Mar 252017
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

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Introduction

From their dismal swamps, US academic and financial journal editorialists, the mass media and contemporary ‘Asia experts’, Western progressive and conservative politicians croak in unison about China’s environmental and impending collapse.

They have variably proclaimed (1) China’s economy is in decline; (2) the debt is overwhelming; a Chinese real estate bubble is ready to burst; (3) the country is rife with corruption and poisoned with pollution; and (4) Chinese workers are staging paralyzing strikes and protests amid growing repression – the result of exploitation and sharp class inequality. The financial frogs croak about China as an imminent military threat to the security of the US and its Asian partners. Other frogs leap for that fly in the sky – arguing that the Chinese now threatens the entire universe!

The ‘China doomsters’ with ‘logs in their own eyes’ have systematically distorted reality, fabricated whimsical tales and paint vision, which, in truth, reflect their own societies.

As each false claim is refuted, the frogs alter their tunes: When predictions of imminent collapse fail to materialize, they add a year or even a decade to their crystal ball. When their warnings of negative national social, economic and structural trends instead move in a positive direction, their nimble fingers re-calibrate the scope and depth of the crisis, citing anecdotal ‘revelations’ from some village or town or taxi driver conversation.

As long-predicted failures fail to materialize, the experts re-hash the data by questioning the reliability of China’s official statistics.

Worst of all, Western ‘Asia’ experts and scholars try ‘role reversal’: While US bases and ships increasingly encircle China, the Chinese become the aggressors and the bellicose US imperialists whine about their victim-hood.

Cutting through the swamp of these fabrications, this essay aims to outline an alternative and more objective account of China’s current socio-economic and political realty.

China: Fiction and Fact

We repeatedly read about China’s ‘cheap wage’ economy and the brutal exploitation of its slaving workers by billionaire oligarchs and corrupt political officials. In fact, the average wage in China’s manufacturing sector has tripled during this decade. China’s labor force receives wages which exceed those of Latin America countries, with one dubious exception. Chinese manufacturing wages now approach those of the downwardly mobile countries in the EU. Meanwhile, the neo-liberal regimes, under EU and US pressure, have halved wages in Greece, and significantly reduced incomes in Brazil, Mexico and Portugal. In China, workers wages now surpass Argentina, Colombia and Thailand. While not high by US-EU standards, China’s 2015 wages stood at $3.60 per hour – improving the living standards of 1.4 billion workers. During the time that China tripled its workers ‘wages, the wages of Indian workers stagnate at $0.70 per hour and South African wages fell from $4.30 to $3.60 per hour.

This spectacular increase in Chinese worker’s wages is largely attributed to skyrocketing productivity, resulting from steady improvements in worker health, education and technical training, as well as sustained organized worker pressure and class struggle. President Xi Jinping’s successful campaign for the removal and arrest of hundreds of thousands of corrupt and exploitative officials and factory bosses has boosted worker power. Chinese workers are closing the gap with the US minimum wage. At the current rate of growth, the gap, which had narrowed from one tenth to one half the US wage in ten years, will disappear in the near future.

China is no longer merely a low-wage, unskilled, labor intensive, assembly plant and export-oriented economy. Today twenty thousand technical schools graduate millions of skilled workers. High tech factories are incorporating robotics on a massive scale to replace unskilled workers. The service sector is increasing to meet the domestic consumer market. Faced with growing US political and military hostility, China has diversified its export market, turning from the US to Russia, the EU, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Despite these impressive objective advances, the chorus of ‘crooked croakers’ continue to churn out annual predictions of China’s economic decline and decay. Their analyses are not altered by China’s 6.7% GNP growth in 2016; they jump on the 2017 forecast of ‘decline’ to 6.6% as proof of its looming collapse! Not be dissuaded by reality, the chorus of ‘Wall Street croakers’ wildly celebrate when the US announces a GNP increase from 1% to 1.5%!

While China has acknowledged its serious environmental problems, it is a leader in committing billions of dollars (2% of GNP) to reduce greenhouse gases – closing factories and mines. Their efforts far exceed those of the US and EU.

China, like the rest of Asia, as well as the US, needs to vastly increase investments in rebuilding its decaying or non-existent infrastructure. The Chinese government is alone among nations in keeping up with and even exceeding its growing transportation needs – spending $800 billion a year on high speed railroads, rail lines, seaports, airports subways and bridges.

While the US has rejected multi-national trade and investment treaties with eleven Pacific countries, China has promoted and financed global trade and investment treaties with more than fifty Asia-Pacific (minus Japan and the US), as well as African and European states.

China’s leadership under President Xi Jinping has launched an effective large-scale anti-corruption campaign leading to the arrest or ouster of over 200,000 business and public officials, including billionaires, and top politburo and Central Committee members. As a result of this national campaign, purchases of luxury items have significantly declined. The practice of using public funds for elaborate 12 course dinners and the ritual of gift giving and taking are on the wane.

Meanwhile, despite the political campaigns to ‘drain the swamp’ and successful populist referenda, nothing remotely resembling China’s anti-corruption campaign have taken root in the US and the UK despite daily reports of swindles and fraud involving the hundred leading investment banks in the Anglo-American world. China’s anti-corruption campaign may have succeeded in reducing inequalities. It clearly has earned the overwhelming support of the Chinese workers and farmers.

Journalists and academics, who like to parrot the Anglo-American and NATO Generals, warn that China’s military program poses a direct threat to the security of the US, Asia and indeed the rest of world.

Historical amnesia infects these most deep diving frogs. Forgotten is how the post WW2 US invaded and destroyed Korea and Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) killing over nine million inhabitants, both civilian and defenders. The US invaded, colonized and neo-colonized the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, killing up to one million inhabitants. It continues to build and expand its network of military bases encircling China, It recently moved powerful, nuclear armed THADD missiles to the North Korean border, capable of attacking Chinese and even Russian cities. The US is the world’s largest arms exporter, surpassing the collective production and sale of the next five leading merchants of death.

In contrast, China has not unilaterally attacked, invaded or occupied anyone in hundreds of years. It does not place nuclear missiles on the US coast or borders. In fact, it does not have a single overseas military base. Its own military bases, in the South China Sea, are established to protect its vital maritime routes from pirates and the increasingly provocative US naval armada. China’s military budget, scheduled to increase by 7% in 2017, is still less than one-fourth of the US budget.

For its part, the US promotes aggressive military alliances, points radar and satellite guided missiles at China, Iran and Russia, and threatens to obliterate North Korea. China’s military program has been and continues to be defensive. Its increase is based on its response to US provocation. China’s foreign imperial thrust is based on a global market strategy while Washington continues to pursue a militarist imperial strategy, designed to impose global domination by force.

Conclusion

The frogs of the Western intelligentsia have crocked loud and long. They strut and pose as the world’s leading fly catchers – but producing nothing credible in terms of objective analyses.

China has serious social, economic and structural problems, but they are systematically confronting them. The Chinese are committed to improving their society, economy and political system on their own terms. They seek to solve immensely challenging problems, while refusing to sacrifice their national sovereignty and the welfare of their people.

In confronting China as a world capitalist competitor, the US official policy is to surround China with military bases and threaten to disrupt its economy. As part of this strategy, Western media and so-called ‘experts’ magnify China’s problems and minimize their own.

Unlike China, the US is wallowing at less than 2% annual growth. Wages stagnate for decades; real wages and living standards decline. The costs of education and health care skyrocket, while the quality of these vital services decline dramatically. Costs are growing, unemployment is growing and worker suicide and mortality is growing. It is absolutely vital that the West acknowledge China’s impressive advances in order to learn, borrow and foster a similar pattern of positive growth and equity. Co-operation between China and the US is essential for promoting peace and justice in Asia.

Unfortunately, the previous US President Obama and the current President Trump have chosen the path of military confrontation and aggression. The two terms of Obama’s administration present a record of failing wars, financial crises, burgeoning prisons and declining domestic living standards. But for all their noise, these frogs, croaking in unison, will not change the real world.

James Petras is author of  The End of the Republic and the Delusion of EmpireExtractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle EastRead other articles by James, or visit James’s website.

Mar 242017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

20110629_Moutza_demonstrations_Greek_parliament_Athens_GreeceThe votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump are the result of some Russian plot but are a necessary rebellion against a corrupt neoliberal globalist order amongst just of of whose crimes is the economic strangulation of Greece.

It’s a typical winter’s evening in Athens. This has been a cold winter, and the air is brisk. And wherever I go, the sweet smell of “success” is in the air. By “success” I am referring to none other than the vaunted “European dream,” and the “success story” of the Greek economy, as described by Greece’s former prime minister Antonis Samaras in late 2014, and as often repeated—even if not in those exact terms—by Greece’s “first time left” prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, far more recently. That scent of success comes from the noxious fumes of the fireplaces and makeshift furnaces which newly impoverished Greeks have lit to keep warm, since well over 80 percent of households are said to be unable to afford absurdly taxed heating oil for their homes.
Elderly woman scavenging for food in a rubbish bin in the middle class Athens suburb of Elliniko. In January, a high-level SYRIZA government minister stated that “he no longer sees people searching the garbage for food.” Photo Credit: Antonis Pothitos

Elderly woman scavenging for food in a rubbish bin in the middle class Athens suburb of Elliniko. In January, a high-level SYRIZA government minister stated that “he no longer sees people searching the garbage for food.” Photo Credit: Antonis Pothitos

This piece though is not meant to be about Greece, but about the United States, the anti-Russian hysteria that has taken hold, and the attacks that the newly inaugurated Trump administration is facing from protesters, the media, and the “deep state.” What does all of this have to do with Greece though? Everything. Crisis-stricken Greece represents a microcosm of what is transpiring in the United States and much of Europe today, and offers a useful lens through which to analyse current developments.

Living in Greece over the past four-plus years, I’ve had the opportunity to view politics and economics from a different lens, one far removed from warm-and-fuzzy claims about the “European dream” or the utopian vision of “open borders” and “freedom of movement.” Greece is a country which has been ravaged by EU and IMF-imposed austerity, its economy and domestic production decimated by EU rules and regulations such as the common agricultural policy, and a country which has been inundated with far more migrants than it could realistically absorb, even during more prosperous economic times.

