Feb 252016
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

The presidential elections of 2016 have several unique characteristics that defy common wisdom about political practices in 21st century America.

Clearly the established political machinery – party elites and their corporate backers -have (in part) lost control of the nomination process and confront ‘unwanted’ candidates who are campaigning with programs and pronouncements that polarize the electorate.

But there are other more specific factors, which have energized the electorate and speak to recent US history.  These portend and reflect a realignment of US politics.

In this essay, we will outline these changes and their larger consequences for the future of American politics.

We will examine how these factors affect each of the two major parties.

Democratic Party Politics: The Context of Realignment

The ‘rise and decline’ of President Obama has seriously dented the appeal of ‘identity politics’ – the idea that ethnic, race and gender-rooted ‘identities’ can modify the power of finance capital (Wall Street), the militarists, the Zionists and ‘police-state’ officials. Clearly manifest voter disenchantment with ‘identity politics’ has opened the door for class politics, of a specific kind.

Candidate Bernie Sanders appeals directly to the class interests of workers and salaried employees. But the ‘class issue’ arises within the context of an electoral polarization and, as such, it does not reflect a true ‘class polarization’, or rising class struggle in the streets, factories or offices.

In fact, the electoral ‘class’ polarization is a reflection of the recent major trade union defeats in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. The trade union confederation (AFL-CIO) has almost disappeared as a social and political factor, representing only 7% of private sector workers. Working class voters are well aware that top trade union leaders, who receive an average of $500,000-a-year in salaries and benefits, are deeply ensconced in the Democratic Party elite. While individual workers and local unions are active supporters of the Sanders campaign, they do so as members of an amorphous multi-class electoral movement and not as a unified ‘workers bloc’.

The Sanders electoral movement has not grown out of a national social movement: The peace movement is virtually moribund; the civil rights movements are weak, fragmented and localized; the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has peaked and declined while the ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement’ is a distant memory.

In other words, these recent movements, at best, provide some activists and some impetus for the Sanders electoral campaign. Their presence highlights a few of the issues that the Sanders electoral movement promotes in its campaign.

In fact, the Sanders electoral movement does not ‘grow out’ of existing, ongoing mass movements as much as it fills the political vacuum resulting from their demise. The electoral insurgency reflects the defeats of trade union officials allied with incumbent Democratic politicians as well as the limitation of the ‘direct action’ tactics of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Occupy’ movements.

Since the Sanders electoral movement does not directly and immediately challenge capitalist profits and public budget allocations it has not been subject to state repression. Repressive authorities calculate that this ‘buzz’ of electoral activity will last only a few months and then recede into the Democratic Party or voter apathy. Moreover, they are constrained by the fact that tens of millions of Sanders supporters are involved in all the states and not concentrated in any region.

The Sanders electoral movement aggregates hundreds of thousands of micro-local struggles and allows expression of the disaffection of millions with class grievances, at no risk or cost (as in loss of job or police repression) to the participants. This is in stark contrast to repression at the workplace or in the urban streets.

The electoral polarization reflects horizontal (class) and vertical (intra-capitalist) social polarizations.

Below the elite 10% and especially among the young middle class, political polarization favors the Sanders electoral movement. Trade union bosses, the Black Congressional Caucus members and the Latino establishment all embrace the anointed choice of the political elite of the Democratic Party: Hilary Clinton. Whereas, young Latinos, working women and rank and file trade unionists support the insurgent electoral movement. Significant sectors of the African American population, who have failed to advance (and have actually regressed) under Democratic President Obama or have seen police repression expand under the ‘First Black President’, are turning to the insurgent Sanders campaign. Millions of Latinos, disenchanted with their leaders who are tied to the Democratic elite and have done nothing to prevent the massive deportations under Obama, are a potential base of support for ‘Bernie’.

However, the most dynamic social sector in the Sanders electoral movement are students, who are excited by his program of free higher education and the end of post-graduation debt peonage.

The malaise of these sectors finds its expression in the ‘respectable revolt of the middle class’: a voters’ rebellion, which has temporarily shifted the axis of political debate within the Democratic Party to the left.

The Sanders electoral movement raises fundamental issues of class inequality and racial injustice in the legal, police and economic system. It highlights the oligarchical nature of the political system – even as the Sanders-led movement attempts to use the rules of the system against its owners. These attempts have not been very successful within the Democratic Party apparatus, where the Party bosses have already allocated hundreds of ‘non-elected’ so-called ‘mega-delegates’ to Clinton – despite Sander’s successes in the early primaries.

The very strength of the electoral movement has a strategic weakness: it is in the nature of electoral movements to coalesce for elections and to dissolve after the vote.

