clumsy bullying of American foreign and economic policy, angered by the imperial over-reach of America’s National Security Agency, and emboldened by the weakness of both the American dollar and America’s bloated, bureaucratic and over-stretched military (as evidenced by its inability to defeat minimally armed and trained patriotic forces in Afghanistan and Iraq), Russia and China, and perhaps Iran too, are realizing that they “don’t have to take it anymore.”

While Krauthammer didn’t mention it, even NATO, that Cold War relic that the US had been using as a fig leaf since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 to cover its aggressive policy of encirclement and gradual subversion of Russia, is now showing signs of collapse.  The European public and their elected officials are angry at Edward Snowden’s revelations about massive NSA spying on it’s purported “allies,” and the latest effort to enlist Europe in a program of economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea have fallen flat, with France refusing to stop selling advanced military equipment to Russia and with Germany balking at any serious economic sanctions against one of its largest trading partners.

Increasingly, Russia, China, Brazil and other large developing economies are separating themselves from the dollar-based global financial system, undermining the last mainstay of US hegemony — the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

Krauthammer correctly sees the US in “retreat” and “decline” as a global power.

Where he goes wrong is in seeing this as “Obama’s choice.”

Obama really had no choice. The decline of America as global hegemon has been the result of choices made by Washington leaders dating back really to the 1960s and the disastrous war against the people of Vietnam, or perhaps even earlier, to the US-orchestrated Korean War.

History is replete with empires that crumbled under their own hubris and ambition, and the United States is no different.

The only real disagreement I have with Krauthammer is in seeing this decline of US empire as a tragedy. Looking at the incredible death, destruction and grotesque waste of resources that can be directly attributed to the US and its imperialist program since the end of the Second World War, I can only see its demise as a positive thing.

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Monster Capitalism and the Complicit State

NOVANEWS
The “Close-Embrace” System

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by NORMAN POLLACK

The phrase “close-embrace” to describe the incestuous relationship between business and government in advanced capitalism is by Masao Maryuma, a Japanese political scientist to describe corporate concentration under the blessing and encouragement of government. This is, along with the centrality of war and market expansion, among the most salient integral features of capitalist development in its progression to monopolism, hierarchical class structure, and establishing a full-blown partnership with government: the Corporate and National-Security States merging, with national security concerned as much with protecting the market share and freedom from adverse regulation of the dominant firms in the industrial and financial sectors, as with putatively repelling a foreign foe and protecting the “homeland”. The upshot, fascism without, necessarily, the concentration camp—fascism predicated on the internalized repression of the populace, conditioned to look to the business system as the genius of the nation, its arbiter of taste, its salvation. The trickle-down paradigm follows, as does the moral superiority of those at the top AND the enterprises they lead—conversely, justified class-stratification where the lazy and/or subversive (i.e., those maladapted to the incentives offered by capitalism) fall deservedly into an underclass.

For Masao Maryuma, a description of the Japanese political-economic-ideological System, it is also the structure for what Barrington Moore, in “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy,” characterized as “Asian Fascism”. And It is not off the mark for Franz Neumann’s analysis of German fascism in his book, Behemoth, where Naziism rests on the economic foundations of concentrated corporate organization, the State, incorporating within it, as also in Japan, its structure of militarism and ideology of conquest and expansion, to move therefore from corporate business organization to CORPORATISM as the core of societal organization and its ideological essence of hierarchy. Fascism, yes, no frills—the structural stage of advanced capitalism providing its own solutions for the stabilization of sector after sector (in Naziism, business “fronts”) on behalf of the dominant players, the coordination of the leading firms at the top, and the social engineering needed to achieve the social discipline (read: feelings of solidarity with those above, wrapped in the allegiance to the State, itself inseparable from the firms themselves) of the people. Workers are the soldiers-in-industry. They’re also of course the cannon fodder in implementing the dreams, imperatives, and practicalities of expansion—if the System is to grow and expand.

Labels are off-putting, especially in a society which pretends to, and whose domestic and international prestige is bound up with, democracy. Yet Japan, Germany, and the US form the triumvirate, in historical experience since the 1930s, the trends working their way forward with the advent of modern industrialization decades earlier, of fascism: concentration, hierarchy, militarism. In America, one who exposed the systemic features of the American political economy to careful scrutiny, as did Masao Maryuma, Barrington Moore, and Franz Neumann did elsewhere, was Gabriel Kolko, whose death in Amsterdam last week was a sad loss to American radical scholarship. I say “radical,” because much related scholarship into business organization and military expansion skirted around his seminal work, indeed, ignored it altogether, an establishment academic perspective in blindfold, or worse, the calculated mode for achieving rewards in the academic marketplace. Kolko did not play it safe, and although he was not in the habit of appending the term “fascism” to his evidence and interpretation, if the shoe fits, as I believe his findings do, then by all means let America own up to that and wear it.

Kolko spoke of INTERPENETRATION, a perhaps more pointedly structural term for “close-embrace,” in his analysis of government-business relations and the regulatory framework. But the result is the same, in his research borne out by the formation and role played by the Interstate Commerce Commission, Bureau of Corporations, Federal Reserve System, and Federal Trade Commission, all in the generation which saw the critical growth of a capitalist-industrial order, and a complementing foreign policy, from the Open Door to the Battleship Navy to global intervention (sometimes separate, sometimes merged). I raise this brief discussion, partly to suggest the use of fascism, partly in remembrance of and tribute to Kolko for breaking the glass ceiling of “authoritative” scholarship still very much with us, and partly, for immediate purposes, to reintroduce General Motors and its ignition death switch into current discussion about capitalism and fascism (following two weeks ago my CounterPunch article on business criminality, exemplified by GM).

GM is not the corner grocery store (although its ads may try to give that impression: the bigger, the more homey and civic-minded), but, like JPMorgan Chase, and several others (although the cross-wiring of business and finance, as with GM, is ever-shrinking the power base), it holds together the basic fabric of society, including that which is worth fighting and dying for. It is not about to go under, however heinous its crimes—the crimes, in fact, if not a badge of respectability, serve, when they’re unpunished, as the validation of GM’s power and importance. Like the credential in capitalism, “Too big to fail,” patent criminality, followed by cover-up, signifies arrival in the nation’s pantheon as honorable by virtue of immunity, not unlike Obama’s get-out-of-jail-free card but on a more colossal level. In a fascist-prone society, everyone loves a hero, particularly a bully, and more particularly a corporation that shows that it is above the law—and a president who does the same. (Drone assassination and ignition death switch are two peas in a pod.)

