America’s Wars

Yet More of More of the Same?

by Danny Sjursen

TomDispatch.com (December 19 2017)

I remember the day President Obama let me down.

It was December 01 2009, and as soon as the young president took the podium at West Point and – calm and cool as ever – announced a new troop surge in Afghanistan, I knew. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. In that instant, George W Bush’s wars had become Barack Obama’s.

But where Bush had seemed, however foolishly, to believe his own rhetoric about America’s glorious military mission in the world, you always sensed that Obama’s heart just wasn’t in it. He’d been steamrolled by ambitious generals who pioneered generational warfare and hawkish cabinet members like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Bush-holdover Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Then again, what choice did he have, given the way he’d run his presidential campaign on the idea that Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” and so the foil for Iraq, the “dumb war”? Now he was stuck with that landlocked, inhospitable little war, come what may. As we all know (and as I had little doubt then), it didn’t work out. Not at all.

Like many other idealistic Americans, I’d bet big on Obama. The madness and futility of my own fifteen months in Iraq as a scout platoon leader – you know, one of those “warriors” you’re obligated to thank endlessly for his service – had forever soured me on nation-building crusades in faraway lands. And the young, inspiring senator from Illinois seemed to have some authentic anti-war chops. Unlike Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, he was untarnished by the October 2002 Iraq War resolution vote that gave the Bush administration the right to shock and awe the hell out of Saddam Hussein. Looking back, I suppose I should have known better. Obama had only been a state senator with an essentially nonexistent record on foreign policy when he first criticized Operation Iraqi Freedom. Still, after so many years of Bush’s messianic adventures, anyone seemed preferable.

That was more than eight years ago and somehow the United States military is still slogging along in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s more, Bush’s wars have only expanded in breadth, if not in depth, to Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Niger, among other places. Yes, ISIS as a “caliphate” has been defeated. As a now-global franchise, however, anything but, and victory – whatever that might mean at this point – couldn’t be further off as our next president, Donald Trump, approaches his one year mark in office and he and “his” military only ratchet up those wars further.

Good Instincts?

The Trump-Clinton election fiasco of 2016 was, to say the least, disturbing. And while I was no fan of Mr Trump’s language, demeanor, or (however vague) policies, when it came to our wars he did seem to demonstrate some redeeming qualities. Running against Hillary the hawk presented him with genuine opportunities. She, after all, had been wrong about every major foreign policy decision for more than a decade. Iraq? She voted for it. Afghanistan? She wanted another “surge”. Libya? She was all in and had a fine chuckle when autocrat Muammar Gaddafi was killed.

Mr Trump, on the other hand, while visibly ill-informed and anything but polished on such subjects, occasionally sounded strangely rational and ready to topple more than a few sacred cows of the foreign policy establishment. He called both the Iraq and the Afghan wars “stupid”, criticized the poorly planned and executed Libyan operation that had indeed loosed chaos and weaponry from Gaddafi’s looted arsenals across North Africa, and had even questioned whether military escalation, supposedly to balance Russian moves in Eastern Europe, was necessary. Whether he really believed any of that stuff or was just being an effective attack dog by pouncing on Hillary’s grim record we may never know.

What already seems clear, however, is that Trump’s version of global strategy – to the extent that he even has one – is turning out to be yet more of more of the same. He did, of course, quickly surround himself with three generals from America’s losing wars clearly convinced that they could “surge” their way out of anything. More troublesome yet, it seems to have registered on him that military escalation, air strikes of various sorts, special operations raids, and general bellicosity all look “presidential” and so play well with the American people.

In constant need of positive reinforcement, Trump has seemed to revel in the role of war president. When he simply led a round of applause for a widow whose husband had died in a botched raid in Yemen early in his presidency, CNN commentator Van Jones typically gushed that he “just became President of the United States, period”. After he ordered the launching of a few dozen cruise missiles targeting one of Bashar al-Assad’s air bases in Syria, even Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria lauded him for acting “presidential”. War sells, as does fear, especially in the America of 2017, a country filled with outsized fears of Islamic terrorism that no one knows how to stoke better than Donald Trump. So expect more, much more, of each next year.

A Brief Tour of Trump’s Wars

Where exactly does that leave us? Like Obama before him, and Bush before him, President Trump has opted for continuing, even escalating, America’s war for the Greater Middle East. Long gone are the critiques of “stupid” interventions. As he announced a new mini-surge in Afghanistan, he did admit that his instinct had been to end America’s longest war, but it wasn’t an instinct that stood tall in the face of his war-fighting generals.

Now, after nearly a year in office, those instincts of his seem limited to whatever his generals tell him. An ever-so-brief tour of his wars suggests – to give you a little preview of what’s to come (should Americans even care) – two things: first, that on the horizon is more of more of the same; second, that the result is likely to be, as it has largely been in these last years, some version of stalemate verging on defeat.

* Afghanistan is a true mess. Now entering its seventeenth year, the war in that infamous graveyard of empires has left the US military short on answers.

Afghan Security Forces (“ASF”), the foundation of American “strategy” there, are being killed and wounded at an unsustainable rate. And all that sacrifice – to the tune of perhaps 20,000 ASF casualties annually – has delivered precious little in the way of stability. More Afghan provinces and districts are contested or under direct Taliban control today than at any time in these years of American intervention. Corruption is still endemic in the government and the military and few rural Afghans seem to consider the regime in Kabul legitimate.

It’s all been so futile that it borders on the absurd. Without an indefinite influx of Western money, training, and logistical support, the Afghan government simply cannot hold out. Despite the efforts of hundreds of thousands of American troops and countless bureaucrats, Washington has never been able to deal with or alter the essential quandary that lies at the heart of the Afghan mission: the Taliban still counts on sanctuary in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan and so long as that’s available – and it seems it will be in perpetuity – there is no way to militarily defeat them. Besides, the Taliban harbor no discernible transnational aspirations and most al-Qaeda operatives have long since left Afghanistan’s mountains for other locales throughout the Greater Middle East.

Mr Trump’s generals and their troops on the ground have no answers to these confounding challenges. One thing is guaranteed: 3,000 or even 50,000 more troops won’t break the stalemate, nor will loosing some of the last Vietnam-era B-52s to bomb the countryside. When I last surged into Afghanistan myself in 2011~2012, I was joined by more than 100,000 fellow Americans. It didn’t matter. We achieved about as much as this current “strategy” will: stasis.

* Iraq is rarely in the headlines anymore, except maybe as an offshoot of America’s anti-ISIS campaign in Syria. Nonetheless, with more than 5,200 US troops on the ground (and don’t forget the private contractors also in-country), you’ve not heard the last of Washington’s fourteen-year-old campaign there. What exactly is the US charter in Iraq these days anyway? To defeat ISIS? That’s (mostly) done, in a conventional sense anyway. The so-called caliphate has fallen, though ISIS as a global brand is thriving. To stabilize the country in order to avoid ISIS 2.0 or block the growth and spread of well-armed Shia militias? Don’t count on a few thousand troops succeeding where 150,000 servicemen failed at similar tasks the last time around.

Iraq remains divided and ultimately unstable. In the north, the Kurds want autonomy, which the Shia-dominated Baghdad regime will have none of. In the north and west, Sunnis, living in the rubble of their unreconstructed cities, remain distrustful of Baghdad. (A year after its “liberation” from ISIS, for instance, significant parts of Fallujah still lack water or electricity.) Unless they are somehow integrated more equitably into the Shia-controlled political heartland, they will predictably support the next iteration of Islamist extremists.

The only real winner in the Iraq War was Iran. A mostly friendly, Shia-heavy government in Baghdad suits Tehran just fine. In fact, by toppling Saddam Hussein, the United States all but ensured that Iran would gain increased regional influence. The bottom line is that Iraq has many challenges ahead and Washington doesn’t have a hope in hell of meaningfully solving any of them.