Indeed, the hypocrisy has been astounding. Greece and the Greek people have been blamed for being “racist” and “xenophobic” to migrants that have entered the country simply due to its geographical location and as a result of wars and conflicts which other countries have fuelled. Greece has been accused of “living beyond its means” when its welfare state was never as well-developed or generous as those of Northern Europe and where average incomes have perpetually lagged behind most countries of Northern and Western Europe. The Greek governments of the post-junta period were accused (correctly) of being corrupt, but the EU openly supports those same political parties (New Democracy, PASOK, and the current governing coalition of SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks, which are home to many ex-PASOK and ex-New Democracy MPs) due to their unabashed pro-EU, pro-Eurozone stance. Greece is accused of not producing anything, when it is during the years of EU and Eurozone membership that Greece’s domestic industry and agricultural production were decimated, as Greece’s market was flooded with German imports and Brussels bureaucrats told Greek farmers what to grow, what not to grow, and where they could or could not export their produce.

On a visit to EU and NATO headquarters in 2013 as part of an official academic program, the contempt  with which Brussels technocrats viewed Greece and the other countries of the “European south” could barely be contained. We were told that Mario Monti—Italy’s prime minister at the time, who was not elected but instead appointed at the behest of the EU—was the “best thing that ever happened for Italy.” We were told that Mussolini “got the job done.” We were told, in these exact words, that the reasons for the European financial crisis were “Bad design. Bad luck. Bad decisions. Greece.” Or as EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström is alleged to have said she “does not receive her mandate from the European people,” and as Dutch finance minister and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said more recently, the people of southern Europe blew their cash on women and booze and are therefore not deserving of help. Such is democracy and solidarity in the Nobel Prize-winning EU.

Therefore, when the referendum result in favour of “Brexit” prevailed in Britain, I was overjoyed. The European Union that I had seen, lived, and experienced was undemocratic, authoritarian, and brutal. In Greece, however, a historical inferiority complex vis-à-vis the “west” fostered an attitude of learned helplessness and dependence on the EU, without which Greece could supposedly not survive. Hence, it was refreshing to see voters in another EU member-state stand up to Brussels.

This, however, was not the prevalent view in the European or North American news media, which reacted in contempt, horror, and disgust at the referendum result. In the United States, snarky late-night television comedians, pandering to the supposedly “progressive” and “hipster” crowd, joined the news media’s chorus in describing the Brexit referendum result as the product of racism and xenophobia. No mention about austerity, about incomes and pensions that had been slashed in half in Greece, of previously middle class households unable to heat their homes and burning whatever they could find instead. The EU was, and continues to be, widely described as a “force for peace,” its open borders touted as a sign of “progress.” On her recent visit to Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Europe’s harshest pro-austerity hard liners, was referred to by the pro-Hillary, pro-globalist Politico as “the leader of the free world.” Unabashedly displaying its globalist world view, the popular feminist website Jezebel previously referred to Merkel as the “last pillar of liberal democracy in Europe.”

For those keeping score, websites like Politico and Jezebel are touting the European Union, and the chancellor of Europe’s strongest economy, Germany, as the last bastions of democracy and freedom not just in Europe, but worldwide. The same Germany which has inflexibly insisted on the continued, harsh imposition of inhuman austerity measures in Greece and the other countries of the European South, measures which have been found, repeatedly, to violate the basic human rights of the citizens of Greece and other countries. All the while, Germany has benefited handsomely from an economic point of view—both from the returns it is receiving on the loans it has imposed on Greece and from the brain drain of the European south, with many educated young people from Southern Europe finding their way to Germany. The same Germany whose finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who apparently is also the finance minister of Greece and Spain and Portugal and Italy, has said “[e]lections change nothing. There are rules.” This is same Germany that has remained completely inflexible on the issue of Greece’s debt, and this is the same Germany who we are told is the “leader of the free world.”

So Germany has been whitewashed and thrust into the role of world leader of peace, justice, freedom, and democracy by the same global media empire which openly and unabashedly supported Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential elections and insisted, ad nauseam, that she would easily defeat Donald Trump. The United States, of course, can no longer fulfil the role of so-called “leader of the free world,” in the eyes of the media, because the “fascist Russian agent” Trump is president instead of the honourable Secretary Clinton, who once cackled on TV, “we came, we saw, he died.” Oh, but I forgot, when it’s your guy or gal fighting wars and killing sovereign leaders overseas, it’s okay. That must explain why the “antiwar” movement went extinct right around the time that Barack “hope and change” Obama became president. That must also explain why George W. Bush, whose administration invaded Afghanistan and Iraq on false pretences, has, just like Merkel, been whitewashed, as evidenced by his recent appearance on “Ellen” which we were told would make us “warm up” to him. After all, he purportedly hates Trump and Putin—therefore he must not be that bad of a guy!

Similarly, when Obama deported record numbers of illegal immigrants from the United States, when he bailed out banks responsible for the economic collapse of 2007-2008 and refused to prosecute even one of banker but instead prosecuted whistleblowers, when he waged seven wars and dropped over 20,000 bombs from drones and failed to shutter the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, he too was whitewashed. Indeed, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and gets to dine with celebrity social justice warriors such as Bono, whilst receiving star treatment wherever he goes. When he referred to the “57 states” of the U.S., just like when representative Maxine Waters referred to Putin’s invasion of “Korea,” the media gave a free pass—no “Bowling Green” treatment for them!

For those with their eyes open all these years, it is easy to realise that not only were the U.S. and international media subservient and compliant during the eight years of the Obama administration, but they also never hit the Bush administration nearly as hard as they hit Trump. At best, Bush’s “bushisms” served as late night TV comedy fodder, downplaying their seriousness. I clearly remember the same media in lockstep with the Bush administration on the Afghanistan and Iraq war marches, while voices who dared to oppose these invasions were canned in short order, even by the purportedly “liberal” MSNBC. Remember Phil Donahue? Me either.

At that time, not only was there a (supposed) “antiwar movement,” but there were also many activists decrying the media’s hawkish slant and the concentration of media outlets in the hands of a few huge corporations. Just like the “antiwar movement,” those voices of dissent against the “corporate media” have shut up now. With the media attacking Trump 24/7, fearmongering non-stop over the “Russian menace” and the “tyrant” Vladimir Putin—whom we are told rivals only Trump in his resemblance to Hitler—and with anyone who dares to support Brexit or the elimination of “free trade” agreements such as TPP and TTIP which would place multinational corporations above any domestic law denounced as a “fascist” and “racist” and “xenophobe,” the very same ex-activists have become the biggest shills and cheerleaders for the very same corporate media which they once loudly decried. 

Take Brexit as a case in point. Those who chose to take back the sovereignty of their country and to speak out against the unelected supranational German-dominated behemoth in Brussels have been branded as “racists” and “nationalists” and “xenophobes.” These are the “scarlet letters” of today’s “progressive” and globalist age. No one cares that many of these voters are not racist, but are very much concerned about the fact that they do not have jobs or are unable to support themselves and their families with their current dead-end employment, that the economy and infrastructure of their country is crumbling, and that there is additional downward pressure being placed on their wages and on the social state through the importation of cheap, “flexible” labor from countries who have been torn apart as a result of western-imposed war and conflict, such as in Syria. Countries that are, in other words, war-torn and impoverished with the support of the very same people who are clamouring for “open borders” and who are, without a hint of irony, branding their opponents as “racists” and “xenophobes.” Because that’s what it’s all about: foster crisis, force people to flee, and use their desperation to pit them against the poorer classes in your society, to drive wages down and profits up. That’s what the whole idea behind “open borders” and “refugees welcome” and creating the conditions which lead to refugees and the brain drain is all about, in case you haven’t realised it.

There are protests, of course. Protests in favour of uprooting populations, creating migrants and refugees, providing them special privileges and decimating the working class and the middle class some more. Protests in favour of the austerity-driven Eurozone and EU. Protests which sprung up like magic the moment Donald Trump became president, when for the past eight years, there was hardly any protest against austerity in Europe, or war and drone strikes in the Middle East, or the record numbers of deportations under Obama’s watch. We’re supposed to believe that tens of thousands of protesters in all corners of the United States, for instance, were able to obtain pink hats in short order and were able to coordinate and to “send a message” to Trump—before he even entered the Oval Office.

Here, it is important to remember that there are three components to every protest: what is being protested against, what is being advocated for as an alternative, and who is organising the protest (and what their ulterior motives may be). It’s no coincidence, therefore, that antiwar protests during the eight years of Obama’s reign barely registered a blip on the radar—and were thoroughly ignored by the mass media—but protests during the two months of Trump’s presidency have enjoyed abundant and positive media coverage. To share an example from Greece, rallies that were organised in the lead up to the country’s July 2015 referendum on accepting an EU-proposed austerity package and which were in favour of a “no” vote drew hundreds of thousands of people, despite having only a few days’ notice of the referendum. Following the referendum, when the “no” vote which prevailed was thoroughly betrayed by the SYRIZA-led coalition government, participation at protests against this betrayal numbered a few hundred people, tops. The reasons should be obvious to anybody with their eyes open. And to add to this, the “leftist” SYRIZA government gets a pass, its betrayal excused away as the result of being “blackmailed” by the EU. In the same breath, SYRIZA’s globalist apologists then tell us that Greece must remain in the EU “at all costs” and what a great, noble thing the EU’s “open borders” and “free movement of peoples” is, and how Greece will collapse and die if it leaves the euro. Political schizophrenia at its finest.

If you’re protesting something because you wish to return to the previous status quo, where you turned a blind eye to everything you now claim to be protesting, then you are disingenuous and hypocritical (at best). One should also never forget to also ask, where’s the money and logistical support and the perfectly crafted slogans and hashtags and the massive amounts of pink hats coming from. Answer that and you also answer what is actually being advocated and who is organising these protests.