[Disclosure: this is not an abstract critique of corporate capitalism; I am mad as hell at the way powerful corporations, as with GM, are grinding their victims into the dust—behavior that is systemic in capitalist development as standard procedure in the process of monopolism and structural maturity, particularly here, on the threshold of senescence. Relatedly, I wish radical writers would think foremost: evidence before ideology. I say this because one CP reader, in emails, is infuriated that I have used the New York Times, calling it names I wouldn’t want my grandchildren to hear. In Kolko’s spirit and that of any radical historian, one digs for the facts of, in this case, investigative reporting, learning through practice and other corroboration how to discount for or ignore editorial policy, which in The Times’s case is assuredly in the US-hegemonic tent, including, perhaps most of all, foreign policy. There is much to be learned from this source, and then go one step further, making the evidence a point of departure for analysis. Shall we practice censorship, because we don’t like the source of the evidence?]

There is plenty of blame to go around for this prototypic– yet, given its perpetrator’s importance, with more than the usual significance—corporate behavior. I am drawing on The Times’s article, by Rebecca Ruiz, Danielle Ivory, and Hilary Stout, entitled, “13 Deaths, Untold Heartache, From G.M. Defect,” (May 27), in which we see the classic pattern of business-government relations (although they do not need to conceptualize their account thusly, the evidence speaking for itself of inaction, collusion, and worse) to stiff-arm the public and mock the victims—an attitude sanctioned at the top, because the Bush- Obama administrations have responsibility for the conduct of their regularity agencies. And, accordingly, should be held responsible, as well as the corporations enjoying their protection. The article begins with the case of a young woman whose boyfriend was killed in a 2004 car accident, she at the wheel. For years she suffered intense grief: “It’s torn me up. I’ve always wondered, was it really my fault?”

Not until last week (May 21-25)—the accident being in 2004—was the fellow’s mother notified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that his death was linked to an ignition switch defect, “the first time the family had been told anything other than negligence [by his friend] contributed to the accident.” Stone-walling, by both government and corporation alike, and, as I read it, even that news was not forthcoming until The Times had conducted an independent examination—I say “independent,” because there was cooperation neither from GM nor the NHTSA—nor did the latter compel GM to reveal/release the information. The Times did due diligence piecing out on its own the data, including that involving this last death. (Of course, the number 13 is scandalous, GM counting only front-end collisions involving a single car—one death not counted, e.g., was actually a person in the back seat where no seat belt was present. Even “experts” admit the body count will go higher, perhaps, I would add, much higher, when GM’s criteria for counting the dead are scrapped so that the focus is on the defective switch, rather than, in its campaign of vilification of the victims, charges of drugs, negligence, and alcohol.) The mother, plaintively, after receiving the email: “I was angry—at him, and at Candace for a little bit [both had experimented with recreational drugs]. Then you find out that it wasn’t them being careless. The car malfunctioned, and they didn’t have a choice.”

This puts a human face on the tragedy, while GM envelopes itself in a mask so as not to reveal its culpability and true identity. Am I singling out GM? No, this goes for much of American capitalism. A human face is verboten, lest people begin to weigh the enormity of the crime; so, therefore don’t even reveal the victims’ identities. This is GM at its most sophisticated, and really, its crudest, knowing what the System allows it to get away with. The reporters write: “Ever since G.M. began recalling 2.6 million small cars with the defective ignition switch in February, the company has refused to disclose the names of the victims or details of the accidents—even to some survivors of the crashes and relatives of the dead. G.M. also has not shared its interpretation of the data from the so-called black boxes that helped the automaker identify the 13 deaths, leaving some local and state investigators to draw their own conclusions—often erroneously—about the crashes.” And GM moves from impersonal, to straightout Kafkaesque: “Inside G.M., the nation’s largest automaker, some of the 13 victims appear on charts and graphs with a date and a single word: ‘fatal’.” By preconception, really, “police files and state highway patrol records” do no better; “they [victims] are the subjects of accident investigations, tragic but mostly unremarkable, some involving alcohol, inexperienced drivers or failure to wear seatbelts.” Anything but the defective ignition switch!

In fact, they didn’t stand a chance: “All but one of the accidents were single-car crashes {the exception, a drunk-driver hitting one of the cars], in which the driver lost control [because of a loss of power, etc.] and slammed head-on into an obstacle, usually a tree. In every case, the air bags did not deploy.” Like the victims of drone assassination, they were treated as anonymous ciphers. Here, the corporate spirit of GM, again not alone in this world, shines through. As Ruiz and the others write: “When presented with the victims’ names compiled by The Times, G.M. would neither confirm nor deny them. ‘We are not publicly identifying victims out of respect for families’ privacy,” Greg Martin, a company spokesman, said in an email. He added, ‘Out of respect for their privacy, we do not discuss private conversations that we may have had with families.” With solicitude like that, who needs Caligula, Jack the Ripper, or for that matter Obama, the current patron saint of deregulation and shield for corporate practices.

GM, confident a law unto itself, retreats still further into itself. The reporters state, “Some relatives say that the automaker has refused to even communicate privately about the accidents [recall the objection to public disclosure] and they suspect the company’s secrecy has more to do with containing its legal liability.” Another human face, the mother of a daughter killed in a 2006 crash and among the 13: “It would have been nice if they had acknowledged it, at least to us. G.M. has just been hiding behind lawyers through this whole thing.” The words, “at least to us,” are heartbreaking. If GM had not withheld information, police officers “might have changed their investigations.” The state trooper investigating the crash described above, and jumped to the conclusion the young woman was at fault, told Ruiz, reporting from Texas, that “had he known about the ignition flaw, ‘in essence that would change everything.’”