How will Baghdad divide power between its various sects and factions? How will it demobilize and/or integrate those Shia militia units that checked ISIS’s expansion in 2014~2015 into its military or will it? How much autonomy will President Haider al-Abadi allow the Kurds?

The all but perpetual American military presence in that country seems unlikely to help with any of Iraq’s countless problems. And given that, like just about anyone else on this planet, Arabs don’t take kindly to even the most minimalist of occupations, whatever they may officially be called, expect those US troops to end up in someone’s line of fire sooner or later. (Recent history suggests that sooner is more likely.)

* When it comes to Syria, can anyone articulate a coherent strategy in the devastated ruins of that country amid a byzantine network of factions, terror groups, and the once again ascendant government and military of Bashar al-Assad? It seems like another formula for certain disaster. Somehow, Syria makes even the situation in Iraq seem simple. Perhaps 2,000 US troops are on the ground in north and southeast Syria. Getting in was the easy part, getting out may be all but impossible.

US-sponsored, mainly Kurdish forces, backed by American air power and artillery, seized ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, and helped turn the militants of the Islamic State back into a guerilla force. Now what? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syrian President Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Iranians all loathe the Kurds and are none-too-keen to allow them any form of long-term autonomy. A tenuous stalemate has developed between Assad’s army and his foreign backers on one side and the small US force with its allied Kurdish fighters on the other. Sooner or later, however, it’s a recipe for disaster as the possibilities of “accidental” conflict abound. The Trump team, like Obama’s before them, appears to have no consistent vision for Syria’s future. Can Assad stay in power? Does the US even have a say in that question any longer? Assad, Putin, and Hezbollah appear to hold a far stronger hand in that country’s six-year civil war.

In addition to yet more destruction, division, and chaos, it’s unclear what the US stands to achieve in Syria. Nevertheless, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Pentagon recently announced that, just as in Iraq, US troops would stay in Syria after the final defeat of ISIS. On the subject, a Pentagon spokesperson was quite emphatic: “We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups”. In other words, the US military will remain there until when exactly? Long enough for the civil war to end and liberal democracy to burst forth in the Syrian countryside?

That country is hardly a vital national security interest of the United States and the Trump team’s plans seem as vague as they are foolish. Nonetheless, on the intervention goes and where it ends nobody knows. It’s not, however, likely to end well.

* Yemen, Niger, Somalia, Libya, and various other smaller conflicts round out the exhausting list of what are now Trump’s wars. US troops still occasionally die in those places, which few Americans could find on a map. Even hawkish wonks like Senator Lindsey Graham seem unclear about how many troops the US has in Africa. Fear not, however, Senator Graham assures us that Americans should expect “more, not less” intervention on that continent in the years to come and, given what we’re learning about the Pentagon’s latest plans for places like Somalia suggests that he couldn’t be more accurate and that the American version of what retired general and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus has termed (in relation to Afghanistan) “generational” warfare is now spreading from the Greater Middle East to Africa.

Washington’s efforts in Yemen and North Africa have been and continue to be nothing if not counterproductive. In Yemen, the United States is complicit in the Saudi blockading and terror bombing of the poorest Arab state and a resultant famine and cholera outbreak that could affect millions, especially children. This campaign isn’t winning America any friends on the “Arab street” and only seems to have empowered al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In Africa, from Nigeria to Somalia, infusions of US troops have not measurably improved regional stability. Quite the opposite, despite the protestations of US Africa Command. In fact, there are now more radical Islamist groups than ever before and terrorist attacks have all but exploded on that continent.

All these wars, once Obama’s, are now Trump’s. The only differences, it seems, are of form rather than substance. Unlike Obama, Trump delegates troop-level decisions to his secretary of defense and the generals. Furthermore, when it comes to what the public can know, there appears to be even less transparency about the exact number of soldiers being deployed across the Middle East and North Africa than had previously been the case. And that seems to suit most Americans just fine. A warrior caste of professionals fights the country’s various undeclared wars, taxes remain low, and little is asked of the populace.

Call me a pessimist but I have no doubt that the United States is in for at least three more years of perpetual war – and it probably won’t end there either. There’s no silver bullet for such conflicts so the military won’t be able to end them in any reasonably easy way or it would have done so years ago. And that’s assuming that far worse in the way of war isn’t in store for us in the Koreas or Iran.

Trump will not be impeached. He may even win a second term. Crazier things have happened, like, well, his election in 2016. And even if he were gone, America’s wars like the Pentagon’s budget have proven remarkably bipartisan affairs. As the Obama years make clear, don’t count on a Democratic president to end them.

Children born after 9/11 will vote in 2020. In that sense, at least, General Petraeus is right. These wars truly are generational.

_____

Major Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, is a US Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge (2015). He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kansas. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (2017) as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two (2017), John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands (2016), Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead (2016), and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (2014).

Copyright 2017 Danny Sjursen

(c) 2017 TomDispatch.com

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176366/tomgram%3A_danny_sjursen%2C_three_administrations%2C_one_standard_playbook/

Trump’s National Security Speech

by Paul Craig Roberts

https://www.paulcraigroberts.org (December 19 2017)

What do we make of Trump’s national security speech? First of all, it is the military/security complex’s speech, and it is inconsistent with Trump’s intention of normalizing relations with Russia.

The military/security complex, using Trump’s position as President, has defined Russia and China as “revisionist powers”, Washington’s rivals who seek to put their own national interests ahead of Washington’s unilateralism. Russia and China are “revisionist powers” because their assertion of their national interests limits Washington’s hegemony.

In other words, Washington does not accept the validity of other countries’ interests if those interests are contrary to Washington’s interests. So, how does Trump expect to work with Russia and China when he reads a speech that Russia and China seek to “shape a world antithetical to our interests and values.”

“Our values” means, of course, Washington’s dominance.

Trump begins by honoring the military, police, Homeland Security, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In other words, “America first” means domination by Washington over the citizenry as well as over foreign countries.

Trump then cloaks himself in the American people who “voted to make America great again.”

Then Trump’s speech picks up the Israel Lobby’s line about a bad deal with Iran and asserts that previous administrations tolerated ISIS, when in fact they created it and set in upon Libya and Syria.

Then he attacks environmental protection and complains of illegal aliens while ignoring the refugees Washington’s wars imposed on Europe.

In an era of neoconservative celebration of US world hegemony, Trump accuses his predecessors of losing confidence in America. This is extraordinary. When a country’s entire foreign policy is based on the assumption that it is the “exceptional and indispensable country”, how is this a loss of confidence? It is massive arrogance and hubris. The problem is not a loss of confidence by the rulers but an overbearing hubris.

Then Trump claims that through him, Americans again rule their nation.

He says that now Washington is serving the citizens. Looking at the tax bill, he must mean that citizens consist of the One Percent.

He next associates making America first with more money for the military.

Then he blames Iran for terrorism, something that Iran lives in fear of, but he does not mention Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism or that of the US military/security complex’s which encourages terrorism as a weapon against Iran and Russia and as an excuse for its massive budget and power.

Trump then claims credit for the Russian/Syrian defeat of ISIS. It has been proved that ISIS is supported and financed by Washington. Trump’s claim is even more ridiculous than the previous claims of the Obama regime that the US defeated National Socialist Germany. Russia, which did defeat Germany, was not invited to the anniversary celebration.

Trump next demands that the countries we defend pay for it. Who are these countries and who do we defend them from? He can only mean Europe, Canada, Australia, Israel, and Japan. Is Washington defending them from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran or from the terrorists Washington creates, arms, and supplies to overthrow Libya, Syria, and whatever countries Washington is successful siccing terrorists on. Apparently, some of these CIA-created terrorist organizations break loose from their creator and conduct operations on their own. So, Washington is a government that creates its own enemies.

