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The New American Dream

by Eric Peters via EricPetersAutos.com

Zero Hedge (December 02 2016)

We live in a society driven by debt.

Cars, for example, have become hugely expensive (even on the low end) relative to what people can afford – because of the easy availability of credit. Which is the nice word used to speak about debt, intended to encourage us to get into it.

It takes at least $15,000 or so to drive home in a “cheap” new car, once all is said and done. And the “cheap” car will have to be registered, plated and insured.

It runs into money.

And most new cars cost a lot more money. Which most people haven’t got. So they get debt. A loan. Which, when it becomes commonly resorted to as a way to live beyond one’s means as a lifestyle, drives up the cost of life for everyone. Including those who try to live within their means – or better yet, below them.

When most people (when enough people) are willing – are eager – to go into hock for the next six years in order to have a car with an LCD touchscreen, leather (and heated) seats, six air bags, a six-speaker stereo, electronic climate control air conditioning and power everything – which pretty much every new car now comes standard with – the car companies build cars to satisfy that artificial demand.

Artificial because based on economic unreality. That is a good way to think about debt. It is nonexistent wealth.

You are promising to pay with money you haven’t earned yet.

And maybe won’t.

The car market has become like the housing market – which has also been distorted by debt to a cartoonish degree. The typical new construction home is a mansion by 1960s standards. Not that there’s anything wrong with living in a mansion. Or driving a car with heated leather seats and climate control air conditioning and a six-speaker surround-sound stereo and six air bags and all the rest of it. Provided you can afford it.

Most people can’t.

Normally, that fact would keep things in check. There would be mansions, of course – and high-end cars, too. But only for those with the high-end incomes necessary to afford them. Everyone else would live within their means. We wouldn’t be living in this economic Potemkin village that appears prosperous but is in fact an economic Jenga Castle that could collapse at any moment.

There would be a lot less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” … as they head toward bankruptcy and foreclosure.

As society heads that way.

Like the housing industry, the car industry has ceased building basic and much less expensive cars because of easy and grotesque debt-financing.

Which is tragic.

There ought to be (and would be) a huge selection of brand-new cars priced under $10,000 were it not for the ready availability of nonexistent wealth (that is, debt and credit).

Cars many people could pay cash for.

Brand-new cars.

Not shitboxes – as the late great Brock Yates christened them.

They would have the build quality/body integrity and quality paint jobs that are now standard equipment with every new car, because of generally improved (and largely automated) manufacturing techniques, such as robotic welding and painting. Part of the reason yesterday’s low-cost cars felt shoddy – and rusted early – was because they were shoddily (and spottily) constructed. By often-aggrieved line workers, who maybe got a little too drunk the night before and so weren’t being very careful the next day, while fitting panels to the car.

It’s not like that today – and irrespective of price point. The humblest new car is built to a much higher standard than top-of-the-line luxury cars once were. Those costs have been amortized; build quality would not regress if debt-financed flim-flam went away. To think it would is like thinking we’d go back to corded wall phones.

They would have reliable, efficient – and not balky/hard-starting/stalling – engines, too. Because the cost of simple (throttle body) electronic fuel injection – an exotic technology back in the shitbox days – no longer is.

It’s everywhere – economies of scale have made it so.

Probably our less-than-$10,000-car would have things like power windows and air conditioning, if you wanted it. But wouldn’t it be nice if it were optional?

None of this is pie-in-the-sky.

Such cars are being sold all over the world right now, just not in the Western world – which is in debt up to its eyeballs.

Because the debt lifestyle has been normalized. There now exists social stigma to live below one’s means. To not give the appearance of wealth one doesn’t have by purchasing – on credit – things one can’t really afford.

That – as much as the regulatory burden of government – is what’s driving up the cost of life for all of us. Including those still trying to live within our means.

http://ericpetersautos.com/2016/12/01/life-in-hock/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-12-02/new-american-dream-life-hock

Categories: Uncategorized

The Coming War on China

by John Pilger

teleSur (December 03 2016)

Information Clearing House (December 03 2016)

The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way.

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, “disappeared”, a political embarrassment.

I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.

The great danger this beckons is not news, or it is buried and distorted: a drumbeat of mainstream fake news that echoes the psychopathic fear embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century.

Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.

To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a “pivot to Asia”, which meant that almost two-thirds of US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one US strategist, “the perfect noose”.

A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the US Army, the authors evoke the cold war when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn – “thinking the unthinkable”. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War (1960), elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war against the Soviet Union.

Today, his apocalyptic view is shared by those holding real power in the United States: the militarists and neo-conservatives in the executive, the Pentagon, the intelligence and “national security” establishment and Congress.

The current Secretary of Defense, Ashley Carter, a verbose provocateur, says US policy is to confront those “who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us”.

For all the attempts to detect a departure in foreign policy, this is almost certainly the view of Donald Trump, whose abuse of China during the election campaign included that of “rapist” of the American economy. On 2 December, in a direct provocation of China, President-elect Trump spoke to the President of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province of the mainland. Armed with American missiles, Taiwan is an enduring flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

“The United States”, wrote Amitai Etzioni, professor of international Affairs at George Washington University, “is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress”. This war would begin with a “blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers … satellite and anti-satellite weapons”.

The incalculable risk is that “deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into ‘a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma’ [that would] lead to nuclear war”.

In 2015, the Pentagon released its Law of War Manual. “The United States”, it says, “has not accepted a treaty rule that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons per se, and thus nuclear weapons are lawful weapons for the United States”.

In China, a strategist told me, “We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay”. China’s military and arsenal are small compared to America’s. However”, for the first time”, wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack … This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy … Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces”.

Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of US naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me,

 

 

Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough … I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.

 

 

I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous”.

In 2015, in considerable secrecy, the US staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War. This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB – blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is such a provocation, and the fear of a US Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Last July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claim of sovereignty over these islands. Although the action was brought by the Philippines, it was presented by leading American and British lawyers and could be traced to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In 2010, Clinton flew to Manila. She demanded that America’s former colony reopen the US military bases closed down in the 1990s following a popular campaign against the violence they generated, especially against Filipino women. She declared China’s claim on the Spratly Islands – which lie more than 7,500 miles from the United States – a threat to US “national security” and to “freedom of navigation”.

Handed millions of dollars in arms and military equipment, the then government of President Benigno Aquino broke off bilateral talks with China and signed a secretive Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US. This established five rotating US bases and restored a hated colonial provision that American forces and contractors were immune from Philippine law.

The election of Rodrigo Duterte in April has unnerved Washington. Calling himself a socialist, he declared, “In our relations with the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy” and noted that the United States had not apologized for its colonial atrocities. “I will break up with America”, he said, and promised to expel US troops. But the US remains in the Philippines; and joint military exercises continue.

In 2014, under the rubric of “information dominance” – the jargon for media manipulation, or fake news, on which the Pentagon spends more than $4 billion – the Obama administration launched a propaganda campaign that cast China, the world’s greatest trading nation, as a threat to “freedom of navigation”.

CNN led the way, its “national security reporter” reporting excitedly from on board a US Navy surveillance flight over the Spratlys. The BBC persuaded frightened Filipino pilots to fly a single-engine Cessna over the disputed islands “to see how the Chinese would react”. None of these reporters questioned why the Chinese were building airstrips off their own coastline, or why American military forces were massing on China’s doorstep.

The designated chief propagandist is Admiral Harry Harris, the US military commander in Asia and the Pacific. “My responsibilities”, he told the New York Times, “cover Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins”. Never was imperial domination described as pithily.

Harris is one of a brace of Pentagon admirals and generals briefing selected, malleable journalists and broadcasters, with the aim of justifying a threat as specious as that with which George W Bush and Tony Blair justified the destruction of Iraq and much of the Middle East.

In Los Angeles in September, Harris declared he was

 

 

… ready to confront a revanchist Russia and an assertive China … If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery … and all our partners with their artillery.

 

 

These “partners” include South Korea, the launch pad for the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, ostensibly aimed at North Korea. As Professor Postol points out, it targets China.

In Sydney, Australia, Harris called on China to “tear down its Great Wall in the South China Sea”. The imagery was front page news. Australia is America’s most obsequious “partner”; its political elite, military, intelligence agencies and the media are integrated into what is known as the “alliance”. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the motorcade of a visiting American government “dignitary” is not uncommon. The war criminal Dick Cheney was afforded this honour.