The Sanders leadership has made no effort to build a mass national social movement that can continue the class and social struggles during and after the elections. In fact, Sanders’ pledge to support the established leadership of the Democratic Party if he losses the nomination to Clinton will lead to a profound disillusionment of his supporters and break-up of the electoral movement. The post-convention scenario, especially in the event of ‘super-delegates’ crowning Clinton despite a Sanders popular victory at the individual primaries, will be very disruptive.

Trump and ‘Revolt on the Right’

The Trump electoral campaign has many of the features of a Latin American nationalist-populist movement. Like the Argentine Peronist movement, it combines protectionist, nationalist economic measures that appeal to small and medium size manufacturers and displaced industrial workers with populist right-wing ‘great nation chauvinism’.

This is reflected in Trumps’ attacks on ‘globalization’ – a proxy for Peronist ‘anti-imperialism’.

Trump’s attack on the Muslim minority in the US is a thinly veiled embrace of rightwing clerical fascism.

Where Peron campaigned against ‘financial oligarchies’ and the invasion of ‘foreign ideologies’, Trump scorns the ‘elites’ and denounces the ‘invasion’ of Mexican immigrants.

Trump’s appeal is rooted in the deep amorphous anger of the downwardly mobile middle class, which has no ideology . . . but plenty of resentment at its declining status, crumbling stability and drug-afflicted families (Witness the overtly expressed concerns of white voters in the recent New Hampshire primary).

Trump projects personal power to workers who bridle under impotent trade unions, disorganized civic groups, and marginalized local business associations, all unable to counter the pillage, power and large-scale corruption of the financial swindlers who rotate between Washington and Wall Street with total impunity.

These ‘populist’ classes get vicarious thrills from the spectacle of Trump snapping and slapping career politicians and economic elites alike, even as he parades his capitalist success.

They prize his symbolic defiance of the political elite as he flaunts his own capitalist elite credentials.

For many of his suburban backers he is the ‘Great Moralizer’, who in his excess zeal, occasionally, commits ‘pardonable’ gaffes out of zealous exuberance – a crude ‘Oliver Cromwell’ for the 21st Century.

Indeed, there also may be a less overt ethno-religious appeal to Trump’s campaign: His white-Anglo-Saxon Protestant identity appeals to these same voters in the face of their apparent marginalization. These ‘Trumpistas’ are not blind to the fact that not a single WASP judge sits on the Supreme Court and there are few, if any, WASPs among the top economic officials in Treasury, Commerce, or the Fed  (Lew, Fischer, Yellen, Greenspan, Bernacke, Cohen, Pritzker etc.). While Trump is not up-front about his identity – it eases his voter appeal.

Among WASP voters, who quietly resent the ‘Wall Street’ bailouts and the perceived privileged position of Catholics, Jews and African-Americans in the Obama Administration, Trump’s direct, public condemnation of President Bush for deliberately misleading the nation into invading Iraq (and the implication of treason), has been a big plus.

Trump’s national-populist appeal is matched by his bellicose militarism and thuggish authoritarianism. His public embrace of torture and police state controls (to ‘fight terrorism’) appeals to the pro- military right. On the other hand, his friendly overtures to Russian President Putin (‘one tough guy willing to face another’) and his support to end the Cuban embargo appeals to trade-minded business elites. His calls to withdraw US troops from Europe and Asia appeals to ‘fortress America’ voters, while his calls to ‘carpet bomb’ ISIS appeals to the nuclear extremists. Interestingly, Trump’s support for Social Security and Medicare, as well as his call for medical coverage for the indigent and his open acknowledgement of Planned Parenthood’s vital services to poor women, appeals to older citizens, compassionate conservatives and independents.

Trump’s left-right amalgam: Protectionist and pro-business appeals, his anti-Wall Street and pro-industrial capitalism proposals, his defense of US workers and attacks on Latino workers and Muslim immigrants have broken the traditional boundaries between popular and rightwing politics of the Republican Party.

Trumpism’ is not a coherent ideology, but a volatile mix of ‘improvised positions’, adapted to appeal to marginalized workers, resentful middle classes (marginalized WASPs) and, above all, to those who feel unrepresented by Wall Street Republicans and liberal Democratic politicians based on identity politics (black, Hispanic, women and Jews).

Trump’s movement is based on a cult of the personality: it has enormous capacity to convoke mass meetings without mass organization or a coherent social ideology.

Its fundamental strength is its spontaneity, novelty and hostile focus on strategic elites.