Trump next brags on the sanctions he has imposed on “the North Korean regime”. He doesn’t mention, and I would bet he does not know, that Washington has withheld a peace treaty since the 1950s from North Korea. Washington has kept the war status open for 64 years. Having seen the fate of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, et al, little wonder North Korea wants nuclear weapons.

Trump, standing there threatening the world, says that Washington will take all necessary steps to prevent North Korea from threatening the world.

Trump then delivers the establishment’s propaganda that unemployment is at an all-time low and the stock market at an all-time high. So, what is Trump rescuing Middle America from if unemployment is at an all-time low? What happened to Trump’s case against jobs offshoring?

This is nothing but feel-good talk. Trump is repeating the lies because the lies make him look good. What Trump should be doing is pointing out the meaninglessness of the unemployment rate, because it doesn’t count the unemployed, only those few who looked for a job in the last four weeks. He should be pointing out that the stock market is not a sign of a growing economy but a sign of massive money creation by the central banks of the US, EU, UK, and Japan. The massive printing of money has flooded into paper assets, driving up their price and further enriching the One Percent.

Trump says that one leg of the strategy is to “preserve peace through strength”. What peace is he talking about? In the past two decades, Washington has destroyed in whole or part eight countries and overthrown democratic governments in others. Is Trump equating peace with Washington’s wars? No other country has initiated wars and invasions and bombings and aggressive military actions on other countries’ borders. Trump says that America is threatened by enemies and to protect us the military will be enlarged. He said he was overturning the “defense sequester”, something that clearly does not exist.

My conclusion is that Trump has surrendered to the real rulers of America – the powerful interest groups such as the military/security complex, the Israel Lobby, the environmental polluters, Wall Street, and the banks “too big to fail”.

America is a country in which despite the hopes flyover America had in Trump, an oligarchy rules. The American people, regardless of who they elect, have no voice, no input, no representation.

The governments of Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush were the last governments that were subject to any accountability. With the Clinton regime, the United States entered into the age of tyranny.

Copyright (c) 2016 PaulCraigRoberts.org. All rights reserved.

https://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2017/12/19/trumps-national-security-speech/

No Peace in Our Times

The Inevitability of War

by The Board

via GEFIRA (December 23 2017)

Zero Hedge (December 24 2017)

 

While people are saying, peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

 

Are you, man or woman of Christian and European heritage, aware of this prophecy or do you prefer to live in a fancy world of happy-clappy wishful thinking that the brotherhood of men is about to put an end to human conflict once and for all? Though Christmastide is a time of merrymaking, it may also be a period of reflection. The Birth that we celebrate on Christmas Day was perceived by some as such a threat as to justify the Massacre of the Innocents. Peace and goodwill were closely intertwined with discord and hostility. Do you think we are living in better times? Do you think we are living in Fukuyama’s end of history?

War has persisted throughout history ever since the dawn of mankind. That’s probably the best indicator that it will persist for all eternity. Why should it cease? War for the purposes of this text is not merely the outright hostilities, the firing guns, and resounding battle cries. It is a constant strife that is being played out on a day-to-day basis which now and again erupts into its dramatic form of the opposing armies acting on the theater of war. Why do we broaden the definition of war? If only because casualties – and we mean loss of lives – are not necessarily the highest during the time of the roaring guns. Those sustained during the periods of peace may be just as high or even higher. Case in point: the Yeltsin era in Russia lasting for roughly ten years. Within that decade, life expectancy plummeted from seventy down to sixty, which means that the country’s loss of lives amounted to the magnitude comparable to that during any war, which is millions. This loss of life was brought about by social and economic reforms, that is steps taken supposedly to make the living standards better and these were demanded or suggested or advised by the powers outside Russia. The result? Closed down factories, laid off employees, poverty, and the attendant disease and demise of many. Were these not regular hostilities?

War has persisted throughout history in one form or another, though we are only made aware of it acutely when we can smell gunpowder, see ruined buildings and maimed bodies. Yet war is the pith and core of existence. We live by it, we draw from it, and, on a more positive note, it tests our character. The Iliad, Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, Das Nibelungenlied, Jerusalem Delivered, El Cid, the Battle of Kosovo epic circle, and, and, and, to mention only European literary monuments, they are all about adversity, combat, heroic deeds, or cowardly misconduct. Why haven’t our poets and bards composed works of goodness, peace, and harmony? Being ones of us, they knew the human psyche and they knew that we wouldn’t feel attracted to stories of goodness and love and charity; they knew that if we had paradise on earth, peaceful coexistence and tolerance of everything, we would have nothing to write about or, to put it in modern terms, nothing to make films about.

Think about it. All literary and religious stuff is about conflict, serious and bitter conflict. Our play and entertainment are all about conflict. Look at the popularity of computer war games, at the popularity of sports which are but epitomes of battles and rivalries; look at the popularity of crime stories, at the popularity of – mind you – Star Wars movie series, as if world wars did not fully satisfy our militant fantasizing! We are hardwired for experiencing conflict in one way or another, much though nowadays we are trying to convince ourselves that the opposite is true. Medieval Christian chroniclers, who most often were Christian priests, that is, preachers of love and charity, rebuked princes for idly staying at home rather than leading their warriors and knights on conquests. Islam was no better in this respect. The first two or so centuries from its inception were characterized by militant conquests: there were no apostles of Good News but rather mounted warriors wielding curved swords. It is only now that we are squeamish about armed conflicts and frown upon crusades or the conquest of the Americas. And yet we do it in a hypocritical way: we have removed words like war, military campaign or intervention from our polite vocabulary and we call these phenomena spreading or saving democracy, preventing humanitarian disasters, defending prosecuted minorities, and what not. Nonetheless, by whatever name a rose is known, it is still a rose.

War runs in our blood. We are biologically designed for conflict, for struggle, for overcoming adversity. No globalization, no unification of nations, no removal of class, religious, racial, economic differences will ever do away with war. Conflict in general and war, in particular, is a result of (i) biology which manifests itself in (ii) economy and (iii) ideology.

(i) The otherwise scientifically-minded Western Man knows it very well as he firmly believes in the evolutionary mechanism, that is, the differentiation of species and struggle for existence. The animal world – and we are part of it, just an extension – is all about fighting for survival, competing for females, guarding one’s breeding and hunting grounds. Genetically related individuals (individuals related by blood, as men of old would have said) form in-groups (families, clans, tribes, nations), where loyalty to its members has a top survival value. Heroic literature exploits the motif of loyalty and its moral counterpart, which is treason, to the full. That is how the biological mechanism of in-group loyalty and out-group exclusion has sublimated into ideas, and these have found reflection in works of art and, broadly, ideology, and in all this which is generally referred to as culture. Nations are a biological phenomenon. Ethnicity, not only race, can be determined by looking into genes! No wonder then that ethnic differences are the main fault lines along which conflicts arise. True, different human groups may from time to time exist as neighbors, never really merging with each other, but inevitably their coexistence must end in an eruption of hostilities.

A note here. Some say humans behave according to the dictates of the culture they live in or are born into, hence a change of cultural surroundings will result in the change of the individual’s behavior as if man were a piece of malleable stuff to be shaped at will. Wrong. Culture in its broadest sense is the sublimation of biology, not the other way round. Man creates culture; culture does not create man. Islam practiced by white Europeans would look entirely different than Islam practiced by Arabs and, similarly, Christianity practiced by Arabs would not resemble that practiced by Europeans.