Although China is Australia’s biggest trader, on which much of the national economy relies, “confronting China” is the diktat from Washington. The few political dissenters in Canberra risk McCarthyite smears in the Murdoch press. “You in Australia are with us come what may”, said one of the architects of the Vietnam war, McGeorge Bundy. One of the most important US bases is Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Founded by the CIA, it spies on China and all of Asia, and is a vital contributor to Washington’s murderous war by drone in the Middle East.

In October, Richard Marles, the defence spokesman of the main Australian opposition party, the Labor Party, demanded that “operational decisions” in provocative acts against China be left to military commanders in the South China Sea. In other words, a decision that could mean war with a nuclear power should not be taken by an elected leader or a parliament but by an admiral or a general.

This is the Pentagon line, a historic departure for any state calling itself a democracy. The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington – which Daniel Ellsberg has called a silent coup – is reflected in the record $5 trillion America has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11, according to a study by Brown University. The million dead in Iraq and the flight of twelve million refugees from at least four countries are the consequence.

The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been attacked by the United States. Today, the principal target is China, with whom Okinawans have close cultural and trade ties.

There are military aircraft constantly in the sky over Okinawa; they sometimes crash into homes and schools. People cannot sleep, teachers cannot teach. Wherever they go in their own country, they are fenced in and told to keep out.

A popular Okinawan anti-base movement has been growing since a twelve-year-old girl was gang-raped by US troops in 1995. It was one of hundreds of such crimes, many of them never prosecuted. Barely acknowledged in the wider world, the resistance has seen the election of Japan’s first anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, and presented an unfamiliar hurdle to the Tokyo government and the ultra-nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to repeal Japan’s “peace constitution”.

The resistance includes Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, a survivor of the Second World War when a quarter of Okinawans died in the American invasion. Fumiko and hundreds of others took refuge in beautiful Henoko Bay, which she is now fighting to save. The US wants to destroy the bay in order to extend runways for its bombers. “We have a choice”, she said, “silence or life”. As we gathered peacefully outside the US base, Camp Schwab, giant Sea Stallion helicopters hovered over us for no reason other than to intimidate.

Across the East China Sea lies the Korean island of Jeju, a semi-tropical sanctuary and World Heritage Site declared “an island of world peace”. On this island of world peace has been built one of the most provocative military bases in the world, less than 400 miles from Shanghai. The fishing village of Gangjeong is dominated by a South Korean naval base purpose-built for US aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile system, aimed at China.

A people’s resistance to these war preparations has been a presence on Jeju for almost a decade. Every day, often twice a day, villagers, Catholic priests and supporters from all over the world stage a religious mass that blocks the gates of the base. In a country where political demonstrations are often banned, unlike powerful religions, the tactic has produced an inspiring spectacle.

One of the leaders, Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, told me,

 

 

I sing four songs every day at the base, regardless of the weather. I sing in typhoons – no exception. To build this base, they destroyed the environment, and the life of the villagers, and we should be a witness to that. They want to rule the Pacific. They want to make China isolated in the world. They want to be emperor of the world.

 

 

I flew from Jeju to Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. When I was last in China, the loudest noise I remember was the tinkling of bicycle bells; Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed. Within a few years, Deng Xiopeng, the “man who changed China”, was the “paramount leader”. Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.

China presents exquisite ironies, not least the house in Shanghai where Mao and his comrades secretly founded the Communist Party of China in 1921. Today, it stands in the heart of a very capitalist shipping district; you walk out of this communist shrine with your Little Red Book and your plastic bust of Mao into the embrace of Starbucks, Apple, Cartier, Prada.

Would Mao be shocked? I doubt it. Five years before his great revolution in 1949, he sent this secret message to Washington. “China must industrialise”, he wrote,

 

 

This can only be done by free enterprise. Chinese and American interests fit together, economically and politically. America need not fear that we will not be co-operative. We cannot risk any conflict.

 

 

Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or willfully ignored. The opportunity that might have changed contemporary history, prevented wars in Asia and saved countless lives was lost because the truth of these overtures was denied in 1950s Washington “when the catatonic Cold War trance”, wrote the critic James Naremore, “held our country in its rigid grip”.

The fake mainstream news that once again presents China as a threat is of the same mentality.

The world is inexorably shifting east; but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West. The “New Silk Road” is a ribbon of trade, ports, pipelines and high-speed trains all the way to Europe. The world’s leader in rail technology, China is negotiating with 28 countries for routes on which trains will reach up to 400 kilometers an hour. This opening to the world has the approval of much of humanity and, along the way, is uniting China and Russia.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being”, said Barack Obama, evoking the fetishism of the 1930s. This modern cult of superiority is Americanism, the world’s dominant predator. Under the liberal Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, nuclear warhead spending has risen higher than under any president since the end of the Cold War. A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, it will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable”.

In September, the Atlantic Council, a mainstream US geopolitical think tank, published a report that predicted a Hobbesian world “marked by the breakdown of order, violent extremism [and] an era of perpetual war”. The new enemies were a “resurgent” Russia and an “increasingly aggressive” China. Only heroic America can save us.

There is a demented quality about this war mongering. It is as if the “American Century” – proclaimed in 1941 by the American imperialist Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine – has ended without notice and no one has had the courage to tell the emperor to take his guns and go home.

_____

John Pilger’s film, The Coming War on China, is released in UK cinemas and will be broadcast on ITV Network on December 6 at 10:40 pm. RT Documentaries will broadcast The Coming War on China worldwide on December 9, 10, 11. https://newint.org/ http://www.johnpilger.com

The Coming War on China review – discomfiting document exposes US nuclear tactics: John Pilger lays bare the historical horrors of the US military in the Pacific, exposing the paranoia and pre-emptive aggression of its semi-secret bases

_____

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Information Clearing House editorial policy.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Coming-War-on-China-20161203-0010.html

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article45963.htm

Categories: Uncategorized

The Anti-Empire Report #147

by William Blum

https://williamblum.org/aer (November 30 2016)

 

What can go wrong?

That he may not be “qualified” is unimportant.

That he’s never held a government or elected position is unimportant.

That on a personal level he may be a shmuck is unimportant.

What counts to me mainly at this early stage is that he – as opposed to dear Hillary – is unlikely to start a war against Russia. His questioning of the absolute sacredness of Nato, calling it “obsolete”, and his meeting with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, an outspoken critic of US regime-change policy, specifically Syria, are encouraging signs.

Even more so is his appointment of General Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser. Flynn dined last year in Moscow with Vladimir Putin at a gala celebrating RT (Russia Today), the Russian state’s English-language, leftist-leaning TV channel. Flynn now carries the stigma in the American media as an individual who does not see Russia or Putin as the devil. It is truly remarkable how nonchalantly American journalists can look upon the possibility of a war with Russia, even a nuclear war.

(I can now expect a barrage of emails from my excessively politically-correct readers about Flynn’s alleged anti-Islam side. But that, even if true, is irrelevant to this discussion of avoiding a war with Russia.)

I think American influence under Trump could also inspire a solution to the bloody Russia-Ukraine crisis, which is the result of the US overthrow of the democratically-elected Ukrainian government in 2014 to further advance the US/Nato surrounding of Russia; after which he could end the US-imposed sanctions against Russia, which hardly anyone in Europe benefits from or wants; and then – finally! – an end to the embargo against Cuba. What a day for celebration that will be! Too bad that Fidel won’t be around to enjoy it.

We may have other days of celebration if Trump pardons or in some other manner frees Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and/or Edward Snowden. Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton would do this, but I think there’s at least a chance with the Donald. And those three heroes may now enjoy feeling at least a modicum of hope. Picture a meeting of them all together on some future marvelous day with you watching it on a video.

Trump will also probably not hold back on military actions against radical Islam because of any fear of being called anti-Islam. He’s repulsed enough by ISIS to want to destroy them, something that can’t always be said about Mr Obama.

International trade deals, written by corporate lawyers for the benefit of their bosses, with little concern about the rest of us, may have rougher sailing in the Trump White House than is usually the case with such deals.

The mainstream critics of Trump foreign policy should be embarrassed, even humbled, by what they supported in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Instead, what bothers them about the president-elect is his lack of desire to make the rest of the world in America’s image. He appears rather to be more concerned with the world not making America in its image.