Personally, I’ll never forget the disappearance of the “antiwar” movement after Obama was elected, the support of Democrats and many alleged “progressives” for the bombing and destruction of Serbia and the dismantling of the Balkans (under the watch of Bill Clinton), their blind support of the grossly undemocratic EU and the despicable branding of anyone opposed to it as a “racist” and “xenophobe,” and the silence when “hope and change” was bailing out major banks while ordinary people of all colours were losing their homes and 20,000 bombs were being dropped across seven wars that were being waged. All of this while the media and while most “activist” groups remained silent. Now suddenly Trump is the problem?

Anyone who truly is concerned about human rights, instead of blindly parroting the “open borders” and “refugees welcome” agenda, should ask themselves why there are refugees in the first place, and who started and who is perpetuating the conflict that is forcing them to flee. And anyone who is truly concerned about democracy should ask themselves if majorities of people in several countries suddenly became fascists overnight, or if there are other, legitimate reasons why they do not support “free trade” or “open borders” or supranational institutional behemoths such as the EU.

To be clear, this isn’t an endorsement of Donald Trump. But it also is not an endorsement of the McCarthyite witch hunt, the media hysteria and scaremongering against Russia, or their pro-Hillary and pro-Obama and pro-EU propaganda. Moreover, it is not an endorsement of the incumbent establishment. What more evidence is needed to see that there’s no such thing as Democrats and Republicans, for instance? There’s an incumbent neoliberal establishment, defended by the corporate mass media and its “presstitutes,” by the military-industrial complex, and by elite billionaires, and there are those who stand in its way, or who are perceived as standing in its way. 

Which side are you on?

Mar 222017
 

By James Graham, 99GetSmart

France-image

The presidential race got serious at last. The first televised encounter took place a few nights ago, March 20, 2017 when the Big Five Political Lizards met up for the first of three debates.

You didn’t hear about it? What country is it? A small Caribbean island or one of those quiet socialist experiments one hardly ever talks about – Ecuador, Norway? Is Denmark voting? Holland had a primary, didn’t they? So which is it and who’s running?

It’s that bastion of liberal values, the country Americans yearn for when they need a saving dose of liberté, equalité, fraternité. The one that has been in a state of emergency for almost a year. France, indeed.

And what the interested viewer saw the other night, depending on their point of view, was either a well-moderated debate or a ghastly spectacle, a masquerade. Myself, I confess to regarding it as yet another circuit in a demolition derby where one character after another self-destructs in public. Who’s next, I wonder? The 2017 election is without precedent in the Fifth Republic, one in which “Populist Fascism” is within a bank shot of the Palais Elysée.

How did France get here? And is France really so different from anywhere else? After all, if Marine Le Pen of the National Front wins France will have its very own Trump, with the added frisson of an elderly sadist, Holocaust-denier banging around the halls of the presidential palace. (That would be Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, the founder of the Front. )

The current President, Hollande, announced in early December that he wouldn’t be a candidate for a second term. Not exactly a shock, even if it was unprecendented. But, fait accompli, his approval ratings hovering just slightly above Artic zero, what choice did he have? A living embodiment of the Peter Principle, the man who famously pledged to take on the finance sector delivered little more than gay marriage and a tell-all memoir before he left office. And yes, expanded snooping, an unending State of Emergency, involvement in Syria and… An excellent paddleboat captain, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon observed five years ago.

After his defeat in 2012 at Hollande’s hands and his announcement that he was now a private citizen, Nicholas Sarkozy formed Les Républicains from the shell of the old center-right UPM, and he did it, let it be observed, while keeping a steady stream of prosecutors and investigators off his trail. He’s a feverish, frisky sort and he gets himself in trouble, whether it be over money from Libya or L’Oreal. Les Républicains were to be his comeback vehicle in their November primaries but a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation: the employees decided they were sick of their hyper-active Boss. The annointed was then supposed to be Alain Juppé, the reasonable, grandfatherly Mayor of Bordeaux – but surprise again, François Fillon, one of Sarko’s henchmen, a man on the Paris merry-go-round for decades, pulled an upset. Austerity for all, he beamed, as if the medicine hadn’t already killed the patient elsewhere. A self-proclaimed Thatcherite with a Welsh wife named Penelope, he had the faithful cheering for what he was going to do to them, cutting here and slashing there. The man is a gift from the gods to those with a satiric bent. He looks a bit and sounds even more like our own Dick from Yorba Linda, full of snarlng, self-pity under pressure.

In mid-January, the Socialists held their primary. No hope in sight. How do you win an election with a dead dog tied around your waist? Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Hollande’s enforcer, a guy who looks like he wakes up covered in sweat, was supposed to win that one, too. The prize went instead to Benoit Hamon, a man in and out of the Hollande government twice (Economy, Education), a young Socialist (49 years old) with the dubious conviction that Socialists should project ideas other than career advancement. The Party faithful presumably couldn’t take any more business as usual but until his rally two days ago in Paris, Hamon was invisible, and he still is after the first debate.

(To watch Hamon’s rally at Bercy on Sunday was excruciating. How do you waltz with that dead dog? He had to say something about finance, he had to attack them, throttle them, repudiate them… what else are bankers and neo-cons good for at a Socialist rally? But there it was lurking in everyone’s minds, Hollande’s famous comment about his invisible enemy “finance” when he kicked off his campaign five years ago. Hamon had to say essentially the same thing but not use the same words, not invoke Hollande, not trip up, not leave himself open to charges of using bankers to get elected… Did a single soul believe what he said?)

And then came those merry days in late January, when the weekly Canard Enchainée broke the story that Mr. Austerity Fillon was in fact Mr. Largesse as far as family was concerned. No-show jobs for his reticient wife, legal assignments for his two children who had yet to pass the bar, it all came spilling out day after day in gorgeous detail. Dubbed Penelopegate, it opened a window on the Way Things Are and gave the French something to laugh about. Mr. Probity called it calumny, he called it misogyny, he called it all sorts of things but it wouldn’t go away, and the amounts kept climbing. Fillon is now officially under investigation, which means he will be charged. The question is when. Can one govern France from jail? Once touted as the safe bet to beat Le Pen, his latest speeches have been positively deranged, invoking Jeanne d’Arc and Jean Moulin, both of whom died agonizing deaths for their convictions. Fillon has not only destroyed Les Républicains and much of the right, he has made a national issue of the genteel practice of no-show jobs. He refuses to quit. Is that Presidential or isn’t it?

Meanwhile that eternal hothead, serial quitter of parties, the candidate with the sharpest tongue, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is running on his own self-created France Insoumise. (Impossible to translate, it sounds like the party zone at a libertine club; Rebellious France will do.) Mélenchon, whom I’ve watched shove a journalist against the bar, is hard left in the jargon of papers like the Guardian. A candidate who had a far bigger rally in Paris on Saturday than Hamon did on Sunday with the whole Socialist apparatus behind him, it’ll be a surprise if Mélenchon gets more than 10 or 11% of the vote in the first round in late April. Still, never a dull moment around Jean-Luc.

A quick reading of Mélenchon’s manifesto (l’Avenir en Comun) makes it clear that he is even more of a dreamer than the nostalgic Le Pen. On matters specific to France he is astute and engaging but… the book is a lefty wish list of things that will never happen, written with a wand. Not that that sort of effort isn’t necessary from time to time but… As regards the EU, you wonder what he was doing in Strasbourg. He sees France acting independently to enact audacious changes in the script, without a hint as to how he will gain the support of 26 other EU members, also known as Countries That Aren’t France. “Europe is dead,” he announces. The problem, if that’s what it is, is that Mélenchon has ideas, some great, some mad, and while you can separate them out, few have a chance. France produced a great figure like Juarès on the back of labor and civil organizing. Who supports Mélenchon? The younger, disaffected, urban intellectual work force, who attend his rallies in numbers but are so presumably overcome with existential despair they can’t show up to vote for the man.

Ah well, bring on the Tin-Tin Brigade! Mélenchon even plans a space station on the Moon, to be shared with the Russians. It’ll probably be a paradise. Book me a ticket when it’s up, Jean-Luc. But pass the vodka now.

(Being patient and having borne with me this far, you are entitled to blurt out something like, “I don’t understand! Do you mean France of the Revolution, of ’68? Where is France’s equivalent of Podemos or Syriza or the Green-Left coalition in Holland… or anything?” Unfortunately, there’s no answer for that. Only groans in the dark….)

That leaves the winners for last, the two candidates leading in the polls: Emmanuel Macron, former minister of the Economy in the Hollande government (2014-2016), the handsome, charismatic fellow who at the head of his En Marche party is the new centrist hope to beat Le Pen. He has a program, a website, money, a ingratiating manner. How exactly does he intend to govern should he be elected, as a charming Third Way financial insider-political outsider? Legislative elections are in June and En Marche intends to run candidates fielded on-line. Seriously? He’ll be starting from zero, even fewer reps than the FN. He’s leading in the polls now and if he wins it will be a nail in the coffin of parties of all stripes. The whole thing feels like a gauzy fantasy.

Marine Le Pen is under investigation at the European Parliament for détournement of funds but as her father taught her long ago, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. (It’s known as the Farage Two-Step: take the money and then… stand there as if you bloody hell haven’t done a damn thing out of the ordinary.) The Front National is untouchable anyway: their entire existence is a scandal, an outrageous family opera that pretends to be about politics and is instead an anachronistic vision of France that stretches as far back as Algeria… and Vichy… and don’t ask. Industrial policy? Don’t ask. Marine wasted the debate getting excised over burkinis, a Moslem approximation of what proper ladies wore to the beach 100 years ago. Jews, Papa’s bete noire, are already fleeing to Israel in record numbers. There’s a good chance she’ll blow her Golden Opportunity when everyone else is in disarray.

But maybe not.

Of Le Pen and Macron there will be plenty to say as the campaign grinds on. Hopefully we can find some humor in it. France employs the antiquated first-past-post system with two rounds of voting, eleven current candidates winnowed down to two for the final on May 7. (You can check under the hood here.)