(ii) In their daily struggle for survival human groups compete for the scarcity of resources and land. This economic competition is yet another powerful source of conflict and, eventually, war. Economy, that is, the struggle to survive on a daily basis, brings into conflict also the interests of the members of the in-group. Some are employers, others are employees: some make a living from capital, others from labor. There arises a clash between the haves and the have-nots, ending up in violent revolutions. The dispossessed or simply less affluent members of society attempt to rid the well-to-do of their property, the latter defend themselves. A dream of a peaceful coexistence dictated creating a classless society where everybody’s income had to be leveled. That led to civil wars and ultimate impoverishment of whole nations, from Cuba to North Korea. The French revolutionaries, once they launched guillotining people, including their co-revolutionists, just could not stop doing it. Much the same was true of the Russian Bolsheviks: on one hand they started murdering themselves (Comrade Stalin had Comrade Trotsky killed in the far-flung Mexico where the latter had spent years in exile) and purging the party ranks, on the other they starved their own people, peasants and workers, on whose behalf they began the revolution in the first place. The “achievements” of the medieval notorious inquisition pale in comparison to the millions butchered, tortured, and imprisoned in concentration camps in Soviet Russia. Think of it: all that was done for the happiness of future generations of a classless and nationless society.

(iii) Ideology, as said above, is the expression of biological instincts. If it takes the form of a religion, it becomes a weapon by means of which a nation’s dominance, conquest, or privileged position is most powerfully explained by the will of a god or gods. To a believer, this religious reality is stronger than the physical one. Consider Muslim suicidal attacks or Christian executions of physicians in front of American abortionist clinics. The survival value of a religion may raise one race above others to the status of a chosen people with all attendant consequences; it may create social strata like a caste system in India which, as it has a blessing from a godhead, it is unthinkable to change; it can fossilize the relationship between dominance and subservience. The Western Man tends to disregard religions as superstition so much that he does not accept the facts that believers of whatever faith are ready to sacrifice their life for a cause.

Some of the systems have been advanced for the sole purpose of blessing the whole of humanity with a pretense of introducing an age of eternal peace and brotherhood. Recall the French and Bolshevik revolutions, globalism, or economic and political unions of all types. They are all doomed to fail as they run counter to biological reality, which is constant differentiation and the resulting strife. A new ideology (religion) must first overcome the resistance of the followers of the old one(s), and then or even while ousting the old beliefs, it itself splits into new sub-movements of the first original one. Consider Christianity with its many denominations and the socialist or communist movements, Christianity’s archenemy, which ended up with as many heresies. The movement of whatever kind begins with conflict with ideological out-groups and ends up as a house divided against itself. And then, again, the biologically-conditioned in-group loyalty and out-group exclusion prevail: Catholic, Muslim, or communist nations are very often bitter enemies. The shared faith or ideology lose to blood ties.

Is there a solution to wars? Everlasting peace? None, really.

Consider uniting the peoples of the earth in one “nation” (globalization) in the hope of achieving everlasting peace. Quite apart from the feasibility of such an idea and the fact that there will be resistance to it, one nation is no guarantee of a life without conflicts. After all, all homogeneous nations have experienced civil wars. Just one example. The English people were torn by the War of the Roses, then the Cromwellian revolution, then a part of the nation settled down in North America and rebelled against their brothers on the old continent only to wage a fratricidal war of secession among themselves. Much the same story can be told about all other nations around the globe. So, if a nation’s life is rife with conflict, how much more the life of an artificial one, like the Soviet or European Union?

Consider uniting the peoples of the earth by imposing on them one religion, ideology, or a universal lack thereof or indifference (which nowadays goes by the name of tolerance) to all beliefs. Again, we know from history such an attempt is doomed to fail. Remember the initially universal Christianity: one did not have to wait long till it produced Arianism and other heresies, then it split into Orthodox and Western branches; the Western branch gave rise to a number of heresies and split into Catholics and Protestants, who in turn gave rise to numerous denominations thereof. Much the same held good for political ideologies (a form of lay religion) where the socialist or communist movement kept dividing itself into opposing and hostile factions, like national or international socialism, communism, Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Eurocommunism (Gramscians), liberation theology (social Christianity) … Russian Communists used military intervention to quell the aspirations of Czechoslovak communists; Comrade Tito was hated by Stalinists, and Chairman Mao was insulted by Stalin for a purpose. Any global ideology with all-encompassing tolerance is sure to follow that way. No doubt about it.

Man thought that religion would overcome national sentiment. Man thought lay ideologies would overcome national sentiment. Both failed miserably. Supposedly suppressed or eradicated national feelings all of a sudden revive as was the case at the outset of the First World War, when socialist parties previously renouncing nationalism turned out to be patriotic; when international soviet communism adopted national coloring during the Great Patriotic War and so on.

Consider uniting the peoples of the earth economically. That, too, will inevitably lead to differentiation in the level of affluence and the resulting tensions between the top and the bottom dogs, sparking social unrest, violent clashes, and then revolutions. And we should not forget that also here we may have a hard time deciding whether we develop our global economy according to free-market ideas of the Austrian school, Keynesian economics, socialist welfare or, or, or …

Eternal peace is not only impossible but also undesirable. Eternal peace and brotherhood of men would mean stagnation, lack of development, death. Yes, there is life because there is death.

All these factors – biological, ideological, and economic – are prime movers behind conflict and war. Nations or social classes, ideologies or economic interests, they all exist, keep splitting and competing with each other. When present-day democracies come to blows with regimes as they call them, they only prove that war is inevitable and do not even see that those “regimes” fight against democracies with precisely the same amount of conviction of waging the righteous, if not holy, war.

The modern Western man may laugh at the medieval methods of suppressing dissent or at the fatwas issued by ayatollahs, thinking himself above such measures, but he is none wiser. He moves in the same biological treadmill of eternal – internal, ethnic, sectarian, political, religious, social, and even marital! – strife. The enemy is called names – heretic, fascist, racist, imperialist, colonizer, dictator – is burnt at the stake, excluded from polite society, judged by a court, or becomes anathema. His right to free speech is denied by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or political correctness or you name it. War rather than brotherhood. To feel good we all need the bad guys somewhere around. To combat the bad guys gives us a purpose in life. To think of it, only very few of us realize that we ourselves are the bad guys (kafirs, infidels, aggressors) for those whom we regard as bad guys. In a noble attempt to impose our righteous ways on others we meet with resistance. Resistance means conflict and conflict ultimately results in war. That’s the eternal circle of life and death described in the Iliad, Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, Das Nibelungenlied, Jerusalem Delivered, El Cid, the Battle of Kosovo epic circle. We have not been born for a life in liberty, equality, and brotherhood. These words only reflect sentimental fantasizing enshrined in the wishful thinking of human rights but have nothing to do with reality.

To forestall Christian believers’ opposition to the observations described above, let us remind them of Christ’s words, which read:
 

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen.

 

If they are true believers, they had better repeat after the psalmist:
 

Praise be to the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.

 

The realist atheists and agnostics as scientifically-minded people should not stand in need of being convinced that war is part and parcel of our earthly existence.

https://gefira.org/en/2017/12/23/the-inevitable-of-war-conflict-is-in-our-nature/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-12-24/no-peace-our-times-inevitability-war

The Permanent Lie, Our Deadliest Threat


Mr Fish {1}

by Chris Hedges {2}

Truthout (December 17 2017)

The most ominous danger we face does not come from the eradication of free speech through the obliteration of net neutrality or through Google algorithms that steer people away from dissident, left-wing, progressive or anti-war sites. It does not come from a tax bill that abandons all pretense of fiscal responsibility to enrich corporations and oligarchs and prepares the way to dismantle programs such as Social Security. It does not come from the opening of public land to the mining and fossil fuel industry, the acceleration of ecocide by demolishing environmental regulations, or the destruction of public education. It does not come from the squandering of federal dollars on a bloated military as the country collapses or the use of the systems of domestic security to criminalize dissent. The most ominous danger we face comes from the marginalization and destruction of institutions, including the courts, academia, legislative bodies, cultural organizations and the press, that once ensured that civil discourse was rooted in reality and fact, helped us distinguish lies from truth and facilitated justice.