There is more, The Times compelled to do its own leg-work, a compilation that gives the lie to GM accusations of victim-deficiencies, but this single sentence identifies the problem: “The company has acknowledged that as early as 2001 it had evidence that the ignition switch could, if jostled, suddenly shut off the power in a moving car, disabling air bags and impeding braking and steering systems.” Hence, single-car crashes, the obscene defamation of victims, the corporate hubris with high-powered attorneys in attendance. Oh yes, settlements; even then, “lawyers say the ignition switch defect was not identified in the litigation as a contributing factor.” This was only disclosed in a deposition for a separate case taken last year. As for the settlements, quintessential corporate behavior having the law standing behind it: “The families would not discuss the precise terms of their settlements—most are subject to confidential terms—but some said the payments were not large and the process was sometimes unpleasant.” I give the last word to the mother quoted earlier: “Those attorneys dragged my son through the mud, and he wasn’t even there to defend himself.”

I think we have seen a microcosm of impending fascism in what GM does and what it represents, in which one must look to structure (not the formal values of a society, generally honored in the breach), where, as here, hierarchy and democracy are completely incompatible, the former encasement for corporate irresponsibility, assisted by the protective—and friendly—arm of government. I wish it were possible to stand up for Mrs. Erickson’s son, and bring GM to its knees, in which case I would say, Come on, America, take off the gloves, put on brass knuckles, and SHAME GM. And now–radicals will have to turn away, for I would also say, SHAME the UAW for playing the game. Wages, shop-floor issues, union recognition, benefits, emphatically yes, but what about the larger society? Presently, as workers, there is little or no recognition of the social welfare. The reason, because this would mean questioning, going against, capitalism itself. Labor will stand up for capital because it means jobs. UAW/GM, until that changes, or at the very least results in the greater structural democratization of American industry, along with a sustained and defiant critique of US foreign policy, there will be more ignition killer switches at home, drone assassinations abroad. And when I say I do not intend to single-out GM alone, I also do not intend to single out the UAW alone—both are representatives of whole communities of interest which will have to change if the political economy is to be dedicated to the needs of the people.

MY New York Times Comment on the article, same date, follows:

GM: Too big to fail? I hope not. Deception, cover-up, high-powered lawyers, all at every turn. Lying that suppressing names of victims is done out of courtesy to their families, is unconscionable and disgusting. Parameters applicable to dead-and-injured count, slimy and irresponsible. Sitting on information of possible defect having lethal consequences, worse than shameful. In plumbing the depths of GM MORAL DEPRAVITY, the cover up is almost as bad ad the ignition death switch.

“Her 1-year old great-grandson survived but was paralyzed from the accident,” should, as step one, be printed on every GM ad, piece of stationery, executive salary and bonus check. A criminal corporation at the top of the US industrial pyramid does not speak well for the health and integrity of American capitalism. And will all those investigations–federal, state, internal–result in punishment, especially commensurate with the crime. Very, very doubtful. For what allowed GM to think it could get away with its behavior (in fact, it probably has) is a regulatory system designed to PROTECT rather than regulate firms and activities in its charge. Fraudulent from day one (see the late Gabriel Kolko’s “Triumph of Conservatism” and “Railroads and Regulation” for the genesis of the interpenetration of business and government, the latter shielding the former, as in ICC, TR’s Bureau of Corporations, and, of course, Wilson’s Federal Reserve System and FTC).

GM unscathed, regulation a farce!

 

Posted in USA, WorldComments Off on Monster Capitalism and the Complicit State

American Foreign Policy, the Dollar and Putin’s Pivot

NOVANEWS
Chickens Coming Home to Roost

by RENEE PARSONS

It is more than ironic that with an economically unsustainable $17 trillion debt, the US continues to overreach itself with assorted political threats and untenable military adventures as it dares to challenge Russia, the world’s leading energy producer and China, its largest creditor, in a dangerous duel for dominance.   Like most bullies, just beneath the verbose intimidations, lies a vulnerable government on alarmingly thin ice with a fear of the future, even panic at the potential loss of influence and diminished power.

Not previously known as historic political allies with more of a remote association in the past, their new politico-economic alliance has motivated Russia and China, via mutual threats from the US, to identify the benefits of a mutual partnership –  which has already begun to boomerang on the US unipolar vision of the world.   As a result of the recent crisis in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s response to the attempt to box-in Russia has shown some impeccable timing with the St. Petersburg International Economic Summit occurring immediately after his visit to China and a recognition that globalization, for better or worse, has proven there are economic opportunities beyond the EU and US.

While the Obama Administration will never admit it, the agreement between Russia-China for a strategically-located pipeline which will transport 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas to ‘clean’ energy-starved China worth $400 billion, represents a mega-significant shift in US plans for total global authority and that the President’s risky military policies have provided a window of opportunity for a new geopolitical axis independent of US influence.

With a $25 billion advance payment, the signing of contracts in Shanghai last week by Gazprom (which has thus far avoided US sanctions) and the CNFC (China National Petroleum Corporation) representing the world’s largest consumer base, signifies a strategic game-changer and a win-win for both countries.

Displaying a flexibility that gives new meaning to the adage that when one door closes another opens, Putin’s move toward China begins an offset to any speculative reduction of gas supply to Europe especially since the most recent deal provides only 10% of China’s energy needs; thereby providing Russia with an open market for future business.

Even as Gazprom supplies up to 30% of Europe’s natural gas, former British diplomat William Mallinson predicted that the contract “will obviously make Gazprom less reliant on profits of European markets. This will put it [Russia] in a stronger position because Europe will still need cheaper Russian gas than American LNG which is extremely expensive.   So it actually makes Russia even more independent …and less reliant on the European markets.”

Of special interest is the agreement between the VTB, Russia’s second largest bank and the Bank of China to pay all financial interactions in local currency while establishing a bilateral Committee on Investment Cooperation.   The assortment of more than 40 contracts  expected to increase trade between Russia and China at an estimated $200 billionincludes a cross-border rail bridge with an estimated annual traffic of 21 million tons, is in addition to a proposed $30 billion Russia to India pipeline via China, ‘gas swaps’ for goods and electricity as well as a $10 billion Russia-Iran deal for new thermal and hydroelectric plants and the export of electricity to Iran – none of which will be paid for by the dollar.

