Jun 222017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

A man makes a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Piraeus Bank  branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man makes a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Piraeus Bank branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS (Analysis)– Day by day, we’re moving towards a brave new world where every transaction is tracked, every purchase is recorded, the habits and preferences of everyone noted and analyzed. What I am describing is the “cashless society,” where plastic and electronic money are king, while banknotes and coins are abolished.

“Progress” is, after all, deemed to be a great thing. In a recent discussion, I observed on an online message board regarding gentrification in my former neighborhood of residence in Queens, New York, the closure of yet another longtime local business was met by one user with a virtual shrug: “Who needs stores when you have Amazon?”

This last quote is, of course, indicative of the brick-and-mortar store, at least in its familiar form. In December 2016, Amazon launched a checkout-free convenience store in Seattle — largely free of employees, but also free of cash transactions, as purchases are automatically charged to one’s Amazon account. “Progress” is therefore cast as the abolition of currency, and the elimination of even more jobs, all in the name of technological progress and the “convenience” of saving a few minutes of waiting at the checkout counter.

Still insist on being old-fashioned and stuck behind the times, preferring to visit brick-and-mortar stores and paying in cash? You may very well be a terrorist! Pay for your coffee or your visit to an internet cafe with cash? Potential terrorist, according to the FBI. Indeed, insisting on paying with cash is, according to the United States Department of Homeland Security, “suspicious and weird.”

The European Union, ever a force for positive change and progress, also seems to agree. The non-elected European Commission’s “Inception Impact Assessment” warns that the anonymity of cash transactions facilitates “money laundering” and “terrorist financing activities.” This point of view is shared by such economists as the thoroughly discredited proponent of austerity Kenneth Rogoff, Lawrence Summer (a famed deregulator, as well as eulogizer of the “godfather” of austerity Milton Friedman), and supposed anti-austerity crusader Joseph Stiglitz, who told fawning participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year that the United States should do away with all currency.

Logically, of course, the next step is to punish law-abiding citizens for the actions of a very small criminal population and for the failures of law enforcement to curb such activities. The EU plans to accomplish this through the exploration of upper limits on cash payments, while it has already taken the step of abolishing the 500-euro banknote.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which day after day is busy “saving” economically suffering countries such as Greece, also happens to agree with this brave new worldview. In a working paper titled “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing,” which the IMF claims does not necessarily represent its official views, the fund nevertheless provides a blueprint with which governments around the world could begin to phase out cash. This process would commence with “initial and largely uncontested steps” (such as the phasing out of large-denomination bills or the placement of upper limits on cash transactions). This process would then be furthered largely by the private sector, providing cashless payment options for people’s “convenience,” rather than risk popular objections to policy-led decashing. The IMF, which certainly has a sterling track record of sticking up for the poor and vulnerable in society, comforts us by saying that these policies should be implemented in ways that would augment “economic and social benefits.”

The IMF’s Greek experiment in austerity

These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25 percent, unemployment levels exceeding 28 percent, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people — largely young and university-educated — migrating out of Greece.

Protesters against new austerity measures hold a placard depicting Labour Minister George Katrougalos as the movie character Edward Scissorhands during a protest outside Zappeion Hall in Athens, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. The placard reads in Greek"Katrougalos Scissorhands".

Protesters against new austerity measures hold a placard depicting Labour Minister George Katrougalos as the movie character Edward Scissorhands during a protest outside Zappeion Hall in Athens, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. The placard reads in Greek”Katrougalos Scissorhands”.

Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10 percent of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold.

Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card. Businesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over 500 euros have been outlawed.

In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over 840 euros every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.

Citizens have, at various times, been asked to collect every last receipt of their expenditures, in order to prove their income and expenses — otherwise, tax evasion is assumed, just as ownership of a car (even if purchased a decade or two ago) or an apartment (even if inherited) is considered proof of wealth and a “hidden income” that is not being declared. The “heroic” former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had previously proposed a cap of cash transactions at 50 or 70 euros on Greek islands that are popular tourist destinations, while also putting forth an asinine plan to hire tourists to work as “tax snitches,” reporting businesses that “evade taxes” by not providing receipts even for the smallest transactions.

All of these measures, of course, are for the Greeks’ own good and are in the best interest of the country and its economy, combating supposedly rampant “tax evasion” (while letting the biggest tax evaders off the hook), fighting the “black market” (over selling cheese pies without issuing a receipt, apparently), and of course, nipping “terrorism” in the bud.

As with the previous discussion I observed about Amazon being a satisfactory replacement for the endangered brick-and-mortar business, one learns a lot from observing everyday conversations amongst ordinary citizens. A recent conversation I personally overheard while paying a bill at a public utility revealed just how successful the initial and largely uncontested steps enacted in Greece have been.

In the line ahead of me, an elderly man announced that he was paying his water bill by debit card, “in order to build towards the tax-free threshold.” When it was suggested to him that the true purpose of encouraging cashless payments was to track every transaction, even for a stick of gum, and to transfer all money into the banking system, he and one other elderly gentleman threw a fit, claiming “there is no other way to combat tax evasion.”

The irony that they were paying by card to avoid taxation themselves was lost on them—as is the fact that the otherwise fiscally responsible Germany, whose government never misses an opportunity to lecture the “spendthrift” and “irresponsible” Greeks, has the largest black market in Europe (exceeding 100 billion euros annually), ranks first in Europe in financial fraud, is the eighth-largest tax haven worldwide, and one of the top tax-evading countries in Europe.

Also lost on these otherwise elderly gentlemen was a fact not included in the official propaganda campaign: Germans happen to love their cash, as evidenced by the fierce opposition that met a government plan to outlaw cash payments of 5,000 euros or more. In addition, about 80 percent of transactions in Germany are still conducted in cash. The German tabloid Bild went as far as to publish an op-ed titled “Hands off our cash” in response to the proposed measure.

Global powers jumping on cashless bandwagon

Nevertheless, a host of other countries across Europe and worldwide have shunned Germany’s example, instead siding with the IMF and Stiglitz. India, one of the most cash-reliant countries on earth, recently eliminated 86 percent of its currency practically overnight, with the claimed goal, of course, of targeting terrorism and the “black market.” The real objective of this secretly planned measure, however, was to starve the economy of cash and to drive citizens to electronic payments by default.