Donald Trump and today’s Republican Party represent the last stage in the emergence of corporate totalitarianism. Pillage and oppression are justified by the permanent lie. The permanent lie is different from the falsehoods and half-truths uttered by politicians such as Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama. The common political lie these politicians employed was not designed to cancel out reality. It was a form of manipulation. Clinton, when he signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, promised “Nafta means jobs, American jobs, and good-paying American jobs”. George W Bush justified the invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction. But Clinton did not continue to pretend that Nafta was beneficial to the working class when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found.

The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors, and purveyors of “fake news”. They are banished from the public sphere once totalitarian elites accrue sufficient power, a power now granted to them with the revoking of net neutrality {3}. The iron refusal by those who engage in the permanent lie to acknowledge reality, no matter how transparent reality becomes, creates a collective psychosis.

Hannah Arendt wrote {4} in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951):

The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed.

 

The permanent lie turns political discourse into absurdist theater. Donald Trump, who lies about the size of his inauguration crowd despite photographic evidence {5, insists that in regard to his personal finances he is “going to get killed” by a tax bill that actually will save him and his heirs over $1 billion {6}. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims he has a report that proves that the tax cuts will pay for themselves and will not increase the deficit – only there never was a report {7}. Senator John Cornyn assures us, countering all factual evidence, that “this is not a bill that is designed primarily to benefit the wealthy and the large businesses”.

Two million acres of public land, meanwhile, are handed over to the mining and fossil fuel industry {8} as Trump insists the transfer means that “public lands will once again be for public use”. When environmentalists denounce the transfer as a theft, Representative Rob Bishop calls their criticism “a false narrative”.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, after ending net neutrality, effectively killing free speech on the internet, says, “Those who’ve said the internet as we know it is about to end have been proven wrong … We have a free internet going forward”. And at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phrases such as “evidence-based” and “science-based” are banned {8}.

The permanent lie is the apotheosis of totalitarianism. It no longer matters what is true. It matters only what is “correct”. Federal courts are being stacked with imbecilic and incompetent judges who serve the “correct” ideology of corporatism and the rigid social mores of the Christian right. They hold reality, including science and the rule of law, in contempt. They seek to banish those who live in a reality-based world defined by intellectual and moral autonomy. Totalitarian rule always elevates the brutal and the stupid. These reigning idiots have no genuine political philosophy or goals. They use cliches and slogans, most of which are absurd and contradictory, to justify their greed and lust for power. This is as true on the Christian right, which is filling the ideological vacuum of the Trump administration, as it is for the corporatists that preach neoliberalism {9} and globalization. The merger of the corporatists with the Christian right is the marrying of Godzilla to Frankenstein.

“The venal political figures need not even comprehend the social and political consequences of their behavior”, psychiatrist Joost A M Meerloo wrote in “The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing”.

They are compelled not by ideological belief, no matter how much they may rationalize to convince themselves they are, but by the distortions of their own personalities. They are not motivated by their advertised urge to serve their country or mankind, but rather by an overwhelming need and compulsion to satisfy the cravings of their own pathological character structures. The ideologies they spout are not real goals; they are the cynical devices by which these sick men hope to achieve some personal sense of worth and power. Subtle inner lies seduce them into going from bad to worse. Defensive self-deception, arrested insight, evasion of emotional identification with others, degradation of empathy – the mind has many defense mechanisms with which to blind the conscience.

 

When reality is replaced by the whims of opinion and expediency, what is true one day often becomes false the next. Consistency is discarded. Complexity, nuance, depth, and profundity are replaced with the simpleton’s belief in threats and force. This is why the Trump administration disdains diplomacy and is dynamiting the State Department. Totalitarianism, wrote novelist and social critic Thomas Mann, is at its core the desire for a simple folktale. Once this folktale replaces reality, morality and ethics are abolished.

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”, Voltaire warned.

The corporate elites, who even in the best of times stacked the deck against people of color, the poor, and the working class, no longer play by any rules. Their lobbyists, bought-and-paid-for politicians, pliant academics, corrupt judges and television news celebrities run a kleptocratic state defined by legalized bribery and unchecked exploitation. The corporate elites write laws, regulations, and bills to expand corporate looting and plunder while imposing a crippling debt peonage on the public, including college graduates burdened by huge loans. They ram through austerity measures that dismantle state and municipal services, often forcing them to be sold off to corporations, and slash social programs, including public education and health care. They insist, however, that when we have grievances we rely on the institutions they have debased and corrupted. They ask us to invest our energy and time in fixed political campaigns, petition elected representatives, or appeal to the courts. They seek to lure us into their schizophrenic world, where rational discourse is pitted against gibberish. They demand we seek justice in a system designed to perpetuate injustice. It is a game we can never win.

“Thus all our dignity consist in thought”, wrote Pascal. “It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not on space and time, which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principle of morality.”

We must pit power against power. We must build parallel institutions and organizations that protect us from corporate assault and resist corporate domination. We must sever ourselves as much as possible from the vampire state. The more we can create self-contained communities, with our own currencies and infrastructures, the more we can starve and cripple the corporate beast. This means establishing worker-run cooperatives, local systems of food supply based on a vegan diet, and independent artistic, cultural and political organizations. It means obstructing in every way possible the corporate assault, including the blocking of pipelines and fracking sites, and taking to the streets in sustained acts of civil disobedience against censorship and the attack on civil liberties. And it means creating sanctuary cities {10}. All of this will have to be done the way it has always been done, by building personal, face-to-face relationships. We may not ultimately save ourselves, especially with the refusal by the elites to address the ravages of climate change, but we can create pods of resistance where truth, beauty, empathy, and justice endure.

Links:

{1} https://www.truthdig.com/author/mr_fish/

{2} https://www.truthdig.com/author/chris_hedges/

{3} https://www.vox.com/2017/12/14/16774148/net-neutrality-repeal-explained

{4} http://www.iep.utm.edu/arendt/

{5} https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/01/heres-how-trump-stands-to-benefit-from-the-republican-tax-bill.html

{6} http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/362522-analysis-mnuchin-promised-showing-tax-cuts-pay-for-themselves-doesnt

{7} https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/12/4/16733798/utah-national-monument-trump-bears-ears-staircase-escalante

{8} https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/12/16/transgender-fetus-science-based-cdc-list-banned-words-per-report/957996001/

{9} https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/neoliberalism

{10} https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-ab&ei=vgI3WpPwJIaKjwOyuLngBA&q=sanctuary+cities&oq=sanctuary+cities&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0l4j0i20i264k1j0l5.3297.5864.0.6468.14.7.0.0.0.0.108.587.3j3.7.0….0…1.1j2.64.psy-ab..11.3.318.6..0i227i67k1j0i131k1j35i39k1.127.zmi29eWATN0

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/permanent-lie-deadliest-threat/

The Great Leveler

Throughout history, the best ways to reduce inequality have been disease and destruction


Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov, painted in 1887.

by Eshe Nelson

https://qz.com (March 06 2017)

How do you solve a problem like inequality? Economic policymakers have been grappling with this for a long time, with varying degrees of urgency. The search for solutions has become increasingly serious since the 1980s, when inequality began rising again, recently reaching historic highs.

But the problem has been solved before.

After studying thousands of years of human history, Stanford professor Walter Scheidel identified four indisputable ways to reduce inequality: war, revolution, state collapse, and deadly pandemics. These “four horsemen”, as Scheidel dubs them in The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017), have proven far more effective at reversing inequality than more peaceful efforts, like improving education, or non-violent shocks, like financial crises.