In the latest chapter of Alice in Trumpland he now says that he does not plan to prosecute Hillary Clinton, that he has an “open mind” about a climate-change accord from which he had vowed to withdraw the United States, and that he’s no longer certain that torturing terrorism suspects is a good idea. So whatever fears you may have about certain of his expressed weird policies … just wait … they may fall by the wayside just as easily; although I still think that on a personal level he’s a [two-syllable word: first syllable is a synonym for a donkey; second syllable means “an opening”].

Trump’s apparently deep-seated need for approval may continue to succumb poorly to widespread criticism and protests. Poor little Donald … so powerful … yet so vulnerable.

The Trump dilemma, as well as the whole Hillary Clinton mess, could have probably been avoided if Bernie Sanders had been nominated. That large historical “if” is almost on a par with the Democrats choosing Harry Truman to replace Henry Wallace in 1944 as the ailing Roosevelt’s vice-president. Truman brought us a charming little thing called the Cold War, which in turn gave us McCarthyism. But Wallace, like Sanders, was just a little too damn leftist for the refined Democratic Party bosses.

State-owned Media: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

On November 16, at a State Department press briefing, department spokesperson John Kirby was having one of his frequent adversarial dialogues with Gayane Chichakyan, a reporter for RT (Russia Today); this time concerning US charges of Russia bombing hospitals in Syria and blocking the UN from delivering aid to the trapped population. When Chichakyan asked for some detail about these charges, Kirby replied: “Why don’t you ask your defense ministry?”

GK: Do you – can you give any specific information on when Russia or the Syrian Government blocked the UN from delivering aid? Just any specific information.

Kirby: There hasn’t been any aid delivered in the last month.

GK: And you believe it was blocked exclusively by Russia and the Syrian Government?

Kirby: There’s no question in our mind that the obstruction is coming from the regime and from Russia. No question at all.

Matthew Lee (Associated Press): Let me – hold on, just let me say: Please be careful about saying “your defense minister” and things like that. I mean, she’s a journalist just like the rest of us are, so it’s – she’s asking pointed questions, but they’re not –

Kirby: From a state-owned – from a state-owned –

Lee: But they’re not –

Kirby: From a state-owned outlet, Matt.

Lee: But they’re not –

Kirby: From a state-owned outlet that’s not independent.

Lee: The questions that she’s asking are not out of line.

Kirby: I didn’t say the questions were out of line.

Kirby: I’m sorry, but I’m not going to put Russia Today on the same level with the rest of you who are representing independent media outlets.

One has to wonder if State Department spokesperson Kirby knows that in 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking about RT, declared:

 

 

The Russians have opened an English-language network. I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it is quite instructive.

 

 

I also wonder how Mr Kirby deals with reporters from the BBC, a STATE-OWNED television and radio entity in the UK, broadcasting in the US and all around the world.

Or the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation, described by Wikipedia as follows:

 

 

The corporation provides television, radio, online and mobile services throughout metropolitan and regional Australia, as well as overseas … and is well regarded for quality and reliability as well as for offering educational and cultural programming that the commercial sector would be unlikely to supply on its own.

 

 

There’s also Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Radio Liberty (Central/Eastern Europe), and Radio Marti (Cuba); all (US) state-owned, none “independent”, but all deemed worthy enough by the United States to feed to the world.

And let’s not forget what Americans have at home: Public Broadcasting Service (“PBS“) and National Public Radio (“NPR“), which would have a near-impossible time surviving without large federal government grants. How independent does this leave them? Has either broadcaster ever unequivocally opposed a modern American war? There’s good reason NPR has long been known as National Pentagon Radio. But it’s part of American media’s ideology to pretend that it doesn’t have any ideology.

As to the non-state American media … There are about 1400 daily newspapers in the United States. Can you name a single paper, or a single TV network, that was unequivocally opposed to the American wars carried out against Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Panama, Grenada, and Vietnam while they were happening, or shortly thereafter? Or even opposed to any two of these seven wars? How about one? In 1968, six years into the Vietnam war, the Boston Globe (February 18 1968) surveyed the editorial positions of 39 leading US papers concerning the war and found that “none advocated a pull-out”. Has the phrase “invasion of Vietnam” ever appeared in the US mainstream media?

In 2003, leading cable station MSNBC took the much-admired Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq. Mr Kirby would undoubtedly call MSNBC “independent”.

If the American mainstream media were officially state-controlled, would they look or sound significantly different when it comes to US foreign policy?

Soviet observation: “The only difference between your propaganda and our propaganda is that you believe yours”.

On November 25, the Washington Post ran an article entitled: “Research ties ‘fake news’ to Russia”. It’s all about how sources in Russia are flooding American media and the Internet with phoney stories designed as “part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in US democracy and its leaders”.

“The sophistication of the Russian tactics”, the article says, “may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on ‘fake news’ “.

The Post states that the Russian tactics included “penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign”. (Heretofore this had been credited to Wikileaks.)

The story is simply bursting with anti-Russian references:

An online magazine header – “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy”.

“the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns”.

“more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season”.

“stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times”.

“The Russian campaign during this election season … worked by harnessing the online world’s fascination with ‘buzzy’ content that is surprising and emotionally potent, and tracks with popular conspiracy theories about how secret forces dictate world events”.

“Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience”

“They use our technologies and values against us to sow doubt. It’s starting to undermine our democratic system.”

“Russian propaganda operations also worked to promote the ‘Brexit’ departure of Britain from the European Union”.

“Some of these stories originated with RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports”.

“a variety of other false stories – fake reports of a coup launched at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and stories about how the United States was going to conduct a military attack and blame it on Russia”

A former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, is quoted saying he was “struck by the overt support that Sputnik expressed for Trump during the campaign, even using the #CrookedHillary hashtag pushed by the candidate”. McFaul said Russian propaganda typically is aimed at weakening opponents and critics. “They don’t try to win the argument. It’s to make everything seem relative. It’s kind of an appeal to cynicism.” [Cynicism? Heavens! What will those Moscow fascists/communists think of next?]

The Post did, however, include the following: “RT disputed the findings of the researchers in an e-mail on Friday, saying it played no role in producing or amplifying any fake news stories related to the US election”. RT was quoted:

 

 

It is the height of irony that an article about “fake news” is built on false, unsubstantiated claims. RT adamantly rejects any and all claims and insinuations that the network has originated even a single “fake story” related to the US election.

 

 

It must be noted that the Washington Post article fails to provide a single example showing how the actual facts of a specific news event were rewritten or distorted by a Russian agency to produce a news event with a contrary political message. What then lies behind such blatant anti-Russian propaganda? In the new Cold War such a question requires no answer. The new Cold War by definition exists to discredit Russia simply because it stands in the way of American world domination. In the new Cold War the political spectrum in the mainstream media runs the gamut from A to B.

Cuba, Fidel, Socialism … Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

The most frequent comment I’ve read in the mainstream media concerning Fidel Castro’s death is that he was a “dictator”; almost every heading bore that word. Since the 1959 revolution, the American mainstream media has routinely referred to Cuba as a dictatorship. But just what does Cuba do or lack that makes it a dictatorship?

No “free press”? Apart from the question of how free Western media is (see the preceding essays), if that’s to be the standard, what would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control almost all the media worth owning or controlling?

Is it “free elections” that Cuba lacks? They regularly have elections at municipal, regional and national levels. They do not have direct election of the president, but neither do Germany or the United Kingdom and many other countries. The Cuban president is chosen by the parliament, The National Assembly of People’s Power. Money plays virtually no role in these elections; neither does party politics, including the Communist Party, since all candidates run as individuals. Again, what is the standard by which Cuban elections are to be judged? Is it that they don’t have private corporations to pour in a billion dollars? Most Americans, if they gave it any thought, might find it difficult to even imagine what a free and democratic election, without great concentrations of corporate money, would look like, or how it would operate. Would Ralph Nader finally be able to get on all fifty state ballots, take part in national television debates, and be able to match the two monopoly parties in media advertising? If that were the case, I think he’d probably win; which is why it’s not the case.

Or perhaps what Cuba lacks is our marvelous “electoral college” system, where the presidential candidate with the most votes is not necessarily the winner. Did we need the latest example of this travesty of democracy to convince us to finally get rid of it? If we really think this system is a good example of democracy why don’t we use it for local and state elections as well?