And yet “Macron surges among undecideds…” Let’s forget about parties and polls. Yesterday’s news. The Socialists look finished after Hollande and Les Republicains after Sarko and Fillon. Empty shells, hollowed out by money, avarice, lifeless ideologies. Is there a future for parties in living-breathing democracies, even the half-strangled ones? Maybe the left-right schism is over, too. Both Mélenchon and Le Pen want to drag France out of the Europe, Melenchon out of NATO, Le Pen out of the EU. Some sort of realignment awaits, some sort of opening for new energies must come about…

The early money on the horses says Macron over Le Pen but a whole slew of things can happen between now and the finish line. It feels like we’re in some species of Eternal Return, repeating things over and over without knowing it, sleepwalking towards an Apocalypse where the ponies collapse from exhaustion, panting for water. Or like the Bukowski novel where the losers always pick the wrong horses and the two factotums make off with the loot…

So, I say it’s Le Pen and not Macron. How so?

I get around a little and I meet people who’ve probably never been polled in their entire lives but who vote. Farmers, carpenters, some educated, some not. Macron with his bright and shiny future, his financial investments in this and that, his neither left nor right, Hamon with his universal income… it doesn’t touch them. They don’t believe it. Even after the first debate, they still don’t know who Macron is except a young guy in a sharp suit. Of the EU, on which everyone is dependent, they see an organization that refuses to adjust. Do they want closed borders, zero immigration and the old currency, le sacré franc, as Le Pen insists? Not one person has said as much to me but that, too, is not the issue. The issue is what they will do in early May when faced with More of the Same or Throw Them Out, and whether they decide, like a gambler down to his last desperate throw, to take the risk of a far-right candidate they don’t trust but who will administer a shock to the system. Either that or they don’t vote at all, which ends up being the same thing.

Trump will likely have an effect. As he inevitably stumbles and proves how impossible it is for a clueless autocrat to govern, his model will look less and less savoury. From the point of view of France, it’s question of when. It’s a short season. May comes soon.

Change the optics a bit and the question posed above returns: where’s the alternate current in France? Smaller countries (either land size or population), less encumbered by a domineering colonial past, seem to go in one direction (Canada, Denmark, Spain, Scotland, parts of central Europe, Latin America) while the Old Giants, the UK, Russia, China, the U.S. seem “doomed and determined” to adopt a schlerotic, oligarchic model. Which camp for France?

I realize that my form of polling and rampant speculation is unofficial, untabulated, anecdotal, probably inadmissable. But it’s as good as “Pretty Boy Macron up 3% this week, vows to woo London financiers to Paris.”

On verra, France.

Mar 192017
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

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Introduction

Over thirty year ago a savvy Colombian peasant leader told me, “Whenever I read the word ‘peace accords’ I hear the government sharpening its knives”.

In recent times, ‘peace accords’ (PAs) have become a common refrain across the world. In almost every region or country, which are in the midst of war or invasion, the prospects of negotiating ‘peace accords’ have been raised. In many cases, PA’s were signed and yet did not succeed in ending murder and mayhem at the hands of their US-backed interlocutors.

We will briefly review several past and present peace negotiations and ‘peace accords’ to understand the dynamics of the ‘peace process’ and the subsequent results.

The Peace Process

There are several ongoing negotiations today, purportedly designed to secure peace accords. These include discussions between (1) the Kiev-based US-NATO-backed junta in the west and the eastern ‘Donbas’ leadership opposed to the coup and NATO; (2) the Saudi US-NATO-armed terrorists in Syria and the Syrian government and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies; (3) the US-backed Israeli colonial regime and the Palestinian independence forces in the West Bank and Gaza; and (4) the US-backed Colombian regime of President Santos and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

There are also several other peace negotiations taking place, many of which have not received public attention.

Past and Present Outcomes of Peace Accords

Over the past quarter century several PAs were signed – all of which led to the virtual surrender of armed anti-imperialist protagonists and popular mass movements.

The Central-American PA’s, involving Salvador and Guatemala, led to the unilateral disarmament of the resistance movement, the consolidation of oligarchical control over the economy, the growth and proliferation of narco-gangs and unfettered government-sponsored death squads. As a consequence, internal terror escalated. Resistance leaders secured the vote, entered Congress as politicians, and, in the case of El Salvador, were elected to high office. Inequalities remained the same or worsened, and murders matched or exceeded the numbers recorded during the pre-Peace Accord period. Massive numbers of immigrants, often of internal refugees fleeing gang violence, entered the US illegally. The US consolidated its military bases and operations in Central America while the population continued to suffer.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations did not lead to any accord. Instead ‘negotiations’ became a thin cover for increasing annexation of Palestinian land to construct racists ‘Jews-Only’ enclaves, resulting in the illegal settlement of over half a million Jewish settlers. The US-backed the entire farcical peace process, financing the corrupt Palestinian vassal-leaders and providing unconditional diplomatic, military and political support to Israel.

US-Soviet Union: Peace Accord

The Reagan/Bush-Gorbachev ‘peace accords’ were supposed to end the Cold War and secure global peace. Instead the US and the EU established military bases and client regimes/allies throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic and Balkans, pillaged the national assets and took over their denationalized economies. US-based elites dominated the vassal Yeltsin regime and virtually stripped Russia of its resources and wealth. In alliance with gangster-oligarchs, they plundered the economy.

The post-Soviet Yeltsin regime ran  elections, promoted  multiple parties and presided over a desolate, isolated and increasingly surrounded  nation – at least until Vladimir Putin was elected to ‘decolonize’ the State apparatus and partially reconstruct the economy and society.

Ukraine Peace Negotiations

In 2014 a US-sponsored violent coup brought together fascists, oligarchs, generals and pro-EU supporters seizing control of Kiev and the western part of Ukraine. The pro-democracy Eastern regions of the Donbas and Crimean Peninsula organized resistance to the putsch regime. Crimea voted overwhelmingly to re-unite Russia. The industrial centers in Eastern Ukraine (Donbas) formed popular militias to resist the armed forces and neo-Nazi paramilitaries of the US backed-junta. After a few years of mayhem and stalemate, a ‘negotiation process’ unfolded despite which the Kiev regime continued to attack the east. The tentative ‘peace settlement” became the basis for the ‘Minsk agreement’, brokered by France, Russia and Germany, where the Kiev junta envisioned a disarming of the resistance movement, re-occupation of the Donbas and Crimea and eventual destruction of the cultural, political, economic and military autonomy of the ethnic Russian East Ukraine. As a result, the “Minsk Agreement” has been little more than a failed ploy to secure surrender. Meanwhile, the Kiev junta’s massive pillage of the nation’s economy has turned Ukraine into a failed state with 2.5 million fleeing to Russia and many thousands emigrating to the West to dig potatoes in Poland, or enter the brothels of London and Tel Aviv. The remaining unemployed youth are left to sell their services to Kiev’s paramilitary fascist shock troops.

Colombia: Peace Accord or Graveyard?

Any celebration of the Colombian FARC – President Santos’ ‘Peace Accord’ would be premature if we examine its past incarnations and present experience.

Over the past four decades, Colombian oligarchical regimes, backed by the military, death squads and Washington have invoked innumerable ‘peace commissions’, inaugurated negotiations with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and proceeded to both break off negotiations and relaunch full-scale wars using ‘peace accords’ as a pretext to decimate and demoralize political activists.

In 1984, then-President Belisario Betancur signed a peace accord with the FARC, known as the ‘Uribe Agreement’. Under this agreement, thousands of FARC activists and supporters demobilized, formed the Patriotic Union (UP), a legal electoral party, and participated in elections. In the 1986 Colombian elections, the UP candidates were elected as Senators, Congress people, mayors and city council members, and their Presidential candidate gained over 20% of the national vote. Over the next 4 years, from 1986-1989, over 5,000 UP leaders, elected officials and Presidential candidates were assassinated in a campaign of nationwide terror. Scores of thousands of peasants, oil workers, miners and plantation laborers were murdered, tortured and driven into exile. Paramilitary death squads and landlord-backed private armies, allied with the Colombian Armed Forces, assassinated thousands of union leaders, workers and their families members. The Colombian military’s ‘paramilitary strategy’ against non-combatants and villagers was developed in the 1960’s by US Army General William Yarborough, Commandant, US Army Special Warfare Center and ‘Father of the Green Beret’ Special Forces.

Within five years of its formation, the Patriotic Union no longer existed: Its surviving members had fled or gone into hiding.

In 1990, newly-elected President Cesar Gaviria proclaimed new peace negotiations with the FARC. Within months of his proclamation, the president ordered the bombing of the ‘Green House’, where the FARC leaders and negotiating team were being lodged. Fortunately, they had fled before the treacherous attack.

President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2001) called for new peace negotiations with the FARC to be held ‘in a demilitarized zone’. Peace talks began in the jungle region of El Caguan in November 1998. President Pastrana had made numerous pledges, concessions and reforms with the FARC and social activists, but, at the same time he had signed a ten-year multi-billion dollar military aid agreement with US President Clinton, known as ‘Plan Colombia’. This practice of ‘double-dealing’ culminated with the Colombian Armed Forces launching a ‘scorched earth policy’ against the ‘demilitarized zones’ under the newly elected (and death-squad linked) President Alvaro Uribe Velez. Over the next eight years, President Uribe drove nearly four million Colombian peasants into internal exile. With the multi-billion dollar funding from Washington, Uribe was able to double the size of the Colombian Armed Forces to over 350,000 troops, incorporating members of the death squads into the military. He also oversaw the formation of new paramilitary armies. By 2010 the FARC had declined from eighteen thousand to under ten thousand fighters – with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties and millions rendered homeless.

In 2010 Uribe’s former Minister of Defense, Juan Manual Santos was elected President. By 2012 Santos initiated another “peace process” with the FARC, which was signed by the end of 2016. Under the new ‘Peace Accord’, signed in Cuba, hundreds of officers implicated in torture, assassinations and forced relocation of peasants were given immunity from prosecution while FARC guerillas were to face trial. The government promised land reform and the right to return for displaced farmers and their families. However, when peasants returned to claim their land they were driven away or even killed.

FARC leaders agreed to demobilize and disarm unilaterally by June 2017. The military and their paramilitary allies would retain their arms and gain total control over previous FARC- liberated zones.