Today’s levels of inequality aren’t unprecedented, Scheidel notes. The share of income owned by the wealthiest Americans has only recently risen to levels last seen in 1929. In the UK, the richest ten percent held more than ninety percent of all private wealth before the First World War; today, it’s a little more than half.

This suggests that the inequality seen today has the scope to become far more extreme. Globalization, aging populations, and immigration all contribute to inequality by diverting public services away from redistributive policies. What’s more, new technologies and widespread automation will further widen the gulf between high-skilled and low-skilled workers.

Addressing the high levels of inequality in the US, UK, and elsewhere requires radical policy changes, Scheidel says. And the only time those policies led to a meaningful “leveling” in the past was in the aftermath of catastrophes.

Scheidel spoke to Quartz from New York about the long history of inequality. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Quartz: Past periods of reduced inequality were preceded by catastrophe. How does something so destructive – the “four horsemen” you describe in the book – produce anything positive?

Scheidel: The first one is mass-mobilization warfare and the classic examples are World War One and World War Two. A very large share of the population got drafted into military service, while the civilian labor force also became fully mobilized for the war effort.

A strong nation-state was needed to organize the war effort and tax rates went up to extremely high levels on the rich – ninety percent in some cases – to pay for it. Capital lost value because of government interventions and physical destruction, particularly in Europe. Meanwhile, there’s massive redistribution to workers. Then there are the knock-on effects on democracy. Voting rights, membership in trade unions, et cetera. All these things really surged around these wars because governments have to offer the people something in return.

The second, in a sense, is a no-brainer: it’s transformative revolution. If you are Lenin or Mao and you go out in Russia or China and expropriate all the rich, often killing them in the process, and nationalize everything, you plan an economy where you set all the wages and all the prices. That’s an extremely invasive process but if you are only interested in equality that’s a very quick way of doing it.

And the others?

The other two are more common in the distant past: state collapse and epidemics. State failure is an even less desirable way of leveling compared to the others because everyone is objectively poorer – it’s just the differences are wiped out. When the Romans incorporated Britain into their empire there was a massive increase in inequality, but then it falls apart in the fifth century. The Anglo-Saxons come in and all of a sudden you are back to where you were before.

Finally, there are massive epidemics that sweep in and kill a really large share of the population, like the Black Death in medieval Europe. It doesn’t destroy the physical infrastructure – the land or capital – so there is a fundamental reset in the value of labor. Workers can ask for higher wages and the employers’ – the capitalists’ – assets lose value.

Quartz: Could any of these happen again now, and have a similar impact on inequality?

Scheidel: Thanks to technological change, the style of warfare has really moved on. Instead of intense mobilizations that were possible fifty or 100 years ago, you’d have a quick, high-tech war. It could be very expensive and disruptive but it wouldn’t necessarily produce the same effects on inequality. Overall, the whole world has become more peaceful for any number of reasons. The same is true for transformative revolution. Most people have little desire to repeat what happened in the big communist countries earlier in the twentieth century.

Quartz: Could we see revolution coming from populist movements on the right instead?

Scheidel: They would be more bourgeois; it wouldn’t necessarily be overtly redistributive. You could give the example of the Nazi takeover or revolution but, there was no real interest in bringing about greater equality beyond the rhetoric.

Quartz: Massive epidemics, though, still seem possible, after Ebola, Zika, and with general fears of biological warfare.

Scheidel: Plagues worked really well in an agrarian society, but modern economies are so interconnected and sophisticated that if you randomly killed just ten percent of all people it might cause real damage and destabilize the entire system. But it wouldn’t necessarily have the same distributional effect for workers as it has in the past. One option that exists now that didn’t in the past is more automation. If there was a big plague you’d build more robots and you might have more inequality in the long run.

Quartz: So if these four ways have historically been the only effective means of reducing inequality, and they are both undesirable and less “effective” than they once were, where do we go from here?

Scheidel: That’s exactly the question. Today people like Trump in the US and populists in Europe say, to various degrees, “look what things were like forty years ago, let’s make sure we go back to that”. They are implicitly going back to this post-war period when you had economic growth, an expanding middle class, low inequality, and everything was great. And it’s true, it’s a very desirable state of affairs. But look at the policies, the taxes and tariffs, and unions. All this arose in a very specific context. Policymakers, advocates, and academics have to think harder to develop more noble ways to reduce inequality that might work today.

Quartz: Has anyone come up with policies that are both effective and realistic?

Scheidel: In the US and UK inequality has risen so much that policies which could be implemented would only produce improvements at the margins. Famously, the late Tony Atkinson wrote a book – Inequality: What Can Be Done? (2015) – and he tried to price the cost of these policies. He’s the only one I know who tried to do this in a careful way. It showed improvements are possible but only up to a point. The more radical measures become, the costlier they are and the less likely they will be implemented because of the politics.

Quartz: How much worse can now inequality get, then, if there isn’t the political will or the financial resources to address it?

Scheidel: Inequality can’t go up indefinitely. There has to be some kind of limit – we just don’t know where it is. If you operate in a globalized economy where there are so many ways of obtaining resources from other countries or parking your assets in other countries, then there is the potential for extreme inequality, especially at the very top of the distribution, like we haven’t seen before.


Inequality trends in Europe (Scheidel, 2017)

Quartz: Your book suggests this extreme inequality could lead to a class of “superhumans”.

Scheidel: This hasn’t quite happened yet, but if you talk to geneticists we’re on that trajectory. It’s already well known that some of the boldest or ethically questionable experiments have been undertaken in East Asia, and there’s a great potential for that continuing. A couple of decades down the line and it might be possible for parents to create designer babies. If that were ever to happen, you could end up with an upper class that is genuinely different from everybody else. It doesn’t just have to be genetics; many people are working on implants that will enhance your capabilities.

I live in Silicon Valley, where all these people talk about living to be 1,000 years old. It’s probably not going to happen any time soon, but it shows that the will exists.

Quartz: That’s a troubling future. I’m not surprised, given the subject of your book, but it seems like this interview won’t end on a hopeful note.

Scheidel: There is certainly room for hope, but what is unlikely to happen is a really substantial equalization, the way it happened earlier in the twentieth century.

https://qz.com/924034/how-to-reduce-inequality-history-suggests-the-only-effective-ways-are-death-and-destruction/

History Suggests There is a Way to Lower Inequality

But You’re Not Going to Like It

by Ana Swanson

The Washington Post (April 19 2017)

Rising economic inequality in the United States has been a major animating force on both the political left and the right. Whether it is Senator Bernie Sanders promising to rebuild blue-collar communities or President Trump pledging to “make America great again”, today’s political platforms often revolve around a return to the perceived “normal” of a vibrant middle class and more equitable distribution of wealth that America experienced in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Yet with a broader look at history, it’s clear that period of falling inequality was the exception, and that today’s increasing inequality is more a return to the norm. And when inequality did fall throughout history, Stanford University professor Walter Scheidel argues in a new book, it tended to do so for very unpleasant reasons.

In The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017), Scheidel examines societies from ancient history to the present. He finds that most societies gradually grew more unequal over time, and where those inequalities were leveled out, they were almost always done so by violent forces – war, revolution, or plague. The work contains some shocking lessons about the nature of inequality and what that might mean for our future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: How does inequality today compare with history? When have we seen inequality peak, and when has it fallen?

Answer: If you look over hundreds or thousands of years, you see a pattern of rising and falling inequality. But for most of history, inequality was either rising or stable at high levels. It’s rare for inequality to fall significantly. In that respect, the world we live in is a typical environment, in which inequality is rising or has reached very high levels in many countries.

