greydog

Linda Ross aka greydog is a native Chicagoan who lives and works in Prague. greydog is the founder and editor of 99GetSmart.

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.

Feb 252017
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

artificial_intelligence_benefits_risk

The Financial Times’ Special Report (2/16/2017) published a four-page spread on the ‘use and possible dangers of artificial intelligence (AI)’. Unlike the usual trash journalists who serve as Washington’s megaphones on the editorial pages and political columns, the Special Report is a thoughtful essay that raises many important issues, even as it is fundamentally flawed.

The writer, Richard Walters, cites several major problems accompanying AI from ‘public anxieties, to inequalities and job insecurity’. Walters pleads with those he calls the ‘controllers of autonomous systems’ to heed social and ‘political frictions’ or face societal ‘disruption’. Experts and journalists, discussing the long-term, large-scale destruction of the working class and service jobs, claim that AI can be ameliorated through management and social engineering.

This essay will proceed to raise fundamental issues, questions leading to an alternative approach to AI relying on class analysis. We will reject the specter of AI as a ‘Frankenstein’ by identifying the social forces, which finance, design and direct AI and which benefit from its negative social impact.

Basic Questions: Demystifying AI

The best and the worst of the experts reporting on AI assert that it is an autonomous system, devoid of any link to the class structure within which it operates. Their version of technological determinism, above and beyond the needs and demands of capitalists, fits neatly with the corporate ideology of the trash journalists and pundits.

The fundamental questions that must be raised include: 1) AI, for whom?; 2) How are the productivity gains of AI to be distributed between capital and labor? 3) How are work time, income and pensions distributed between the owners of technology and the labor force?; and 4) What kinds of socio-economic activity does AI serve?

Artificial Intelligence and related technological innovations are financed, designed, controlled and ultimately applied by the major corporations and financial institutions in order to reduce the cost of labor and to enhance profits and competitiveness between capitalist rivals.

AI and similar capitalist technological changes, along with the overseas relocation of information technology and manufacturing production are the principal destroyers of workers’ employment and living standards in the US.

AI technology, alongside vast spending for imperial wars and military procurement, multi-billion dollar bank-bailouts and the promotion of finance-over-productive capital represent the forces driving down wages, salaries, living standards, pensions and, lately, life expectancy for the marginalized working class and rural population.

The innovators and promoters of AI, whether individuals or small groups, seek capitalist support to finance, market and ‘acquire’ their ‘discoveries’. In fact, the entire industry has been built upon large-scale, tax-funded public research centers and university laboratories, which have paid for the buildings as well as the scientists’ and professors’ salaries.

Most of IT and AI related profits are distributed among the military-industrial complex, the chemical agro-industrial monopolies and the transport and consumer goods manufacturing elites. While garbage journalists and experts cite ‘AI’s contribution to health, education and social services, they forget to clarify that these ‘innovations’ are controlled by private health corporations, private ‘charter’ schools and public sector education elites intent on increasing profits, lowering teachers’ salaries, slashing programs and undermining student learning. The dismal, fragmented and mal-distributed state of healthcare and education in the United States are never seriously discussed because they put the lie to the absurd claims made about the benefits of AI and IT for the broader population.

Far from being ‘autonomous’ and subject to abstract ‘controllers’, AI, IT, and high technology serve to concentrate wealth, power and profits for multiple sectors of the ruling class who determine how such technologies will be used.

The financiers of AI and their partners direct the scientists, engineers and marketers. The garbage journalists are paid to proclaim the arrival of ‘history-making’ innovations. The media describe AI as ‘machine learning, a form of advanced pattern recognition technology to make judgments by analyzing large amounts of data (which) could supplement human thought’ (FT Special Report, 2/17/2017).

Contrary to the above-mentioned assumptions, the ‘judgments’ are made by the ruling class, using parameters and metrics determined by the elite, deciding on what kinds of ‘patterns are to be recognized’ in order that they can derive the kind of information they need to enhance profits, make war, maximize killing and engineering massive layoffs of workers. In a word, class assumptions dictate AI, IT, and the use of these innovations.

Conclusion: Alternatives

If class determines AI, and in present-day America that means the ruling class, then only changes in the class structure can pose different questions and answers to our originally stated problems. Only by sharpening the class struggle, which changes who rules the banks, factories and social institutions, will new assumptions direct AI and IT and other innovations.

Only workers, professionals and scientists, who replace the prioritizing of profits with meeting social needs, can produce an AI that lowers the retirement age, increases national health care, facilitates workers’ decision making, distributes high quality education and information to the citizenry, reduces inequalities and shifts earnings from capital to labor.

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.

Feb 242017
 

By , 99GetSmart

Woman posing with a car beading the ‘People’s Special Operations’ emblem (Photo: TürkiyeHaberMerkezi)

Woman posing with a car beading the ‘People’s Special Operations’ emblem (Photo: TürkiyeHaberMerkezi)

The upcoming referendum could affect Turkey’s constitution and governance for decades to come. Amid declining public support, Erdoğan’s closest circles take radical steps to stay in power.

On 16 April Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum on whether or not to significantly extend the executive powers of the presidency. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been mobilising all its resources to guarantee the passing of the momentous 18-clause constitutional reform.

AKP’s shrinking support and alliances with the far-right

Despite several spikes in approval — to an all-time high point of 49.5% following the destructive military campaign in southeastern Turkey that left dozens of cities almost razed and after the 15 July coup attempt — both Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP have seen an overall decline in public support since winning a disappointing 40% in June 2015 election. The politically motivated purge of over a hundred thousand people from their jobs, the hushed economic crisis and the extensive pressure on the political opposition have taken their toll.