Indians stand in line to deposit discontinued notes in a bank in Jammu and Kashmir, India,, Dec. 30, 2016. India yanked most of its currency bills from circulation without warning on Nov. 8, delivering a jolt to the country's high-performing economy and leaving countless citizens scrambling for cash. (AP/Channi Anand)

Indians stand in line to deposit discontinued notes in a bank in Jammu and Kashmir, India,, Dec. 30, 2016. India yanked most of its currency bills from circulation without warning on Nov. 8, delivering a jolt to the country’s high-performing economy and leaving countless citizens scrambling for cash. (AP/Channi Anand)

Iceland, a country that stands as an admirable example of standing up to the IMF-global banking cartel in terms of its response to the country’s financial meltdown of 2008, nevertheless has long embraced cashlessness. Practically all transactions, even the most minute, are conducted electronically, while “progressive” tourists extol the benefits of not being inconvenienced by the many seconds it would take to withdraw funds from an ATM or exchange currency upon arrival. Oddly enough, Iceland was already largely cashless prior to its financial collapse in 2008—proving that this move towards “progress” did nothing to prevent an economic meltdown or to stop its perpetrators: the very same banks being entrusted with nearly all of the money supply.

Other examples of cashlessness abound in Europe. Cash transactions in Sweden represent just 3 percent of the national economy, and most banks no longer hold banknotes. Similarly, many Norwegian banks no longer issue cash, while the country’s largest bank, DNB, has called upon the public to cease using cash. Denmark has announced a goal of eliminating banknotes by 2030. Belgium has introduced a 3,000-euro limit on cash transactions and 93 percent of transactions are cashless. In France, the respective percentage is 92 percent, and cash transactions have been limited to 1,000 euros, just as in Spain. Outside of Europe, cash is being eliminated even in countries such as Somalia and Kenya, while South Korea — itself no stranger to IMF intervention in its economy — has, similarly to Greece, implemented preferential tax policies for consumers who make payments using cards.

Aside from policy changes, practical everyday examples also exist in abundance. Just try to purchase an airline ticket with cash, for instance. It remains possible — but is also said to raise red flags. In many cases, renting an automobile or booking a hotel room with cash is simply not possible. The aforementioned Department of Homeland Security manual considers any payment with cash to be “suspicious behavior” — as one clearly has something to hide if they do not wish to be tracked via electronic payment methods. Ownership of gold makes the list of suspicious activities as well.

Just as the irony of Germany being a largely cash-based society while pushing cashless policies in its Greek protectorate is lost on many Greeks, what is lost on seemingly almost everyone is this: something that is new doesn’t necessarily represent progress, nor does something different. Something that is seemingly easier, or more convenient, is not necessarily progress either. But for many, “technological progress,” just like “scientific innovation” in all its forms and without exception, has attained an aura of infallibility, revered with religious-like fervor.

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Combating purported tax evasion is also treated with a religious-like fervor, even while ordinary citizens — such as the two aforementioned gentlemen in Greece — typically seek to minimize their outlays to the tax offices. Moreover, while such measures essentially enact a collective punishment regardless of guilt or innocence, corporations and oligarchs who utilize tax loopholes and offshore havens go unpunished and are wholly unaffected by a switch to a cashless economy in the supposed battle against tax evasion.

This is evident, for instance, in the case of “LuxLeaks,” which revealed the names of dozens of corporations benefiting from favorable tax rulings and tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg, one of the original founding members of the EU. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, formerly the prime minister of Luxembourg, has faced repeated accusations of impeding EU investigations into corporate tax avoidance scandals during his 18-year term as prime minister. Juncker has defended Luxembourg’s tax arrangements as legal.

At the same time, Juncker has shown no qualms in criticizing Apple’s tax avoidance deal in Ireland as “illegal,” while having been accused himself of helping large multinationals such as Amazon and Pepsi avoid taxes. Moreover, he has openly claimed that Greece’s Ottoman roots are responsible for modern-day tax evasion in the country. He has not hesitated to unabashedly intervene in Greek electoral contests, calling on Greeks to avoid the “wrong outcome” in the January 2015 elections (where the supposedly anti-austerity SYRIZA, which has since proven to be boldly pro-austerity, were elected).

He also urged the Greek electorate to vote “yes” (in favor of more EU-proposed austerity) in the July 2015 referendum — where the overwhelming result in favor of “no” was itself overturned by SYRIZA within a matter of days. In the European Union today, if there’s something that can be counted on, it’s the blatant hypocrisy of its leaders. Nevertheless, proving that old habits of collaborationism die hard in Greece, the rector of the law school of the state-owned Aristotle University in Thessaloniki awarded Juncker with an honorary doctorate for his contribution to European political and legal values.

Cashless policies bode poorly for the future

Where does all this lead though? What does a cashless economy actually mean and why are global elites pushing so fervently for it? Consider the following: in a cashless economy without coins or banknotes, every transaction is tracked. Buying and spending habits are monitored, and it is not unheard of for credit card companies to cancel an individual’s credit or to lower their credit rating based on real or perceived risks ranging from shopping at discount stores to purchasing alcoholic beverages. Indeed, this is understood to be common practice. Other players are entering the game too: in late May, Google announced plans to track credit and debit card transactions.

Claudia Lombana, PayPal's shopping specialist, stamps a guest's passport as he visits the travel section of PayPal's Cashless Utopia in New York (Victoria Will/AP)

Claudia Lombana, PayPal’s shopping specialist, stamps a guest’s passport as he visits the travel section of PayPal’s Cashless Utopia in New York (Victoria Will/AP)

More to the point though, a cashless economy doesn’t just mean that financial institutions, large corporations, or the state itself can monitor all transactions that are occurring. It also means that the entirety of the money supply — itself now existing only in “virtual” form — will belong to the banking system. Not one cent will exist outside of the banking system, as physical currency will simply not be in circulation. The banking system — and others — will be aware not just of every transaction, but will be in possession of all of our society’s money supply, and will even have the ability to receive a percentage of every transaction that is taking place.

So what happens if your spending habits or your choice of travel destinations raises “red flags”? What happens if you run into hard times economically and miss a few payments? What happens if you are deemed to be a political dissident or liability – perhaps an “enemy of the state”? Freezing a bank account or confiscating funds from accounts can take place almost instantaneously. Users of eBay and PayPal, for instance, are quite aware of the ease with which PayPal can confiscate funds from a user’s account based simply on a claim filed against that individual.