Is Cuba a dictatorship because it arrests dissidents? Many thousands of anti-war and other protesters have been arrested in the United States in recent years, as in every period in American history. During the Occupy Movement of five years ago more than 7,000 people were arrested, many beaten by police and mistreated while in custody. And remember: The United States is to the Cuban government like al Qaeda is to Washington, only much more powerful and much closer; virtually without exception, Cuban dissidents have been financed by and aided in other ways by the United States.

Would Washington ignore a group of Americans receiving funds from al Qaeda and engaging in repeated meetings with known members of that organization? In recent years the United States has arrested a great many people in the US and abroad solely on the basis of alleged ties to al Qaeda, with a lot less evidence to go by than Cuba has had with its dissidents’ ties to the United States. Virtually all of Cuba’s “political prisoners” are such dissidents. While others may call Cuba’s security policies dictatorship, I call it self-defense.

____

 

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to williamblum.org is provided.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of US foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War Two (2014) and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (2005), among others. Read more at http://williamblum.org/about/.

Books: http://williamblum.org/books

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Send comments, typos found, money, love notes, hate mail, death threats, letter bombs, and anthrax to bblum6@aol.com

https://williamblum.org/aer/read/147

Categories: Uncategorized

Lenin Comes to the White House

by Pepe Escobar

CounterPunch (November 30 2016)

Donald Trump, commenting on the passing of Fidel Castro, branded him a mere “dictator”. Whatever the long-lasting results (and mistakes) of the Cuban experiment, History has already de facto recognized Fidel as one of the great revolutionary leaders of the modern – and postmodern – era.

Trump – historical irony obliges – also has all but christened the groundswell of anger that delivered him the White House as a “revolution” – led by, and in the name of, white, non-college educated, blue collar US masses.

Yet old habits die hard. A self-appointed “leader of the free world”, true to conventional script, could never pay tribute in public to a “communist” who escaped over 600 CIA assassination cum regime change attempts – which is quite a heavy load to bear for so-called US “intel”. In the end, it was nature’s clock – not a magic bullet – that took Fidel away.

With the Cuban revolution now history, the focus switches to the current American “revolution” – which might turn out to be quite the regime change special the CIA dreams of (for others). If Fidel was The Prince as well as Machiavelli rolled into one, in gringoland the storyline may be largely about Steve Bannon, the blue collar-meets-Goldman Sachs Machiavelli to Prince Trump.

White House chief strategist Bannon has been vilified, over the top, all across the spectrum, as neo-fascist, white nationalist, racist, sexist and anti-Semite. So far, this has been the most detailed explanation of the Bannon agenda – in his own words. One underestimates him at one’s own peril.

State and Revolution

Bannon in the past billed himself as a Leninist. What a shame Fidel was not paying attention.

In his highly complex and immensely engaging Apres Nous, Le Deluge (French translation recently published by Payot), master German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk explores how Lenin, in a few months in a cabin in Finland, laid out the theoretical premises of what should happen after the revolution; how the former State, under Marxist analysis, was just an instrument allowing economic exploitation and the misleading resolution of “irreconcilable” oppositions between classes (sounds quite like the current Washington set up).

For the revolutionary apparatus, it was not enough to take over the apparatus of the Ancien Regime – as social democrats would have it. That would have to be totally smashed, the ruins reassembled in new combinations until the long-term communist goal – the agony of the State – would be achieved.

Now imagine Leninist Bannon trying to package this agenda to viscerally indoctrinated “communists eat babies for breakfast” US public opinion. So he resorted to pop culture – stressing the inspirational models as Darth Vader, his incarnation Dick Cheney, and the dark side as a whole.

Smashing the State (or the establishment) was rephrased as “drain the swamp”. And to polish it all up, when talking to the establishment, Bannon added the indispensable English credibility touch as his top role model; Thomas Cromwell, the dark side behind Henry VIII, instead of Lenin. No wonder the deep state is totally freaking out.

Lenin, in trying to accomplish his revolution, as Sloterdijk observes, relied on “a double psycho-political strategy”; massive intimidation of the non-convinced (something Bannon obviously cannot deploy in contemporary America), as well as mobilization of the impoverished and enthusiastic masses attracted by the promises of the new power (Trump’s overwhelming twitter machine and Breitbart News will be in charge of this department).

In Lenin’s revolution, the faculty of political judgment was exercised by an elite that Lenin conceived as the proletariat; they became the elite via the dictatorship of the Party. All other strata, especially the rural categories, were no more than a reactionary plebe – to become useful only long term via revolutionary education.

One century after Lenin, Bannon’s proletariat “elite” will be supplied by blue collar alienation spread out across Virginia, Florida, Ohio, the Rust Belt. A special place is reserved for Reagan Democrats and Reagan Democrats 2.0 (working class minorities) as well as for all and sundry rejectionists of that good ol’ Marxist bogeyman – rigged-to-the-hilt “bourgeois democracy”.

Bannon’s early incarnation of his ideal Leninist Prince was obnoxious Mamma Grizly Sarah Palin. She could see Russia from her house – but that was about it. Trump, on the other hand, is the perfect vessel; billionaire builder/doer; a product of reality TV; the “New York New York” factor; vetted by the Masters of the Universe; no need to court donors; and a natural foe of an uppity East Coast establishment which does despise his glitter and his brashness.

Fascism and Global War

To describe Trump’s “deplorables” (their definition by the establishment, via Hillary) as a fascist army, as US corporate media shills insist, totally misses the point. Marxist theory, during the 1920s and 1930s, turned fascism upside down, conceptualizing how fascism essentially crystallizes the power of finance capital (that’s something Bannon can easily sell at home). Fascism also terrorizes the working class as well as the revolutionary peasantry – thus the popular appeal of “drain the swamp”.

Mussolini defined fascism as “the horror inspired by a comfortable life”, thus leading Sloterdijk to characterize fascism as a militant-ism of street politics; total mobilization. Let’s rewind to a century ago; after 1917 and 1918, to the Left as well as to the Right, the zeitgeist dictated there was no “post-war”; in fact, the sentiment was that a global war was going on, and that had been so since times immemorial (today, under neoliberalism, global war is even more radicalized, pitting the 0.0001% against the rest.)

Under Lenin in Russia a century ago, the conflict took the form of civil war of an active minority against an impotent majority. Under the Leninist White House, the conflict may take the form of war by a very active minority (those roughly 25% of the US electorate who voted Trump) against another, infinitesimal – but very powerful – minority (the East Coast establishment, the incarnation of the Ancien Regime), with the whole saga watched ringside by a transfixed, passive majority.

“America First”; but for whom? The key question is who will end up defining America’s real national interest; true nationalists embedded in Team Trump, plus the proletariat “elite”, or the usual – globalist – suspects able to infect and corrupt any notion of nationalism.

Goodbye Fidel Castro, welcome Prince Trump (with Leninist Machiavelli attached). Brace for impact. Politics is war – what else? And “revolution” is still the biggest show in town.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/30/lenin-comes-to-the-white-house/

Categories: Uncategorized

The End of the American Century

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (November 30 2016)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

I have a bone to pick with the Washington Post. A few days back, as some of my readers may be aware, it published a list of some two hundred blogs that it claimed were circulating Russian propaganda, and I was disappointed to find that The Archdruid Report didn’t make the cut.

 

 

Oh, granted, I don’t wait each week for secret orders from Boris Badenov, the mock-iconic Russian spy from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show of my youth, but that shouldn’t disqualify me. I’ve seen no evidence that any of the blogs on the list take orders from Moscow, either; certainly the Post offered none worth mentioning. Rather, what seems to have brought down the wrath of “Pravda on the Potomac”, as the Post is unfondly called by many DC locals, is that none of these blogs have been willing to buy into the failed neoconservative consensus that’s guided American foreign policy for the last sixteen years. Of that latter offense, in turn, The Archdruid Report is certainly guilty.

There are at least two significant factors behind the Post‘s adoption of the tactics of the late Senator Joe McCarthy, dubious lists and all. The first is that the failure of Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions has thrown into stark relief an existential crisis that has the American news media by the throat. The media sell their services to their sponsors on the assumption that they can then sell products and ideas manufactured by those sponsors to the American people. The Clinton campaign accordingly outspent Trump’s people by a factor of two to one, sinking impressive amounts of the cash she raised from millionaire donors into television advertising and other media buys.