If the US believed that its economic sanctions (a violation of international law) would bring Russia to its knees, especially its absurd efforts to target members of Putin’s inner circle, and that Russia had no choice but to acquiesce to NATO and the US/EU, one cannot help but wonder what  myopic thinkers in the Obama Administration concocted such an ill-thought out strategy that missed the obvious:   that the 1990’s style of geopolitical confrontation is no longer relevant in a global economy and that the 115 non-aligned countries and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, Indian, China, South Africa) will develop their own strategic partnershipswithout asking the US for permission as they are no longer willing to accept the notion of American Exceptionalism.  In 2011, the BRICS agreed to use their own currencies instead of dollars in international trade representing an ultimately significant blow to an already struggling dollar.

It is the comingling of US military and economic dominance; one being dependent on the other and what is good for the dollar is good for US business and what is good for US business assures US dominance, that enables the government to finance its wars.  Without the dollar as the basis for world reserve currency, the ability of the US as a global superpower to dictate world events inevitably diminishes.  In fact, what purpose does the outdated concept of a world reserve currency serve?

With the US pivot to Asia and its role in ousting a democratically elected President in Ukraine, it seems safe to assume that the BRICS proposals for an alternative to OPEC, the IMF and WTO were revivified during Putin’s visit to China.  And with the 6th Annual BRICS conference scheduled for Brazil, the membership of oil-rich Iran may be on the agenda since BRICS has already signaled its concern about “threats of military action as well as unilateral sanctions” in recognition of  “Iran‘s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations.”

Upon reflection, the Visa and Master Card self-imposed ban on doing business in Russia has been amended with both companies willing to transfer processing centers inside Russia that would “not depend on decisions made by foreign governments’ and to be integrated into an alternative card system not controlled by western banks  – and who would not have predicted that would happen?   The Chinese Union Pay system has already overtaken American Express in global volume.

If all this seems overly optimistic or too pessimistic, a review of the Major Holdings of US Treasury Securities Chart  provides a fascinating glimpse into how stable some of the world’s power players regard the US economy and how vulnerable the dollar is to international exigency.

For instance, in February, a sudden bulk sale of $104 billion worth of securities was enough to send the Fed Bank into a tailspin until a week later when Belgium (Belgium?) saved the day with a purchase of $141 billion, obviously enough to offset the loss.  It is more than curious that Belgium, home to NATO and other important EU institutions and with a GDP of $480 billion  increased its holding $200 billion from $180 billion in  October, 2013 for a current grand total of $381 billion in March, 2014 – moving into third place ranking of US Treasuries largest holders.

Also noteworthy is how Belgium’s neighbor teeny-tiny Luxembourg, host to the EU’s Court of Justice, purchased $15 billion worth of Treasuries, up from $130 billion in November, 2013 to $145 billion in March, 2014.

Since neither country is regarded as a European financial powerhouse, where do they come up with that kind of cash unless, of course, they were acting as a proxy for some other interested entity.   Who else besides the Fed Bank has enough at stake to magic-presto create the necessary funds for both purchases?

The second largest holder of US securities is Japan, as the Chart shows what appears to be an abrupt sale of $10 billion which seems curious given its status as a prospective partner in the Trans Pacific Partnership which failed to fulfill its destiny on President Obama’s recent visit.

China, Treasury’s largest customer with $1.272 trillion, shows no new purchases since March, 2013 and one can surmise that the Obama Administration’s announcement of its Pivot to Asia announced in October, 2011 has had a deleterious effect on that country’s commitment to the US economy.

And in case you are wondering, Russia owned $153 billion worth of US Treasuries in March, 2013 and with a $26 billion sale in February, 2014, is currently the owner of a mere $100 billion –  right after Ireland, Luxembourg and Hong Kong.

It may be time to start counting the chickens coming home to roost.

Posted in USA, RussiaComments Off on American Foreign Policy, the Dollar and Putin’s Pivot

Weakening Surveillance Reform

NOVANEWS
Perfection as the Enemy of the Good

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Last week saw a flurry of legislative to-and-fro on the Hill as the US House of Representatives pondered the passage of legislation aimed at ending bulk-collection by the US National Security Agency. The USA Freedom Act, or HR. 3361, was passed on Thursday in a 303-121 vote, and was hailed by the New York Times as “a rare moment of bipartisan agreement between the White House and Congress on a major national security issue”. Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-Pa.) tweeted that he was the proud cosponsor of a bill “that passed uniting and strengthening America by ending eavesdropping/online monitoring.”

It was perhaps inevitable that compromise between the intelligence and judiciary committees would see various blows against the bill in terms of scope and effect. When legislators want to posture about change while asserting the status quo, ambiguity proves their steadfast friend. After all, with the term “freedom” in the bill, something was bound to give.

Students of the bill would have noted that its main author, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wi.), was also behind HR. 3162, known more popularly as the USA Patriot Act. Most roads in the US surveillance establishment tend to lead to that roughly drafted and applied piece of legislation, a mechanism that gave the NSA the broadest, and most ineffective of mandates, in eavesdropping.

Then came salutatory remarks made about the bill from Rep. Mike Rogers, who extolled its virtues on the House floor even as he attacked the Obama administration for not being firm enough in holding against advocates of surveillance reform. There is a notable signature change between commending “a responsible legislative solution to address concerns about the bulk telephone metadata program” and being “held hostage by the actions of traitors who leak classified information that puts our troops in the field at risk or those who fear-monger and spread mistruth to further their misguided agenda.”

Even as Edward Snowden’s ghost hung heavy over the Hill like a moralising Banquo, Rogers was pointing a vengeful finger in his direction. There would, after all, have been no need for the USA Freedom Act, no need for this display of lawmaking, but for the actions of the intelligence sub-contractor. Privacy advocates would again raise their eyebrows at Rogers’s remarks about the now infamous Section 215 telephone metadata program under the Patriot Act, which had been “the subject of intense, and often inaccurate, criticism. The bulk telephone metadata program is legal, overseen, and effective at saving American lives.”

Such assertions are remarkable, more so for the fact that both the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and the internal White House review panel, found little evidence of effectiveness in the program. “Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act,” claimed the PCLOB, “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program.” Any data obtained was thin and obtained at unwarranted cost.