Simply forgetting one’s password to an online account can set off an aggravating flurry of calls in order to prove that your money is your own — and that’s without considering the risks of phishing and of online databases being compromised. Many responsible credit card holders found that their credit cards were suddenly canceled in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” simply due to perceived risk. And if you happen to be an individual deemed to be “dangerous,” you can be effectively and easily frozen out of the economy.

Those thinking that the “cashless revolution” will also herald the return of old-style bartering and other communal economic schemes might also wish to reconsider that line of thinking. In the United States, for instance, bartering transactions are considered taxable by the Internal Revenue Service. As more and more economic activity of all sorts takes place online, the tax collector will have an easier time detecting such activity. Thinking of teaching your child to be responsible with finances? That too will have a cost, as even lemonade stands have been targeted for “operating without a permit.” It’s not far-fetched to imagine that particularly overzealous government authorities could also target such activity for “tax evasion.”

In Greece, while oligarchs get to shift their money to offshore tax havens without repercussion and former Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis has been acquitted for failure to submit a declaration of assets, where major television and radio stations operate with impunity without a valid license while no new players can enter the marketplace and where ordinary households and small businesses are literally being taxed to death, police in August 2016 arrested a father of three with an unemployed spouse for selling donuts without a license and fined him 5,000 euros. In another incident, an elderly man selling roasted chestnuts in Thessaloniki was surrounded by 15 police officers and arrested for operating without a license.

Amidst this blatant hypocrisy, governments and financial institutions love electronic money for another reason, aside from the sheer control that it affords them. Studies, including one conducted by the American Psychological Association, have shown that paying with plastic (or, by extension, other non-physical forms of payment) encourage greater spending, as the psychological sensation of a loss when making a payment is disconnected from the actual act of purchasing or conducting a transaction.

But ultimately, the elephant in the room is whether the banking system even should be entrusted with the entirety of the monetary supply. The past decade has seen the financial collapse of 2008, the crumbling of financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers in the United States and a continent-wide banking crisis in Europe, which was the true objective behind the “bailouts” of countries such as Greece — saving European and American banks exposed to “toxic” bonds from these nations. Italy’s banking system is currently teetering on dangerous ground, while the Greek banking system, already recapitalized three times since the onset of the country’s economic crisis, may need yet another taxpayer-funded recapitalization. Even the virtual elimination of cash in Iceland did not prevent the country’s banking meltdown in 2008.

Should we entrust the entirety of the money supply to these institutions? What happens if the banking system experiences another systemic failure? Who do you trust more: yourself or institutions that have proven to be wholly irresponsible and unaccountable in their actions? The answer to that question should help guide the debate as to whether society should go cashless.

Jun 182017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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You can’t build socialism with dollar signs in your eyes”

— Fidel Castro

Introduction

Many experts and commentators describe the political process in Latin America as one of ‘alternating right and left governments’. Journalists focus on the abrupt regime changes from democratic to authoritarian; from neo-liberal to progressive programs; and from oligarchs to populists.

The financial media present the ‘right’s’ socially regressive policies and strategies as ‘reforms’, a euphemism for the re-concentration of wealth, profits and property into the hands of foreign and domestic oligarchs.

Leftwing intellectuals and journalists paint an image of socio-economic transformations under Latin America’s ‘left’ regimes where ‘the people’ take power, income is redistributed and growth flourishes.

The rise and demise of left and right regimes are typically attributed to ‘economic mismanagement, social crisis, political manipulation and erroneous strategic policies’.

Orthodox economists, under the presumption that greater profits ‘create’ the foundation for long-term stability and growth, prescribe a series of ‘structural reforms’. ‘Structures’ refer to measures and institutions, which strengthen the organization of the governing elite and their socio-economic backers.

A deeper analysis of both left and right wing perspectives shows that the basic understandings are flawed; there are fundamental misunderstandings regarding the long-term, large-scale continuity of the developmental process crossing political persuasions.

As a result, the left and right socio-economic classes and political elites exaggerate the dynamics of development while profoundly underestimating its ‘stasis’ or resistance to change.

The most striking aspect of Latin American development is not the change of regimes, but the stable continuities of the (1) class structure, (2) ownership of the strategic sectors of the economy, (3) rates of profit, (4) pattern of foreign trade and (5) principal recipients of state credit.

Viewed from this perspective, it is clear that leftwing as well as rightwing electoral victories result in mere incremental changes in the ownership of the means of production, finances and distributions. The basic structures remain intact.

Increases in progressive taxes by the left, as well as tax cuts by the right, are puny compared with the large-scale pervasive tax evasion by the elite. Massive capital flight to offshore holdings offset any increase in public revenue. Capital flight and the transfer of export earnings to overseas subsidiaries in low tax countries distort any real redistribution of income.

As a result, ‘progressive’ taxes fail to reduce real upper class income. Any increase in income for workers and salaried employees result from volatile cyclical economic shifts, which are subject to abrupt reversals undermining medium term improvements in livelihood.

For example, progressive re-distributive programs are based on the size and scope of commodity prices, which, in turn, increase or reduce consumption. This is best understood as a function of the domestic structural continuities and the volatility of global demand for agro-mineral exports. When progressive regimes face the challenge of rising unemployment, income inequalities and economic crisis, regime shift occurs with the ‘rise of the right’ exacerbating the economic crisis and social regression.

The negative indicators, seen during a cyclical downturn when a left regime is in power, become more acute with the ascendency of the right. Structural continuities persisting under both progressive and rightist regimes, and not specific policies, account for this lack of real change.

The socio-economic downturns under progressive regimes, which is usually related to decreased global commodity demand, are largely responsible for the electoral victory of succeeding right-wing regimes.

The continued socio-economic declines, under rightist regimes, inevitably lead to a renewed crisis, as is happening in Brazil and Argentina.

In all cases, class and economic continuities under left regimes are much more important in determining their trajectories and their short and medium-term incremental improvements. Likewise the rise and decline of rightwing regimes are based on electoral victories linked to the gross opportunism of the established oligarchical classes seeking fast gains and quick flight. Regimes may change with dizzying frequency but the state and class power remain constant.

Corruption: The Engine of Left and Right Growth

A sober review of Brazil’s corruption nexus between the PT (Lula) and the oligarchy leads to the following observations:

Inequalities are based on large-scale, long-term corruption linking new progressive leaders with traditional rightwing politicians and elite economic actors.

Coalitions or partnerships between left and right parties and leaders represent kleptocracy, not democracy.