Its strategic weakness is the lack of an organization that can be sustained after the electoral process. There are few ‘Trumpista’ cadres and militants among his adoring fans. If Trump loses (or is cheated out of the nomination by a ‘unity’ candidate’ trotted out by the Party elite) his organization will dissipate and fragment. If Trump wins the Republican nomination he will draw support from Wall Street, especially if faced with a Sanders Democratic candidacy. If he wins the general election and becomes President, he will seek to strengthen executive power and move toward a ‘Bonapartist’ presidency.

Conclusion

The rise of a social democratic movement within the Democratic Party and the rise of a sui generis national-populist rightist movement in the Republican Party reflect the fragmented electorate and deep vertical and horizontal fissures characterizing the US ethno-class structure.  Commentators grossly oversimplify when they reduce the revolt to incoherent expressions of ‘anger’.

The shattering of the established elite’s control is a product of deeply experienced class and ethnic resentments, of former privileged groups experiencing declining mobility, of local businesspeople experiencing  bankruptcy  due to ‘globalization’ (imperialism) and of citizens resentment at the power of finance capital (the banks) and its overwhelming control of Washington.

The electoral revolts on the left and right may dissipate but they will have planted the seeds of a democratic transformation or of a nationalist-reactionary revival.

Feb 212016
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

argentina-mapIntroduction

The class struggle from above found its most intense, comprehensive and retrograde expression in Argentina, with the election of Mauricio Macri (December 2015). During the first two months in office, through the arbitrary assumption of emergency powers, he reversed, by decree, a multitude of progressive socio-economic policies passed over the previous decade and sought to purge public institutions of independent voices.

Facing a hostile majority in Congress, he seized legislative powers and proceeded to name two Supreme Court judges in violation of the Constitution.

President Macri purged all the Ministries and agencies of perceived critics and appointees of the previous government and replaced those officials with loyalist neoliberal functionaries. Popular movement leaders were jailed, and former Cabinet members were prosecuted.

Parallel to the reconfiguration of the state, President Macri launched a neoliberal counter-revolution: a 40% devaluation which raised prices of the basic canasta over 30%; the termination of an export tax for all agro-mineral exporters (except soya farmers); a salary and wage cap 20% below the rise in the cost of living; a 400% increase in electrical bills and a 200% increase in transport; large scale firing of public and private employees; strike breaking using rubber bullets; preparations for large scale privatizations of strategic economic sectors; a 6.5 billion dollar payout to vulture-fund debt holders and speculators – a 1000% return – while contracting new debts.

President Macri’s high intensity class warfare is intended to reverse, the social welfare and progressive policies implemented by the Kirchner regimes over the past 12 years (2003-2015).

President Macri has launched a virulent new version of the class struggle from above, following a long-term neo-liberal cyclical pattern which has witnessed:

  1. Authoritarian military rule (1966-1972) accompanied by intense class struggle from below followed by democratic elections (1973-1976).
  2. Military dictatorship and intense class struggle from above (1976-1982) resulting in the murder of 30.000 workers.
  3. A negotiated transition to electoral politics (1983)a hyper inflationary crises and the deepening of neo-liberalism (1989-2000).
  4. Crises and collapse of neoliberalism and insurrectionary class struggle from below 2001-2003.
  5. Center-left Kirchner-Fernandez regimes (2003-2015): a labor-capital-regime social pact.
  6. Authoritarian neo-liberal Macri regime(2015) and intense class struggle from above. Macri’s strategic perspective is to consolidate a new power bloc of local agro-mineral,and banking oligarchs, foreign bankers and investors and the police-military apparatus to massively increase profits by cheapening labor

The roots of the rise of the neoliberal power bloc can be found in the practices and policies of the previous Kirchner-Fernandez regimes. Their policies were designed to overcome the capitalist crises of 2000-2002 by channeling mass discontent toward social reforms, stimulating agro-mineral exports and increasing living standards via progressive taxes, electricity and food subsidies, and pension increases. Kirchner’s progressive policies were based on the boom in commodity prices. When they collapsed the capital-labor ‘co-existence’ dissolved and the Macri led business-middle class-foreign capital alliance was well placed to take advantage of the demise of the model.

The class struggle from below was severely weakened by the labor alliance with the center-left Kirchner regime. Not because labor benefited economically but because the pact demobilized the mass organizations of the 2001 – 2003 period. Over the course of the next 12 years’ labor entered into sectorial negotiations (paritarias) mediated by a ‘friendly government’. Class consciousness was replaced by ‘sectoral’ allegiances and bread and butter issues. Labor unions lost their capacity to wage class struggle from below – or even influence sectors of the popular classes. Labor was vulnerable and is in a weak position to confront President Macri’s virulent neoliberal counter-reform offensive.