Clinton got the coverage she paid for, too. Nearly every newspaper in the United States endorsed her; pundits from one end of the media to the other solemnly insisted that everyone ought to vote for her; equivocal polls were systematically spun in her favor by a galaxy of talking heads. Pretty much everyone who thought they mattered was on board the bandwagon. The only difficulty, really was that the people who actually mattered – in particular, voters in half a dozen crucial swing states – responded to all this by telling their soi-disant betters, “Thanks, but one turkey this November is enough”.

It turned out that Clinton was playing by a rulebook that was long past its sell-by date, while Trump had gauged the shift in popular opinion and directed his resources accordingly. While she sank her money into television ads on prime time, he concentrated on social media and barnstorming speaking tours through regions that rarely see a presidential candidate. He also figured out early on that the mainstream media was a limitless source of free publicity, and the best way to make use of it was to outrage the tender sensibilities of the media itself and get denounced by media talking heads.

That worked because a very large number of people here in the United States no longer trust the news media to tell them anything remotely resembling the truth. That’s why so many of them have turned to blogs for the services that newspapers and broadcast media used to provide: accurate reporting and thoughtful analysis of the events that affect their lives. Nor is this an unresasonable choice. The issue’s not just that the mainstream news media is biased; it’s not just that it never gets around to mentioning many issues that affect people’s lives in today’s America; it’s not even that it only airs a suffocatingly narrow range of viewpoints, running the gamut of opinion from A to A minus – though of course all these are true. It’s also that so much of it is so smug, so shallow, and so dull.

The predicament the mainstream media now face is as simple as it is inescapable. After taking billions of dollars from their sponsors, they’ve failed to deliver the goods. Every source of advertising revenue in the United States has got to be looking at the outcome of the election, thinking, “Fat lot of good all those TV buys did her”, and then pondering their own advertising budgets and wondering how much of that money might as well be poured down a rathole.

Presumably the mainstream news media could earn the trust of the public again by breaking out of the echo chamber that defines the narrow range of acceptable opinions about the equally narrow range of issues open to discussion, but this would offend their sponsors. Worse, it would offend the social strata that play so large a role in defining and enforcing that echo chamber; most mainstream news media employees who have a role in deciding what does and does not appear in print or on the air belong to these same social strata, and are thus powerfully influenced by peer pressure. Talking about supposed Russian plots to try to convince people not to get their news from blogs, though it’s unlikely to work, doesn’t risk trouble from either of those sources.

Why, though, blame it on the Russians? That’s where we move from the first to the second of the factors I want to discuss this week.

A bit of history may be useful here. During the 1990s, the attitude of the American political class toward the rest of the world rarely strayed far from the notions expressed by Francis Fukuyama in his famous and fatuous essay proclaiming the end of history. The fall of the Soviet Union, according to this line of thought, proved that democracy and capitalism were the best political and economic systems humanity would ever come up with, and the rest of the world would therefore inevitably embrace them in due time. All that was left for the United States and its allies to do was to enforce certain standards of global order on the not-yet-democratic and not-yet-capitalist nations of the world, until they grew up and got with the program.

That same decade, though, saw the emergence of the neoconservative movement. The neoconservaties were as convinced of the impending triumph of capitalism and democracy as their rivals, but they opposed the serene absurdities of Fukuyama’s thesis with a set of more muscular absurdities of their own. Intoxicated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allies, they convinced themselves that identical scenes could be enacted in Baghdad, Tehran, Beijing, and the rest of the world, if only the United States would seize the moment and exploit its global dominance.

During Clinton’s presidency, the neoconservatives formed a pressure group on the fringes of official Washington, setting up lobbying groups such as the Project for a New American Century and bombarding the media with position papers. The presidency of George W Bush gave them their chance, and they ran with it. Where the first Iraq war ended with Saddam Hussein beaten but still in power – the appropriate reponse according to the older ideology – the second ended with the US occupying Iraq and a manufactured “democratic” regime installed under its aegis. In the afterglow of victory, neoconservatives talked eagerly about the conquest of Iran and the remaking of the Middle East along the same lines as post-Soviet eastern Europe. Unfortunately for these fond daydreams, what happened instead was a vortex of sectarian warfare and anti-American insurgency.

You might think, dear reader, that the cascading failures of US policy in Iraq might have caused second thoughts in the US political and military elites whose uncritical embrace of neoconservative rhetoric let that happen. You might be forgiven, for that matter, for thinking that the results of US intervention in Afghanistan, where the same assumptions had met with the same disappointment, might have given those second thoughts even more urgency. If so, you’d be quite mistaken. According to the conventional wisdom in today’s America, the only conceivable response to failure is doubling down.

“If at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again” thus seems to be the motto of the US political class these days, and rarely has that been so evident as in the conduct of US foreign policy. The Obama administration embraced the same policies as its feckless predecessor, and the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon went their merry way, overthrowing governments right and left, and tossing gasoline onto the flames of ethnic and sectarian strife in various corners of the world, under the serene conviction that the blowback from these actions could never inconvenience the United States.

That would be bad enough. Far worse was the effect of neoconservative policies on certain other nations: Russia, China, and Iran. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia was a basket case, Iran was a pariah nation isolated from the rest of the world, and China had apparently made its peace with an era of American global dominance, and was concentrating on building up its economy instead of its military. It would have been child’s play for the United States to maintain that state of affairs indefinitely. Russia could have been helped to recover and then integrated economically into Europe; China could have been allowed the same sort of regional primacy the US allows as a matter of course to its former enemies Germany and Japan; and without US intervention in the Middle East to hand it a bumper crop of opening wedges, Iran could have been left to stew in its own juices until it imploded.

That’s not what happened, though. Instead, two US adminstrations went out of their way to convince Russia and China they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by accepting their assigned places in a US-centric international order. Russia and China have few interests in common and many reasons for conflict; they’ve spent much of their modern history glaring at each other across a long and contentious mutual border; they had no reason to ally with each other, until the United States gave them one. Nor did either nation have any reason to reach out to the Muslim theocracy in Iran – quite the contrary – until they began looking for additional allies to strengthen their hand against the United States.

One of the basic goals of effective foreign policy is to divide your potential enemies against each other, so that they’re so busy worrying about one another that they don’t have the time or resources to bother you. It’s one thing, though, to violate that rule when the enemies you’re driving together lack the power to threaten your interests, and quite another when the resource base, population, and industrial capacity of the nations you’re driving together exceeds your own. The US government’s harebrained pursuit of neoconservative policies has succeeded, against the odds, in creating a sprawling Eurasian alliance with an economic and military potential significantly greater than that of the US. There have probably been worse foreign policy blunders in the history of the world, but I can’t think of one off hand.

You won’t read about that in the mainstream news media in the United States. At most, you’ll get canned tirades about how Russian president Vladimir Putin is a “brutal tyrant” who is blowing up children in Aleppo or what have you. “Brutal tyrant”, by the way, is a code phrase of the sort you normally get in managed media. In the US news, it simply means “a head of state who’s insufficiently submissive to the United States”. Putin certainly qualifies as the latter; first in the Caucasus, then in the Ukraine, and now in Syria, he’s deployed military force to advance his country’s interests against those of the United States and its allies. I quite understand that the US political class isn’t pleased by this, but it might be helpful for them to reflect on their own role in making it happen.

The Russian initiative isn’t limited to Syria, though. Those of my readers who only pay attention to US news media probably don’t know yet that Egypt has now joined Russia’s side. Egyptian and Russian troops are carrying out joint military drills {1}, and reports in Middle Eastern news media {2} have it that Egyptian troops will soon join the war in Syria {3} on the side of the Syrian government. If so, that’s a game-changing move, and probably means game over for the murky dealings the United States and its allies have been pursuing in that end of the Middle East.

China and Russia have very different cultural styles when it comes to exerting power. Russian culture celebrates the bold stroke; Chinese culture finds subtle pressure more admirable. Thus the Chinese have been advancing their country’s interests against those of the United States and its allies in a less dramatic but equally effective way. While distracting Washington’s attention with a precisely measured game of “chicken” in the South China Sea, the Chinese have established a line of naval bases along the northern shores of the Indian Ocean from Myanmar to Djibouti, and contracted alliances in East Africa and South Asia. Those of my readers who’ve read Alfred Thayer Mahan and thus know their way around classic maritime strategy will recognize exactly what’s going on here.