Question: We saw an unusually large drop in inequality during World War One and World War Two. Has that shaped people’s perceptions of what inequality should look like?

Answer: It has. The postwar period, the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, has become the reference point. In that period, economic growth was strong, the middle class was expanding, and inequality was low by current standards. But since the 1980s, growth has slowed, and what growth we have disproportionately benefited the famous One Percent, at the very top of the income distribution.

That marks a real change from the postwar period, and that is understandably perceived as undesirable. But if you look at history more broadly, it’s the postwar period that was anomalous.

When Trump said, “Make America great again”, that implies there was once a period where things were better, and in people’s consciousness it is the postwar period, where you had strong economic growth, a strong middle class, and low inequality. But that’s an unusual combination, and it’s difficult to see how we would get back on that track.

Question: Your book goes far back in history to study inequality. How do you study inequality in ancient societies? What can things like burials and archaeology tell us?

Answer: If you go back in time to societies that don’t even have writing, basically all you have are graves. Some people were buried with much more lavish goods than other people, suggesting that they were better off in life and held positions of power and authority.

Question: You argue that the development of agriculture was a force for inequality. Explain that, and what were some other forces for inequality?

Answer: If you’re a hunter-gatherer, as everyone used to be after the last Ice Age, you’re very poor, but you’re also very egalitarian. Hunter-gatherers don’t produce much, they don’t own much, they don’t pass much on to their children.

Once you get sedentary civilization – farming and herding of livestock – people simply produce more material goods. They also develop institutions, laws, and customs that govern ownership of those goods, private property rights and inheritance rights, which allow them to pass wealth on to future generations. If you wait long enough, that is almost automatically going to lead to rising inequality, unless there is some aggressive push back.

But that’s often prevented by another force, which is the formulation of the state. Governments often reinforce the trend toward greater inequality in income. The upper class who are closely allied to those in power gain unfair advantage and exploit other people.

Then in the past 200 years, especially in the West, we also have what economists call market forces – capital investment in commerce, banking, and other sectors. Once again, a relatively small group of people are positioned to reap disproportionate benefits.

Question: Your book discusses four factors that have flattened inequality through history. The first one is “mass mobilization warfare”. You say that not all wars lead to more equality. What is it about this type of war that does?

Answer: History has been full of wars, but most don’t systematically equalize the distribution of income and wealth. It’s really a phenomenon of the first half of the twentieth century. For the first time, you have wars on a really large scale, where a large percentage of the adult male population is conscripted, and civilian men and women alike are mobilized for the war effort.

For the first time in history, industrial capacity and the nation-state make it possible for government to reshape economic outcomes in a time of crisis. To raise funds for the war, the government raises taxes to extremely high levels – over ninety percent on the highest earners in the US in the 1940s. In many countries, the war causes massive physical destruction of capital, housing stock, and factories.

The rich lose a great deal. At the same time, unskilled workers are better off, because there is more demand for their labor, and conscription leads to full employment, which drives up wages. A number of things come together in just the right way to greatly compress inequality in the US, Europe, Japan, and other countries involved in these conflicts.

Question: What are the other three great levelers?

Answer: The second factor I discuss in the book is Communist revolutions, which grow out of World War One and World War Two in the case of Russia and China. Communist revolutionaries expropriate and nationalize all assets, land, and industry. They create a planned economy with set wages and prices. As a result, very little inequality is left in their systems.

But these are very violent events. Tens of millions of people lose their lives. And greater equality only lasts as long as the regimes are in place. Once the Soviet Union collapses, inequality doubles within just a few years in Russia. When China liberalizes its economy in the 1980s, it sees huge economic growth, but inequality rises as well.

The last two forces were more common in pre-modern history. One is the collapse of the state, for example, Mayan civilization, or the fall of the Roman empire. In these cases, if the earlier state created or reinforced inequality, then its dismantling has the opposite effect. The ruling class is undermined or, in extreme cases, disappears entirely.

The last is severe epidemics like the Black Death, the plague in late medieval Europe. When massive pandemics kill a large percentage of the population, there is as much land and capital as before but there are fewer workers, and that increases demand for labor and raises wages. The poor are less poor and the rich are less rich, and the gap between them narrows significantly. But only for as long as these plagues are active. When population growth resumes, the demand for labor goes down and inequality rises enough that in a couple centuries you are back to where you started.

Question: Your book contains a fascinating chart showing inequality in Europe through time.

Answer: There were three major episodes in European history where inequality fell. One is at the end of antiquity, when the Roman Empire falls apart, ruining the Roman equivalent of the One Percent. Inequality rises again but then falls during the Black Death, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. And then the third is the Great Compression, between 1913 and 1945 in Western countries.


European inequality through time. (The Great Leveler by Walter Scheidel)

In many places, including Europe and the US, inequality in the early twentieth century was the highest it had ever been. Generally speaking, we’re not quite there again yet. Current levels still fall short of those before the world wars.

Question: Every one of these major compressions was driven by something very violent or unpleasant. You argue that peaceful methods of leveling equality, like democracy, education, and land reform, aren’t nearly as effective, right?

Answer: That’s true. It’s not to say that these things don’t have an effect. If we didn’t have a form of social democracy, redistributive measures, and mass education in the US today, conditions would be much worse. But if you’re looking for a sizable reduction in inequality, history indicates that peaceful measures by themselves are not going to make that much of a difference. There are no major episodes of leveling in history that are not associated with some kind of violent disruption.

Question: Is it possible this time could be different?

Answer: Everything’s possible. It’s just I reckon people after World War Two had the same idea. They had industrialized economies for the first time, full democracy, mass education. It was a reasonable assumption that high inequality would never return. And it turned out to be untrue because other forces reasserted themselves. Inasmuch as there are trends visible now, like technology, globalization, aging, they actually point toward greater, rather than diminished, inequality.

Question: We often think of inequality as negative, but you tie equality with all these horrible events throughout history. It creates a more complicated moral picture.

Answer: You don’t want to have a society where there is no inequality. It would be very weird, and also unfair in some sense. It’s really a matter of degree. When does inequality become so high that it harms economic growth, social stability, and people’s chances in life?

Obviously, no one would ever advocate for these violent forces to reappear. But it may well be an uneasy trade-off. The world today is much more peaceful than at any time in history. If you want stability, economic growth, and low levels of violence, it may well be that relatively high inequality is an almost inevitable outcome.

What we need to concentrate on is figuring out what is politically feasible in this environment to address the problem at the margins. It doesn’t seem realistic to me to hope for the kind of equality we saw a generation ago. That improvement is unlikely to happen without paying a very high price.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/04/19/history-suggests-there-is-a-way-to-lower-inequality-but-youre-not-going-to-like-it/?utm_term=.87f852c615ba

A Good Year for Israel and Its Friends

A bad year for the US Constitution

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review (December 19 2017)


Trump and Bibi

The unfortunate Donald Trump Administration decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel serves no visible American interest, in spite of what some of the always-loyal-to-Israel punditry has been suggesting. Israel is already moving to exploit the situation in its usual fashion. Immediately after the announcement was made, Israeli Ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer suggested that the decision on Jerusalem could now be extended to include other disputed areas, most particularly Syria’s Golan Heights that were occupied in 1967. And the decision on Jerusalem itself will quite likely prove elastic as the Israeli government has already prepared legislation to incorporate large chunks of settlements into the city limits, far beyond the historic boundaries.

The currently popular among Zionists argument – that recognizing Jerusalem will somehow perversely accelerate a drive for a final peace settlement with Israel as it will demonstrate to the Palestinians just how hopeless their cause is – has little merit as desperation is more likely to lead to increased violence than a political solution. A more intriguing reading suggests that Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia are conniving at squeezing even more Palestinians into a slightly enlarged prison-camp in Gaza, leaving the rest of the West Bank open for absorption by Israel. Again, such an outcome is not very likely as the 2.5 million Palestinians remaining in the region will likely have some say regarding the issue no matter how much pressure is exerted by the Saudis and Jared Kushner for them to submit.