Critics of the bill such as Centre for Democracy and Technology President Nuala O’Connor expressed concern at the chipping moves. “This legislation was designed to prohibit bulk collection, but has been made so weak that it fails to adequately protect against mass, untargeted collection of Americans’ private information.” In O’Connor’s view, “The bill now offers only mild reform and goes against the overwhelming support for definitively ending bulk collection.”

Not so, claimed an anonymous House GOP aide. “The amended bill successfully addresses the concerns that were raised about NSA surveillance, ends bulk collections and increases transparency.” Victory in small steps would seem to have impressed the aide. “We view it as a victory for privacy, and while we would like to have had a stronger bill, we shouldn’t let the perfect being the enemy of the good.”

Various members of the House disagreed. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) noted that the bill had received a severe pruning by the time it reached the House floor, having a change “that seems to open the door to bulk collection again.” Others connected with co-sponsoring initial versions of the bill, among them Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) also refused to vote for the compromise.

What, then, is the basis of the gripe? For one, the language “specific selection term”, which would cover what the NSA can intercept, is incorrigibly vague. The definition offers the unsatisfactory “term used to uniquely describe a person, entity or account.” What, in this sense, is an entity for the purpose of the legislation? The tip of the iceberg is already problematic enough without venturing down into the murkier depths of interpretation.

Even more troubling in the USA Freedom Act is what it leaves out. For one thing, telephony metadata is only a portion of the surveillance loot.Other collection programs are conspicuously absent, be it the already exposed PRISM program which covers online communications, Captivatedaudience, a program used to attain control of a computer’s microphone and record audio, Foggybottom – used to note a user’s browsing history on the net, and Gumfish, used to control a computer webcam. (These are the choice bits – others in the NSA arsenal persist, untrammelled.)

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments (FISA) Act, the provision outlining when the NSA may collect data from American citizens in various cases and how the incorrect or inadvertent collection of data is to be handled, is left untouched. On inspection, it seems the reformist resume of the Freedom Act is rather sparse.

Ambiguities, rather than perfections, end up being the enemy of the good. Laws that are poorly drafted tend to be more than mere nuisances – they can be dangerous in cultivating complacency before the effects of power. Well as it might that the USA Freedom Act has passed, signalling a political will to deal with bulk-collection of data. But in making that signal, Congress has also made it clear that compromise is one way of doing nothing, a form of sanctified inertia.

Posted in USAComments Off on Weakening Surveillance Reform

US Water Wars in the Middle East

NOVANEWS
A New Age of Hydro-Imperialism

by GARIKAI CHENGU

Water is to the twenty-first century what oil was to the twentieth century: the commodity that determines the wealth and stability of nations.

People who think that the West’s interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria are only about oil are mistaken. Broadly speaking, Western interest in the Middle East is becoming increasingly about a commodity more precious than oil, namely water.

According to the U.S.-based Center for Public Integrity, Western nations stand to make up to a US$1 trillion from privatizing, purifying and distributing water in a region where water often sells for far more than oil.

Although over two thirds of our planet is water, we face an acute shortage. This scarcity flies in the face of our natural assumptions. The problem is that 97 percent is salt water. Great for fish, not so good for humans. Of the world’s fresh water, only one percent is available for drinking, with the remaining two percent trapped in glaciers and ice.

Put differently: if all the water on earth was represented by an 11-litre jug, the freshwater would fill a single cup, and we can only access the last drop.

Nature has decreed that the supply of water is fixed; all the while, demand is rising as the world’s population increases and enriches itself. By 2030, climate change, population growth, pollution and urbanization will compound, such that the demand for water globally is estimated to outstrip supply by forty percent.

Increasingly, for water to be useful, it needs to be mined, processed, packaged, and transported, just like gold, coal, gas or oil. Unlike oil, there are no substitutes, alternatives or stopgaps for water.

There have been three waves of resource-driven imperialism in the modern era.

A quest for gold fueled the first wave. Old-fashioned colonialists, regal and unembarrassed, rode in on horseback, brutally took control of American territories, sent in ostrich-plumed governors, minted coins with the Queen’s head on them, and gazed proudly over natives toiling away in perilous mine-shafts. An unprecedented kidnapping of millions of Africans ensued, so as to replace the indigenous Americans that had initially been exterminated by their European conquerors. This coincided with white pioneers brutally conquering Southern Africa, also in search of gold.

The second wave of imperialism has been driven by an unquenchable, post-industrial thirst for oil.

Modern petro-imperialism, the key aspect of which is the U.S. military’s transformation into a global oil-protection armed force, puts up a democratic facade, emphasizes freedom of the seas (or pipeline routes), and seeks to secure, protect, drill, and ship oil, not to administer everyday affairs. Nevertheless, the means by which the U.S. is centering its foreign policy around oil is hardly new in spirit, albeit unprecedented in scope.

The third wave of imperialist wars is currently being fought over nature’s most valuable commodity: water. Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, CIA analysts reported on a prediction of a new theater of war: hydrological warfare, “in which rivers, lakes and aquifers become national security assets to be fought over, or controlled”. These predictions became realized in quick succession, beginning with the recent wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria. It is now clear that the age of hydro-imperialism is upon us.

On April 17, 2003, in Iraq, the American company Bechtel received a no-bid reconstruction contract from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for US$100 billion; thus, making it the largest Iraq reconstruction contract. Therefore, the most lucrative Iraq reconstruction contract was not used to repair oil facilities, build schools and hospitals, or to repair bombarded infrastructure: it was used to source, process, and distribute water.

The secretive, opaque and no-bid nature of the water contract award process is made even worse by one incredible fact. Bechtel has botched many of its previous projects.

In California, Bechtel installed one of the nuclear power plant reactors backwards. In Boston, what promised to be a US$2.5 billion job for an infamous “Big Dig” project became the most expensive in U.S. history costing US$14.6 billion. The tunnel project was plagued by charges of poor execution, corruption, criminal arrests, and even four deaths.

In Bolivia, Bechtel’s record is one of privatizing water by inflating prices by 35 percent.  The inflation caused public riots, in which several people died. Bechtel was ousted from the country and tried to sue the Bolivian government for canceling their contract.