Nevertheless, the extreme measures adopted by Macri — the deep cuts in purchasing power, spiraling inflation and mass firings, have led to the first phases of a renewal of the class struggle from below.

Strikes by teachers and public employees over salaries and firings have flared up in response to the barrage of public sector cuts and arbitrary executive decrees. Sporadic mass demonstrations have been called by social  and human rights movements in response to Macri’s dismantling of the institutions prosecuting military officials responsible for the killing and disappearance of 30,000 victims during the “dirty war” (1976-83).

As the Macri regime proceeds to deepen and extend his regressive measures designed to lower labor costs, business taxes and living standards to entice capital with higher profits, as inflation soars and the economy stagnates due to the decline of public investment and consumption, the class struggle from below is likely to intensify – general strikes and related forms of direct action are likely before the end of the first year of the Macri regime.

Large scale class based organizations capable of engaging in  intense class struggle from below, weakened by the decade-long ‘corporate model’ of the Kitchener era, will take time to reconstruct. The question is when and what it will take to organize a class-wide (national)  political movement which can move beyond  an electoral repudiation of Macri allied candidates in upcoming  legislative, provincial and municipal elections.

Feb 172016
 

By Mihalis Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an exclusive interview with prominent international lawyer and University of Illinois professor of international law Francis Boyle. Boyle was part of the team of lawyers who charged George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the United States and United Kingdom governments with war crimes and torture in an international court, resulting in their conviction in absentia on these charges.

In this week’s interview, Boyle will discuss the aftermath of this case and conviction, the foreign policy of the United States and NATO and its impacts in the Middle East and elsewhere, the upcoming presidential election in the United States, other issues pertaining to international law and human rights, while Boyle also shares with us his analysis on Greece’s national debt and its memorandum agreements with the so-called troika, and what international law has to say about these issues.

In addition this week, we will air a special feature with music written and performed by Greek and international artists, in solidarity with the refugees fleeing the Middle East and the Greek people in the Aegean islands who have helped the incoming refugees. This music will be accompanied by soundbites from the artists themselves, discussing their inspiration in producing this new music. Plus, we will air our commentary of the week segment.

Tune in for all this and more, this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series! @ http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6002

Feb 092016
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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A version of this commentary originally aired on Dialogos Radio, during the week of February 4-10, 2016.

Once again, Greece is experiencing a time of political and social uncertainty, a time where yet again many citizens have begun to search for a new political savior, one that will pull Greece out of its current economic abyss and provide the promise of “hope” and “change”, putting an end to the crisis and placing Greece back on a path towards growth and better days.

This is highly similar to what was taking place in Greece just over a year ago, when millions of people within and outside of Greece believed that SYRIZA could comprise this sort of political force. And they believed this purely on the basis of rhetoric and promises. The big promises made by Alexis Tsipras and the rest of SYRIZA regarding the abolition of the austerity measures with one law and one article, the supposedly anti-austerity Thessaloniki policy platform, the tearing apart of the memorandum agreements, promises, promises and yet more promises from SYRIZA, including promises that all of these wonderful things could take place firmly within the confines of the European Union and the Eurozone, and that SYRIZA, when in power, would indeed manage to change Europe!

No one, however, seemed to notice how SYRIZA’s pre-election rhetoric was already being significantly watered down compared to their earlier promises. No one noticed that whereas Tsipras had once said that remaining in the Eurozone is not a fetish, SYRIZA was now not even contemplating an exit from the euro, not even as a Plan B. No one noticed that SYRIZA abandoned its platform to nationalize the banking system. Formerly radical economist Costas Lapavitsas, whom we have unfortunately interviewed in the past on our program, had once been proposing a so-called “radical economic platform” including a euro exit. In January 2015 however, just prior to the elections, he appeared on the BBC to defend SYRIZA’s economic platform as a form of “mild Keynesianism.” Dozens of candidates on SYRIZA’s ballot were former members of the corrupt PASOK party which ruled Greece for most of the 40 years following the fall of the military dictatorship, and many of them were elected and attained cabinet posts in the new government of supposed hope and change.

However, perhaps the biggest sign of the flip-flop and broken promises that were to follow was the inclusion of the false prophet Yanis Varoufakis on the SYRIZA ballot and his selection as Greece’s minister of finance after the elections. Varoufakis, a former adviser to PASOK’s George Papandreou, who brought austerity and the IMF to Greece, had carefully developed a reputation as a supposedly “radical” anti-austerity economist who was not afraid to clash with the system and who would demand the end of austerity and the memorandum agreements. Yet this same Varoufakis was telling us, long before the elections, that it was impossible for a country to leave the Eurozone, while rejecting the actions of countries such as Argentina and Iceland, stating that he instead sought a so-called “European solution” for the Greek crisis. Nobody seemed to notice this, and instead, Varoufakis earned the most votes of any individual candidate in the January 2015 elections.