It is clear that the greater the dependency on revenues from the extractive sector (minerals, oil and gas), the more intense the party competition, the more pervasive the corruption and the wider the web of kleptocrats.

The more intense competition between the elite and Party, the less the people have any access to the economic pie defining class society.

Corruption greases the wheels of political campaigns, elections and strategic appointments within state institutions, whether ‘progressive’ or ‘rightist’.

In other words, electoral politics and ‘free markets’ function smoothly and without turmoil when the competing parties engage in a mutually compatible coalition of corruption facilitating big business contracts.

Despite uprisings, electoral change of regimes, and palace coups, this immutable system of mutually shared corruption reduces the possibility of any real working-class based transformations.

Institutionalized corruption turns ‘dissent’ into vehicles for recycling politicos between progressives and rightists.

The more the kleptocratic regimes ‘change’ the greater the continuity of class structure and economic ownership. Plus ça change …!

While popular movements and trade unions struggle and organize, searching for alternatives, their political leaders eagerly anticipate forming elite consensus and coalitions to share public office and public loot.

Outgoing rightwing regimes leave a legacy of public debts, corruption, privatized public resources and obligations to powerful domestic and foreign bankers who control the commanding heights of the economy. The incoming leftist regimes agree to assume all the debt and obstacles and none of the assets and gains.

The political decision by left regimes to accommodate this legacy eliminates the possibility of implementing basic changes and confines their policy to incremental, symbolic gestures passing as ‘change’.

It is the left’s choice to adapt itself to the kleptocratic legacy and not their progressive ideology or working class voters, which defines the real political-economic and class character of the ‘popular regimes’.

To illustrate and document the ‘transitions’ to piece-meal adjustments forward and backwards in Latin America, it is necessary to outline the ‘political turning points’ and how they were subverted.

The Democratic Option

With the demise of the military and authoritarian regimes between the 1960’s and 1980’s, the domestic and foreign ruling classes faced the real prospects of ceding political power and losing strategic ownership and wealth. In reality, the ruling class gave up very little and gained infinitely more. Socio-economic changes were aborted: the politicos of the left and right negotiated a convenient pact with the military and business elite. The left received political office, patronage and minimal incremental changes. In exchange, the entire class and property system remained intact.

The authoritarian transition to electoral pacts precluded any democratic option. Worse, the socio-economy accommodations among foreign and domestic business elites and the upwardly mobile middle class politicos ensured the continuation of the onerous and repressive class structure.

Cooption of elected officials opened the door for deeper and more inclusive forms of corruption and broadened the net of political patronage to include trade union leaders and the increasingly ambitious operatives from the NGO sector.

The Debt Crises and the Debt Default

Business-military regimes profited from corrupt multimillion-dollar arms purchases and padded their overseas bank accounts from the high interest loans they signed with foreign and domestic bankers. Because these loans were not used for public projects, the debt should have been reneged as illegal by subsequent popular-leftist regimes. Instead, the tax-paying workers and employees were left to pay off the loans.

The illegal debts totally constrained the incoming electoral regimes, precluding policies aimed at domestic growth, including increases in investments and consumption.

Numerous investigations have demonstrated the corrupt nature of the debt process: Loans, borrowed by the Treasury, were transferred to overseas private accounts. This should have served as the legal bases to reject payments to the lenders. However, the business-military borrowers, who were responsible for the illicit debt, were exonerated by successive right-left electoral coalitions.

The left-right political pacts quickly rejected any idea of defaulting on the debt because of their eagerness to take office. The possibility of ending the onerous debt payments was shut down. Instead, these regimes adopted more austerity programs, prolonged debt payments and the intensification of the neo-liberal agenda.

The Golden Age of Rightist-Imperial Plunder: the 1990’s

The elected left-right ‘coalition’ regimes, the continued payment of illegal debt and the ruling class austerity programs quickly led to hard rightwing regimes.

Inflation, accompanying the policies of the combined popular-right ‘consensus’ governments led to the collapse of the ‘electoral left’ and the rise of the neo-liberals.

Thousands of the most lucrative banking, manufacturing, transport and extractive national industries were ‘privatized’ to foreign and domestic oligarchs, often in corrupt crony-ridden deals.

Bankers, landowners, real estate and media moguls prospered.

Meanwhile, landless peasants, industrial workers and debtors were exploited and dispossessed.

Western imperial centers, led by the ‘Bill’ Clinton regime, pushed for Wall Street-brokered regional trade and investment pacts.

In the United States, the decade of the 1990’s would be celebrated as the ‘golden age’ of imperial plunder of Latin America’s agro-mineral wealth, the exploitation of its labor and the dispossession of its rural communities. A mega-wave of financial swindles and IMF-imposed ‘stabilization pacts’ wiped out the savings of millions of small business-people and salaried employees, while consolidating the political and economic power of the oligarchy.

The grossly corrupt ‘presidential troika’ of Carlos Saul Menem in Argentina, Henrique Fernando Cardoso in Brazil and Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada in Bolivia, replaced the stable demand-side economic policies, including import-substitution industrialization, with supply-side programs, emphasizing agro-mineral exports and imperial-centered integration policies.

The neo-liberal, imperial-centered, privatized politico-economic regimes lasted less than a decade, but the damage of such pillage to the national economies would last much longer.

The multiple economic imbalances and the institutionalization of large-scale entrenched business-state corruption have undermined competition, efficiency, innovation and any chance for sustained growth.

Vast outflows of profits and interest (pillage flowing to US bank accounts) have undermined production and savings needed to finance growth.

The predictable collapse of this criminal ‘new order’ of agro-mineral exports (pillage), tax evasion and the business-political kleptocracy led to sharp socio-political polarization, state repression and eventually the popular overthrow of these klepto-imperial regimes – Clinton’s ‘Golden Age Partners’.

Mass struggles arose, led by grassroots movements linking the urban unemployed, rural farm workers, the downwardly mobile public and private sector employees, bankrupt small business people and middle class debtors and mortgage holders. These broad based movements directly challenged the pillage.

The catastrophic economic consequences of the ‘neo-liberal’ imperial-centered rule led to the possibility of left regimes riding on the back of mass protest.

Popular Uprising and the Left-Business Pact

The downfall of the neo-liberal regimes of the 1990’s brought left political parties and leaders to the foreground. These emerging leaders of the ‘progressive left’ would replace the ‘old neo-liberal’ right as the new partners of the business, agro-mineral and banking elite – while the academic world celebrated the ‘rising red tide’.

The ‘new pact’ promised to preserve the power of the big business firms and the holdings of national and foreign banks. Most important, the social class hierarchy was unchanged. The ‘left’ took the reins of the kleptocratic networks to finance their own elections and facilitate the upward mobility of a rising left political and NGO elite.

The marriage of incremental reforms and populist ideology (21stcentury ‘revolutionary’ demagogy) with oligarchic klepto-capitalism led to both the election of leftist leaders and the demobilization of the populace. A new left political oligarchy was born to enrich itself at the public trough.

Parasitical rentiers continued to evade taxes as ‘left’ bureaucrats looked the other way. The public-private petro-swindlers stuffed the pockets of the new political leaders. The left would secure needed parliamentary votes, as well as allies from the technocratic elite, united in a common goal of rapidly plundering the public treasury.

The global commodity boom, which lasted from 2003 to 2011, fueled the left’s largess in the form of poverty programs and other minimalist measures. Business elites prospered, minimum wages increased and social expenditures, especially ‘survival baskets for the poor’ surged with great fanfare. Worldwide, left academics performed victory dances in this greatly over-rated ‘red tide’.

The left political pact with capital did not lead to the growth of new productive forces to sustain rising incomes for workers and farmers. There were no new technological inputs in the economy. Instead they mounted flashy pharaonic ‘prestige projects’ linked to corrupt contracts to crony capitalists which devoured the growing public revenues from the commodity boom. The patronage machine had never functioned more smoothly!

Predictably, the uncritical left academics celebrated these new ‘radical’ regimes while ignoring mass corruption and right-left alliances. The critics who identified the precarious nature of the regimes’ economic foundations were dismissed or ridiculed.

The collapse of the commodity boom, the growth of massive fiscal deficits, the reversal of the small consumer gains, the loss of access to cheap credit and the visible entrenched corruption within the public-private partnerships provoked mass discontent and protests.

This gave the rightwing political parties the opportunity to ‘clean house’ by ousting their erstwhile partners from the left, reverse the minimalist social pacts and bring back the ‘Golden Age of the 1990’s’. Striking a moral posture against leftist corruption, they abandoned the coalition and took power.

The Left Catastrophe: 2015-2018

In Brazil and Argentina, ‘democratic electoral’ transition meant simply that the klepto-left would be replaced by a more ‘efficient’ klepto-right. Brazilian President Dilma Roussef was ‘impeached’ by a Congress of thieves and her kleptocrat supremo Vice-President Michel Temer assumed power. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner was succeeded by Mauricio Macri.

Throughout these changes, the banking, petroleum, construction and meat-packing klepto-oligarchy manages to operate with the same mafia principles regardless of the ‘tint’ of the presidency: Lucrative contracts, captured markets and record profits continue to allow the flow of illicit payoffs to the rightwing presidents, without interruption.

Left academics have ignored the nature of the klepto-state and its pervasive networks of corruption. Many held their noses and dived right into the lie-factories, in exchange for privileged access to the mass media (publicity, talk shows, intellectual and cultural ‘round tables’, etc.), invitations to fancy gatherings at the presidential palace, speaking engagements abroad and an ever-expanding source of side-line income as professors, columnists, advisers, and publicists.

The oligarchs’ marriage of convenience with the left, and their prolonged honeymoon, was financed by million-dollar bribes to the left-right political allies. In exchange, the oligarchs received billions of dollars of lucrative state contracts.

When the Left agro-mineral model collapsed, many of their voters turned to street protests.

The oligarchs and the rightwing parties knew the time was ripe to dump the left presidents. They deftly seized total political power to further concentrate their economic wealth, property and social control over labor.

Kleptocracy in Transition: From ‘Progressive’ to Rightwing

In the last few years, the ascendant rightwing political parties and leaders have implemented their most retrograde agenda: This includes raiding pension funds, raising the retirement age and cutting the budget for social security, public education, and housing and health programs. The oligarchs and the Wall Street bankers seemed too eager to strip the public corpse.

In Brazil, the rightwing alliance’s ambitious plan to seize power by ‘criminalizing’ the left may have backfired.

The right relied on the judiciary for its peaceful return to power. This began successfully with the prosecution and ouster of the left regime through the courts. However the courts did not stop there: They proceeded to investigate, arrest and jail elected politicians from the right creating a crisis of state.

Over one thousand nine hundred congress people, senators, cabinet ministers, public sector executive officers, governors and mayors from right to left have faced or are facing investigation and arrest, including the newly-imposed rightist president Michel Temer in Brazil and the mega-swindler, President of Argentina Mauricio Macri.

Initially, foreign and domestic bankers, speculators and investors, as well as the financial press celebrated the return of the right. The stock markets soared and all made ready for the grand privatizing fiesta of the public sector. When the courts continued to pursue the rightwing politicians and bureaucrats, the pervasive nature of state klepto capitalism was exposed. Members of the business elite joined their politico-partners in jail, and investors pulled out their capital. The press’ celebration of the ‘return of the free market’ faded to a whisper.

As the rightist regimes’ elected leaders went on trial, the klepto ‘market’ economies collapsed. The ‘reformist’ (regressive) business agenda, which had depended on effective presidential power linking klepto-patronage to legislation, retreated. Without their accustomed diet of corruption, elected officials fled. Judges and prosecutors  investigated and undermined the authority of the new rightist regimes.

Faced with weakened and discredited presidential authority, the urban trade unions, rural social movements, students and the unemployed woke up and marched on the presidential palace.

The validity of the elections by rightist majorities has been undermined. Faced with jail for large-scale bribery and fraud, leading executives of the largest conglomerates bargained with the courts, implicating their business partners, party leaders, congress-people and cabinet ministers.

The right wing’s rapid rise and demise has sown consternation among the kleptocratic oligarchy. In just two years, the courts have done more to undermine the power of the oligarchy-business-rightist political nexus than an entire decade of leftist klepto-political rule during the celebrated ‘red tide’!

While in power, the elected left did nothing to dismantle the large-scale kleptocracy they had inherited from the previous rightist regimes of Menem,and De La Rua (Argentina), Cardoso (Brazil) and Sanchez de Losada (Bolivia). This was because they expected to take control of the network and profit from the existing system of business-political pacts.

The left regimes did not end alliances among corrupt bankers and the agro-business elite because it might undermine their own ‘development model’.

Instead, the left appointed its own pliable functionaries to key ministries to mediate and ensure co-operation within the system of klepto-profit sharing.

Only when the business-rightist pact emerged to undermine and eject the elected leftists from power, were they charged with corruption.

To avoid prosecution for business-rightist corruption, the oligarchs gladly shifted their bribe machinery from the right to the left (and vice versa).

The business-left alliance, based on corruption and demagogy, ensured the continued success of neo-liberal extractive capitalism – until the global financial crisis and the collapse of commodity prices ended the happy fiesta.

As the commodity bubble collapsed and the left regimes were forced to borrow heavily to finance their own political survival, deficit spending, corruption, economic stagnation, unemployment and rising deficits which provoked a broad array of opposing forces. These ranged from bankers and investors, to trade unions and informal workers. At no point did the left consider the alternative of fundamentally transforming the agro-mineral economies. Instead they borrowed from the international and domestic banks, slashed social programs and imposed regressive austerity programs – all to maintain their political power.

Corrupt capitalism is the only functional form of capitalism in Latin America to day. It is based on exploiting public resources and government contracts to promote ‘accumulation’. The ‘class struggle’ has been replaced by tri-partite kleptocratic alliances among business, trade unions and the state. In this era, elite deals have replaced class struggle … temporarily.

The Return of the Class Struggle and the Demise of the Klepto-Left

Class struggle returned with the arrest and discredit of the klepto-capitalists and their klepto-left allies.

The rightists’ return to power exploded in their own faces because they reproduced and deepened kleptocratic economies. Their brazen boasts, which seemed to pronounce “all power to the biggest swindlers and political bribe takers”, quickly radicalized the populace.

Beyond the Demise of the Right: Fake and Real Alternatives

The demise of the right and its ‘premature’ departure from power are not the product of a class uprising or mass protests. The judicial system has led the way and forced their retreat.

For this reason, the replacement of the right is an open question.

The business, banking and imperial elites clearly favor a reshuffle of personalities and the trotting out of a new ‘honest face’ to pursue their rightist agenda.

An electoral ‘free-for-all’, where popular left kleptocratic and charismatic leaders emerge, is the left’s choice.

A third alternative would be the recently discredited left returning to office, crippled by ongoing investigations and tied to the old business and political alliances.

None of these ‘alternatives’ will end klepto-capitalist power and practice. None will satisfy mass discontent.

In the wings, there is always the possibility of a ‘moralizing military coup’, led by a military-business-imperial junta, to clear the streets and impose temporary stability. Such a ‘coup’ would be unable to revive economic growth and reverse the socio-economic slide into klepto-capitalism. Moreover, it would unify the unemployed kleptocratic politicos and NGO executives into a ‘peoples’ coalition of ‘democratic opposition forces promising prosperity and freedom’ to buy and sell votes and offices.

The real alternative in Latin America can only emerge and succeed if it begins by rejecting the klepto-left and turns to new ways of selecting leaders and building parties and movements. Direct action, workplace and street occupations, confrontations and the encirclement of banks and MNC headquarters and the implementation of debt and mortgage defaults – all linked to the immediate demands of workers, employees and professionals – can build the foundations of alternative power.

Democratic leadership depends on electoral politics under the control of popular constituent assemblies. They must reject corporate funding. Elected officials’ salaries must be turned over to the movements, which will pay office holders at a scale close to the wage and salaried workers they represent.

Left transformations begin with agrarian reforms and continue through the modernization of production, marketing, processing and linkages to socialized banking and credit systems. Indigenous communities should be incorporated in popular assemblies with rights and representation.

Left programs, which center on nationalizing banks and foreign trade, should build community-controlled banks and credit agencies.

Productive and commercial employment should be based on permanent jobs.

Community-based alliances with employees and workers associations must link up with multi-issue, class-based, gender and ecology movements.

Military industries should be reconverted to domestic production and linked to environmental protection.

Robust investigations and prosecution of corporate tax evasion, capital flight to tax havens by speculators and hedge funds should proceed with due speed.

Convicted bank swindlers and bribe-taking politicians should be punished with mandatory maximum sentences.

The demands and programs, tactics and strategies flowing from a growing educated work force can transform ‘free time’ into learning, leisure, family and friendships.

Local and national defense forces guarding national borders from imperial penetration, drug cartels and criminal gangs should replace the bloated security state and corrupt oligarch-linked military elite.

Technological innovations, including artificial intelligence and robotics, should reduce working hours and increase workplace safety while retaining workers to manage, monitor and innovate the productive process.

Left governments should focus on direct people-to-people diplomacy over and against the elite-led diplomatic deceptions that lead to wars.

Elite ethno-religious groups expressing loyalty to foreign powers and acting as agents against the interests of their homeland should leave and resettle in the country of their chosen loyalties.

Throughout Latin America, left corruption reflects the deep continuities of ownership by the banking, industrial, agro-mineral elites. Left regimes, which choose to link economic growth and investment to the corruption of public agencies and dubious public-private partnerships, are doomed to crisis and defeat.

The illegal enrichment of left political decision-makers results in greater social inequalities because they distribute the pillaged public funds and potential tax revenues into the accounts of private and party elites.

Costly competitive election campaigns are based on corrupt deals. Illicit contracts lead to criminal profits, which lead to the illegal flight of capital to foreign bank accounts.

There is no difference between corruption through ‘bribery’, as in Latin America, and corruption through ‘legal’ multi-billion dollar lobbies in North America: Both purchase politicians and legislation and subvert the interests of the people.

In conclusion and to re-phrase Fidel Catro: ‘You cannot build radical social democracy with dollar signs in your eyes.’ Free market capitalism can only operate through klepto-capitalist, not popular democratic, principles

Corruption flourishes in the context of a monopolized elite mass media and high cost elections under the dictates of capital. Kleptocratic rule is fundamental to capitalism because it promotes the dispossession of small farmers and businesses and the exploitation of workers. Behind and accompanying all great fortunes are enormous and ever growing swindles involving the degeneration of public officials. Corruption is the driving force and very heart of capitalism!

Appendix

Billion-dollar corruption payoffs by just one giant Brazilian construction multi-national, Odebrecht, involved at least eleven Latin American countries, including both left and right regimes.

Brazil’s giant multi-national meat packer, JBS, and the public-private oil company, Petrobras, bribed at least a dozen regimes in Latin America.

Rightwing kleptocracies  bribed by Odebrecht

Panama

Mexico

Colombia

Guatemala

Peru

Dominican Republic

Brazil (1993-2002) and (2016- )

Argentina (1990-2001, 2016-)

Leftwing kleptocracies

Argentina (2002-2016)

Venezuela (1999-2017)

Ecuador (2008-2016)

Brazil (2003-2016)

The United States leads all the world’s kleptocracies in terms of bribes by lobbies, and financial swindlers and money-laundering banks and illegal payoffs by oil and gas companies to politicians and officials.

Brazil’s largest oil (Petrobras), iron ore (Vale), and meat packing (JBS) multi-national corporations financed their overseas acquisitions and markets through bribes financed by low interest loans from the state development bank (BNDES).

Close to one hundred Petrobras officials and political leaders have been convicted and jailed for taking bribes from contractors and developers, including the Treasury Secretary of the ‘Workers Party’.

JBS, the worlds’ second leading beef and pork processor and leading cattle feeder, paid a 3.4 billion dollar fine because it bribed regulators to allow the shipment of contaminated meat products to the US (Walmart), China and throughout Latin America. In a deal with prosecutors, Joesley Batista, CEO of JBS released recordings of Michel Temer, Brazil’s current right-wing president, demanding bribes from the conglomerate to avoid federal prosecution.

During the rightwing Cardoso regime, the initial privatization of Vale, the world’s largest iron mine, was accomplished through grotesque bribes and money laundering.

Leftwing President Lula da Silva allowed klepto-privatization of Vale to move forward. Lula even called for more and bigger Brazilian multi-national swindles. Upon taking office in 2003, President Lula da Silva unrolled the ‘red carpet’ for the business elite, stating that “it is time for Brazilian businessmen to abandon their fear of becoming multi-national businessmen”. The newly emboldened kleptocratic Brazilian conglomerates proceeded to ‘fearlessly’ bribe their way throughout the markets of Latin America, Asia and US. Lula subsequently served as overseas emissary to promote corrupt Petrobras oil contracts with Angola, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Jun 012017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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On a scale not seen since the ‘great’ world depression of the 1930’s, the US political system is experiencing sharp political attacks, divisions and power grabs. Executive firings, congressional investigations, demands for impeachment, witch hunts, threats of imprisonment for ‘contempt of Congress’ and naked power struggles have shredded the façade of political unity and consensus among competing powerful US oligarchs.

For the first time in US history, the incumbent elected president struggles on a daily basis to wield state power. The opposition-controlled state (National Public Radio) and corporate organs of mass propaganda are pitted against the presidential regime. Factions of the military elite and business oligarchy face off in the domestic and international arena. The oligarchs debate and insult each other. They falsify charges, plot and deceive. Their political acolytes, who witness these momentous conflicts, are mute, dumb and blind to the real interests at stake.

The struggle between the Presidential oligarch and the Opposition oligarchs has profound consequences for their factions and for the American people. Wars and markets, pursued by sections of the Oligarchs, have led opposing sections to seek control over the means of political manipulation (media and threats of judicial action).

Intense political competition and open political debate have nothing to do with ‘democracy’ as it now exists in the United States.

In fact, it is the absence of real democracy, which permits the oligarchs to engage in serious intra-elite warfare. The marginalized, de-politicized electorate are incapable of taking advantage of the conflict to advance their own interests.

What the ‘Conflict’ is Not About

The ‘life and death’ inter-oligarchical fight is not about peace!

None of the factions of the oligarchy, engaged in this struggle, is aligned with democratic or independent governments.

Neither side seeks to democratize the American electoral process or to dismantle the grotesque police state apparatus.

Neither side has any commitment to a ‘new deal’ for American workers and employees.

Neither is interested in policy changes needed to address the steady erosion of living standards or the unprecedented increase in ‘premature’ mortality among the working and rural classes.

Despite these similarities in their main focus of maintaining oligarchical power and policies against the interests of the larger population, there are deep divisions over the content and direction of the presidential regime and the permanent state apparatus.

What the Oligarchical Struggle is About

There are profound differences between the oligarch factions on the question of overseas wars and ‘interventions’.

The ‘opposition’ (Democratic Party and some Republican elite) pursues a continuation of their policy of global wars, especially aimed at confronting Russian and China, as well as regional wars in Asia and the Middle East. There is a stubborn refusal to modify military policies, despite the disastrous consequences domestically (economic decline and increased poverty) and internationally with massive ethnic cleansing, terrorism, forced migrations of war refugees to Europe, and famine and epidemics (such as cholera and starvation in Yemen).

The Trump Presidency appears to favor increased military confrontation with Iran and North Korea and intervention in Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.

The ‘Opposition’ supports multilateral economic and trade agreements, (such as TTP and NAFTA), while Trump favors lucrative ‘bilateral’ economic agreements. Trump relies on trade and investment deals with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates and the formation of an aggressive military ‘axis’ (US-Saudi Arabia-Israel -Gulf Emirates) to eventually overthrow the nationalist regime in Iran and divide the country.

The ‘Opposition’ pursues wars and violent ‘regime change’ to replace disobedient ‘tyrants’ and nationalists and set up ‘client governments’, which will provide bases for the US military empire. Trump’s regime embraces existing dictators, who can invest in his domestic infrastructure agenda.

The ‘opposition’ seeks to maximize the role of Washington’s global military power. President Trump focuses on expanding the US role in the global market.

While both oligarchical factions support US imperialism, they differ in terms of its nature and means.

For the ‘opposition’, every country, large or small, can be a target for military conquest. Trump tends to favor the expansion of lucrative overseas markets, in addition to projecting US military dominance.

Oligarchs: Tactical Similarities

The competition among oligarchs does not preclude similarities in means and tactics. Both factions favor increased military spending, support for the Saudi war on Yemen and intervention in Venezuela. They support trade with China and international sanctions against Russia and Iran. They both display slavish deference to the State of Israel and favor the appointment of openly Zionist agents throughout the political, economic and intelligence apparatus.

These similarities are, however, subject to tactical political propaganda skirmishes. The ‘Opposition’ denounces any deviation in policy toward Russia as ‘treason’, while Trump accuses the ‘Opposition’ of having sacrificed American workers through NAFTA.

Whatever the tactical nuances and similarities, the savage inter-oligarchic struggle is far from a theatrical exercise. Whatever the real and feigned similarities and differences, the oligarchs’ struggle for imperial and domestic power has profound consequence for the political and constitutional order.