As a result, the AKP has responded by aligning with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Judging by the results of the latest general election, the two parties’ combined support would amount to 66%. This is barely below the 67% required to change the constitution without a public vote in the parliament, where parties need 60% of the quorum to bring any proposal to a referendum. Hence, amid the campaigns for the constitutional referendum, an open alliance has been declared between the ruling AKP and Turkey’s fourth-largest parliamentary party, the MHP.

Current polls suggest that the constitutional reform is unlikely to pass: the ‘Yes’ vote has 42% support. A failure to win the referendum is expected to further shrink the AKP’s support.

The referendum atmosphere could hardly be seen to comply with democratic standards, with high level officials calling the ‘No’ voters “terrorists, separatists, and criminals”.

The image of the president

Fearing popular protests similar to those in 2013, or another coup attempt, the AKP has been preparing local branches for an uncertain future. The media has reported that members of the AKP youth are being offered armed training, but most recently a new formation has made the headlines. ‘Stay Brotherly Turkey’, a group initiated by Orhan Uzuner, the father-in-law of President Erdoğan’s son, has been preparing a so-called ‘Communications Network’, designed to be able to take millions of people to the streets swiftly to oppose any future uprising, revolt, or coup attempt.

The Network has been preparing extensive WhatsApp messaging groups, all coordinated by Uzuner, yet independent of each other. Each group member is asked to start their own local group with their close contacts.

According to Uzuner, the Network’s main aim is to “unify people around the image of President Erdoğan”. While the group-leaders share recent developments and information regarding the president, the content in the groups themselves is advised not to touch on political discussions and party politics, uniting primarily around Erdoğan’s persona.

The group also actively participates in the ‘Yes’ campaign.

Purchasing equipment and providing training

According to the daily Cumhuriyet, the Network has purchased the necessary equipment to operate but needs to invest more to guarantee its operations. It has begun establishing radio stations, applying for nation-wide frequencies and naming local operators for wireless transmitters.

The group also intends to establish a system of loud-speakers and sirens to be able to continue broadcasting during power cuts and Internet shut-downs. The systems are to be constructed in apartment buildings, shops and even cars. Moreover, each member is being encouraged to obtain hand-held megaphones to be used on streets.

The group also trains its members in four different categories, all certified by official institutions and directorates: first-aid training certified by the Ministry of Health, drone aviation training by the General Directorate of Civilian Aviation, wireless transmission licensing courses and information and data security training.

Stay Brotherly Turkey also invites members to use the walkie-talkie app Zello. The app currently has 300 members and the password for the group is ‘1071’, which is the date the Turks defeated the Armenians and entered Anatolia from the city of Manzikert; an important reference for Turkish nationalists.

Arming the members

The 18 articles of ‘Presidential Constitution’ (Infographic: dokuz8HABER)

The 18 articles of ‘Presidential Constitution’ (Infographic: dokuz8HABER)

At its January meeting Stay Brotherly members were informed about the group’s working strategy and communication methods. “We are one Turkey. Whatever they do we will not be divided. We are united around the epitome of liberty and our leader President Erdoğan. We do not want him to get harmed in any way. The smallest apparatus we have is a whistle. I have a megaphone in my car. There are also weapons to be used in times of necessity. We must be prepared,” Uzuner stated at the meeting. The following day Uzuner made a statement saying he was misunderstood, that he had meant not weapons but sirens.

Another group called ‘People’s Special Operations’ (Turkish: Halk Özel Harekat), which emerged after the 15 July coup attempt, uses police-like emblems, posing with weapons and extensively sharing calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty, raises fears of a parallel militia force loyal to President Erdoğan.

While the ‘No’ vote still seems to be in the lead, the delicate alliance of the far-right MHP and the AKP appears increasingly fragile and might opt to secure its accomplishments from 15 years in power at all costs. Combined with the sinister warnings of civil war by other AKP officials, the criminalisation of the opposition and the arrest of elected members of parliament, such groups, their statements and activities create a climate of fear that threatens to undermine the free nature of the upcoming referendum.

Feb 242017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

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Dear friends and listeners,

Here’s the latest print pieces from Dialogos:

Our Article on Political Developments in Brazil and Similarities with the European South

Our latest article, taking a look at political developments in Brazil preceding and following the ouster of democratically-elected president Dilma Rousseff, and the many similarities and parallels which exist between Brazil and the European South, including Greece, has been published in Mint Press News. This article focuses on the politics of the previous Workers’ Party governments in Brazil and whether they were truly progressive, the harsh austerity which has been implemented by the non-elected president Michel Temer, and the many similarities of Brazil’s situation with countries like Greece.

Find this article here: http://www.mintpressnews.com/brazils-manufactured-coup-the-shock-doctrine-returns-to-latin-america/224823/.

Our Interview with Geopolitical Analyst Alex Christoforou Featured in Mint Press News

Our recent interviews, in English and Greek, with journalist and geopolitical analyst Alex Christoforou, co-founder of TheDuran.com, has been featured in Mint Press News! This is a combination of two recent Dialogos Radio interviews featuring Christodoulou, which aired on our radio broadcast in January and February.

In this interview, Christoforou discusses hot-button political and geopolitical issues, including Trump and the foreign policy he may follow, Russia and its response to developments along its border and in the Middle East, Syria, the Cyprus reunification talks, Brexit and Grexit, and much more.

Find this published interview, in English, here: http://www.mintpressnews.com/durans-alex-christoforou-treating-russia-bogeyman-failed/225175/.

Best,

Dialogos Radio & Media

Feb 232017
 

By 99GetSmart

Originally published at dokuz8HABER:

Fotoğraf: Umut Sen

One of the 121 thousand people who have so far been expelled with a decree ruling in the aftermath of the July 15th coup attempt in Turkey is Betül Celep who has started her personal resistance against decrees. Her resistance is today on its 30th day and is growing.

Betül Celep had been expelled with the decree ruling numbered 679, on January 6th. She has started “the Women’s Decree Resistance” in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district, at the Kalkedon Square on January 23rd. It all started with Betül seeing her name next to a number in a list of people to be expelled from state offices in the aftermath of the July 15th coup attempt. She says she still does not know why she had been expelled, which is also one of her banners asking “Why Did I Get Expelled?” next to her in the square.

It has been a month since she has started her resistance, and over the last month, she has attracted attention of thousands of people, some people have come to join her, and some questioning eyes have asked what was going on. She says she used to be the syndicate representative at her work place, Betül wonders if it was one of her identities that led her to her expulsion; as a socialist, woman, feminist, human rights defender, pacifist. She continuously asks if one or more of these were reason for her losing her job and social rights.

Betül explains, If you lose your job unlawfully, you resist. This I have learned from the workers who had been laid off unlawfully after they demanded their syndical rights in Gebze, Çerkezköy, Şekerpınar. They resist because they want their rights. For this reason I have also decided to resist. I might have been expelled with a decree ruling, that does not matter. I try to raise my voice on a daily basis in this square, I repeat that I do not accept the decrees. I am trying to write our ‘Women’s Decree’ and believe that I have a historical responsibility.”

Every day other people who have been expelled with decree rulings come to visit Betül, and she listens to their stories. She learns of their conditions and tells them of the experiences she has had. She explains that the only way to end the ‘tyranny of decrees’ is to strengthen and expand the resistance and to invite other victims of decree rulings, to tell their stories too. Hence, her desire to be the voice of the decree victims in Kalkedon Square.

The Women’s Decree Resistance includes other women who have joined in and have been standing in solidarity with Betül. It is no longer a personal story, many women come in support, help her organize the square and invite all others. Betül comments on the presence of others in her month-long resistance saying, “What things these eyes have seen over the past month … We have said that a resistance is blooming in this square; in the beginning I was joyful, merry and a rookie. I still have certain flaws due to inexperience, yet I have learned a lot. On the very first day there were crowds, there were women. I have connected with many people, met hundreds of people, even those whose names I can not remember. I have had many beautiful memories, and many disappointments.”

The police has also been present at Betül’s resistance in Kadıköy. She says it was on her first day when she was to announce the decision of resistance that she was presented with ‘options’ to disperse after press statement, to only stay for two days and leave, to just conduct silent sit-in. She responded these warnings that she does not accept their advices and she can think on her own. The level of threat has increased since the first day but did not lead to a point of physical intervention yet. From time to time there are attempts to do that, but the women in the square seem not willing to give in.

Betül still stands in Kalkedon Square in Kadıköy, inviting the people who have been expelled from their jobs with a decree ruling, and encourages them to share their stories as well. She says “the decrees, much-beyond putting people on a trial of hunger, disposes one of all hope under these circumstances.” Betül also explains on her 30th day of resistance that she has come to understand the essence of state, syndicate and significance of assembly.

So far there have been declared 21 decree rulings by the government, expelling more than 121 thousand people. There are various syndicates and unions that have made calls for resistance and protest meetings in various districts of Istanbul and many other cities. Betül Celep’s is one of them, and when she was expelled, on the first day she was a single person, now she is the voice of ’Women’s Decree’.

Follow Betül Celep on twitter @betul_celep_

Feb 192017
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

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Introduction

By the end of the first month of President Trump’s Administration we are in a better position to evaluate the policies and direction of the new President. An examination of foreign and domestic policy, particularly from a historical and comparative perspective will provide insights about whether America is heading for a catastrophe as the mass media claim or toward greater realism and rationality. We will proceed by examining whether Trump pursues diplomacy over warfare. We will evaluate the President’s efforts to reduce US foreign debt and trade burdens with Europe and Asia. We will follow with a discussion of his immigration and protectionist policies with Mexico. Finally we will touch on the prospects for democracy in the United States.

Foreign Policy

President Trump’s meeting with the leaders of Japan, the United Kingdom and Canada were largely successful. The Abe-Trump meeting led to closer diplomatic ties and a promise that Japan would increase their investment in automobile manufacturing in the US. Trump may have improved trade relations by reducing the trade imbalances. Trump and Abe adopted a moderate position on the North Korean missile test in the Sea of Japan, rejecting a further military build-up as the liberal-neo-con media demanded.

US-UK meeting, in the post-Brexit period, promised to increase trade.

Trump moved to improve relations with China, clearly backing the ‘single China’ policy and proceeding to re-negotiate and re-balance trade relations.

The US backed the unanimous UN Security Council vote to condemn North Korea’s missile launch. Trump did not consider it a military threat or rising to the level of additional sanctions.

Trump’s policy of reconciliation with Russia in order to improve the war against Islamist terrorism has been stymied. Led by the witch-hunting left liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren, neo-conservative militarists and Democrats pronounced Russia as the primary threat to US national security!

The rabid, ceaseless mass media blitz forced the resignation of Trump’s National Security Adviser, Ret. General Michael Flynn, on the basis of an 18th century law (the Logan Act) that prohibited private citizens from discussing policy with foreign leaders. This law has never been implemented. If it were enforced, hundreds of thousands of American citizens, most especially the big-wigs among the 51 ‘Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’, as well as the foreign affairs editors of all major and minor US media outlets and foreign policy academics would be on the ‘chain-gangs’ with convicted drug dealers. Never embarrassed by absurdity or by trivializing tragedy, this recent ‘Tempest in the Teapot’ has whipped up passionate calls by the media and Democratic Party operatives for a new ‘Nine-Eleven Style Investigation’ into General Flynn talks with the Russians.

Trump’s setback on his National Security Adviser Flynn has put the prospects for improved, less bellicose foreign affairs in danger. It heightens the risk for a nuclear confrontations and domestic repression. These dangers, including a domestic anti-Russian McCarthy-style purge of foreign policy ‘realists’, are exclusively the responsibility of the ultra-militarist Democratic Party-Neo-Conservative alliance. None of this addresses the serious domestic socioeconomic problems.

Rebalancing Foreign Spending and Trade

Trump’s public commitment about rebalancing US relations with NATO, namely reducing the US share of funding, has already started. Currently only five NATO members meet the required contribution. Trump’s insistence on Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, France and 18 other members fulfilling their commitments would add over $100 billion to NATO’s budget – reducing US foreign imbalances.

Of course, it would be far better for all if NATO was disbanded and the various nations re-allocate these many hundreds of billions of dollars for social spending and domestic economic development.

Trump has announced a major effort to reduce US trade imbalances in Asia. Contrary to the claims, often made by foreign trade ‘experts’ in the mass media, China is not the only, or even the largest, among the ‘offenders’ in exploiting unbalanced trade with the US.

China’s current account trade surplus is 5% of its GDP, while South Korea’s is 8%, Taiwan’s 15% and Singapore’s is 19%. Trump’s target is to reduce the US trade imbalances to $20 billion dollars with each country or 3% of GDP. Trump’s quota of $100 billion dollars stands in marked contrast to the ‘Asian Five’s’ (Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) current trade imbalance of $700 billion dollars in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In sum, Trump is moving to reduce external imbalances by 85% in order to increase domestic production and create jobs for US-based industries.

Trump and Latin America

Trump’s Latin America policy is focused primarily on Mexico and to a much lesser degree on the rest of the continent.

The White House’s biggest move has been to scuttle Obama’s Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, which favored multi-national corporations exploiting Chile, Peru and Mexico’s work force, as well as attracting the neo-liberal regimes in Argentina and Uruguay. Trump inherits from President Obama numerous military bases in Colombia, Guantanamo, Cuba and Argentina. The Pentagon has continued Obama’s ‘cold war’ with Venezuela – falsely accusing the Venezuelan Vice President of drug trafficking.

Trump has promised to alter US trade and immigration policy with Mexico. Despite the widespread opposition to Trump’s immigration policy, he lags far behind Obama’s massive expulsion of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. America’s deportation champion was President Barack Obama, who expelled 2.2 million immigrants and their family members in eight years, or approximately 275,000 a month. In his first month in office, President Trump has deported just one percent of Obama’s monthly average.

President Trump promises to re-negotiate NAFTA, imposing a tax on imports and enticing US multinational corporations to return and invest in America.

There are numerous hidden advantages for Mexico if it responds to Trump’s policies with its own ‘reciprocal protectionist’ economic measures. Under NAFTA, 2 million Mexican farmers went into bankruptcy and billions of dollars have been spent importing (subsidized) rice, corn and other staples from the US. A ‘Mexico First’ policy could open the door for a revival of Mexican agriculture for domestic consumption and export; this would also decrease out-migration of Mexican farm workers. Mexico could re-nationalize its oil industry and invest in domestic refineries gaining billions of dollars and reducing imports of refined petroleum products from the US. With an obligatory import-substitution policy, local manufacturing could increase the domestic market and employment. Jobs would increase in the formal economy and reduce the number of unemployed youth recruited by the drug cartels and other criminal gangs. By nationalizing the banks and controlling capital flows, Mexico could block the annual outflow of about $50 billion dollars of illicit funds. National-popular policies, via reciprocity, would strengthen the election of new leaders who could begin to purge the corrupt police, military and political leadership.

In sum, while the Trump policies may cause some short-term losses, it can lead to substantial medium and long-term advantages for the Mexican people and nation.

Democracy

President Trump’s election has provoked a virulent authoritarian campaign threatening our democratic freedoms.

Highly coordinated and endless propaganda by all the major media and the two political parties have fabricated and distorted reports and encouraged elected representatives to savage Trump’s foreign policy appointees, forcing resignations and reversals of policy. The forced resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn highlights the Democratic Party’s pro-war agenda against nuclear-armed Russia. Liberal Senators, who once made grand speeches against ‘Wall Street’ and the ‘One Percent’, now demand Trump reject working with Russian President Putin against the real threat of ISIS while supporting the neo-Nazis in Ukraine. Liberal icons openly push for sending more US warships in Asia to provoke China, while opposing Trump’s policy of favorably re-negotiating trade deals with Beijing.

There are many hidden dangers and advantages in this partisan political warfare.

Trump has exposed the systemic lies and distortions of the mass media, confirming the distrust held by a majority of Americans for the corporate news media. The low opinion of the media, especially held by Americans in the economically devastated center of the country (those described by Hillary Clinton as the ‘deplorables’) is clearly matched by the media’s deep disdain for this huge portion of the electorate. Indeed, the constant media chatter about how the evil ‘Russians’ had hacked the US presidential elections giving the victory to Donald Trump, is more likely a ‘dog whistle’ to mask their unwillingness to openly denounce the ‘poor whites’– including workers and rural Americans – who overwhelmingly voted for Trump. This class and regional element goes a long way to explain the constant hysteria over Trump’s victory. There is widespread fury among the elites, intellectuals and bureaucrats over the fact that Clinton’s big ‘basket of deplorables’ rejected the system and rejected its coiffured and manicured media mouthpieces.

For the first time there is a political debate over freedom of speech at the highest levels of government. The same debate extends to the new President’s challenge from the enormous, uncontrolled police state apparatus (FBI, NSA, CIA, Homeland Security, etc..), which expanded massively under Barack Obama.

Trump’s trade and alliance policies have awakened the US Congress to debates over substantive issues rather than internal procedural quibbles. Even Trump’s rhetorical policies have aroused mass demonstrations, some of which are bona fide, while others are bankrolled by billionaire supporters of the Democratic Party and its neo-liberal expansionist agenda, like the ‘Grand Sugar Daddy of the Color Revolutions’ George Soros. It is a serious question whether this may provide an opening for genuine grass-roots democratic-socialist movements to organize and take advantage of the rift among the elite.

The bogus charges of ‘treasonous’ communication with the Russian Ambassador  against Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, while still a civilian, and the convoking of the Logan Act against civilians discussing foreign policy with foreign governments, opens up the possibility of investigating legislators, like Charles Schumer and several hundred others, for discussing US strategic policy positions with Israeli officials…

Win or lose, the Trump Administration has opened a debate on the possibilities of peace with a nuclear superpower, a re-examination of the huge trade deficit and the necessity to stand-up for democracy against authoritarian threats from the so-called ‘intelligence community’ against an elected President.

Trump and the Class Struggle

The Trump socio-economic agenda has already set in motion powerful undercurrents of class conflict. The media and political class have focused on conflicts over immigration, gender issues, and relations with Russia, NATO and Israel as well as intra-party politics. These conflicts obscure deeper class antagonisms, which grow out of Trump’s radical economic proposals.

President Trump’s proposal to reduce the power of the federal regulatory and investigatory agencies, simplify and lower taxes, curtail spending on NATO, re-negotiate or scrap multilateral agreements and cut the budgets for research, health and education all seriously threaten the employment for millions of public sector workers and officials across the country. Many of the hundreds of thousands of protestors at the women’s rallies and marches for immigration and education are public employees and their family members who are under economic threat. What appears on the surface to be protests over specific cultural, identity or human rights issues are manifestations of a deeper and more extensive struggle between public sector employees and the agenda of a privatizing state, which draws its class support from small business people attracted by lower taxes and less regulatory burdens, as well as private ‘charter school’ officials and hospital administrators.

Trump’s protectionist measures, including export subsidies, pit the domestic manufacturers against multi-billion dollar importers of cheap consumer goods.

Trump’s proposals for deregulated oil, gas, timber, more agro-mineral exports and major infrastructure investments are supported by bosses and workers in those sectors. This has provoked a sharp conflict with environmentalists, community-based workers and producers, indigenous peoples and their supporters.

Trump’s initial effort to mobilize domestic class forces opposed to continued budget-draining overseas warfare and in support of market relations-based empire building has been defeated by the combined efforts of the military-industrial complex, the intelligence apparatus and their supporters in a liberal-neo-conservative-militarist political elite coalition and their mass supporters.

The evolving class struggle has deepened and threatens to tear apart the constitutional order in two directions: The conflict can lead to an institutional crisis and toward the forceful ouster of an elected president and the installation of a hybrid regime, which will preserve the most reactionary programs of both sides of the class conflict. Importers, investors and workers in extractive industries, supporters of privatized educations and healthcare, warmongers and members of the politicized security apparatus may take total control of the state. On the other hand, if the class struggle can mobilize the public sector workers, workers in the commercial sector, the unemployed, the anti-war democrats and progressive IT entrepreneurs and employers dependent on skilled immigrants, as well as scientists and environmentalists into a massive movement willing to support a living wage and unify around common class interests, deep systemic change becomes possible. In the medium term, the unification of these class movements can lead to a progressive hybrid regime.

Feb 142017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

The Global South is growing unintelligible from the European South amid harsh austerity measures and other maneuverings that suit the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and working class.

Maria de Jesus Oliveira da Costa, known as “Tia Zelia,” takes down an autographed photo given to her by Brazil’s impeached President Dilma Rousseff, to show it to journalists at her restaurant in Brasilia, Brazil, where photos of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also hang. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Maria de Jesus Oliveira da Costa, known as “Tia Zelia,” takes down an autographed photo given to her by Brazil’s impeached President Dilma Rousseff, to show it to journalists at her restaurant in Brasilia, Brazil, where photos of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also hang. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

BRASILIA, Brazil — Harsh austerity. A 20-year public spending freeze. A non-elected government. A coup backed by the United States and corporate world.

This is the new reality that Brazil has faced following the impeachment and ouster of the democratically-elected Dilma Rousseff in August of 2016 on charges of corruption and her replacement by vice-president Michel Temer, a favorite of Washington.

This is also a new reality that has been met by widespread disapproval, occasional large-scale protests, and a new economic uncertainty for a country which, just a few years ago, was seen as an up-and-coming economic powerhouse, along with the rest of the BRICS, the bloc composed of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This optimism has been quickly supplanted by an increasingly volatile social situation in Brazil and great pessimism for the future.

Much has been made in the media about the progressive credentials of the Rousseff government and that of her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, both of whom represented the Workers’ Party (PT) of Brazil. Much has also been made of the mass protests which led to Rousseff’s outster, which bore similarities to protests seen in countries such as Venezuela against the Maduro regime, and the relative lack of protest that the Temer government has faced since ascending to power.

What is actually happening, though? As is often the case in such situations, reality is far more multifaceted and complex than frequently presented, while parallels can be drawn with other austerity-ravaged countries such as Greece.

A radical break or austerity lite?: The Rousseff and da Silva governments

A man pulls a cart with an electoral poster of Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, right, at Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. (AP/Felipe Dana)

A man pulls a cart with an electoral poster of Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, right, at Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. (AP/Felipe Dana)

The governments of da Silva and Rousseff were often compared to those of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, in representing a break with the doctrines of neoliberalism, economic austerity, and privatization that much of Latin America experienced during the 1980s and 1990s.

This claim is borne out by some policies and certain economic indicators. In a 2014 article, well-known commentator Pepe Escobar, who frequently focuses on the BRICS nations in his writing, pointed out the tripling of the minimum wage between 2002 and 2014, a decline in unemployment, increased GDP per capita, the repayment of Brazil’s debts to the International Monetary Fund, higher purchasing power, plus social programs which benefited almost 50 million Brazilians.

Similarly, in a 2014 interview with me for Dialogos Radio, investigative journalist Greg Palast cited da Silva’s refusal to privatize state banks and the national oil company, while creating the “Bolsa Familia,” or a minimum income offered to many Brazilians, in an effort to lift them out of poverty. According to Palast, these policies — the opposite of the privatizations and austerity dictated by the International Monetary Fund — fueled Brazil’s phenomenal growth during this time, reaching 7 to 9 percent annually at its peak.

But did da Silva and Rousseff go far enough? Numerous commentators have expressed doubts.

For instance, the Rousseff government appointed Joaquim Levy, known as a pro-austerity “fiscal hawk,” as finance minister (this, it should be noted, was when Temer was Rousseff’s vice president). Scholar and author James Petras, an expert on Latin America, pointed out in November that da Silva implemented IMF-mandated austerity programs soon after being elected, and he appointed neoliberal economists to his cabinet whilst supporting the interests of agribusiness and major oil and mining concerns — all while overseeing policies which left numerous peasant families landless.

The Brazilian “economic miracle,” according to Petras, was a mirage fueled by high export commodity prices which the Brazilian economy temporarily benefited from, enabling programs such as the “Bolsa Familia.”

This was echoed by Palast, who in a 2016 follow-up interview with Dialogos Radio cited the sharp decline of oil prices and collapse of its commodities trade with China, as factors in the Brazilian economic slowdown — and increased unrest in the country prior to Rousseff’s ouster. In turn, Escobar also cited Rousseff’s concessions to big banking and agribusiness interests and a swing to the center as mistakes which also led to the emerging middle class increasingly flirting with the right once economic difficulties began.

In an interview with MintPress, Kat Moreno, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science and visiting scholar for Global Workers’ Rights at the Penn State University, argued that the Rousseff government was quite austere, and that despite a militant, leftist background, the material conditions she faced pressured her to enact austerity policies during her reign.

A recent analysis published by TeleSUR further argues that austerity measures were implemented by the Rousseff government as a defense mechanism of sorts, in an effort to fend off Rousseff’s impeachment by appeasing the right.

In his 2014 interview, Palast cited Rousseff’s return to IMF-sponsored austerity policies and the reduction of pensions as factors which were disastrous for the Brazilian economy, calling the IMF “a society of poisoners,” while in his 2016 interview, he cited Rousseff’s political inexperience and her inability to effectively communicate with the public as factors which made her impeachment possible.

An uprising from below or from above?

Soldiers stand guard outside Planalto presidential palace where protesters have projected the word “Impeachment” on the building, as they call for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, March 21, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Soldiers stand guard outside Planalto presidential palace where protesters have projected the word “Impeachment” on the building, as they call for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, March 21, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

2013 could be seen as a hallmark year for Brazil, one in which the tide began to turn against the ruling PT. The “Brazilian Spring” — following in the footsteps of the protests seen in Turkey that year, the Arab Spring, protests of the “indignants” in Spain and Greece, and the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 — emerged out of protests against public transportation fare increases and perceived government corruption. These protests could be seen as having served as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts for those which followed in 2015 and 2016, when fed-up Brazilians took to the streets en masse, including an estimated 7 million citizens during a March 2016 protest, to rally against worsening economic conditions and continued government corruption.

Or did they?

It has been pointed out that the protests of 2015-2016, leading up to the impeachment of Rousseff were not led by the impoverished or the working class, but by such groups as the Free Brazil Movement (MBL) and Students of Liberty (EPL).

Who are these groups?

In this March 18, 2015 photo, anti-government protest leader Kim Kataguiri poses for a picture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP/Andre Penner)

In this March 18, 2015 photo, anti-government protest leader Kim Kataguiri poses for a picture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP/Andre Penner)

Largely consisting of well-to-do, white academic circles, it has been revealed that they were financed by the decidedly right-wing Atlas Economic Research Foundation, itself funded by the notorious Koch brothers.Pepe Escobar has described the events of 2015-2016 as a “white coup,” fueled by the country’s major media outlets, who were “salivating” for regime change.

This scenario closely mirrors the protests seen recently in Venezuela against the increasingly embattled Maduro regime. Venezuela, like Brazil, has been battered by falling commodities prices — especially the sharp decline in the price of oil. This has brought to the forefront protests, led by right-wing elements seeking regime change and sensing an opportunity to make it happen.

Such protests are also not confined to Latin America. Greece, itself embattled by years of economic depression and austerity, has begun to see occasional (but, for the time being, relatively small-scale) protests led by supporters of the center-right parties such as New Democracy.

Prior to the country’s July 2015 referendum on approving or rejecting an austerity package demanded by Greece’s European “partners,” these elements organized fairly large protests in favor of “yes” (accepting austerity in order to “remain in the European Union”). In turn, smaller protests in 2016, organized with such social media hashtags as ftanei pia (“enough already”) ironically protested the austerity measures imposed by the purportedly left-wing Syriza-led government whilst supporting closer EU ties and the New Democracy party.

Similar to Brazil, Greece’s major media groups — all owned by oligarchic interests with a huge stake in the country’s major economic sectors — have vehemently supported austerity and supported the “yes” vote in the 2015 referendum.

Speaking to MintPress, Guilherme Giuliano, at Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of São Paulo and member of the “Catso” social workers’ autonomous collective, described the 2016 protests as not having been solely against Rousseff or her government. Nevertheless, the protests were co-opted by certain parties and movements and used as a catalyst for the coup against Rousseff.

Kat Moreno described the MBL as one of the movements which freely took to the streets, while other protest movements not organized by formal actors and representing poorer strata of society were met with police repression.

Petras classifies the capitulation and eventual fall of the PT governments, led by da Silva and Rousseff, as another in a long string of failures of the left. These “failures” have also been evident in countries such as Greece, where Syriza was, in January 2015, elected on promises to “tear up” Greece’s memorandum agreements with its lenders and to put an end to austerity but has instead faithfully continued enforcing such policies and signed further austerity agreements with the country’s lenders, implementing further cuts and reneging on all of its pre-election pledges.

The ‘shock doctrine’ returns to Latin America

A police officer pepper sprays demonstrators as a scuffle breaks out during a protest against the money spent on Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics on the route of the Olympic torch, in Niteroi, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016.

A police officer pepper sprays demonstrators as a scuffle breaks out during a protest against the money spent on Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics on the route of the Olympic torch, in Niteroi, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016.

In her 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine,” Naomi Klein highlights how the global capitalist class uses crises and disaster situations — both real and invented — as an opportunity to pounce upon suffering countries when they are at their weakest, imposing harsh austerity christened as “free market” policies and imposed, when necessary, by force, including police violence and brutality.

This has been characteristic of Brazil following Rousseff’s impeachment and Temer’s takeover.

It has also been characteristic of the crisis-hit countries of the European South, where protesters in Greece have been dispersed and stunned into submission by tear gas and police violence which invariably goes unpunished, while riot police enforcing home foreclosures is a common sight in Spain.

Klein traces the origins of the “shock doctrine” to the neoliberal doctrine first espoused by economists such as Milton Friedman, the father of the “Chicago School” of economics, which Latin American countries such as Chile became intimately familiar with under autocratic regimes such as that of Augusto Pinochet.

It is ironic, therefore, that Klein openly and vocally supported the Syriza government prior to the January 2015 elections in Greece which first brought it to power. But she has remained conspicuously silent since then, while Syriza has continued the policies of its predecessors. Nevertheless, the “shock doctrine” serves as a useful guide to explain what is happening in such countries today, including Brazil.

In another one of his analyses on the Brazil situation, Escobar classified Brazil as a victim of a “hybrid war” launched by the world’s neoliberal elite one which is also targeting other BRICS nations such as Russia.

How has the “shock doctrine” unfolded in Brazil?

With a lot of shock, and a lot of awe, to say the least.

From left: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff , Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma sit during a signing ceremony at the BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AP)

From left: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff , Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma sit during a signing ceremony at the BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AP)

A 20-year federal freeze on public spending was almost immediately imposed by the Temer regime, placing caps on spending for health care, education, and social expenditures and shrinking a welfare state which, according to Moreno, was already much more limited than its European counterparts. This was followed up by the announcement of job cuts in the public sector (despite rising unemployment which has more than doubled since the country’s recent economic peak), and a special “Christmas gift” for Brazilian workers: the expansion of the workday from 8 to 12 hours, complete with a reduction in the lunch hour.

This closely resembles the sharp reduction in pay, dismantling of collective bargaining rights, and massive layoffs which have been seen in countries like Greece. (There, pensioners were treated to a “Christmas gift” of their own by the Syriza-led government: a paltry “Christmas bonus” used by the government as a ludicrous PR stunt after it had already slashed most pensions by approximately 50 percent in 2016 and announced further tax increases for 2017.) In Brazil, environmental regulations have also been scrapped or relaxed, posing a particular threat to the country’s indigenous peoples.

In a rare moment of frankness, Temer told an audience of business and foreign policy elite assembled in New York in September that Rousseff — who was no radical while in office — did not go “far enough” in implementing the harsh economic reforms demanded by Temer’s party.

The new Temer government does not feel itself constrained in any way in terms of going “far enough.” Corruption charges are now being faced by da Silva, who currently leads overwhelmingly in opinion polls for Brazil’s next presidential elections, and members of his family.

Not even bothering to keep up appearances, Temer’s appointed cabinet consists exclusively of wealthy white men, while his government attempted to legislate self-amnesty for itself in September — a privilege already enjoyed by members of the Greek parliament and Greek government ministers, who are immune from prosecution for any crimes committed while in office and who regularly “write off” internal parliamentary investigations into previous governments’ wrongdoings.

This comes as the Temer government, which led the ouster of Rousseff on corruption charges, is itself facing corruption scandals.

In such a climate, it is inevitable that corruption will “trickle down” to other sectors of society. Brazil is currently said to be experiencing a far-right resurgence, shattering the common image of the country as one of racial inclusiveness and harmony.

Tourists to Brazil now have the unique opportunity to visit a real-life plantation and be served by black “slaves.” Police violence, already a major problem under the Rousseff administration, continued to grow in 2016 and 2017. There’s also the increasing prison riot crisis, which has been encouraged by elements within Temer’s government who view it as an effective means of culling the population in the country’s overcrowded prisons.

How have Brazilians responded?

Demonstrators march with a sign that says in Portuguese “Get out Temer” and a drawing of Cuba’s late President Fidel Castro, as they demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP/Andre Penner)

Demonstrators march with a sign that says in Portuguese “Get out Temer” and a drawing of Cuba’s late President Fidel Castro, as they demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP/Andre Penner)

The spotlight of the international media was thrust upon Brazil in 2013 and again prior to Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016, when protests sprung up in the streets—which may have been fueled, at least in part, by Koch-funded and wealthy elements in Brazilian society.

With a regime in place which may not be supported by the majority of Brazil’s population but is very much supported by the global banking and business elite and by Washington, protests against Temer’s government have not been afforded the same level of coverage, perhaps giving the impression that the Brazilian populace has resigned itself to a tacit acceptance of the new regime. Reality, however, seems to be a bit more nuanced.

There have been both strikes and protests on a fairly wide scale in Brazil since Temer’s takeover, including protests which erupted following the enactment of the 20-year public spending freeze, further significant protests against the Temer government on Brazil’s Independence Day, and a strike of workers at oil refineries all across the country at the end of the year.

These movements are accompanied by abysmal approval ratings for the new government in multiple public opinion surveys, even if approval ratings and poll numbers are often meaningless or inaccurate. Just look at the low approval ratings and exceptionally high re-election ratings for members of the U.S. Congress, for instance, or the multiple polls which all but assured a Hillary Clinton victory in the U.S. presidential elections, or the public opinion polls in Greece which have repeatedly been not just grossly inaccurate but always in a pro-austerity direction. For instance, Greek polling firms predicted a neck-and-neck referendum result in July 2015, when in fact, the “no” vote rejecting the European Union’s proposed austerity package received an overwhelming 62 percent of the vote.

Demonstrators protest Brazil’s President Michel Temer after a military Independence Day parade in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Demonstrators protest Brazil’s President Michel Temer after a military Independence Day parade in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Despite the protests that have taken place ever since Temer took over in Brazil, Kat Moreno points out the factors that have prevented them from being more widespread or long-lived.

According to Moreno, some strata of society do not feel safe in taking to the streets, and Moreno cites fear as a “strong variable” to consider when examining responses to the political situation in the country, as a result of the high degree of police repression and brutality, which has been especially evident during protests of left-wing groups and protesters who are not affiliated with any major organization or party.

Such a situation could also be said to foster “protest fatigue,” which is often seen as a factor in the lack of wide-scale protest in Greece and other crisis-stricken countries of the European South in recent years. Following large-scale protests seen in the 2010-2012 period, which peaked with the movement of the “Indignants” in Spain and Greece in the spring and summer of 2011 and which were eventually met by a violent and heavy-handed police response, protests have largely disappeared or been confined to ephemeral and single-issue efforts without longevity.

In Greece, a common response to questions as to why Greeks no longer take to the streets is that protesters will simply get tear gassed again and sent back home. The “shock doctrine” described by Naomi Klein may also serve as another psychological factor: When protests turn out to be fruitless and unpopular policies are rammed through despite opposition, feelings of discouragement and despair become more prevalent and serve as obstacles to further action.

To some extent, Brazilian society may be experiencing some of these symptoms.

Familiar Tactics

Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Escobar refers to the “toolbox” of tactics employed in Brazil leading up to Rousseff’s ouster. This set of strategies included the creation of manufactured consent amongst the populace, for the impeachment and the new regime.

This bears a great similarity to the cases of countries such as Greece, where public opinion polls conducted by polling firms which are not independent of the state and which are commissioned by pro-austerity media outlets have repeatedly shown vast majorities purportedly in favor of EU and eurozone membership at all costs, while the very few independent surveys conducted in Greece, such as those by Gallup International, have actually found such majorities to be slim or nonexistent.

Manufactured consent is used to legitimize the austerity policies which then follow, and to characterize any dissent as belonging to a small, marginal minority.

Indeed, similarities between the case of Brazil and the case of countries of the European South such as Greece abound. Just as the Temer government has not been elected and overthrew a government which apparently did not go “far enough” in its austerity regime, the EU imposed a non-elected technocrat prime minister, Lucas Papademos, a former banker, on Greece in late 2011 to ensure that a new package of austerity measures and “reforms” would be railroaded through parliament.

At around the same time, a non-elected prime minister, Mario Monti, was also installed in Italy, with the blessings of the EU — technocrats from which described this unelected government as “the best thing that ever happened to Italy” during a visit of mine to the EU in 2013 as part of a week-long academic program. Italy is now being governed by no less than its third consecutive non-elected prime minister.

The Greek referendum overwhelmingly rejecting EU-proposed austerity was shot down in short order, replaced by an austerity package even harsher than that which had originally been proposed, and even more onerous than the two prior memorandum agreements signed by Syriza’s predecessors, the New Democracy and PASOK (“socialist”) political parties.

The manufactured consent and “shock doctrine” which imposed the “bitter medicine” of austerity on Greece could be viewed as a pre-emptive strike against any thoughts of “Grexit,” a Greek exodus from the Eurozone or even the EU, much like the “hybrid war” against countries like Brazil and Russia described earlier by Escobar.

A man holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “Respect, I’m a teacher, the vandal is the state” at a burning barricade set up by protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

A man holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “Respect, I’m a teacher, the vandal is the state” at a burning barricade set up by protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

Kat Moreno identifies certain parallels between the Global South, of which Brazil is part, and the European South, which has in recent years experienced much of the same IMF-supported austerity which Latin America is all too familiar with. She highlights the “clear relationship” between being a part of the Global South and being dependent on and the hostage of the international financial system.

And in looking to the future, it is difficult to say who can lead these countries, whether it is Brazil or Greece or Spain or Italy, out of their current death spiral unscathed. Guilherme Giuliano points out that what has been happening in Brazil, as in Greece, Argentina (where the Kirchner government was replaced by one much friendlier to Washington and to global capital), or even the United States, are symptoms of a global crisis — a crisis which, according to Giuliano, “nobody has a progressive way out.”

Indeed, many progressives and much of the global left seem to be focused more strongly on identity politics and a notion of a world without nations or states. In doing so, they have supported such undemocratic, austerity-driven institutions as the EU, while demonizing phenomena such as the “Brexit” as the exclusive realm of racists and xenophobes, widening their chasm with vast sections of the poor and working classes in the process.

Meanwhile, a blind eye has been turned to the actions of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who in conjunction with Wall Street, supported right-wing coups and electoral takeovers all across Latin America, from Brazil to Venezuela to the Honduras. In this vein, James Petras chastises “left politicians who speak to the workers and work for the bankers.”

As for Brazil, Moreno describes the country as finding itself at a crossroads.

“People are seeking autonomy over their destinies, but where it is going we are not sure,” she said. “It can lead to neo-fascism, or it could go towards leftist  positions.”