Since the turn of the century, Iraq was the first casualty of hydro-imperialism, and Colonel Gaddafi’s assassination marked the second. Libya sits atop a natural resource more valuable than oil: the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, which is a vast underground reserve of fresh water, estimated to be the largest in the world. Mr. Gaddafi had invested $25 billion into the aquifer, which had the potential to turn a country that is 95 percent desert into an arable oasis. As it now stands, France’s global mega-water companies: Suez, Ondeo, and Saur, control almost half of the world’s $400 billion water market. They are poised to rake in billions of dollars from Libya’s eighth wonder of the world.

Mr. Gaddafi had intended the scheme to be designed by Libyans, constructed by Libyans, for the benefit of the Libyan population. Now it is being redesigned by Frenchmen and women at inflated costs, constructed by French contractors, largely for the benefit of French shareholders. Libyan taxpayers will undoubtably be stuck with the bill and higher water bills.

The most recent case of hydro-imperialism is the war in Syria. Israel has been leading a Western campaign to support Syrian rebels; in part, because its leaders assert that the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, poses an existential threat to Israel on the issue of water. Mr. Assad has vowed to reclaim the Golan Heights – a strip of land that Israel captured from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967. The Golan Heights provides a staggering 40 percent of Israel’s fresh water.

“Syrian control of half of our water poses more of a threat than Iran with one bomb”, once remarked ex-Israeli intelligence head, Meir Dagan.

Mr. Assad has also been reticent to privatize the water industry and expose the population to predatory pricing, thereby preventing the West from tapping into a multi-billion dollar revenue stream.

Mr. Assad`s refusal to play ball on water privatization and his choice to play hardball over the Golan Heights meant that the Syrian President, like Mr. Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi before him, is an obstacle to the West`s hydro-imperialist agenda.

Control of nature`s most precious and increasingly valuable commodity will, for any nation, spell the difference between greatness and decline. Mr. Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi and a defiant Mr. Assad know that all too well.

Posted in Middle EastComments Off on US Water Wars in the Middle East

Dershowitz and Finkelstein: comrades at heart?

NOVANEWS

130628-right-return.jpg

Man walks by mural of hand holding key reading Returning in Arabic

For Palestinian refugees, the result of Finkelstein and Dershowitz’s positions is the same.

(Abdel Rahim Khatib / APA images)

Over the last decade, one of the more amusing (though least productive) facets of the culture wars around the Israel-Palestine conflict has been the feud between Alan Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein.

Dershowitz, a tireless advocate for Israel, has incurred Finkelstein’s contempt, which includes claims of misrepresentation, pandering and plagiarism. Finkelstein, a longtime critic of Israel, failed to achieve tenure at DePaul University in part because of a campaignspearheaded by Dershowitz, who wrote damning letters to various university officials (including its president). The two have argued voraciously in print and in person, occasionally directing insults at one another.

It seems intuitive, then, that the mortal enemies have little in common. In reality, though, the substance of their feud doesn’t broach the fundamental issues of Israel and Palestine, about which Dershowitz and Finkelstein have articulated similar, sometimes identical, positions — often enough, anyway — so much so that we can rightly claim the two enemies in fact share profound political affinities. Let’s take a look at the evidence:

Opposing one state

Both Dershowitz and Finkelstein are vigorously opposed to the so-called one-state solution, which assumes various incarnations but at base advances the belief that a binational state for Jews, Muslims and Christians is the most just and realistic outcome of the conflict. Both men have spoken in favor of a two-state solution.

Finkelstein has said, “the near-unanimous consensus for the past three decades has been that the Palestinian people do have a right of self-determination, to be exercised in the ‘occupied Palestinian territory,’ which consists of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. I see no cracks in this consensus” (“A debate about the two-state solution with Norman Finkelstein,” Mondoweiss, 6 June 2012).

Dershowitz claims to have supported the two-state solution since 1967, though he usually qualifies his position with fantasies of Arab aggression or anxieties about eternally preserving a Jewish majority in Israel (the reason many liberal Zionists desire two states) (“The case against the left and right one-state solution,” The Huffington Post, 21 March 2012).

In 2011, he co-produced a proposal to end the conflict with Chibli Mallat, the conclusions of which sound remarkably like Finkelstein’s, calling for “two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, [to] live side by side, as expressed in Security Council Resolutions 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003) and 1850 (2008)” and a commitment “to the principle of nonviolence as the privileged means to effect democratic change in the region and beyond” (“A joint proposal on the foundations of a two-state solution,” The National, 27 October 2011).

Dershowitz and Finkelstein both emphasize the preeminence of Jewish opinion.

Dershowitz: “The American Jewish community is much more supportive of a two-state solution. And, the Israeli Jewish community is much more supportive of a two-state solution” (“Alan Dershowitz and Caroline Glick clash on two-state solution,” The Algemeiner, 1 May 2013).

Finkelstein: “There are major regional changes — what’s happening now between Israel and Turkey that’s part of an Arab Spring … there is a changed political configuration now. There are changes in public opinion. There are changes in Jewish opinion” (“Finkelstein thinks shift in young Jewish opinion means there will be two (viable states),” Mondoweiss, 19 October 2011).

Denying right of return

Dershowitz is adamantly against any form of right of return for Palestinian refugees. Finkelstein’s pronouncements on the matter have been ambiguous, but there is enough evidence to suggest his ultimate rejection of it.

A colleague, for instance, was present in 2010 at Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, when Finkelstein gave a lecture urging residents, some of them refugees for more than 60 years, to disavow their right of return. (This fits a pattern of Finkelstein admonishing Palestinians to be more reasonable and realistic, what Asa Wistanley calls marginalizing Palestinians from their own struggle.”)

Dershowitz: “For peace to be achieved, pragmatism must be balanced with principle. The right of return should be implemented so as to protect Israel against demographic annihilation without denigrating the Palestinian narrative” (Palestinians and the ‘right of return’,” The Christian Science Monitor, 16 April 2007).

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Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz appear onDemocracy Now! together in 2003.

Finkelstein: “For now, Israel will not honor a Palestinian right of return; to ‘demand’ it is the emptiest of gestures” (Two critiques of Norman Finkelstein,Mondoweiss, 23 December 2011).

Finkelstein: “If we end the occupation and bring back six million Palestinians and we have equal rights for Arabs and Jews,there’s no Israel.”