Oligarchical Electoral Representation and the Parallel Police State

The ongoing fight between the Trump Administration and the ‘Opposition’ is not the typical skirmish over pieces of legislation or decisions. It is not over control of the nation’s public wealth. The conflict revolves around control of the regime and the exercise of state power.

The opposition has a formidable array of forces, including the national intelligence apparatus (NSA, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA, etc.) and a substantial sector of the Pentagon and defense industry. Moreover, the opposition has created new power centers for ousting President Trump, including the judiciary. This is best seen in the appointment of former FBI Chief Robert Mueller as ‘Special Investigator’ and key members of the Attorney General’s Office, including Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein. It was Rosenstein who appointed Mueller, after the Attorney General ‘Jeff’ Session (a Trump ally) was ‘forced’ to recluse himself for having ‘met’ with Russian diplomats in the course of fulfilling his former Congressional duties as a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This ‘recusal’ took significant discretionary power away from Trump’s most important ally within the Judiciary.

The web of opposition power spreads and includes former police state officials including mega-security impresario, Michael Chertoff (an associate of Robert Mueller), who headed Homeland Security under GW Bush, John Brennan (CIA), James Comey (FBI) and others.

The opposition dominates the principal organs of propaganda -the press (Washington Post, Financial Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal), television and radio (ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS/ NPR), which breathlessly magnify and prosecute the President and his allies for an ever-expanding web of unsubstantiated ‘crimes and misdemeanors’. Neo-conservative and liberal think tanks and foundations, academic experts and commentators have all joined the ‘hysteria chorus’ and feeding frenzy to oust the President.

The President has an increasingly fragile base of support in his Cabinet, family and closest advisers. He has a minority of supporters in the legislature and possibly in the Supreme Court, despite nominal majorities for the Republican Party.

The President has the passive support of his voters, but they have demonstrated little ability to mobilize in the streets. The electorate has been marginalized.

Outside of politics (the ‘Swamp’ as Trump termed Washington, DC) the President’s trade, investment, taxation and deregulation policies are backed by the majority of investors, who have benefited from the rising stock market. However, ‘money’ does not appear to influence the parallel state.

The divergence between Trumps supporters in the investment community and the political power of the opposition state is one of the most extraordinary changes of our century.

Given the President’s domestic weakness and the imminent threat of a coup d’état, he has turned to securing ‘deals’ with overseas allies, including billion-dollar trade and investment agreements.

The multi-billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates will delight the military-industrial complex and its hundreds of thousands of workers.

Political and diplomatic ‘kowtowing’ to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should please some American Zionists.

But the meetings with the EU in Brussels and with the G7 in Siciliy failed to neutralize Trump’s overseas opposition.

NATO’s European members did not accept Trump’s demands that they increase their contribution to the alliance and they condemned his reluctance to offer unconditional US military support for new NATO members. They showed no sympathy for domestic problems.

In brief, the President’s overseas supporters, meetings and agreements will have little impact on the domestic correlation of forces.

Moreover, there are long-standing ties among the various state apparatuses and spy agencies in the EU and the US, which strengthen the reach of the opposition in their attacks on Trump.

While substantive issues divide the Presidential and Opposition oligarchs, these issues are vertical, not horizontal, cleavages – a question of ‘their’ wars or ‘ours’.

Trump intensified the ideological war with North Korea and Iran; promised to increase ground troops in Afghanistan and Syria; boosted military and advisory support for the Saudi invasion of Yemen; and increased US backing for violent demonstrations and mob attacks in Venezuela.

The opposition demands more provocations against Russia and its allies; and the continuation of former President Obama’s seven wars.

While both sets of oligarchs support the ongoing wars, the major difference is over who is managing the wars and who can be held responsible for the consequences.

Both conflicting oligarchs are divided over who controls the state apparatus since their power depends on which side directs the spies and generates the fake news.

Currently, both sets of oligarchs wash each other’s ‘dirty linen’ in public, while covering up for their collective illicit practices at home and abroad.

The Trump’s oligarchs want to maximize economic deals through ‘uncritical’ support for known tyrants; the opposition ‘critically’ supports tyrants in exchange for access to US military bases and military support for ‘interventions’.

President Trump pushes for major tax cuts to benefit his oligarch allies while making massive cuts in social programs for his hapless supporters. The Opposition supports milder tax cuts and lesser reductions in social programs.

Conclusion

The battle of the oligarchs has yet to reach a decisive climax. President Trump is still the President of the United States. The Opposition forges ahead with its investigations and lurid media exposés.

The propaganda war is continuous. One day the opposition media focuses on a deported student immigrant and the next day the President features new jobs for American military industries.

The emerging left-neo-conservative academic partnership (e.g. Noam Chomsky-William Kristol) has denounced President Trump’s regime as a national ‘catastrophe’ from the beginning. Meanwhile, Wall Street investors and libertarians join to denounce the Opposition’s resistance to major tax ‘reforms’.

Oligarchs of all stripes and colors are grabbing for total state power and wealth while the majority of citizens are labeled ‘losers’ by Trump or ‘deplorables’ by Madame Clinton.

The ‘peace’ movement, immigrant rights groups and ‘black lives matter’ activists have become mindless lackeys pulling the opposition oligarchs’ wagon, while rust-belt workers, rural poor and downwardly mobile middle class employees are powerless serfs hitched to President Trump’s cart.

Epilogue

After the blood-letting, when and if President Trump is overthrown, the State Security functionaries in their tidy dark suits will return to their nice offices to preside over their ‘normal’ tasks of spying on the citizens and launching clandestine operations abroad.

The media will blow out some charming tid-bits and ‘words of truth’ from the new occupant of the ‘Oval Office’.

The academic left will churn out some criticism against the newest ‘oligarch-in-chief’ or crow about how their heroic ‘resistance’ averted a national catastrophe.

Trump, the ex-President and his oligarch son-in-law Jared Kushner will sign new real estate deals. The Saudis will receive the hundreds of billions of dollars of US arms to re-supply ISIS or its successors and to rust in the ‘vast and howling’ wilderness of US-Middle East intervention. Israel will demand even more frequent ‘servicing’ from the new US President.

The triumphant editorialists will claim that ‘our’ unique political system, despite the ‘recent turmoil’, has proven that democracy succeeds … only the people suffer!

Long live the Oligarchs!

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