Most recently, China has scored two dramatic shifts in the balance of power in the western Pacific. My American readers may have heard of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Phillippines; he’s the one who got his fifteen minutes of fame in the mainstream media here when he called Barack Obama a son of a whore. The broader context, of course, got left out. Duterte, like the heads of state of many nominal US allies, resents US interference in his country’s affairs, and at this point he has other options. His outburst was followed in short order by a trip to Beijing, where he and China’s President Xi signed multibillion-dollar aid agreements and talked openly about the end of a US-dominated world order.

A great many Americans seem to think of the Phillippines as a forgettable little country off somewhere unimportant in the Third World. That’s a massive if typical misjudgment. It’s a nation of 100 million people on a sprawling archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, commanding the entire southern end of the South China Sea and a vast swath of the western Pacific, including crucial maritime trade routes. As a US ally, it was a core component of the ring of encirclement holding Chinese maritime forces inside the island ring that walls China’s coastal waters from rest of the Pacific basin. As a Chinese ally, it holds open that southern gate to China’s rapidly expanding navy and air force.

Duterte wasn’t the only Asian head of state to head for Beijing in recent months. Malaysia’s prime minister was there a few weeks later, to sign up for another multibillion-dollar aid package, buy Chinese vessels for the Malaysian navy, and make acid comments about the way that, ahem, former colonial powers keep trying to interfere in Malaysian affairs. Malaysia’s a smaller nation than the Phillippines, but even more strategically placed. Its territory runs alongside the northern shore of the Malacca Strait: the most important sea lane in the world, the gateway connecting the Indian Ocean with the Pacific, through which much of the world’s seaborne crude oil transport passes.

All these are opening moves. Those who are familiar with the rise and fall of global powers know what the next moves are; those who don’t might want to consider reading my book Decline and Fall {4}, or my novel Twilight’s Last Gleaming {5}, which makes the same points in narrative form. Had Hillary Clinton won this month’s election, we might have moved into the endgame much sooner. Her enthusiasm for overthrowing governments during her stint as Secretary of State, and her insistence that the US should impose a no-fly zone over Syria in the teeth of Russian fighters and state-of-the-art antiaircraft defenses, suggests that she could have filled the role of my fictional president Jameson Weed, and sent US military forces into a shooting war they were not realistically prepared to win.

We seem to have dodged that bullet. Even so, the United States remains drastically overextended, with military bases in more than a hundred countries around the world and a military budget nearly equal to all other countries’ put together. Meanwhile, back here at home, our country is falling apart. Leave the bicoastal bubble where the political class and their hangers-on spend their time, and the United States resembles nothing so much as the Soviet Union in its last days: a bleak and dilapidated landscape of economic and social dysfunction, where the enforced cheerfulness of the mainstream media contrasts intolerably with the accelerating disintegration visible all around.

That could have been prevented. If the United States had responded to the end of the Cold War by redirecting the so-called “peace dividend” toward the rebuilding of our national infrastructure and our domestic economy, we wouldn’t be facing the hard choices before us right now – and in all probability, by the way, Donald Trump wouldn’t just have been elected president. Instead, the US political class let itself be caught up in neoconservative fantasies of global dominion, and threw away that opportunity. The one bright spot in that dismal picture is that we have another chance.

History shows that there are two ways that empires end. Their most common fate involves clinging like grim death to their imperial status until it drags them down. Spain’s great age of overseas empire ended that way, with Spain plunging into a long era of economic disarray and civil war. At least it maintained its national unity; the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires both finished their imperial trajectories by being partitioned, as of course did the Soviet Union. There are worse examples; I’m thinking here of the Assyrian Empire of the ancient Middle East, which ceased to exist completely – its nationhood, ethnicity, and language dissolving into those of its neighbors – once it fell.

Then there’s the other option, the one chosen by the Chinese in the fifteenth century and Great Britain in the twentieth. Both nations had extensive overseas empires, and both walked away from them, carrying out a staged withdrawal from imperial overreach. Both nations not only survived the process but came through with their political and cultural institutions remarkably intact. This latter option, with all its benefits, is still available to the United States.

A staged withdrawal of the sort just described would of course be done step by step, giving our allies ample time to step up to the plate and carry the costs of their own defense. Those regions that have little relevance to US national interests, such as the Indian Ocean basin, would see the first round of withdrawals, while more important regions such as Europe and the northwest Pacific would be later on the list. The withdrawal wouldn’t go all the way back to our borders by any means; a strong presence in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific basins and a pivot to our own “near abroad” would be needed, but those would also be more than adequate to maintain our national security.

Meanwhile, the billions upon billions of dollars a year that would be saved could be put to work rebuilding our national infrastructure and economy, with enough left over for a Marshall Plan for Mexico – the most effective way to reduce illegal immigration to the United States, after all, is to help make sure that citizens of the countries near us have plenty of jobs at good wages where they already live. Finally, since the only glue holding the Russo-Chinese alliance together is their mutual opposition to US hegemony, winding up our term as global policeman will let Russia, China and Iran get back to contending with each other rather than with us.

Such projects, on the rare occasions they’re made, get shouted down by today’s US political class as “isolationism”. There’s a huge middle ground between isolationism and empire, though, and that middle ground is where most of the world’s nations stand as they face their neighbors. One way or another, the so-called “American century” is ending; it can end the hard way, the way so many other eras of global hegemony have ended – or it can end with the United States recognizing that it’s a nation among nations, not an overlord among vassals, and acting accordingly.

The mainstream news media here in the United States, if they actually provided the public service they claim, might reasonably be expected to discuss the pros and cons of such a proposal, and of the many other options that face this nation at the end of its era of global hegemony. I can’t say I expect that to happen, though. It’s got to be far more comfortable for them to blame the consequences of their own failure on the supposed Boris Badenovs of the blogosphere, and cling to the rags of their fading role as purveyors of a failed conventional wisdom, until the last of their audience wanders away for good.

_____

John Michael Greer is Past Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {6}, current head of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn {7}, and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy this blog and can handle discussions of Druidry, magic, and occult philosophy, you might like my other blog, Well of Galabes {8}.

Links:

{1} http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/10/12/Russian-Egyptian-troops-to-hold-exercises-at-El-Alamein.html

{2} http://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2016/11/04/egypt-sends-forces-to-help-assad-report-claims

{3} http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/11/27/syria-egypt-joins-fray-support-russia-backed-coalition.html

{4} http://www.newsociety.com/Books/D/Decline-and-Fall

{5} http://us.karnacbooks.com/product/twilights-last-gleaming/34386/

{6} http://www.aoda.org/

{7} http://www.druidical-gd.org/

{8} http://galabes.blogspot.com/

https://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2016/11/the-end-of-american-century.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Trump and the One Percent

Making the Super-Rich Even Richer

Michael Hudson interviewed

by Sharmini Peries

CounterPunch (November 28 2016)

PERIES: Michael, we have spoken recently in more general terms of how people are misled through our policy makers in Washington, in particular. But give us some specific examples of some of the terms used to mislead us.

HUDSON: Well take the word capital gains. When most people think about capital gains, they have an image of industry growing and innovation taking place. There’s an indication as if somehow when real estate and housing prices go up, everybody’s getting richer. When stock prices go up, the economies got richer. So Hillary Clinton was able to say, look at how the stock market soared in the last eight years thanks to Mr Obama.

Well the stock market has soared, but not the employees working for these companies. Most of the capital gains don’t reflect what the textbooks say. The textbooks say that a company is worth whatever it’s expected future earnings are. So the reason stocks are going up and bonds are going up and real estate prices are rising again is that rents are going up, profits are going up and the economy is expanding. It’s as if and everybody is getting richer. But that’s not why the stock market has gone up.

The stock market has gone up since 2008 in America, Europe and all over the world because central banks have flooded the economy with new money. They didn’t create this money to hire workers. They didn’t create it to build infrastructure, they didn’t create money to invest in the economy. They didn’t create the money to pay off the mortgages of people who had junk mortgages and were exploited. They didn’t create the money to write off student loans. All the money that was created, every penny, was created to give to the banks – to the Wall Street banks at 0.1% per year interest to create reserves at the Federal Reserve so that the banks could then lend out money. And what did they do? Who did they lend it to?

For one thing, they lent to corporate raiders. So part of the reason the stock market has gone up is that corporate raiders have borrowed very inexpensively, at say one percent per year or a bit more from a bank, and bought companies whose dividend rates are three or four or five percent per year. They’re after what’s called the arbitrage, the difference in the two rates. So you take over a company with borrowed money. As a result of paying interest to the banks and this borrowed money, you don’t have to pay income tax on it because this is counted as a cost of doing business, not as a cost of takeover.

The first thing they do is tighten working conditions. They work labor harder. They let the labor force go. When people retire, they don’t hire new workers. They just work the remaining workers all the more. So, what’s happened isn’t a new investment. It’s just the opposite. It’s disinvestment. It’s asset stripping. What makes the stock market go up is not capital formation. It’s asset stripping. When Donald Trump calls that wealth creation, it means his wealth – meaning the money he’s been able to make. But that money has been made by making the economy poorer.

So, when people talk about the economy, they have to realize that it’s actually money layers. Not everybody is a millionaire working on Wall Street. Some people actually have to work for paychecks and out of their paychecks they have to pay rising healthcare costs, rising money to the banks, rising debt service. They have to borrow more money just to break even. Their rents are going way up to larger portions of their income.

So, what people are actually left with to spend is maybe 25 to thirty percent of their income on goods and services, after paying taxes and after paying the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate). Whether it’s housing insurance or mortgage insurance. So there’s an idea of distracting people. Don’t think of your condition. Think of how the overall economy is doing. But don’t think of the economy as an overall unit. Think of the stock market as the economy. Think of the rich people as the economy. Look at the yachts that are made. Somebody’s living a lot better. Couldn’t it be you?

Well what they don’t explain is why it’s not you. The reason “they” are living better is what used to be called a transfer payment. Something that is not really earned, but is just a transfer of income, like from a rent when a landlord raises the rent, all of a sudden for the same house. Nobody’s invested more. Nobody’s saying “Oh, your rent’s going up by about $50 a month this month. No that’s a transfer payment.” But you just have to pay more. The landlord didn’t do anything to earn that more money. He just found that he’s able to squeeze more money out of you.

Squeezing money out of you to pay a rentier class – that was a word that used to be used 100 years ago. The rentiers were people who lived on rents. They were coupon clippers, they were landlords, they were the idle rich who inherited money. Somehow you have even the words widows and orphans. People say you have to provide large capital gains, meaning debt financed asset price inflation, so that the widows and orphans can survive. The widows and orphans that are referred to are wealthy people living on trust funds. Or they’re living on alimony. Or they’re living on inherited wealth. People forget that before 1900, widows and orphans used to be poor people. We’re talking Charles Dickens type novels. Widows and orphans were the people who needed welfare. They weren’t the millionaires.

So today when people talk about widows and orphans, they mean millionaires. When they talk about the low interest rates that capitalists aren’t making to get rich enough, that’s really hurting the pension funds. Our hearts bleed for the workers. But their hearts aren’t really bleeding for the workers. They’re trotting out pension funds as their factotums to say, “Make the pension funds richer”. And behind them is the fact that 75% of all the stocks and bonds are really owned by just a small percentage of the American population they’re really talking about themselves.

So, you have the economic vocabulary turning into vocabulary of deception. So, I go over what this vocabulary is and what the concepts are and I also talk about what the original concepts were in classical economics. Everyone from Adam Smith, John Stewart Mill, they were all reforms. What they wanted to reform was getting rid of this parasitic landlord class that had conquered England in 1066 and it’s the heirs of the military warlords who ended up taking the land and making everybody pay them and all of their descendants just for having been conquered.

You can see the carry-over of this today. The rent that people have to pay, the money they have to pay the banks instead of having a public option. That’s the price they still have to pay for being conquered. The group that I’m working with is trying to promote a public option. We’re trying to promote public banking that would provide credit cards, banking services, basic vanilla services at a fraction of the price that Chase Manhattan or Citibank or Bank of America charge.

Most of these charges that people pay are economically unnecessary. There’s no real cost behind them. There’s no real value behind them. So, they’re what the classical economist called empty pricing. Prices with no real cost value. What they called rent and fictitious capital. Capital claims on junk mortgage borrowers. The pretense is that all these debts can be paid but it’s all fictitious, because everybody knows – at least on Wall Street everybody knows – that many debts can’t be paid. Somebody has to default, and Wall Street’s plan is to make the government reimburse the banks, like the bailouts that happened in 2008, so that they don’t lose. “Let’s pass all of the loss onto the tax payers without changing the banks, without throwing our guys in jail even though these were fraudulent mortgages”.

PERIES: And the government itself doesn’t pay its debt.

HUDSON: That’s right. The whole idea is that it doesn’t. At least if it does pay the debt, it only pays the wealthy bondholders, not Social Security recipients or pensioners.

There are two kinds of debts that governments have. They have a debt to the bondholders and they do pay that. They have a debt to Social Security recipients. Hillary promised her Wall Street backers that she was going to cut back Social Security. She was going to cut back social spending, Social Security and medical care, so that the government would have enough money to pay her backers on Wall Street. So she was indeed Obama’s legacy, standing for Wall Street.

A stand in is a politician who can deliver her constituency to her Wall Street backers. That’s what a politician does in America. You get a constituency; you make them believe your promises, and then you turn them over to your financial campaign backers. That’s what politics has become and that’s as much an art of deception as economics is.

PERIES: Now Donald Trump is proposing to spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure development. That sounds very good. Of course, in the immediate future that means jobs for people. But what is the problem with that kind of infrastructure development in the long term and what kind of plan is he thinking of when he’s talking about infrastructure development?

HUDSON: There are many ways of building infrastructure. The way Donald Trump would like, would be to spend a hundred million dollars building a new bridge on the highway. Then he would like to sell it, privatize it to a private buyer like himself, for ten million dollars. So the government would spend a huge amount of money that could have been used for a free bridge or a free road. He’ll then sell it for ten million dollars to a private owner, who will put up a toll booth and charge money for coming across, and make a mint.

This is what happened in England under Margaret Thatcher. This is called Thatcherism and it’s what destroyed the English economy. It’s what’s destroying the European economy and turning Europe into a dead zone. Alternatively, you could do infrastructure in the way of a subsidy to the economy at large instead of to a special interest. A classical infrastructure program would be for the government to indeed pay for rebuilding this. But the whole idea of what made America rich in the nineteenth century was the government developed infrastructure and provided its services freely to the population. If you begin to charge people for bridges, for roads and for parking meters as in Chicago, and for everything else that’s being privatized, you’re going to have even higher costs of living. Wages will have to keep going up, and it will be even harder to compete with foreign countries and to make exports, because nobody can afford to pay the prices that the American workers have to pay in export competition with Asia or even Europe or Germany.

Germany doesn’t have all of these costs. It has very low rental charges, at least in the East. Maybe ten to fifteen percent of their income – higher in Western Germany, but not forty percent as we have here. Low-priced public health, a free autobahn to drive on. Donald Trump wants essentially to raise the cost of living for everybody and give the public domain away to his Republican backers, and essentially leave the whole country unemployed – but the one percent is going to be very, very rich.

PERIES: Right. Now let’s go back to some specific examples in terms of the kind of infrastructure Donald Trump wants to build. He wants to build new airports. He says our airports are outdated. He wants to build new roads and new bridges, and build a wall over the US-Mexico border. All of these are considered infrastructure. In the past we’ve been told that public-private partnerships are a good thing. It even sounds good, public-private partnerships for the betterment of society. But it really isn’t. In terms of myth making, where does this take us?

HUDSON: What’s called a public partnership is really a one-way partnership. The private sector tells the government what to do. The costs are born by the government, which bears all the risks. The profits go to the private sector. It really means we’re creating an opportunity for banks to make a killing on making loans. All this will be financed by bank credit. Banks or bond holders are going to be paid high interest rates.

The government could create this money the same way banks do. The government has computer keyboards, which is how a bank creates money. They could create their own money without having to pay interest to anyone. They could charge the airlines for the cost, or they could provide the airports more freely. But public partnerships are designed to quadruple or quintuple the actual costs of doing business, and pretend that this is in the public interest instead of just in that of the banks and the corporate insiders the banks are willing to lend money to.

Investigative journalists looked at one horror story after another of private public partnerships in London’s railroads. Look at what England did with water. Public Private partnership for water make people now pay huge amounts just to get it, which used to be free. The transportation quality goes down, while the price goes way up. So the partnership is a very exploitative. We’re not talking about an equal partnership. We’re talking about a dominant/submissive sadomasochistic partnership.