President Santos ensured that the ‘Peace Accord’ would include a series of Presidential Decrees – privatizing the country’s mineral and oil resources and converting small family farms to commercial plantations. Demobilized peasant-rebels were offered plots of infertile marginal lands, without government support or funding for roads, tools, seed and fertilizer or even schools and housing, necessary for the transition. While some FARC leaders secured seats in Congress and the freedom to run in elections unmolested, the young rank and file FARC fighters and peasants were left without many alternatives but to join paramilitary or ‘narco’ gangs.

In summary, the historical record demonstrates that a series of Colombian presidents and  regimes have systematically violated all peace agreements and accords, assassinated the rebel signees and retained elite control over the economy and labor force. Before his election, the current President Santos presided over the most deadly decade when he was Uribe’s Defense Minister.

For brokering the peace of the graveyard for scores of thousands of Colombian peasants and activists, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Havana, FARC leaders and negotiators were praised by Cuban President Raul Castro, President Obama, Venezuelan President Maduro and the vast majority of ‘progressives’ and rightists in North and South America and Europe.

Colombia’s bloody history, including the widespread murder of Colombian civil rights activists and peasant leaders, has continued even as the documents finalizing the Peace Accords were being signed. During the first month of 2017, five human right activists were murdered by death squads – linked to the oligarchy and military. In 2015, while the FARC was negotiating over several clauses in the agreement, over 122 peasant and human rights activists were murdered by paramilitary groups who continued to operate freely in areas controlled by Santos’ army. The mass media propaganda mills continue to repeat the lie that ‘200,000 people were killed by the guerillas (FARC) and the government’ when the vast majority of the killings were committed by the government and its allied death squads; a calumny, which guerilla leaders fail to challenge. Prominent Jesuit researcher Javier Giraldo has provided a detailed factual account documenting that over three quarters of the killings were committed by the Army and paramilitary.

We are asked to believe presidential regimes that have murdered and continue to murder over 150,000 Colombian workers, peasants, indigenous leaders and professionals are suddenly transformed into justice-loving partners in peace. During the first three months of this year, activists, sympathetic to the peace agreement with the FARC, continue to be targeted and killed by supposedly demobilized paramilitary murderers.

Social movement leaders report rising political violence by military forces and their allies. Even peace monitors and the UN Human Rights Office admit that state and paramilitary violence are destroying any structure that President Santos could hope to implement the reforms. As the FARC withdraws from regions under popular control, peasants seeking land reform are targeted by private armies. The Santos regime is more concerned with protecting the massive land grabs by big mining consortiums.

As the killing of FARC supporters and human rights activists multiply, as President Santos and Washington look to take advantage of a disarmed and demobilized guerilla army, the ‘historic peace accord’ becomes a great deceit designed to expand imperial power.

Conclusion: Epitaph for Peace Accords

Time and again throughout the world, imperial-brokered peace negotiations and accords have served only one goal: to disarm, demobilize, defeat and demoralize resistance fighters and their allies.

‘Peace Accords’, as we know them, have served to rearm and regroup US-backed forces following tactical setbacks of the guerrilla struggle. ‘PA’s are encouraged to divide the opposition (‘salami tactics’) and facilitate conquest. The rhetoric of ‘peace’ as in ‘peace negotiations’ are terms which actually mean ‘unilateral disarmament’ of the resistance fighters, the surrender of territory and the abandonment of civilian sympathizers. The so-called ‘war zones’, which contain fertile lands and valuable mineral reserves are ‘pacified’ by being absorbed by the ‘peace loving’ regime. This serves their privatization programs and promote  the  pillage of the ‘developmental state’. Negotiated peace settlements are overseen by US officials, who praise and laud the rebel leaders while they sign agreements to be implemented by US vassal regimes . . . The latter will ensure the rejection of any realignment of foreign policy and any structural socio-economic changes.

Some peace accords may allow former guerilla leaders to compete and in some cases win elections as marginal representatives, while their mass base is decimated.

In most cases, during the peace process, and especially after signing ‘peace accords’, social organizations and movements and their supporters among the peasantry and working class, as well as human rights activists, end up being targeted by the military and  para-military death-squads operating around government military bases.

Often, the international allies of resistance movements have encouraged them to negotiate PAs, in order to demonstrate to the US that ‘they are responsible’ — hoping to secure improved diplomatic and trade relations. Needless to say, ‘responsible negotiations’ will merely strengthen imperial resolve to press for further concessions, and encourage military aggression and new conquests.

Just ‘peace accords’ are based on mutual disarmament, recognition of territorial autonomy and the authority of local insurgent administration over agreed upon land reforms, retaining mineral rights and military-public security.

PA’s should be the first step in the political agendas, implemented under the control of independent rebel military and civil monitors.

The disastrous outcome of unilateral disarmament is due to the non-implementation of progressive, independent foreign policy and structural changes.

Past and present peace negotiations, based on the recognition of the sovereignty of an independent state linked to mass movements, have always ended in the US breaking the agreements. True ‘peace accords’ contradict the imperial goal of conquering via the negotiating table what could not be won through war.

Mar 122017
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

clinton_bush_obama_trump

US militarism expanded exponentially through the first two decades of the Twenty-First Century, and was embraced by both Democratic and Republican Presidents. The mass media’s hysteria towards President Trump’s increase in military spending deliberately ignores the vast expansion of militarism, in all its facets, under President Obama and his two predecessors, Presidents ‘Bill’ Clinton and George Bush, Jr.

We will proceed in this essay to compare and discuss the unbroken rise of militarism over the past seventeen years. We will then demonstrate that militarism is an essential structural feature of US imperialism’s insertion in the international system.

Militarism

Vast increases in military spending have been a constant regardless of who was President of the United States, and regardless of their popular campaign rhetoric to curb military spending in favor of the domestic economy.

Under ‘Bill’ Clinton, the war budget increased from $302 billion in 2000 to $313 billion in 2001. Under President George W. Bush (Jr.), military spending jumped from $357 billion in 2002 to $465 billion in 2004, to $621 billion in 2008. Under President Obama (the ‘Peace Candidate’), military spending soared from $669 billion in 2009 to $711 billion in 2011 and then apparently declined to $596 billion in 2017. Currently, the newly installed President Trump is asking for an increase to $650 billion for 2018.

Several observations are in order: Obama’s military budget in 2017 excluded spending in several ‘Defense-related’ departments of government, including a $25 billion increase for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons program. Obama’s total for military spending for 2017 adds up to $623 billion or $30 billion less than Trump’s proposal. Moreover, Obama’s military spending for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is not listed in the annual budget proposals, included the cost of US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and numerous other countries and had skyrocketed during his term. Indeed, Obama’s eight years in office exceeded George W. Bush’s military spending by over $816 billion dollars.

President Trump’s proposed increase in military spending is in line with the Democratic President’s trajectory – contrary to the claims of the mass media. Clearly both Republicans and Democrats have massively increased their reliance on the US military as the driving force of world power. While Obama’s 2017 budget included $7.5 billion for ‘ISIS operations’ (an increase of 50%) and $8 billion for cyber warfare and (counter) terrorism, the largest increase was for stealth warplanes, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, clearly aimed at Russia, China and Iran. The Navy and Air Force got three quarters of the budget.

Under Obama, the US escalation of weaponry was not directed at ‘terrorist groups’ but, instead, at Russia and China. Washington has been intent on bankrupting Russia –in order to return it to the vassalage of the pre-Putin decade. The CIA, Obama, and the Republican Partys’ ferocious campaign against Trump is based on his overtures toward Russia. The centerpiece of the decades-long US quest for unipolar domination now depends on stripping Trump of his power and appointments, which in part or whole, are seen as undermining the entire structure of US military-driven imperialism as had been pursued by the previous four administrations.

Trump’s increase in military spending is apparently intended to be a ‘bargaining chip’ in his plan to expand US economic opportunities – cutting deals with Russia, renegotiating trade with China, East Asia (Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea) and Germany, all of which comprise the bulk of the US trillion-dollar annual trade deficit.

Trump’s repeated setbacks, the constant pressure on his appointees and the toll inflicted by the mass media on every aspect of his persona and personal life, even in the face of a historic increase in the stock market across the board, indicates a deep division among US oligarchs over power and ‘who governs’. Not since the onset of WWII have we witnessed fundamental cleavages over foreign policy. Previous conceptions of partisan debates are out of date. The financial press (the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal) is openly aligned with the militarists, while the financial marketers on Wall Street support Trump’s pro-business domestic policies and conciliatory overtures to Russia and China. Most of the propaganda mills, dubbed ‘think tanks’, with their stables of academics, ‘experts’, editorialists, and liberal and neoconservative ideologues promote military aggression against Russia. Meanwhile, the populist social media, grass roots Trump supporters, domestic manufacturers and the nation’s Chambers of Commerce press for domestic tax cuts and protectionist measures.

The Army is pro-Trump and favors his concept of regional wars for economic gains. In contrast, the CIA, the Navy and Air Force, which benefited significantly from Obama’s lopsided war budgets, pursue a policy of global military confrontations with Russia and China and multiple wars against their allies, such as Iran, regardless of the devastation such a policy will have on the domestic economy.

Donald Trump’s concept of imperialism is based on exporting products and capturing markets while attracting multinational corporation capital back to the US for re-investing their profits (currently over one trillion held overseas)in the domestic market. He opposes economic and military alliances that have increased US trade deficits and debt in contrast to the previous administrations of militarists who accepted crippling trade deficits and disproportionate US spending on military intervention, bases and sanctions against Russia and its allies.

President Trump’s goal of making Western Europe pay a greater share of NATO (and thus reduce Europe’s dependence on US military spending) has been rejected by both political parties. Every one of Trump’s small steps toward improving relations to Russia has aroused the ire of the unipolar military imperialists who control the leadership of the Democrats and the Republicans.

Militarist imperialism has offered a few tactical concessions to Russia’s allies – the unstable agreements with Iran and Lebanon and the flimsy peace accords in Ukraine. At the same time Washington is expanding its military bases from the Nordic-Baltic regions to Asia. It threatens support for military coups in Brazil, Venezuela and Ukraine.

The strategic purpose of these bellicose moves is to encircle and destroy Russia as a potential independent counter-weight to US global dominance.