Now, one year later, we are once again seeing the same theater of the absurd take place before our eyes, and this time Varoufakis, the son of a wealthy industrialist who is married to the daughter of another wealthy industrialist, is being presented as the best and only hope for change and for the elimination of austerity, not just in Greece but for all of Europe. On February 9th, he will announce the launch of his new pan-European political movement with a presentation in, where else, Berlin, a movement that is already promising to “restore democracy” to Europe and to “save” Europe from itself. And everyone who last year was ridiculing and insulting anyone who dared to suggest that SYRIZA was not what it presented itself as being and that it would break is promises, has now forgotten what they were saying a year ago and is doing the same exact thing to anyone who dares to question Varoufakis, his record, or his sincerity.

Let’s take this opportunity, therefore, to remind everyone about the major “achievements” of Varoufakis, before, during, and after his term as Greece’s finance minister.

Varoufakis is the man who, as Greece’s finance minister in the first days of the new SYRIZA government last year, had gone to the initial negotiations at the Eurogroup summit proposing the continuation of 70% of the previously existing austerity measures and memorandums, for another six months, as he said. He refused to even raise the specter of a Eurozone exit for Greece, not even as a negotiation tactic or as a Plan B. In fact, Varoufakis, while he was supposedly negotiating hard with the troika, publicly stated that Greece has no Plan B! It should therefore come as no surprise that the 70% proposed by Varoufakis became 100%, meaning continuation of 100% of the previous austerity measures and memorandums, for the next four months. Varoufakis agreed to this and had the audacity to return to Greece claiming that the agreement was an example of “creative ambiguity” and that the troika would now be known as the kinder, gentler “institutions.”

At the same time, Varoufakis, in countless appearances and interviews in the media, kept parroting the same stale myths about Greece and the people of Greece, such as the myth, which was proven to be a lie, that Greece had the highest rate of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world. Varoufakis lectured us about the, quote, “hard working German taxpayers,” who were, quote, “bailing out Greece,” and who, quote, “wanted a return on their investment,” neglecting to say, however, that Germany and the troika have profited quite handsomely just off of the interest that Greece is paying on its forced loans, without even getting into the lucrative assets which Greece was forced to privatize and which they bought up. Instead, Varoufakis was telling us about the need to lead a so-called “austere existence,” all the while he and his wife were photographed for a French magazine’s photo shoot, in front of a table full of lobster and champagne at their home with a full view of the Acropolis.

This was nothing, however, compared with what was to follow. Varoufakis, along with the other saviors within SYRIZA, nominated and elected the corrupt, conservative, pro-austerity former New Democracy minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the republic. Once again, the SYRIZA and Varoufakis apologists told us to give them more time. Varoufakis repeatedly stated that Greece’s debt would be repaid, quote, “in perpetuity” and that it is legal, at the same time that the Greek government had put on a big show of creating a parliamentary committee to investigate the legality of this very same debt. In an interview with the Associated Press, Varoufakis flatly stated that he will “squeeze blood from a stone” in order for the IMF to be repaid, while in another interview, Varoufakis stated that he sought to develop good relations with Christine Lagarde and the IMF, which held views that he, quote, personally agreed with.

Varoufakis repeatedly stated that his homeland is Europe and not Greece and that he would like to see the development of a so-called United States of Europe. He stated that the Eurozone is like the “Hotel California,” where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. Such was the nature of Varoufakis’ supposedly fierce negotiation, just as when he told ABC Television in Australia that even if Greece wanted to it was unable to mint its own currency, because Greece’s mint was destroyed when Greece joined the Eurozone. It seems he was unaware of the fact that Greece’s mint is still alive and well and is where the 20 euro notes are still printed today.

Moving forward, the “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis stated that the previous privatizations would not be rescinded and that he agreed with the privatization of public assets such as airports and harbors under certain supposed conditions. Indeed, he spoke out in favor of further so-called “investments” by China’s Cosco in Greece, including the privatization of the port of Piraeus, saying that this would be a positive development for the country.