Finkelstein argues that he supports the right of return in principle, but “in order to achieve a political settlement of the conflict, the right of return will have to be subject to negotiations,” whereas Dershowitz is opposed to the right in principle. For Palestinian refugees the result is identical.

Bickering with boycott activists

Because of his opposition to boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), Finkelstein has alienated a significant portion of his audience (and gained new fans among Zionist hardliners). This alienation hasn’t resulted merely because of his opposition to BDS, but also because of the condescending way he has articulated that opposition.

Dershowitz: “It may be enough to say: ‘The boycotters are wrong’ and leave it at that. But the boycotters are not just adopting bad politics derived from faulty thinking. There is an edge of malice to their campaign. Their desire to hurt, to punish, outstrips their ability even to identify with any precision their targets — all Israeli universities without exception? All academics within those universities? Israeli academics in non-Israeli universities? They cannot say” (This boycott is not just wrong; it’s anti-semitic,” The Sunday Times, via alandershowitz.com, 14 June 2007).

Finkelstein: “[BDS advocates] don’t want Israel. They think they’re being very clever. They call it their three tiers … We want the end of the occupation, we want the right of return, and we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are very clever, because they know the result of implementing all three is what? What’s the result? You know and I know what’s the result: there’s no Israel” (Finkelstein, BDS and the destruction of Israel,” Al Jazeera English, 28 February 2012).

Finkelstein has stated on numerous occasions that BDS is a “cult,” though he has never applied the same term to his utterly sectarian worship of some imaginary “international consensus” that risibly simplifies the complexity of the world’s population.

Disrespect towards Arabs

In communities of decolonization, one’s interactions with the colonized party are as important as the opinions one articulates (indeed, a person’s negative behavior generally foregrounds an insidious agenda). Neither Dershowitz nor Finkelstein practices respect when communicating with Arabs.

For Dershowitz, to whom Arabs are little more than a brown mass of existential danger, unsavory interpersonal behavior is no surprise. We might reasonably hold Finkelstein to a higher standard, however.

I’m thinking of Finkelstein’s tendency to lecture Palestinians about their unrealistic expectations and their need to succumb to the inhibitions of Israeli liberals. In early June at a Left Forum panel, for example, he proclaimed of those unwilling to recognize Israel’s right to exist: “That’s pure unadulterated hypocrisy. And, speaking personally, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. And speaking politically, it won’t go anywhere” (“Norman Finkelstein throws wrench in anti-Israel movement’s claim to a rights-based agenda,” Anti-Defamation League, 21 June 2013).

He also admonished Palestinian attorney Lamis Deek (“Israel is a state. It has the same rights and the same obligations as the 190 other states”) and afterward complained to As’ad Abukhalil for criticizing him on the Angry Arab blog: “It’s useful to think twice before joining in a lynch mob.”

Here Finkelstein sounds a lot like Dershowitz when the latter patronized Palestinian novelist Susan Abulhawa at the 2010 Boston Book Festival (Trainwreck in Boston: Dershowitz calls a Palestinian novelist a bigot and a Holocaust denier,” Mondoweiss, 17 October 2010). Even the language they use is comparable.

Finkelstein recently went on a bizarre, paranoid rant: “Even lectures have significantly diminished because I’ve had major differences of opinion with elements in the Palestine solidarity movement. And they carry on like a cult, and so when the differences emerged, I was blacklisted, too. That’s just a fact.

“Last year I’d probably say about — I’d say between — about 75 invitations to speak around the United States by what’s called SJP, Students for Justice in Palestine. This year I didn’t receive one. I didn’t receive one. They carry on like a cult. And the guru says, ‘You’re out,’ you’re out” (Finkelstein disowns ‘silly’ Israel boycott,” The Jewish Chronicle, 16 February 2012).

This sort of behavior is typical of certain members of privileged groups who devote themselves to improving the lot of the oppressed. Anybody who has worked in communities of decolonization knows the type: a person arrives and shows himself ultimately uninterested in achieving liberation, but insists on leading the wretched horde to his vision of an acceptable outcome — one that is invariably “pragmatic” and “realistic,” saturated in the language of objectivity and the common good.

Of course, it is but an unlucky accident that these outcomes always happen to favor the interests of the oppressor. When that person is challenged or marginalized, histrionics ensue.

Finkelstein’s comments about Students for Justice in Palestine reveal a man more interested in nourishing a God-complex than in doing anything to help Palestine.

Patronizing and pedantic

Dershowitz and Finkelstein have differences, too. Finkelstein has never plagiarized or supported torture and Dershowitz has never attempted to lead a march on Gaza he would later deem “sectarian” after the people on whose behalf he purported to march demanded a voice in the planning (Why I resigned from the Gaza Freedom March coalition”).

Finkelstein acknowledges evidence of Israel’s brutality in the past and present, whereas Dershowitz more or less blames everything that’s ever gone wrong in the Holy Land on the Arabs. Yet Finkelstein’s positions on the right of return and binationalism indicate an unwillingness to accept moral ownership of the brutality he acknowledges. To say that emphasis on justice isn’t pragmatic is to severely underthink the possibilities of decolonization.

Ultimately, on the issues that matter most, those fundamental to the cessation of the Zionist colonial project, there is little disagreement between Dershowitz and Finkelstein, certainly none of significance. There is also little to distinguish in their patronizing and pedantic tone with Palestinians.

Many advocates of Palestine are rightfully upset with Finkelstein, but if I may offer a suggestion, I would advise that we assign Finkelstein the same status we have long accorded Dershowitz, that of a slightly cogent but mostly curmudgeonly white male who occasionally annoys with outbursts of bluster and disdain.

Just as their feud has taken too much time away from important matters, Finkelstein’s discourse of “international consensus” and “cults” and “pragmatism” is so slovenly that we’re better served challenging more sophisticated opponents of Palestinian aspirations.

Finkelstein can be frustrating because he apparently believes that practicality, realism and reasonableness exist within fixed structures of meaning and have nothing to do with definitional commonplaces and political ethos generated and maintained by the ruling classes. He’s made it clear he’s sticking with that discourse. There’s nothing left to do with Finkelstein but hope he reads the Wikipedia entry on the theory of hegemony.

It’s difficult to say whether the Dershowitz-Finkelstein feud will continue. While the two have much in common politically, they differ in motive, and this difference of motivation will likely keep them at odds. For those who care about Palestinian voices, motivation is less important than actual belief; in this area, Dershowitz and Finkelstein are the PeresNetanyahu tandem of American liberalism.

Let us then leave them to their feuding with the understanding that they have nothing really to resolve beyond the antipathy of competing egos. Passionate interpersonal conflicts, after all, often occur with the people with whom we have most in common.

 

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It’s Not Your Granny’s Ireland Any More

NOVANEWS
The Past is Not an Obstacle

by HARRY BROWNE

Dublin.

For many years, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was the member of the British parliament for West Belfast in Northern Ireland, albeit one who refused to take his seat in London. Since 2011, however, he has served in the Irish legislature, without abstention, representing constituents across the border in the Republic of Ireland’s County Louth.

But if you can take the man out of Belfast, you can’t take the terrible history of Belfast out of the man. A few weeks ago he was back in his homeplace to face questioning about the 1972 disappearance and murder of widowed mother-of-ten Jean McConville, who the IRA apparently believed was passing information to the British army. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) arrested and held Adams, interrogating him intensely, for four days before releasing him. The prosecution service is now considering the evidence.

Why is this particularly shocking cold-case getting warmed over now? The background is murky, complex and divisive, involving a strange and accidental coming together of the interests of cops who haven’t forgotten their anti-IRA war and the memories of republicans who opposed the way Adams took the IRA out of that war. Adams denies any involvement in the murder. He continues to deny he was in the IRA. Few people believe the latter denial, at least. And so in early May the mainstream media in the Republic became convinced that this incredulity and the exhumed horror of the McConville murder would translate into a fall in support for Sinn Fein.

If it has had a negative effect, it’s hard to spot it. Counting continues in the local and European elections — not for the national parliaments — that were held North and South last week. Up North the Sinn Fein party has uneventfully held its status as the main political vehicle for Catholic-nationalists. In the Republic, especially in Dublin, its upward surge has been so dramatic that all of the party’s unsuccessful candidates will probably be able fit glumly around one table in the corner of the crowded celebration party. The past, of Gerry Adams and of Sinn Fein as the political wing of the IRA, was no obstacle to success.

The rise and rise of Sinn Fein is just part of a wider series of triumphs for the Left. (Whatever its political qualities in the North and in rural areas, there is no doubt that in Dublin, where SF will be the largest group on the city council, it is a left-wing party, typified by its newly elected member of the European parliament, Lynn Boylan.) Despite the acrimonious dissolution last year of the further-left alliance that promised so much at the 2011 elections, socialists and left-populists have had remarkable electoral success in councils across the Republic, and to a lesser extent in

frontman

Northern Ireland too. If this was a protest vote against austerity and its Irish engineers, the protest largely spurned xenophobes, pro-lifers and sundry right-wing conspiracists, of the sort who have done well elsewhere in Europe. Instead it favoured leftists whose divisions may indeed have spurred them to work even harder to build support in working-class communities.

The emblem of this new Ireland, an electorate that refuses to believe that there are no alternatives to neoliberal dictates, is the poll-topper in the huge European-election constituency that stretches across the Irish midlands and around the border: Luke Ming Flanagan came to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s as a pro-cannabis campaigner and, yes, he got his no-longer-just-a-nickname from his resemblance to a Flash Gordon villain, Ming the Merciless. He has been prominent in support of issues ranging from the interests of small-scale turf-cutters on peat bogs to women’s reproductive rights. No, it’s not your granny’s Ireland any more.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the conservative civil-war parties that have dominated Irish politics for nearly a century, haven’t gone away, but they’ll have to accept their more modest place in a fractured landscape. In Dublin their combined vote in the European election was a mere 28%. Softly, barely social-democratic Labour, always in the shadows as a half-party in what was often called a two-and-a-half-party system, always ready to go into government with Fine Gael, has been beaten by the voters into near-catatonia for forming that coalition again after the last parliamentary election in 2011 — Labour leader Eamon Gilmore resigned that post on Monday afternoon..

Statistically, Ireland is in the midst of a modest recovery: unemployment is down, growth is back. But across the island, the heartbreaking social realities for those below the elite 1% are all about emigration, worsening public services, stagnant wages, new regressive taxes and charges, and a housing crisis to accompany the return of investors to the property market.

The so-called Troika of EU, IMF and European Central Bank no longer runs the country as directly as it did until recently. But international capital still calls the shots in Ireland, where the economy was crushed to make sure that bondholders of even the most delusional bubble-blowing banks got paid back every cent they had gambled.

The actual government won’t change here. As elsewhere in Europe, where the real left made gains but so did neo-fascists, the vote is being interpreted as a ‘midterm’ protest. The EU is an enormous influence on economics and politics across the continent, especially in those countries that are in the euro currency zone, but the EU’s parliament doesn’t wield much power: in Ireland, certainly, there is usually something rather ‘B team’ about the candidates for European elections, despite the fact that the job pays better than a seat in the domestic parliament. A couple of by-elections for domestic seats got at least as much attention as the larger Euro campaigns — and resulted in another trotskyist victory, for the Socialist Party’s Ruth Coppinger, in an increasingly red corner of Dublin.

The full Irish European-election results have been delayed, in part because of a push by eurocrats bent on ‘integrating’ the union to treat this as one giant election across the continent, in which all results arrive together, from Scotland to Portugal, Denmark to Greece. Although some common trends are apparent, this remains largely a nonsense, with campaigns dominated by local and national, rather than ‘European’ issues. And turnout in European elections continues to trail behind the turnout in ‘real’, i.e. national, ones.

But while the French National Front are nowhere to be seen in Dublin, the election weekend here did see an ironic bit of European-style economic reality hit in a rather trendy inner-city eatery called the Paris Bakery, in the shadow of the General Post Office where the Republic was declared in the 1916 Rising. The cafe’s owner is shutting it down, with €130,000 in unpaid wages owed to its employees. The workers and their supporters have occupied the premises for three days now to demand they get paid. From Athens to Madrid, from Paris to the Paris Bakery, the struggle continues long after the polls are closed.

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