President Trump’s initial policy has been to build ‘fortress America’: Increasing the military budget, building up police and military power along the Mexican border and within the oil rich Gulf States. Trump’s agenda would strengthen the military in Asia and elsewhere in order to enhance the US’ economic bargaining position in bilateral negotiations with the aim of enlarging its export markets.

Conclusion

The United States is witnessing a deadly confrontation between two sharply polarized imperialisms.

Militarism, the established form of US imperialism is deeply entrenched within the permanent state apparatus. This includes the 17 intelligence agencies, the propaganda departments, the Air Force and Navy, as well as the high tech sector and the commercial capitalist elites who have benefited from foreign imports and foreign low cost skilled labor at the expense of US workers. Their record is one of disastrous wars, lost markets, declining wages, deteriorating living standards and the relocation of well-paid jobs abroad. At best, they have secured a few, weak vassal regimes at an enormous cost.

The Trump regime’s attempt to fashion a strategic imperialist alternative revolves around a more nuanced approach: He seeks to use military power to enhance the domestic labor market and secure mass support for overseas economic intervention.

First and foremost, Trump realizes that Russia cannot be isolated from its markets in Europe and defeated by sanctions. This led him to propose negotiating a global agreement for large-scale trade deals, which would favor US banks, oil, agriculture and upscale industries. Secondly, Trump supports ‘social imperialism’, whereby US exports markets, based on local US industries, labor and banks, would lead to higher wages and profits for American businesses and workers. US imperialism would not depend on costly and failed military invasions, but on overseas ‘invasions’ by US industries and banks who would then return their profits to the US for investment and further boost the stock market already stimulated by his stated plans for deregulation and tax cuts.

President Trump’s transition to this new imperial paradigm faces a formidable adversary which has so far succeeded in blocking his agenda and threatens to overthrow his regime.

From the beginning, Trump’s failed to consolidate state power, an error which undermined his administration. While his election victory gave him the Office of the Presidency, his regime is only one aspect of state power, which is vulnerable to immediate erosion and ouster by the independent coercive and legislative branches, intent on his political demise. The other government branches are filled with holdovers from the Obama and previous regimes – and are deeply committed to militarism.

Secondly, Trump failed to mobilize his elite supporters and mass base around an alternative media. His ‘early morning Tweets’ are a flimsy counter-weight to the concentrated mass media attack on his governance.

Thirdly, while Trump moved successfully to secure international support with Japan and England, he backed off from dealing with Russia — which will be central to undermining his imperial adversaries.

Fourthly, Trump has failed to connect his immigration policies with an effective new program of domestic employment and he failed to expose and capitalize on the draconian anti-immigrant policies waged under the Obama administration, during which millions were imprisoned and expelled.

Fifthly, Trump failed to clarify the link between his pro-market economic policies and military spending and how they are linked to a totally different paradigm.

As a consequence, the success of the liberal-neo-conservative militarist assault on the new president has put his central strategy in retreat. Trump is under siege and on the defensive. Even if he survives this concentrated onslaught, his original conception of ‘re-making’ American imperial and domestic policy is in tatters and the pieces will blend the worst of both worlds: Without expanding overseas markets for American products and a successful domestic jobs program, the prospects are for President Donald Trump to revert to overseas wars and usher in a market collapse.

James Petras is author of  The End of the Republic and the Delusion of EmpireExtractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle EastRead other articles by James, or visit James’s website.

Mar 102017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

mercouris2-300x201This week on Dialogos Radio, we will be featuring, as part of the Dialogos Interview Seriestwo special interviews!

First, we will have the opportunity to speak with journalist, analyst, and longtime lawyer in the Royal Court of the United Kingdom Alexander Mercouris, co-founder of TheDuran.com. Joining us from London, Mercouris will provide his insights for us on a number of current issues, including the latest actions of the Trump administration, the path towards Brexit in Great Britain, anti-Russia hysteria and the establishment media’s agenda, developments in the Ukraine and Syria, and a view on the Greek government’s latest deal with its creditors and what continued austerity means for Greece.bellows

This interview will be followed up by a special feature with young Greek spoken word artist Dylan Wolfram, who will speak to us about his latest spoken word release, titled “Bellows.” In addition to this interview, we will hear two cuts from Wolfram’s recent spoken word project.

Two great interviews, all this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series!

Mar 012017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

If termites ‘start eating away at the foundations on both the left side of the building and the right side of the building, then the building looks fine from the outside but it could go any day,’ Mark Blyth tells MintPress, describing the hollowing out of the right and left in the US and Europe.

The crowd cheers as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The crowd cheers as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

 

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — The world is in the midst of a tremendous political and global shift, with the rise of populism in the United States and Europe, largely in response to broader economic and social trends which have been materializing in recent decades.

From the election of Donald Trump in the United States, to the victory of “Brexit” in last summer’s British referendum and the strong position of populist parties in many European countries, including France, Germany, and Holland leading up to domestic electoral contests, voters are increasingly responding to political systems which many believe have failed them.

Mark Blyth, a political scientist and professor of international political economy at Brown University, has done extensive research on growing inequality and one of its possible causes: policies of economic austerity. Blyth is the author of “Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea,” and is a frequent contributor to a variety of publications, including The Guardian and Foreign Affairs.

In this interview for MintPress News, which first broadcast on Dialogos Radio in February, Blyth discusses the impacts of economic austerity, the potential outcome of Brexit and the economic policies of the Trump administration, the underlying reasons behind these electoral results, the opposition to “free trade” agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the possibility of a Greek departure from the eurozone.

 

MintPress News (MPN): Looking at the past couple of years and at the present in Europe, is there any sign, any indication at all, that the policies of economic austerity that are being pursued have had any sort of positive outcome?

Mark Blyth (MB): Quite the contrary, because what’s happened in the past couple of years is that everyone’s pretending to do a good game on austerity, but, in fact, they’re actually not. Budget deficits in Spain are around 5 percent of GDP. Italy’s is getting larger as well. So the so-called “automatic stabilizers,” in effect, kick in when an economy’s in a recession — taxes go down and transfers go up — is actually being allowed to operate. This means that the fiscal stance for the EU as a whole for the past couple of years has been positive instead of contractionary.

Now, is this because of some great revolution that people have had, that everyone tightening at once when you’re in a common currency union is simply zero sum against itself? Not really. It’s essentially a quid pro quo, and the quid pro quo is, the Germans will continue to allow the ECB [European Central Bank] to do whatever it takes to save the euro, basically the massive program of bond buying that has been going on and suppressing interest rates and adding liquidity to the banking system. And in return, the Germans will turn a blind eye to what’s going on in Spain and France, and we won’t even mention Portugal. The one place of course where it has continued is the troika program in Greece, and as you know it’s not going very well, still.

Watch Mark Blyth explain the follies of Austerity:

 

MPN: In recent months, we’ve been seeing a pronounced political shift, with the Brexit referendum result and with the election of Donald Trump in the United States. Detractors argue that the reasons Trump was elected and the reasons why Brexit prevailed have to do exclusively with racism and xenophobia. Do you agree with this view, or do you believe there are other reasons why we have been seeing this shift?

MB: If you’ve seen the stuff that I’ve been doing on “Global Trumpism,” if it’s racism that’s driving this exclusively, then the world has generated an abnormally large number of racists all at one time, which would be a hard thing to explain. So, yes, is there racism? Yes. Is there xenophobia? Yes. One of of my colleagues at Cornell, Jonathan Kirshner, in an essay on the L.A. Review of Books, I think put it best, saying that while it’s absolutely true that not everyone who voted for Trump is racist, it is absolutely true that every racist who bothered to vote, voted for Trump.

Now, what does this mean in terms of how we understand Trump and Brexit? The “blue wall,” the five states in the middle of the country that were solidly democrat, so solidly democrat that the Democrats forgot to visit four of them during the campaign, they were the ones that tipped the election. They were the ones that went for Trump. On a county-by-county level, the majority of those counties voted for Obama not once but twice. So you’ve got to explain to me why a bunch of people who voted twice for a black president suddenly voted for racism, if that’s what was driving it. Or, is it more likely that it was the message that Trump was sending, which was essentially, “You voted for hope and change with Obama. What changed? Nothing. What was your hope? Not very good. So you might as well try something with me.” And I think that’s what was driving it.

Same thing with Brexit. Xenophobia, anti-immigration, all that sort of stuff is definitely in the cards. Well, think about the conjunction of events. You’ve got a migrants crisis brewing in Europe. You’ve got terrorist incidents which the right are all too keen to play upon. So of course there’s a rise and of course this is part of the story. But at the end of the day what was driving this, and we’ve seen this in the statistics and in the more careful analyses on Brexit that have been done, is that it’s not so much areas where you have a high degree of immigration that are the most pro-Brexit. It’s the combination of that also with stagnant or declining incomes over a long period of time.

There’s a very simple public policy reason. If everyone is suddenly racist and that drives everything, what do you do with that? Do we send them off to re-education camps? Because if it’s economics, there’s something you can do about that, but if it’s racism and it’s pure cultural hatred, then I don’t know where we go from here. So I don’t actually buy that argument, I don’t think it’s a useful argument. The last thing I’ll say about it is, when you say this, you’re giving [an excuse to] the center-left in particular, who have authored these things such as trade agreements and presided over declining or stagnant incomes for the majority of people while the top 20 percent, the top 1 percent boomed. They’re the ones who have said everything’s fine, they were the ones running the campaign in the United States saying everything’s great, why would you possibly want to vote against us? And for many people’s experience, things are not great. So basically they’re being lied to.

Now, if the center-left or the center parties in the United States and Britain simply write these people off as racists, then there’s nothing they have to do in terms of examining their own actions, their own policies, or even think that what they’ve done is wrong in any sense, giving them some inclination as to why people dislike them so much. So it’s very dangerous to use the racism diagnosis, not because it’s empirically wrong but because it leads us to a dead end politically.

 

MPN: Looking at Brexit, how has the British economy performed since the referendum and how do you believe that the British economy will perform once the Brexit process has been completed?