Forging ahead, Varoufakis selected Elena Panaritis as Greece’s representative to the International Monetary Fund. The same Panaritis who was a former World Bank official and who had designed the destructive Fujishock policies which had been implemented in Peru and which drove millions of people into poverty, which led to price increases on basic goods of up to 8000%, where hundreds of public assets were privatized, and all of this done under the rule of an autocratic government whose ruler, Alberto Fujimori, is now serving a 25 year sentence for murder and other serious charges. The same Elena Panaritis who, as a member of parliament with PASOK, voted in favor of austerity and the memorandums. This was the selection of the supposedly “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis, who however never raised the issue of German war reparations to Greece and never investigated the actions of Yannis Stournaras and other former finance ministers for their role in bringing the austerity agreements to Greece.

Continuing on, Varoufakis, in the spring of 2015 when he was still finance minister, oversaw the issuance of a governmental decree, a practice which SYRIZA had promised it would not follow when in government, which confiscated the cash reserves of the entire Greek public sector. This decree was then ratified by the Greek parliament, including with the vote of Varoufakis, and the cash reserves of the Greek public sector were confiscated and used to make the May IMF loan repayment. After this, Varoufakis and the SYRIZA government, as part of their supposedly hard negotiations with the European so-called partners, presented a 47 page proposal which foresaw 8 billion euros of new austerity measures, including a perpetually increasing primary budget surplus—meaning more austerity—further tax increases, elimination of early pension benefits, which do in fact exist in countries like the US and elsewhere, and the privatization of public assets such as major airports and harbors. Everything that the current SYRIZA government is doing and that Varoufakis apologists claim to be against. At around the same time, Varoufakis presented a proposal for the introduction of a parallel currency following the model of the IOUs issued by the state of California, while he publicly admitted that capital controls would be introduced in Greece.

After this followed the big, “heroic” example of democracy in action, the referendum on whether to approve or reject the austerity measures proposed by the European so-called partners of Greece. Varoufakis, who was still finance minister, did not present any proposal to the Greek people, however, of what the governments plans would be if the “no” vote prevailed. And indeed, when the “no” vote did in fact prevail, not only was there no plan, but Varoufakis coincidentally was absent from the parliamentary vote which gave authorization to Alexis Tsipras to reach a deal with the lenders. Varoufakis did state publicly, however, that if he had voted, he would have voted yes to give Tsipras this authorization, authorization which resulted, of course, in the third and harshest, thus far, memorandum agreement for Greece.

This is the charlatan whose record as Greece’s finance minister is one of nothing but austerity, and who yet is now being touted as the savior not just for Greece but for all of Europe, the man who will end austerity and, quote, save Europe and save capitalism from itself. Varoufakis is the man who has praised the, quote, “radical” and “dynamic” individualism of Thatcherism, in other words, of neoliberalism, and the man who publicly eulogized Thatcher on his blog after her death in 2013. He is the man whose new book was presented in the Athens Music Hall in January 2015, just prior to the elections which brought SYRIZA to power, by far-right Greek television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou, who once expressed his support for a so-called “serious Golden Dawn.” Varoufakis is the man who has repeatedly heaped public praise on German chancellor Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis, the same Merkel and the same Germany which has contributed militarily to the carnage in the Middle East, the same Germany where there have been dozens of arson attacks of refugee housing facilities, the same Germany which has housed some refugees in former concentration camps, the same Germany which has confiscated valuables from refugees entering the country, the same Germany which is accused of paying off African governments to take back asylum seekers and to prevent them from coming to Germany again. And we are supposed to believe the words of this man, Varoufakis, when he says that he can somehow change Europe and the EU for the better, but that the euro cannot be changed and that a country could never leave it.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the bold, brilliant, anti-austerity savior Yanis Varoufakis. And the unfortunate reality is that even when faced with the facts, Varoufakis’ many fans and apologists will dismiss all of the above, even doubting the facts of Varoufakis’ actions during his tenure as Greece’s finance minister. A selective amnesia which begs the question, when will we stop believing in the “hope and change” that the system itself presents to us?

Feb 062016
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

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Is Bernie Sanders a socialist?

“Self-described socialist” … How many times have we all read that term in regard to Vermont senator Bernie Sanders? But is he really a socialist? Or is he a “social democrat”, which is what he’d be called in Europe? Or is he a “democratic socialist”, which is the American party he has been a member of (DSA – Democratic Socialists of America)? And does it really matter which one he is? They’re all socialists, are they not?

Why does a person raised in a capitalist society become a socialist? It could be because of a parent or parents who are committed socialists and raise their children that way. But it’s usually because the person has seen capitalism up close for many years, is turned off by it, and is thus receptive to an alternative. All of us know what the ugly side of capitalism looks like. Here are but a few of the countless examples taken from real life:

  • Following an earthquake or other natural disaster, businesses raise their prices for basic necessities such as batteries, generators, water pumps, tree-removal services, etc.
  • In the face of widespread medical needs, drug and health-care prices soar, while new surgical and medical procedures are patented.
  • The cost of rent increases inexorably regardless of tenants’ income.
  • Ten thousand types of deception to part the citizens from their hard-earned wages.

What do these examples have in common? It’s their driving force – the profit motive; the desire to maximize profit. Any improvement in the system has to begin with a strong commitment to radically restraining, if not completely eliminating, the profit motive. Otherwise nothing of any significance will change in society, and the capitalists who own the society – and their liberal apologists – can mouth one progressive-sounding platitude after another as their chauffeur drives them to the bank.

But social democrats and democratic socialists have no desire to get rid of the profit motive. Last November, Sanders gave a speech at Georgetown University in Washington about his positive view of democratic socialism, including its place in the policies of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. In defining what democratic socialism means to him, Sanders said: “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production.” 1

I personally could live with the neighborhood grocery store remaining in private hands, but larger institutions are always a threat; the larger and richer they are the more tempting and easier it is for them to put profit ahead of the public’s welfare, and to purchase politicians. The question of socialism is inseparable from the question of public ownership of the means of production.

The question thus facing “socialists” like Sanders is this: When all your idealistic visions for a more humane, more just, more equitable, and more rational society run head-first into the stone wall of the profit motive … which of the two gives way?

The most commonly proposed alternative to both government or private control is worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Sanders has expressed his support for such systems and there is indeed much to be said about them. But the problem I find is that they will still operate within a capitalist society, which means competition, survival of the fittest; which means that if you can’t sell more than your competitors, if you can’t make a sufficient net profit on your sales, you will likely be forced to go out of business; and to prevent such a fate, at some point you may very well be forced to do illegal or immoral things against the public; which means back to the present.

Eliminating the profit motive in American society would run into a lot less opposition than one might expect. Consciously or unconsciously it’s already looked down upon to a great extent by numerous individuals and institutions of influence. For example, judges frequently impose lighter sentences upon lawbreakers if they haven’t actually profited monetarily from their acts. And they forbid others from making a profit from their crimes by selling book or film rights, or interviews. The California Senate enshrined this into law in 1994, one which directs that any such income of criminals convicted of serious crimes be placed into a trust fund for the benefit of the victims of their crimes. It must further be kept in mind that the great majority of Americans, like people everywhere, do not labor for profit, but for a salary.

The citizenry may have drifted even further away from the system than all this indicates, for American society seems to have more trust and respect for “non-profit” organizations than for the profit-seeking kind. Would the public be so generous with disaster relief if the Red Cross were a regular profit-making business? Would the Internal Revenue Service allow it to be tax-exempt? Why does the Post Office give cheaper rates to non-profits and lower rates for books and magazines which don’t contain advertising? For an AIDS test, do people feel more confident going to the Public Health Service or to a commercial laboratory? Why does “educational” or “public” television not have regular commercials? What would Americans think of peace-corps volunteers, elementary and high-school teachers, clergy, nurses, and social workers who demanded well in excess of $100 thousand per year? Would the public like to see churches competing with each other, complete with ad campaigns selling a New and Improved God?

Pervading all these attitudes, and frequently voiced, is a strong disapproval of greed and selfishness, in glaring contradiction to the reality that greed and selfishness form the official and ideological basis of our system. It’s almost as if no one remembers how the system is supposed to work any more, or they prefer not to dwell on it.

It would appear that, at least on a gut level, Americans have had it up to here with free enterprise. The great irony of it all is that the mass of the American people are not aware that their sundry attitudes constitute an anti-free-enterprise philosophy, and thus tend to go on believing the conventional wisdom that government is the problem, that big government is the biggest problem, and that their salvation cometh from the private sector, thereby feeding directly into pro-free-enterprise ideology.

Thus it is that those activists for social change who believe that American society is faced with problems so daunting that no corporation or entrepreneur is ever going to solve them at a profit carry the burden of convincing the American people that they don’t really believe what they think they believe; and that the public’s complementary mindset – that the government is no match for the private sector in efficiently getting large and important things done – is equally fallacious, for the government has built up an incredible military machine (ignoring for the moment what it’s used for), landed men on the moon, created great dams, marvelous national parks, an interstate highway system, the peace corps, social security, insurance for bank deposits, protection of pension funds against corporate misuse, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Smithsonian, the G.I. Bill, and much, much more. In short, the government has been quite good at doing what it wanted to do, or what labor and other movements have made it do, like establishing worker health and safety standards and requiring food manufacturers to list detailed information about ingredients.

Activists have to remind the American people of what they’ve already learned but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want more government, or less government; they don’t want big government, or small government; they want government on their side. Period.

Sanders has to clarify his views. What exactly does he mean by “socialism”? What exactly is the role the profit motive will play in his future society”?

Mark Brzezinski, son of Zbigniew, was a post-Cold War Fulbright Scholar in Warsaw: “I asked my students to define democracy. Expecting a discussion on individual liberties and authentically elected institutions, I was surprised to hear my students respond that to them, democracy means a government obligation to maintain a certain standard of living and to provide health care, education and housing for all. In other words, socialism.” 2

We should never forget

The modern, educated, advanced nation of Iraq was reduced to a virtual failed state … the United States, beginning in 1991, bombed for much of the following 12 years, with one dubious excuse after another; then, in 2003, invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, tortured without inhibition, killed wantonly … the people of that unhappy land lost everything – their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women’s rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives … More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile … The air, soil, water, blood, and genes drenched with depleted uranium … the most awful birth defects … unexploded cluster bombs lying in wait for children to pick them up … a river of blood running alongside the Euphrates and Tigris … through a country that may never be put back together again … “It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis,” reported the Washington Post in 2007, that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.”

The United States has not paid any compensation to Iraq.

The United States has not made any apology to Iraq.

Foreign policy is even more sensitive a subject in the United States than slavery of the black people and genocide of the Native Americans. The US has apologized for these many times, but virtually never for the crimes of American foreign policy. 4

In 2014, George W. Bush, the man most responsible for this holocaust, was living a quiet life in Texas, with a focus on his paintings. “I’m trying to leave something behind”, he said. 5

Yes, he has certainly done that – mountains of rubble for one thing; rubble that once was cities and towns. His legacy also includes the charming Islamic State. Ah, but Georgie Boy is an artiste.

We need a trial to judge all those who bear significant responsibility for the past century – the most murderous and ecologically destructive in human history. We could call it the war, air and fiscal crimes tribunal and we could put politicians and CEOs and major media owners in the dock with earphones like Eichmann and make them listen to the evidence of how they killed millions of people and almost murdered the planet and made most of us far more miserable than we needed to be. Of course, we wouldn’t have time to go after them one by one. We’d have to lump Wall Street investment bankers in one trial, the Council on Foreign Relations in another, and any remaining Harvard Business School or Yale Law graduates in a third. We don’t need this for retribution, only for edification. So there would be no capital punishment, but rather banishment to an overseas Nike factory with a vow of perpetual silence. – Sam Smith 6

On March 2, 2014 US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s “incredible act of aggression” in Ukraine. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

Iraq 2003 was in the 21st century. The pretext was completely trumped up. Senator John Kerry voted for it. Nice moral authority you have there, John.

On the same occasion, concerning Ukraine, President Obama spoke of “the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked”.   Do our leaders have no memory or do they think we’ve all lost ours?

Does Obama avoid prosecuting the Bush-Cheney gang because he wants to have the same rights to commit war crimes? The excuse he gives for his inaction is so lame that if George W. had used it people would not hesitate to laugh. On about five occasions, in reply to questions about why his administration has not prosecuted the like of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al. for mass murder, torture and other war crimes, former law professor Obama has stated: “I prefer to look forward rather than backwards.” Picture a defendant before a judge asking to be found innocent on such grounds. It simply makes laws, law enforcement, crime, justice, and facts irrelevant. Picture Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers using this argument. Picture the reaction to this by Barack Obama, who has become the leading persecutor of whistleblowers in American history.

Noam Chomsky has observed: “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

It appears that the German and Japanese people only relinquished their imperial culture and mindset when they were bombed back to the stone age during World War II. Something similar may be the only cure for the same pathology that is embedded into the very social fabric of the United States. The US is now a full-blown pathological society. There is no other wonder drug to deal with American-exceptionalism-itis.

Notes

  1. Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States, November 19, 2015
  2. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1994
  3. Washington Post, May 5, 2007
  4. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, chapter 25
  5. New York Times, September 16, 2014
  6. Sam Smith of Maine, formerly of Washington, DC
  7. Reuters, March 3, 2014
Feb 062016
 

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Dear listeners and friends of Dialogos Radio,

This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature a timely interview with Mona Amanatidou and Christos Triarchis, representatives of Greece’s Popular Stoppage of Payments movement. They will speak to us about the movement and its actions, particularly their weekly blockades of courthouses to prevent the auction of foreclosed residences. In addition, they will speak about the many other popular movements which are active in Greece at the moment and about current political and social circumstances in the country.
 
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