Nothing good will come out of the Trump decision as the situation in the region is already starting to unravel. The Turks are talking about opening an Embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem and the 56 other Muslim countries in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation might follow suit. Israel, which has physical control of the entire city, would use force to prevent that, creating some interesting new points of conflict in the Middle East. The US would, of course, become involved given its role as Israel’s patron and protector. The evolving situation is likely to develop into Israel and the United States versus the rest of the world, with unfortunate consequences, as the conflict will spill over into normally unrelated issues like trade and otherwise innocuous international agreements, while American travelers and businesses will increasingly become targets for terrorism.

If you want to understand the reason why the United States cannot pursue sensible objectives in the Middle East or anywhere else, one has to look no farther than the all too often Israel-centric neocons who have become adept at advising nearly everyone in the government from the White House on down regarding what should be done, particularly in foreign policy. The Trump Administration’s slowness in filling senior positions has meant that there are many vacancies, which has opened the door to eager neoconservative-leaning nominal Republicans to re-enter government. At the State Department Brian Hook of the neocon John Hay Initiative is now chief of policy planning, courtesy of Margaret Peterlin, Tillerson’s chief of staff. They have recently hired David Feith, the son of the infamous Pentagon Office of Special Plans head Doug Feith, to head the Asia desk. And Wes Mitchell, whose policies are largely indistinguishable from his predecessor, has replaced Victoria Nuland as Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. While Elliot Abrams, Eliot Cohen, the Kagans, and other prominent neocons have been blocked, second-tier activists carrying less political baggage have quietly been brought in.

And Congress is to a certain extent the source of all evil, as its numerous committee meetings gorge on advice from experts who are frequently anything but, reflecting the hardline views of many of the legislators themselves with nary a contrary opinion in sight. A recent session of the Senate Armed Services Committee featured a statement by leading neocon Eric Edelman. His presentation is hawkish in the extreme, with particular focus on Iran and Russia. It can be summarized briefly by citing some of the section headings: “Adopt a post-ISIS Strategy for Syria and Iraq”, “Develop Credible Military Leverage Against Iran”, “Recognize Russia as an obstacle, not a partner”, “Increase internal pressure against the Iranian regime”, and “Enforce nuclear restrictions on Iran”.

So it’s garbage-in and garbage-out on how much of the government gets a large percentage of its information. And given the White House track record relating to Iran and Jerusalem over the past several months, one might also reasonably come to the conclusion that Israel will get whatever it wants, including a catastrophic war with Iran, because it’s also garbage-in at the White House by way of son-in-law Jared Kushner’s view of the Middle East.

But there is a second story playing out about Israel right here in the United States which should be even more concerning as what is happening on the ground in Palestine and Syria. You see, the problem that Israel has is that it is indeed an apartheid state based on race and religion. The 320,000 Palestinians attempting to hang on in and around East Jerusalem have no rights whatsoever and are being systematically forced out by being denied building permits and through arbitrary oversight by the Israeli military and police. Christian churches and foundations are also under pressure from the Israeli authorities but you won’t hear much about that from Congress or the White House.

The truth about Israel is quite unpleasant, so it has been necessary to construct a completely untrue but compelling counter-narrative which relies psychologically on cultivation of claims of perpetual victimhood linked repeatedly to the holocaust. The false narrative usually starts with the myth about Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East, that it is a tolerant place where all religions can worship and where everyone enjoys freedom under law. But, alas, poor Israel is treated unfairly by the international community solely because it is Jewish.

The reality of life in Israel is quite different if one bothers to ask any Palestinian Christian or Muslim who has the misfortune to live there. Or if one reads about the essentially racist de-humanization of Arabs by Israelis, which has led to the killing, beating, and imprisonment of children as well as an army sniper’s recent shooting dead of a legless Palestinian protester in a wheelchair.

And once you construct the false narrative you have to protect it by making sure that no one can easily pose a challenge to it. Much of the national media is on board this effort, voluntarily limiting or eliminating any coverage that is negative about Israel. And major players in the alternative media community have come around also, with increasing direct censorship and other manipulation of material appearing on sites like Facebook and Google. The ultimate objective of the Israel Lobby is to follow the example in some European countries, where criticism of Israel is equated to anti-Semitism and is therefore categorized as a hate crime, with both civil and criminal penalties attached.

I have previously reported on how 24 states are now requiring statements pledging not to boycott Israel from those citizens and organizations that receive government funding or even seek local government employment. And there is the reported progress in Congress of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which constitute two major steps forward in the same direction. Both seek to define as anti-Semitism any criticism of Israel. On December 12th the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act was approved by the House of Representatives with 402 affirmative votes and only two libertarian-leaning congressmen voting “no”. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act that is also currently making its way through the Congress would far exceed what is happening at the state level and would set a new standard for deference to Israeli interests on the part of the national government. It would criminalize any US citizen “engaged in interstate or foreign commerce” who supports a boycott of Israel or who even goes about “requesting the furnishing of information” regarding it, with penalties enforced through amendments of two existing laws, the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Act of 1945, that include potential fines of between $250,000 and $1 million and up to twenty years in prison. According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the Senate bill was drafted with the assistance of AIPAC.

Perhaps more dangerous than current and pending legislation, which is already being challenged in courts as a violation of First Amendment rights, are the bureaucrats being put in place by the Trump Administration to interpret and enforce laws and regulations. As we have discovered from the James Comey experience and the activities of some of his associates, senior bureaucrats have considerable freedom to interpret how they should carry out their responsibilities, making the “rule of law” standard for ethical government somewhat mythical. In that light, the recent naming of Kenneth Marcus as head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education should be raising red flags for those who are concerned about civil liberties.

Marcus is currently head of the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which he founded in 2011. The Center has been involved in serial litigation with one objective – stopping protests staged by students at colleges and universities against Israeli policies. Marcus is focused on silencing the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (“BDS”), which has been gaining in popularity among young Americans, and which the Israeli government sees as a major threat to its legitimacy. The Brandeis Center mission statement is clear: “The leading civil and human rights challenge facing North American Jewry is the resurgent problem of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on university campuses”.

For those who respond “So what? Marcus has a right to promote his viewpoints by whatever means”, the response might well be that his appointment is putting someone with a clear agenda in charge of an organization established to make sure there are no agendas relating to the civil rights of students. To be sure, Marcus has never won a case in court, but that is not what he is seeking to do. He is more interested in creating trouble, bad publicity and in driving up the costs due to litigation. As he describes it, “These cases – even when rejected – expose administrators to bad publicity … If a university shows a failure to treat initial complaints seriously, it hurts them with donors, faculty, political leaders. and prospective students”.

Marcus will have the power and authority to deny federal funds to colleges and universities that do not meet his standards for action to quell the rising tide of Israel criticism, making him little different than the journalist who writes puff pieces on Israel or the politicians who take PAC money and stand up twenty-nine times to applaud the monstrous Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, at Marcus’ confirmation hearing not one Senator asked him about his full-time advocacy for Israel.

Many universities are dependent on federal dollars and have already taken administrative steps to distance themselves from Israel criticism or to ban it altogether. Marcus will be able to move the bar even lower, putting pressure on colleges to drive the “Israel haters”, as he refers to them, out of the educational system. It is possible to foresee a future in which students will be free to criticize the United States on campus while discussing the foreign state of Israel with any candor will be forbidden.

http://www.unz.com/pgiraldi/a-good-year-for-israel-and-its-friends/