MB: This is really interesting. There’s a famous line from one of the British politicians who, when all the experts lined up and said, before the Brexit vote, don’t do this, it’ll be the end of the world. The IMF, the ECB, the British Treasury, the Bank of England — all the experts agreed it would be terrible. And then for the next 12 months or so, the economy booms. What that guy, Michael Gove, said is that the British public have had enough of experts. In a sense he’s right, because of course they were wrong.

Why were they wrong? A lot of economics of the past decade and a half has been thoroughly wrong, so there’s nothing new in that. But what the fact is, people are calling people on their claims. I think what’s going on is this, and I know this from personal experience, as I was in London in January. London’s now super cheap if you have dollars or euros. Since Brexit, the pound has devalued quite a lot, and what that basically means is there’s a giant shopping spree going on which is boosting the economy, because imports are down while exports are rocketing ahead, they are getting a boost. But essentially, Europe, which is a free movement of peoples zone, is essentially going to London to shop and is driving up prices and has given the economy a real consumption kick. Now that won’t continue, it’ll adjust over the longer term, and then what happens is, those devalued pounds have to buy more and more imports, and those imports are going to get more and more expensive. So that’s going to lead to both an actual step function increase in the cost of living in Britain and also going to push some inflation into the system.

Now, is this deadly? Is Britain going to fall off a cliff? That’s what I’m going to be skeptical about with the experts. Will the British economy cease to function? Absolutely not. So it’s very much a mixed bag on that one.

 

MPN: You have argued recently that Donald Trump is, in a sense, a Marxist. This is certainly a comment that will provoke some reaction… Explain this to us, how does Donald Trump resemble a Marxist?

MB: This is a provocation, and I even wrote a piece for the Washington Post, but they decided to sit on it. Can’t think why. Here’s the story: Back in the 1970s, there was a debate between a guy called Ralph Miliband, who is the father of the two Milibands who went on to run the British Labour Party, David and Ed. He was a good Marxist. And there was another good Marxist in Paris, a Greek guy named Nikos Poulantzas. So you had the Miliband-Poulantzas debate about the state and capitalist society, and on the Miliband view, it was a sociological view that it’s these elites that go to the same schools, that talk the same way, they get all the top jobs, and that’s why the state does what the capitalists want and vice versa.

Poulantzas gave a much more structural reading, which basically goes along the following lines: There’s a collective action problem at the bottom of capitalism, and here’s what I mean by this — while it’s individually rational for a firm to offshore its labor or to replace its workers with robots, if everybody does it, it’s collectively suicidal. So, what the state has to do is get above the short-term interest of profits and take the long-term view of the health of the economy.

In that sense, Trump and the people around Trump kind of are drawing on that kind of Marxist thinking. They’re not really Marxist, they’re not reading Poulantzas, but they’re coming to the same conclusion. Essentially, if you have unbridled competition — and [Steve] Bannon, his adviser, has been quite explicit on this — if you basically turn everything into commodities with a price and turn everything into a balance sheet and make everything into assets, then you create a system that is incredibly volatile and has a huge race to the bottom component. Seen against that, the whole thing about border taxes and exhorting businesses to invest at home and buy American, is kind of drawing on those similar threads. Now, does that mean that Donald Trump is a Marxist? Absolutely not. But are they both getting at that endogenous weakness in capitalist power structures? They are. In that sense, Donald Trump’s a Marxist.

 

MPN: What is your outlook for the U.S. economy going forward? Do you believe that “Trumponomics” will be allowed to prevail and that his administration will succeed with the stated goal of bringing back jobs and industry which were lost?

MB: There’s two stories in this, and I honestly don’t know how which one to believe, because they’re equally probable. Let’s assume that we don’t end up in a war with Iran and China and markets fall off a cliff, and all those things which are sadly possible under this administration. And let’s assume that we sort of backpedal a little bit, that he tries to do what he says he’s going to do. Now here’s the story as to why it won’t work: Look at Germany. Germany’s the most efficient exporter in the world, it’s got a large manufacturing sector. It’s short 300,000 skilled engineers. So there’s plenty of room for manufacturers in this world, that’s true. But the size of the German manufacturing sector, in terms of the number of workers they employ in total, has been shrinking for the past 20 years. And it’s shrinking in China. Because ultimately in capital, machines do substitute for labor very efficiently, and unless you’re going to make a political commitment to build 1980s-style cars with 1980s-style production techniques, it’s just not clear how you’re going to provide that volume of jobs, because most of those jobs can and should be automated, because they’re dirty and unhealthy and probably better done by robots. So there’s that story.

Now here’s the other one: If you look at the total volume of manufacturing and total output of manufacturing across the planet, output is up but the number of workers is down, and that seems to go with that story. But there’s another way of telling that story, which is that a lot of firms just moved to China and moved to globalized locations, where it’s so cheap that you can substitute labor for capital. In a sense what you’ve done then is artificially depressed the number of workers that you can have in manufacturing. We could still have a bigger manufacturing sector if those processes were reversed.

Now, I think the second one is interesting. I’m not sure it contradicts the first one, but they do push in different directions. If the second one is true, Trump can do a lot of what he says he’s going to do. If the first one, the effect of the first one overrides the effect of the second one, he’s not going to be able to do that. But more importantly and more immediately, have a look at what he’s doing. The first thing is, we’re basically going to create trouble with every Muslim country that we’ve either bombed or been in or have bad relationships with. We won’t do anything to the Saudis despite all their links to God knows what.

That’s one thing, and the next thing is, we’re going to start talking trash with China, etc.

The third thing is we’re going to roll back the Wall Street playbook to 2006 and we’re going to have big tax cuts. So what does that actually look like? It looks like a Trumped-up version of Reaganomics. Giving me another tax cut is not going to produce jobs in the Midwest, irrespective of trade policy. It’s heading in several contradictory directions at once, but we’ll see where it goes. As to exactly how it’s going to play out, I have as much of a clue as anybody else, which is to say, we don’t know.

 

MPN: President Trump recently announced the formal withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It also looks like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is also dead in the water, while the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may be up for renegotiation. Free trade, of course, and these agreements are presented by some as this really great thing. What was the real economic impact of free trade agreements such as NAFTA, and what would TPP and TTIP have actually meant, in economic terms?

MB: I’m not a trade economist, so these are comments about what I think about this stuff without having the benefit of really deeply studying it. My basic story goes like this: NAFTA is qualitatively different from TTIP and these other agreements. NAFTA was about trade in real goods and services between countries that abut each other and were already heavily integrated, particularly in the Canadian case, into the American economy and supply chains. In a sense, what the American auto industry got was slightly cheaper, more flexible production of auto parts by the Canadians, and then what they got from the Mexicans was cheap labor to offshore a bunch of stuff. It’s the jobs effect in the Mexican side that people have paid the most attention to.

Ross Perot was right when he said there will be a giant sucking sound as all those jobs leave America and go to Mexico. That happened. But we also have to remember that prior to that — take Wisconsin, for example. Wisconsin lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs before NAFTA, when they moved from Wisconsin to places like Texas. There was a huge drain to the south to get away from organized labor, to make labor cheaper. So in a longer-term view, you can see NAFTA as the continuation of a process of getting out of the heartland which began in the 1960s, in fact. So that’s that one.

Now what about the other [trade agreements]? The other ones are totally different. If you think about their economic effects, they were all estimates because they didn’t do them. People talked about how they would boost GDP 0.5 percent or 1 percent. That’s nothing, that’s a rounding error. One percent on a $70 trillion economy is nothing to be sneezed at, but it’s not like it’s going to give us 10 percent or a huge boost to growth, and this is over a very long time period.

So why was the left, in particular, incensed by these agreements? Because of things called investor protection clauses, which essentially locked in the rights of firms to sue governments for policies they didn’t like. An example of this was the company which was suing the U.S., I think it was over the Keystone pipeline decision of Obama, for lost profits, because they would have made a profit had that decision not come down. The decision has now been reversed, of course, but I’m using it to illustrate the problem. Or imagine you’re in Denmark, and Denmark decides it’s going to do even more against climate change, and it pushes regulations on firms that cost them money. Under these agreements, they can go to a shadowy court where no minutes are kept, the public doesn’t get invited, and an independent tribunal of trade lawyers and lobbyists will decide if the Danish taxpayer has to compensate a firm for voting for things that they would like.

That’s why the left got really nervous about this stuff, and I think justifiably so. But they were missing the trick, because those agreements really weren’t about trade, they were about security. They were essentially cementing in the 21st century, with a rising China and a shift to Asia in terms of general economic activity on the planet, the Americans’ special position in the world. The TPP didn’t contain China but it contained everyone else. It was a way of keeping the Chinese out and keeping the economy locked down in terms of American rules and order. By walking away from that, we’ve in a sense shorted American rule and American hegemony in that area, and this is why the Chinese were absolutely delighted at first, when Trump got elected, because that meant no TPP, which meant their influence was going to grow. Of course, what’s happened since then has been a doubling of that effect, because the sum of the random shocks that appear to be generated almost every day by the Trump administration is effectively driving more and more countries across the world into the arms of China, because suddenly they look pretty reasonable. So there’s some, let’s say, some interesting politics going on because of these agreements.

Watch Mark Blyth answer the question “What is “free” trade?”:

 

MPN: How do you gauge the backlash to Brexit and to Trump’s presidency thus far, and all of the reactions that both have generated?

MB: What’s the Brexit reaction, the backlash against Brexit? Even when they had a free vote in Parliament, the vast majority of MPs endorsed it. The Brexit backlash, to the extent that it exists, is people like me and people of my class sitting in London and fretting about their rather exalted position in society and how it’s going to change because you’ve got this populist move which the Conservative Party, under [British Prime Minister Theresa] May, has embraced. Imagine the economy working for ordinary working people and not just the banksters and the elites. Goodness me! So there’s that.