PERIES: Then the point you were making is the government can print all the money they want if they want to invest it in infrastructure and own that infrastructure. It can make money to then pay back the treasury if it needs to. But instead they’re going to borrow from these banks and bondholders, and then be indebted. So is this kind of debt a bad thing?

HUDSON: Well the debt is bad when you have to repay it. All new money is a kind of debt. All money is created on a computer nowadays. You can look at it in terms of a balance sheet. When you go into a bank and want a loan, the bank will give you a bank deposit and you’ll sign a promissory note. The bank has an asset and you have a debt to the bank. You can spend your deposit any way you want, but the bank charges money for this.

The government can do the same thing. The Treasury can just mint a one trillion dollar platinum coin, for instance. Give it to the Federal Reserve and the Federal Reserve can issue notes against it. You could call it whatever you want. It’s all constitutional because you can assign any price level you want to a coin. All such money is just created artificially.

So, it’s a monopoly, it’s a legal privilege. For thousands of years, from Mesopotamia through Greece and Rome, money was created by the temples to make sure that it was honest money. But it was privatized over thousands of years, and now banks charge for something that the government can do for free.

PERIES: Michael, for Donald Trump and the Republicans, they are against creating debt aren’t they?

HUDSON: No. They know that most people are afraid of going into debt. Because if you go into debt, you actually have to repay it. Government debt doesn’t have to be repaid. If you repaid government debt, there wouldn’t be any more money. What they’re really looking for is the way to cut debt their way by cutting the deficit – and what they want to cut above all is Social Security. They want to downsize it. Hillary wanted to put FICA wage withholding into the stock market, and to pay less social spending. Her backers wanted less medical care. They want to spend less money on the 95% of the population so that all the money gets spent on the top five percent.

So, they’re really against what debt is spent for. They’re against democratic debt. They’re against democracy. What they really want is oligarchic debt which used to be state socialism. Government will only give money to the banks. They’re all for the kind of debt that is the bank bailout in 2008. They’re all for giving money to Wall Street. They’re all for giving subsidies to Donald Trump for building his buildings in New York and enabling him to make a killing. They’re just against giving debt to the workers or to the middle class or to the cities or to anyone who’s not one of the five percent.

PERIES: Alright so this is the kind of austerity plan that Paul Ryan?

HUDSON: Austerity is the word.

PERIES: Is he trying to promote that he wants Donald Trump to sign onto.

HUDSON: Right.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/28/trump-and-the-one-percent-making-the-super-rich-even-richer/

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America Now Looks Like Rome …

… Before the Fall of the Republic

by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

The Week (November 10 2016)

Mary Evans Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

From the early Middle Ages until just a few decades ago, every educated person had to study the history of Greece and Rome. There’s a reason for that, and there’s a reason why it’s a shame we no longer do so.

It’s not just that history holds important lessons. It’s that we live in a time built by dead men who preceded us. America is a constitutional republic. Its governing institutions were imagined and bequeathed to us by a number of men, and all those men studied the history of Greece and Rome, as did the philosophers and writers and statesmen they took inspiration from, and those that these men took inspiration from. This democracy we live in is like a piece of foreign machinery we are supposed to operate. If you’re not a mechanic, you wouldn’t try to fix your car without first trying to read some sort of instructions. In order to understand how our republic works, we need to understand the thoughts of the people who built it. We have to understand where they were coming from.

The Founding Fathers of the United States, and the Enlightenment philosophers they learned from – again, the people whose machine we are supposed to keep running – were obsessed with Greece and Rome. The reason why speeches from politicians keep referring to America as an “experiment” in democracy, why there is this sense that they were trying something daring and precarious, is because they lived under the shadow of Rome.

The common belief until the American founding was that democracy was destined to fail. A political system that promises formal equality can’t bear the strain of a system that will always have inequalities of status, however you try to legitimize them. In a true democracy, demagogues will win over the people with fatuous promises and showy acrobatics, and accrue enough power to destroy the very democracy that is the source of their power. (Stop me if that sounds familiar.) The reason why they believed this was because that’s exactly what happened with Rome. Hence the saying “A Republic, if you can keep it”.
If we know something about the fall of the Roman Republic, we know vaguely about Julius Caesar, about how he was a popular general who used his support within the military to effect a coup. The coup then led to a civil war in which the strongman who prevailed, Augustus, thought he would do very well with the powers Caesar had claimed for himself.

If we know a little more, we know that Caesar was not just a successful general, but a canny politician, who used his political victories not just to command the personal allegiance of the legions, but to build a populist political power base at home. We might also be faintly aware that by the time Caesar could attempt his coup, the Roman Republic was already exhausted, with a complacent elite fattened by centuries of military victory and the attendant spoils.

But what historians now refer to as the crisis of the Roman Republic had a deeper, class-based component. Like all republics, Rome understood itself through the prism of the myth of its own overthrow of tyrannic rulers and the establishment of a, ahem, more perfect union. Like all national myths, this was only partly true.

In reality, Roman society was divided into two classes, the patricians and the plebeians (words that still carry meaning today, although more faintly so); three if you count slaves, which you obviously should, although they were less active politically than the other two classes.

The patricians were the aristocracy. They were large landowners, in an era where the source of economic power was land. What’s more, while much of Italy was in theory public land, in practice patricians could farm those lands and keep the proceeds as if it was their own property. The fact that the patricians could rely on slave labor to farm this land made it even more profitable for them, even as it squeezed the plebeians out of the jobs they might have had farming. This fundamental equality between a landowning patrician class and the economically insecure plebeians is the most important thing to keep in mind about the history of the late Roman Republic.

What about the political system? Well, as is well known, Rome was run by a Senate, but the Senate was actually made up of patricians. To oversimplify, the Senate was like a legislative branch, which nominated the consuls who ran the executive. Did the plebeians not have a voice? The plebeians were represented by elected officials called tribunes, whose main power was the ability to propose legislation and to veto the Senate. The plebeians were most often wealthy patricians themselves, since it was the only way to be active in politics, but they were patricians with the common touch, and good tribunes, like good politicians, knew how to appeal to their constituencies.

In the late second century BC – decades before Caesar actually rolled around – this crushing inequality gave birth to a political crisis. Two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, tried to implement various reforms to rebalance the inequality, including redistributing land and distributing grain to the Roman poor. How did it go? Well, to put a long story short, Gracchus eventually committed suicide rather than fall prey to lynching by a mob raised up by a patrician consul to stomp him down by force.

The failure of the Gracchi (plural of Gracchus) did two things: The first was to re-establish the precedent of using force to settle political disputes. And the second was to entrench the class divisions at the heart of Roman society, since Rome’s complex system of checks and balances (plus the sheer obdurateness of the aristocratic class) couldn’t fix the problem. Of course, Rome’s aristocrats did not believe themselves to simply be defending their pocketbooks. Rome, after all, was one of the world’s most sophisticated civilizations, and its aristocracy was highly educated. It believed that in defending its privileges, it was defending itself from a, well, plebe, that was without a doubt uneducated and coarse, and held beliefs contrary to what it believed to be the values of Rome. In this background, Rome’s government, increasingly implicated in foreign wars and maintaining an empire, had to become more and more militarized and to raise taxes to keep up its expenses.

Because those conflicts were so deeply entrenched, Rome kept lurching from social to political to constitutional crisis year after year, decade after decade, so that by the time a popular strongman came along, the Republic was like a ripe fruit waiting to be plucked.

All of which brings me to our current situation. Have you noticed that millions have left the labor force? That people without college degrees are increasingly locked out of the economy? That the globalized, meritocratic system rewards a small elite while leaving everybody else behind?

Now, it is not yet the time for a Caesar. It is not even yet time for the Gracchi, I don’t think. Although there has been an increase in political violence, it is nowhere near the level of the 1960s. And while America’s economy could certainly be doing a lot better, it could also be doing a lot worse – indeed, it has done best out of the global recession than practically any other major economy.

But the parallels are there, aren’t they? There may not be grain riots, or large landholds, but there is definitely a patrician class, and a plebeian class, and they are definitely at loggerheads. And the inability of the political and economic system to deliver an outcome that leaves both classes doing well keeps intensifying the conflict.

On Tuesday, America rejected a patrician and elected a tribune. Let us hope we see some genuinely Gracchian reforms, and let us hope they work this time. Because if not, I fear that, though I might not, my children will one day see a Caesar cross the Potomac.

https://theweek.com/articles/660915/america-now-looks-like-rome-before-fall-republic

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