In terms of the backlash against Trump, if you put a bull in a china shop, people who buy china will get nervous. That’s exactly what’s happened, and there’s a certain kind of shock that still hasn’t receded in the U.S., that the election actually happened and that this guy and the people around him are now in charge. I’d like to think it was what Wynton or Branford Marsalis, the musicians, one of them I believe was critiqued on social media for not showing up at a rally against Trump. He said how about we actually wait until he does stuff and then we’ll find out what we can protest. Well, given the way things have gone with the immigration orders and the way that security tends to be trending and what’s going to happen with financial regulation, I think there’s plenty to get upset about at this juncture, and I think that’s going to continue. But even though the drivers behind Brexit and Trump were dissatisfaction with elites and declining wages and everything going to the top and the top getting bailed out but nobody else is, they’re the same but they’re playing out in different ways because they are in very different political systems.

 

MPN: Is the very existence of the eurozone or even the EU itself now in danger, in your view?

MB: It is, and that’s the line that I used to say. I used to worry about the euro so I wrote about it, and it decided it was going to stay. But what I wasn’t paying attention to is the thing that lies under the euro, which is the support of mainstream parties for the European project itself. What happens if those parties become very weak or fragile and are replaced by insurgents from the left and the right? Well, the left kind of likes the EU as a project, they like the cosmopolitanism of it, they’re not so xenophobic in that sense. But they are nationalists in economics, in the sense that they want economics to, as Theresa May — no left winger, but we’ll use her words — make it work for ordinary people. And that’s about re-nationalizing control of markets, and the Brexit, and taking back control comes from that control.

On the right it’s much more pronounced now. It used to just be the left parties that were having their lunch eaten. Think about what has happened to the British Labour Party in particular and the German SPD [Social Democratic Party], who now poll regularly around 22-25 percent. They’ll never form another government. Back then it seemed that the center-right was the impregnable force, and while May and [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel have definitely shored up their vote, you actually see with the Brexit decision, with the rise of AfD [Alternative for Germany] in Germany and with a host of other things coming up, for example, the French election, the right-wing center bloc is having its vote eaten away by insurgents as well.

Think of termites in a house. If they start eating away at the foundations on both the left side of the building and the right side of the building, then the building looks fine from the outside but it could go any day. The French election is going to be absolutely crucial, and then there’s German elections coming up and that’s going to be very important as well. I think one of the things that might have happened is that the Europeans are now having a kind of timeout, because they’re not squeezing their economies mindlessly at the moment, things are actually getting better. Unemployment dipped below 10 percent for the average of the EU for the first time since, I think, 2008, even though youth unemployment is catastrophically high and there’s still very low growth. Things have stabilized over the past two years. Whether you can keep them stable through central bank intervention forever is a different question, but that’s where we are at the moment.

I think that one of the weird things that’s happened with the election of Trump, you think about protests in cities all over the world, only America can provoke such a reaction. They’re so important that people protest the election of someone who doesn’t govern your country. But with those protests and then with the Trump administration’s behavior as soon as they got into power, I think it may be the case that a lot of the European public are looking around saying that we were thinking about going down that road with these populists, maybe that’s not such a good idea. So there could be a negative demonstration effect from the Trump effect, and that could mobilize more people, particularly on the left, to go out and vote against the National Front, etc.

But unless mainstream parties change their message and actually embrace some of the concerns that have animated and thrown the populists into power, then there’s a big problem ahead. Because if everyone shows up to block the National Front, the legitimate question from the Front supporters is, “What are you for?” All you are doing is blocking forces that want to make a change. You become kind of like the defensive tackle in American football, all you’re doing is there to block, you’re not there to create anything. And that, itself, is its own form of fragility.

 

MPN: Greece once again finds itself popping up in the news. Despite the government’s claims of an economic recovery and the achievement of a primary budget surplus, the future of the IMF’s participation in the Greek so-called “bailout” program is in question, Greece is facing another huge debt bill, revenues are shrinking, while there is increasing talk of “Grexit,” one that would be imposed by the EU itself. What do Greece’s economic indicators actually show and do you believe that Greece is on its way out of the eurozone? Indeed, do you believe that Greece itself should leave now, on its terms?

MB: Your question is a bit of a shocker to me, because I didn’t actually realize that there was new talk of Grexit. I didn’t actually hear that, I have been focused on other things, as they say, since November, given everything in the United States. But in Greece it’s not going well, you’ve got a real problem, those who have skills, those who are young have left. They tend to be your future taxpayers. You’re left with the public sector and the old essentially, to be very crude about it. They don’t generate much in the way of tax revenues, particularly when the economy is chronically depressed and is constantly trying to drive a budget surplus, which in the context of a debt overhang means less and less employment. It’s in a terrible place. But given the way the troika [the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund] have structured this and the way the European Stability Mechanism works, which has taken most of the private sector risk from the banks that lent Greece the money and put it into the public sector, Greece is in a kind of tutelage state, where it lives off the drip feed of the troika.

Would Greece be better off outside? Probably. Would Greece be better off with its own currency? Probably. But then you’ve got a question of how you get there. There’s been discussions of parallel currencies, etc., but whichever way you go it’s already bad, and that transition is going to hurt even more. Think of it this way: You still have euros, and you have assets in a Greek bank and you get wind of the fact that there’s going to be a parallel currency. You’re going to try to do everything you can to move those assets into an Italian bank, because that way you’ve still got real euros when ultimately you’re handed new drachmas. If there’s a huge devaluation because of that, then those euros will buy lots more new drachmas than whatever parity sets on the day there’s going to be a swap. So this is the problem of the euro as a whole, it’s a “Hotel California” problem — you can check in but you can’t check out. That’s why I’m surprised by the new talk about this, because it’s not clear to me how you affect this. We can imagine various scenarios, but at this point in time they are all scenarios.

 

MPN: You mentioned the parallel currency as a possibility, and there has been talk about a so-called parallel currency being imposed. What has the history of dual or parallel currencies been in other situations where they have existed, and would this be a harmful prospect for Greece and its economy?

MB: The Greek economy is already on life support, so if you start playing around with the electricity to the life support machine, that can be kind of damaging. But ultimately if you’re laying in a ward and slowly dying, you might as well try something.

In terms of parallel currencies, they’re not great. The history of them is checkered, there’s not very many around. One of the ways that has been talked about most recently has been in the context of France and the National Front. The National Front want to get out of the euro, so in a sense what they’ve proposed is kind of reverse-engineering the euro. You had national currencies, now you have this thing called the EQ, which is kind of like, if we all had a currency, how much would it be worth and this is what it looks like, which was a prelude to going into the euro full blast. They’re saying, why don’t we basically take time to renegotiate all of our contracts, we’ll back out of it into the EQ as a kind of parallel currency, and from there we’ll go back.

The problem is the speed and reaction time of financial markets. Gone are the days where you could lock up the banks on a Friday on a bank holiday, stuff them with a brand new currency, and everybody opens up on a Monday and says, “Look at the new money,” and business goes on. In a global, interconnected, hyperlinked world run by algorithmic trading platforms and dominated by hedge funds and big banks that make bets on trades, if you’re trying to do this stuff, the currency markets will kick the hell out of you. It’s not about beating up Greece, it’s a bigger target. If I know that Greece is going to try this, I know there’s going to be a lot of volatility with the euro, I can basically take out options and bet on both directions in which way the euro moves, and then that creates amplifications in the system as everybody else tries to do it. So it’s just a very, very hard thing to do in the modern world, to back out of this. People talk about these things, but I have absolutely no way of weighing what the reality of it is.

 

MPN: What might the difference be between a parallel currency system and a cleaner break and a return to a national domestic currency?

MB: I find these conversations to be sort of, many angels dance on the head of a pin. If you just declare new drachmas tomorrow and start issuing script, anybody who’s got euro will recognize that as real money and will want to preserve their euros, so you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle immediately. If you try to do it more gradually through a parallel currency and hope that people adjust and you then legislate that payments should be done digitally rather than through cash and it’s always going to use the new unit of account, yes, in principle you can get there, but it’s not easy, and it’s not easy to foresee how it works out. I don’t really have any strong opinions on which one is better, because I do think these are philosophical more than practical exercises at this point.

 

MPN: Would you argue that the neoliberal world order, or even capitalism itself, are in crisis?

MB: I did a Foreign Affairs essay reviewing some recent work called “Capitalism in Crisis: Who’s To Blame and How We Got Here.” I think there really are big problems, and the big problems are pretty simple. One is inequality on a massive scale, simply because when 88 percent of the population doesn’t feel they are sharing in the prosperity they will want to redistribute one way or another, and if the mainstream parties are tone deaf to these needs or the movements that drive them, then they will be replaced, so that’s a problem.

In terms of capitalism itself as a social system, as an economic system, I think some of the stuff that’s out there, like robots replacing jobs, is a bunch of tech-speak from California, so I would short it. The fastest-growing job in the United States by volume is elder care nurse, and I have yet to meet an elder care nurse robot. But you do end up with a big service sector with low wages, in part because capital controls all the money, all the power, and all the advantages. That’s not going away anywhere soon, so that creates a lot of political tensions and frictions.

I think there are real deep structural problems. Can they be overcome? Yes, we can if we think smartly about them. It is easy to do something about inequality. Pick a tax system, the one from the 50s, the 60s, or the 70s. Any one, I don’t care which one. You’ll generate way more revenue, and you’ll actually create better patterns of consumption in the middle, because basically the top has all the money and they don’t pay taxes, the bottom isn’t earning any money and it pays most of the taxes, and then the very poor don’t pay any taxes and they have no money. That’s patently unsustainable. So you can imagine progressive tax reforms which would do a great deal to restore middle class consumption.

People have got to stop accumulating debt as a surrogate for wage growth. It’s great for banks, but it’s terrible for everybody who is actually taking on that debt. When you have an environment with low inflation there’s no way to eat away the value of the debt and your wages aren’t growing. You create kind of creditor-debtor standoffs. What’s happening at the level of Greece and Germany is in a sense also happening within countries, between borrowers and lenders, between generations, between the old — who have most of the assets, 75 percent of all financial assets are held by baby boomers — and the young — who are increasingly expected to pay for everything with wages that simply aren’t growing. There’s lots of problems and lots of tensions and the populism we see around the world is a reaction to that. Hopefully it’s not the only one.

 

michael-120x120ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Nevradakis  

Michael Nevradakis is a PhD candidate in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece.