Thursday, June 21, 2012

Koch Brothers

As democracy activist Joel Francis said, it's "'We the People', Not 'We the Corporations'." The Koch Brothers prefer to work in secret and did not have the courage to accept Mr. Francis' debate challenge. They are cordially invited to defend themselves by commenting below.

Background: Dark Money

Bankers Take Welfare, Let America Rot

Whether the bankers who so crippled the American economy end up being punished for their irresponsibility or not, the harm they caused is worsening, not improving, and we are setting ourselves up for a real collapse the next time around. Perhaps the key battle won by those of the super-rich who survived 2008 was the decision by Washington to "save the system" by saving the bankers at the expense of throwing away the victimized homeowners, leaving unanswered the question, "Why would bankers holding millions of mortgages want all that property in foreclosure and rotting away?"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

U.S. - Pakistani Negotiations Missing the Key Issues

Washington and Islamabad are doing their respective societies a huge disservice by focusing in their bilateral negotiations on superficial issues such as transit fees for NATO military supplies rather than the core strategic disagreement on which the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is cracking apart. Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business.

Pakistani-U.S. relations are being sucked into a whirlpool of recriminations over relatively superficial issues, to the harm of both societies. Each side may speak of its own feelings; I will tell you as an American that Americans are angry. Pakistanis say, correctly, that Washington is behaving like a bully. Americans say that Pakistan is playing an immoral double game by working secretly with violent fundamentalists in order to gain influence over Afghanistan.

Each side needs to compromise, but to reach a compromise, each side needs to understand and address the concerns of the other. Pakistan must learn to live with India. Neither the U.S. nor Pakistan should see Afghanistan as a prospective colony. The Pakistani security services need to accept that provoking violent fundamentalism is a bad long-term bet: it scares the U.S. into extremist violence of its own, it harms Afghan society, and it undermines the hopes of all Pakistanis for security and democracy. If Islamabad wants Washington to listen, then Islamabad needs to make a crystal clear argument showing why its support for some radical Afghan factions will not lead to a terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland or a Pakistani-Indian war. That is the rock on which the U.S.-Pakistani alliance is foundering.

Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business. For Washington, the new way of doing business must be a willingness to move behind the self-defeating focus on military solutions to the radical Islamic political challenge. Frankly, given the problems in Muslim societies across the globe, a bit of political radicalism is the seasoning needed to cook a good political stew. (The same could be said for the U.S., but that is a very different story.) For Islamabad, the new way of doing business is an historic settlement with New Delhi that will free Pakistanis to move beyond the garrison state toward real democracy based on peace with its neighbors. This new approach must include accepting an independent Afghanistan as well as either allowing Waziristan to leave Pakistan or offering Waziristan and the rest of the border regions full participation in Pakistani society and the Pakistani political-economic system with all the implications for autonomy, tax benefits, security, justice, and respect for minority cultural concerns.

Some Americans protest that it is naive to relinquish drone attacks; the dangerously short-sighted mood in the U.S. is to label all Pakistanis as "the enemy." I suspect the mood in Pakistan is a mirror-image tendency to see all Americans as "the enemy." I reject these generalizations and instead see as truly naive the assumption that violence is the answer. The enemy is neither "Americans" nor "Pakistanis" but those who choose violence to resolve conflict. The key to a successful dialogue lies not in the details but in focusing on finding a positive-sum compromise that makes the U.S. feel safe, identifies a relatively inclusive political outcome for most if not all Afghan factions, and minimizes Pakistani-Indian proxy conflict in Afghanistan. 

At least, that's the perspective of one American who finds himself equally frustrated with the negotiating positions of each side. I would be most interested in hearing Pakistani perspectives.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Do Drones Harm the U.S.?

Is state violence an effective counter to insurgent violence? A choice exists.

Taliban abuses make it easy for shallow thinkers to condone anti-extremist abuses – respond to an attack on aid workers or schoolgirls with a drone attack on a funeral, an eye for an eye, law of the jungle. But how do such tactical responses offer society a choice? Abuse from insurgents is countered by abuse from authorities, with the extremism of one justifying and stimulating extremism of the other. Ambitious leaders on both sides win, while society loses.

The important point for Americans struggling to figure out how to respond is that when our reactions promote the extremism we are fighting against, then it is not just Pakistani society that loses but American society as well. The whole world political and moral climate is degraded, promoting conditions that poison civil society, undermine democracy, and facilitate the rise of cowboys, fundamentalists, and general intolerance. Every abusive act further alienates and radicalizes innocent bystanders and thus further empowers the lovers of violence.

Even when it is determined that killing someone is required, it must be kept clearly in mind that the killing is not a goal but a means and should not be done if that means does not lead to the goal. The goal is a smoothly functioning civil society, and our common enemy is those who oppose the creation of such civil societies. A smoothly functioning civil society may not flow automatically from democracy, but democracy, physical and economic security for all citizens, and education together are pretty much the best foundation pillars to hold up a smoothly functioning civil society that mankind has yet been able to construct.

From this perspective, the common interest of American and Pakistani society [not, to be sure, of decision-makers who focus on strategic issues to the exclusion of all else and, for example, aid the Haqqani Network to gain influence in Afghanistan at India’s expense] is clear and the question flowing from that common interest is not a military one but a political one: “How do we create a functioning society?” Once that simple question is asked, it instantly becomes obvious how ridiculous it is to answer: “by remotely bombing groups of unidentified adult males or anyone who attends a funeral for anyone who was bombed.” Since the Taliban is not attacking the U.S., it is not clear that the U.S. should be doing anything at all, but if, upon contemplation, Americans decide that it is appropriate to make some effort to influence events in Pakistan, then the goal should be the positive one of helping Pakistani society to function better, precisely the outcome most beneficial to the long-term interests of the American public.

Now we have the basis for a useful conversation with Pakistani officials about day-to-day tactics. When the Taliban threatens to murder a social worker who “operates hundreds of ambulances and shelters for women, children and the destitute,” it is clear that Americans who want a vibrant, secure, and free civil society in the U.S. have common cause with Pakistanis struggling for the same goal in Pakistan. It should also be clear that drone attacks are at best an extremely poor and most likely a highly counterproductive route to that common goal.

Some Pakistanis understand this:

The Taliban are pursuing an ‘anti-state struggle’ and Pakistan must take this threat seriously before it causes an irreparable damage to the country, NWFP government’s Peace Envoy Afrasiab Khattak said on Tuesday. “They (Taliban) want to defeat the state and their success starts where the state fails.” [New Age Islam 9/20/2008.]

The problem is that those Pakistanis and Americans who understand their common interest have great difficulty holding a dialogue about how to pursue that common interest. The remark of the NWFP peace envoy, above, points to a way forward: focusing on U.S.-Pakistani cooperative actions to build an effect state. Effective police action followed by open trials under an honest court system will be an important long-term component of such an effort. Killing alleged enemies, much less killing unidentified people, will become more counter-productive the longer it occurs. The argument that the threat is immediate so we cannot wait for long-term solutions is clearly invalidated by the now obvious failure of violence to eliminate an insurgent threat that has been spreading for a decade in violence-ridden Pakistan.

This leaves concerned citizens and policy-makers in both the US and Pakistan with the following question:

Who are the potential Pakistani allies of Americans struggling to defeat violent extremists and what set of tactics might be accepted by each national group as in its own best interests?

A Supplementary Approach from the Afghan Theater

In the context of a primary focus on building civil society and extending the writ of effective, supportive governance in Pakistan, offering inclusion to Taliban personnel willing to renounce violence offers a supplementary approach:

Pursuing high-level reconciliation with the Taliban senior leadership as a unified, singular organization will fail to achieve the grand bargain that the U.S. and Afghans seek; that is, an agreement to renounce al-Qaeda, respect the Afghan constitution and cease insurgent operations targeting Afghan government officials and security forces. Recognizing that the Taliban is a diverse movement where significant internal divisions and mistrust abound, reconciliation efforts should instead be pursued as a means to divide and weaken the cohesion of the movement’s senior leadership cadre. However, before such efforts can achieve their desired intent, U.S. and Afghan forces must develop a sophisticated understanding of the differences among the factions and their leaders, and identify, encourage and protect those who want to reconcile. The purpose of these efforts is not only to support the primary aim of reconciliation, but also to fracture the Taliban operationally and thereby limit Pakistan’s leverage over the Afghan state.[Understand War 6/13/2012.]

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Undeclared War Undermines U.S. Democracy

Escalating “executive war”—war by the Imperial Presidency without Congressional authorization or oversight—against Iran and Pakistan is alienating foreign friends, radicalizing foreign adversaries, undermining U.S. democracy, and setting American society up for blowback.

What under Bush-Cheney neocons was touted as a war against anti-U.S. terrorists has now become a war against Muslim political activists who may not have any intent of attacking the U.S. and may not even be fighting against their own governments. They may simply be innocent bystanders who fit profiles used to excuse murder, in the case of drone attacks that kill unidentified individuals, or industrial disaster, in the case of cyberwar sabotage. And that cyberwar sabotage, whose computer code weapons have already gone viral and spread out of control around the world, could strike anywhere, including back in the U.S. Cyber chickens are flying home to roost. The Obama wars take distinct forms depending on the country – economic and technological against Iran (supplementing a highly public economic war and a terrorist campaign murdering nuclear scientists that may in the future be tied definitively to the White House), drone bombing against Pakistan—but appear to fit a consistent pattern of violating Constitutional requirements that Congress approve war and provide oversight.

As Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the leading Congressional advocate of a tempered and rational foreign policy, warned in his recent letter to President Obama demanding an accounting for his unauthorized use of drones:
The fact that they are conducted with complete impunity and with no accountability threatens to set a dangerous precedent that could unravel the very laws and international standards the U.S. helped to create.  Even the most ardent supporter of the current President should consider the precedent created by granting the President the power to circumvent the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Kucinich Leads Congress in Demanding Accountasb ility and Transparency for Drone Strikes,” Kucinich. House.Gov 5/31/12.] 
Kucinich also warned in his letter that targeting “ terrorist suspects whose identity does not need to be known goes further than what Congress authorized when it passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) after the attacks of September 11th (9/11). As you know, the AUMF only authorized the use of force against those responsible for the attacks of 9/11 and those who harbored them, not against individuals whose identity is unknown, but that merely fit a certain profile of suspected terrorist activity.

Both the drone attacks and the cyberwar have been cloaked in a relatively transparent security blanket that has long since ceased fooling anyone but that continues to obstruct the due process of law in the U.S. that rests on the ability of the system of government to hold powerful officials accountable for their actions. Obama Administration leaked formed the basis of a recent New York Times piece by David Sanger detailing the Obama Administration’s complicity in the cyberwar attack on Iran. Thus does Obama continue one of the worst abuses of the neo-con era – the attempts by the White House to position itself above the law.

The Christian Science Monitor bluntly spelled out one of the blowback routes of this new global threat:
the possibility that such attacks could provide a digital copy of the cyberweapon to rogue nations or that hacktivists could reverse-engineer the weapon for use against the power grid or other key US infrastructure.
Officially revealing the U.S. policy of attacking foreigners in their home countries with drones, White House Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, as quoted in Washington Post 4/30/12, stated:
...let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law — and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives — the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.
The anti-Iranian cyberwar remained mired in controversy, with both the Obama Administration and Israel’s Mossad seemingly competing for credit, oblivious to the strong possibility that both will be condemned by history for opening wide this new Pandora’s Box. Washington may not have invented cyberwar, but it certainly is making few efforts to delay the arrival of a new, nasty world in which low-cost, highly dangerous cyberwar will ravage global societies.

Obama’s private wars violate two of the most fundamental principles of democracy. First, although now utterly obvious as the result of White House statements, they were when determined and implementing totally defiant of the need for transparency in government, being implemented without Congressional authorization and behind the backs of the American people. Second, in their lack of Congressional oversight, they violate the equally critical democratic requirement of rule of law by establishing a precedent of arbitrary and unauthorized Presidential action. Once the President acquires the “right” in practice, if not in law, to make private war, what power is denied him? To argue that the President cannot personally authorize war except when it is fought via the Internet or drones makes a mockery of democracy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The American Dream...for the 1%

When the rich get richer while the rest all get poorer and the rich campaign to increase their privileges, it amounts to class war.

(Click to View)
Democracy Now [6/6/12] pointedly describes the current state of the American Dream:
Several months before Occupy Wall Street, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%," an article for Vanity Fair. He returns to the subject in his new book looking at how inequality is now greater in the United States than any other industrialized nation. He notes that the six heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune command wealth equivalent to the entire bottom 30 percent of American society. "It’s a comment both on how well off the top are and how poor the bottom are," Stiglitz says. "It’s really emblematic of the divide that has gotten much worse in our society." On Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported that pay for the top CEOs on Wall Street increased by more than 20 percent last year. Meanwhile, census data shows nearly one in two Americans, or 150 million people, have fallen into poverty or could be classified as low-income. "United States is the country in the world with the highest level of inequality [of the advanced industrial countries], and it’s getting worse," Stiglitz says. "What’s even more disturbing is we’ve [also] become the country with the least equality of opportunity."
The "rich enriching themselves by stealing from the poor" is not just a slogan; this is what it looks like. When the U.S. has the highest level of inequality among industrial countries and the least equality of opportunity, and the elite of the business world protected by top politicians in both major parties continue to demand more government welfare (e.g., low capital gains taxes) and less regulation, that adds up to class war.

Israeli Subversion of U.S. National Security?

Is Israel not just a national security burden but an adversary intentionally causing the U.S. harm? So a careful reading of the Stuxnet evidence suggests.

A debate has been blazing through the dry tinder of American denial and political correctness for a couple years now, even at the highest levels of government, about the degree to which Israel may be harming U.S. national security. The usual argument concerns whether or not having Israel as an ally harms U.S. national security because of the baggage associated with supporting Israel's policy of security through strength, over-the-top hostility toward Iran, and blatant repression/ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. That is bad enough, but it gets worse.

A far more serious argument concerns the degree to which the Israeli government may intentionally cause harm to U.S. national security. Israel's attack on the U.S.S. Liberty and associated murder of 34 Americans comes to mind as an old example. Washington should have learned then that Israel was a country not to be trusted with powerful weapons. But of course Washington did not learn anything of the kind and evidently even went so far as to cooperate with Israel to jointly plan covert cyberwar against Iran - the very state that has over the past decade been, upon occasion, cooperating with the U.S. against Sunni extremists! And we wonder why some Iranians seem to feel they should have the option of acquiring powerful weapons of their own.

Now, it appears that Israel may have deliberated sabotaged the highly sensitive and dangerous (both politically and technically, given the ultimate harm Stuxnet might do to any of the world's nuclear reactors) U.S. cyberattack on Iran. According to David Sanger of the NYTimes [6/1/12], who broke the scandal wide open:

the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex computer worm that would become the attacker from within.

As reported by Philip Weiss [ Mondoweiss 6/12/12], it may well be that Israel:

coded StuxNet to escape, without telling the Americans, so as to undermine American attempts to occupy them with cyberwar to prevent hot war. That is, the implication of Sanger’s article (which he now seems to be trying to retract) is that the Israelis deliberately exposed our cyberwar attack so as to make it more likely they could start a war with Iran...
A myth haunts the American political scene - that Israel and the U.S. share values. As with all good myths, this one has a basis in fact: in the early days, many Israelis greatly resembled American pioneers trying to build civilization and find peace in a new land. But the regional nuclear superpower that Israel has become through the shortsighted support of the American taxpayer is no longer a pioneering society, and the values its current ruling clique espouses are less democratic and more expansionist than those of many of America's foremost adversaries. 

The Stuxnet attack has greatly harmed U.S. national security both by handing Iran all the justification it could ever need for developing weapons of mass destruction to defend itself and by establishing the precedent that the so-called leader of the free world (I apologize to readers too young to recall the meaning of this old phrase) thinks cyberwar is not just consistent with international law and decent human behavior but also an activity that the President should be permitted to engage in without the express approval of Congress. ("It ain't unconstitutional because it ain't war as long as we use virtual means, even if the resulting industrial destruction or even potentially nuclear catastrophe is very real indeed.") 

Sanger noted that Iran has now:
announced that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” 
The U.S. will surely come to rue the day it encouraged its adversaries to engage in cyberwar, a field in which--unlike conventional armaments--the U.S. has no natural advantage and, given its old and poorly organized infrastructure, many natural disadvantages.

And now it appears that Israel may have intentionally contributed to making this harm to U.S. national security even order to trap the U.S. in not  just a cyber war (and economic war) but also a traditional military war with Iran. Israel, then, stands accused of doing exactly what bin Laden apparently tried, with such success, to do by attacking the World Trade Center - suck the U.S. into a foreign war.

Perhaps all this is inaccurate, but the American people will never know unless we shine the piercing light of transparency on this scandal. If the Netanyahu regime is innocent, then let it make its case for all the world to the courtroom where it belongs. It is not the identity of the leakers that should be investigated but the truth of what the Obama and Netanyahu regimes have been doing. Even more important, American national security clearly requires a public debate about the pros and cons of associating with Israel, the nature of the harm that association may do to U.S. national security, and the degree to which extreme right-wing Israeli factions may intentionally be causing harm to the U.S.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wisconsin: Second Victory for the Elite Over Society

The Wisconsin election was not about union power; it was about democracy, and the voters dealt democracy a major defeat, This is what class war by the rich looks like in a land of the shortsighted.

Two major battles in the developing class war in the U.S. have occurred in the past five years: 

  1. the decision to provide Wall St. with a bailout without compensating public control over the negligent and/or criminal financial institutions that got the corporate welfare;
  2. the victory of Wisconsin Governor Walker in his recall election campaign funded by outside corporate millions.

Real News summarizes the Walker victory:

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker has won the recall election. He remains the governor. Millions of dollars poured into Wisconsin, something like $45 million for Scott Walker, most of which came from outside the state. He outspent his Democratic rival, who spent somewhere close to $10 million—apparently, most of that money came from within the state.

The wise people of Wisconsin have determined that their enemies are those who protect their homes from burglars, those who risk their lives to quench fires, and those who teach their children. Such public workers do not deserve a chance to organize; the government should have the right to break its contracts with them as convenient. Will a Wisconsin policeman now think twice before risking his life to protect a victim? Will a Wisconsin fireman now think twice before entering a burning home to save the owner? And as for Wisconsin teachers, no doubt if they stop teaching altogether, the wise voters of Wisconsin will not even notice.

These two back-to-back elite victories over society may spark the awakening of the naive, short-sighted, and near comatose U.S. public, but at present they signal the nearly complete control over U.S. "democracy" by the super-rich. "Democracy" the U.S. remains in the sense that the voters did in fact have the power to win this one, had they only the wisdom to see their own common self-interest. Alas, "common self-interest" is a concept evidently too subtle for most, in that it is evidently self-contradictory over the short run, so corporate millions "bought" the election not through fraud (as far as I am aware) but through propaganda - convincing a big chunk of Wisconsin's workers to support the rich rather than maintain solidarity with their own. Time will tell what happens to wage levels and working conditions in Wisconsin now that the rich have clear...and legal control.

It seemed,  back in the long, viciously cold winter of 2011, that the clarity of the struggle in Wisconsin between outside corporate greed trying to break the post-New Deal social contract with employees and the public--represented by police, firemen, and teachers--was so incontrovertible that even the most apolitical wage-earner could not help but understand his long-term interest. The tens of thousands who risked frostbite to defend their legal rights to organize so as to defend themselves against corporate organizations offered powerful evidence that Americans were finally awakening from their delusion that Washington politicians were serving them rather than their super-rich corporate patrons. Finally, it appeared, the neo-con/neo-liberal scam against America--so clearly exposed by the highly profitable "war on terror" along with the bailout of Wall St. and refusal of Washington to force corporate leaders to defend themselves in court--would be terminated by an awakened American public.

Unfortunately, the generation-long covert class war of the super-rich has been fought with enough skill that even such evidence as the profitable (for CEOs) war on terror and a corporate self-enrichment scheme that wrecked the U.S. economy has not convinced Americans that they need to fight back.

There is, however, much more to Walker's victory than simply the self-delusion and shortsightedness of the American voter. One other critical facet is that this one-sided class war has now achieved so many victories that the whole structure of government is aligned on the side of the rich.  Black Agenda Report editor Bruce Dixon itemizes some of the legal weapons the rich have put into place to overthrow the New Deal compromise [6/6/12]: was union leaders who damped down the calls for, and explicitly repudiated talk of a general strike. To be fair, under present federal and state laws, a union official who even calls for, let alone is part of pulling off a general strike is probably guilty of multiple felonies and conspiracies to commit, perhaps even RICO and terrorist prosecutions if judges and district attorneys are feeling ambitious. Such an official also risks confiscation of union funds and assets, either outright in a hurry or after prolonged expensive litigation. But that's what people involved in movements do --- they take individual and collective risks and they violate laws for the cause, whatever that happens to be.

It seems that it is perfectly OK for a couple of billionaire CEOs to organize with a handful of their buddies to buy an election, but for workers to organize to defend American society is now a crime. It is no coincidence that the U.S. increasingly looks today like the U.S. of 1929. When the rich control government officials and manage to slant the legal system in their private defense, where can the public go? You young folks better get off the Internet and read Steinbeck before it is too late.

Update: Romney on Wisconsin
"[Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people." [Democracy Now 6/11/12.]
It is hard to think of anything more fundamental to civil society than good education and security for citizens in their homes and on the streets. Romney has made the attitude of the new Republican Party toward the American people all too clear.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Class War Fundamentals

Class war makes everything different: instead of agreement on the rules serving as the foundation for common success, society is split in two camps, with at least one trying to ruin the future of the other. If you happen to be part of the “other,” you need to know that you are under attack.

Class war makes everything different. If we are all united, everyone may still spend most of their energy trying to get theirs first, but we all agree on the rules, and the game is ultimately more like a picnic with a shortage of chocolate cake than a fight to the death: everyone can win at least a little, and everyone agrees that the best society is indeed one in which everyone wins. If the rich get richer, they do so only so long as the poor and the average simultaneously gain. If wars are fought, they are fought to defend society from real threats.

A class war situation is exactly the reverse. If society is split into two camps, haves and have-nots, with each side perceiving the game as zero-sum, the rich do not get richer by floating on a rising tide but by stealing what little the poor have, and the poor respond by trying to kill the rich. Rather than trusting the rich to run the government for the good of all, the poor concentrate on trying to dethrone the rascals. Rather than sharing to create a stable, healthy, productive society, the rich do one of three things: pretend the poor do not exist (the gated community strategy), keep the poor as cannon fodder and cheap labor (the Middle Ages and Wisconsin Republican strategy), or eliminate them (the Colombian cattle baron and Israeli strategy). Wars are not last resort efforts to protect the society but eagerly awaited opportunities for the rich to accelerate the process of self-enrichment; that is, foreign wars are primarily features of the domestic civil war, with calls for “patriotism” just so much wool to be pulled over the eyes of the man in the street, who is too busy trying to survive to give any serious thought to politics.

The existence of elites appears inevitable in all large modern societies. Most people simply do not have the interest to get involved, and the minute you trust others to govern on your behalf, you create an elite. We could of course make some simple and rather obvious legal changes to minimize the production of elites, the most fundamental perhaps being limiting any individual to holding office for only one term…ever. We could also institute national recall provisions, like that currently being used to challenge Wisconsin Governor Walker. And of course we could have a tax system that encourages everyone to work hard by promoting the growth of the middle class, as the U.S. so successfully did from the end of WWII (indeed, from the New Deal) until Carter lost the tax battle to elitists in the late 1970s. But these are issues that glaze over the eyes of most of the victims, and elitists are working very hard to undermine education in order to keep things that way.

If all this seems complicated, the reason is that we are educated purposefully to make us ignorant of these issues. Public education is primarily a vehicle to instill patriotism (whose uses have already been referred to) rather than to teach the tools for maintaining vigilance over those to whom we delegate power. Our educational system serves our ruling elite, not us. It is probably true that there is no better country on earth in which to obtain a genuine education, one that will make of you a citizen armed to protect yourself from elite abuse, but that requires effort – either go to a really good college and spend years studying history, politics, and economics under unusually open-minded professors or self-educate yourself by successfully navigating the intellectual mine field of the Internet, reading things that reveal how the world works. How one either selects the professors or negotiates the Internet intellectual mine-field without already being an expert is another question.

In any case, education is key, and elitists know this. Thus, one of the clearest clues to the real intentions of politicians is their attitude toward education. Those who strive to strengthen public education and protect academic freedom are defenders of liberty; those who want dictatorship (to put it bluntly – call it “rule by your betters,” if that makes you happy) will attack public schooling, shift funds to private schools with ideological agendas, attack teachers’ unions, and do everything they can to subordinate university professors to political control (e.g., curb freedom of speech for any who criticize Israel, try to end Federal funding of Islamic studies, call anyone who speaks Russian a “commie symp”).

The first two paragraphs attempt to make the concept of class war simple, but in practice class war is the ultimate in human duplicity and subtlety. The most difficult challenge of winning a class war is figuring out that you are under attack. And solid education in the social sciences is the only microscope with sufficient resolution to reveal the initial stages of the attack.

Do not despair, however. Eventually, the class war will become so clear that only those determined to remain blind will be unable to perceive it, for elites are condemned to suffering from an appetite they cannot quench. Eventually, no matter how rich the elites become, they will bite off one bite more than they can chew. Then, the whole social sand castle in which they have the tower suites will dissolve, hurting themselves at least as much as it hurts everyone else. At that point, if not sooner, you will know it is time to fight back.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Do No Harm

Iraq is the same dictatorial disaster it was under endless non-government terror. Palestinian repression is a deep stain on the integrity of America. Somalia and Afghanistan are, by comparison with their circumstances two generations ago, destroyed societies. Saudi Arabia is on a domestic knife-edge. Iran, victim of an undeclared war by the U.S., is being terrorized, marginalized, and radicalized. Ironically, Israel, "victim" of a flood of thoughtless U.S. military aid and blind support for whatever ambitious politician happens to get elected, is also being terrorized, marginalized, and radicalized. The record of U.S. intervention in the Muslim world is one of incomprehension, immorality, arrogance, and self-defeating short-sightedness. But despair not! We have new opportunities in Yemen and Syria.

As for that new opportunity, Syria, it is surely clear that there are bad guys in Syria and it is obvious that those bad guys are backed by powerful organizations. It is only logical to assume that there are also many decent people being mistreated. Obama's pathetic philosophy notwithstanding, a Muslim does not deserve to be killed just because that Muslim happens to be an adult male. What is not clear is whether or not any "good" organizations exist and merit support.

Given the record of U.S. influence over Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, etc., it is also clear that the likelihood of Washington decision-makers correctly identifying an organization in Syria that might merit diplomatic, economic, or military support is very small.

It is no doubt useful to point out the evil being done by various Syrian politicians, though one must be careful to point out such evil regardless of which side is doing it (and few reports have such balance). But at this point, would it not be more valuable to lay out any argument that may exist to justify making a commitment to support those we think might possibly deserve our help? And if no such candidate can be identified, then the proper course of action lies elsewhere.

"Do no harm" should be the default course of action, especially for elephants. The burden of proof lies on those Westerners who presume to have the wisdom to interfere in Muslim societies and make things better.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Iran Talks: Is the West Deaf?

Given the lack of apparent reaction by the West to an astounding Iranian offer, one can only wonder: is the West deaf?

Is the West totally deaf? Iran has clearly, if in a low-keyed manner, signaled acceptance of the West's core demand to resolve the nuclear dispute:
"Any proposal to reduce uranium enrichment from 20 percent to 5 percent and in return to ease sanctions imposed on Iran, has not been presented by the world powers," Talib Mahdi, a member of the Iranian delegation, told Xinhua on the sidelines of Baghdad meeting.
"Such proposal could be accepted by Iran because it would be a clear international recognition that Iran has the right to obtain nuclear energy," Mahdi said.
The answer to this is, "Great, we agree." 
Not only is Iran evidently not even asking to be allowed to exercise its legal right to refine to 20% medical grade, but it is not asking for an end to sanctions...just their easing! This constitutes a huge concession. Iran is willing to compromise even while remaining under economic attack by the West. It is no wonder that Iran sent this concession via a member of its delegation, rather than the leader, and in a side discussion with Xinhua, no doubt hoping to minimize domestic criticism of its compromise.
The West of course has exactly the same problem of domestic hardliners, so one can only hope that the West is in fact very quietly signalling that at Moscow it will accept the Iranian offer.

U.S. Class War By the Rich: “Trickle Up”

Previously, I asserted that the American people are in the midst of, and—in great part because they do not know they are in the midst of it—losing a class war. This is an extreme assertion that no doubt shocks most readers, though one may imagine it does not at all shock the several million who have recently dropped out of the hopeless job market. In any case, the assertion needs to be defended, so let’s look a little deeper.

Back in the Great Depression, the working class almost started a class war in the U.S. out of desperation, but the elite compromised and shared a bit with the rest of American society, which was in the end very conservative and quite willing to let the rich remain rich (not to mention alive). The filthy rich—those who got rich by cheating rather than working hard, and yes, the term applied to some of the rich then as it does today—were not attacked, jailed, or even removed from their positions of privilege. Too selfish to feel any gratitude, in the 1970s, the rich saw their chance and launched a campaign to shove what we now call the 99%, for their campaign targeted the middle class just as much as blue collar workers, back into the depressed state they had occupied in 1929. When you examine the details and see the moderation of the aspirations of American workers and the extreme nature of the demands of the rich, it is hard to find a better term for this new campaign than “class warfare.” That is, the campaign was not designed to protect the rich; they were hardly at risk in a conservative society where everyone just wanted to join the rich and  believed he might just do it. No, the counterattack of the rich against the New Deal compromise was designed to defeat, defang, and debilitate everyone else.

Curiously, this anti-social campaign, which we call the Reagan Revolution, began with Carter. Whether he was complicit or just steamrolled is difficult to judge and another story. The most reasonable interpretation appears to be that both Carter and Reagan were more surfers on an elite wave than leaders. In any case, what matters to American society is that the moderate post-Depression compromise known as the New Deal suddenly began cracking apart under a conservative counterattack intended to destroy the bargaining power of everyone except CEOs. The New Deal was  “moderate” because it not only did not punish the rich for causing the Great Depression but even went so far as to permit them to remain rich; “moderate” is a kind characterization, for it certainly was not balanced. A balanced new deal would have leveled pay; a “radical” new deal would have eliminated the ruling class. A generation later a moderate deal that allowed the rich to remain rich as long as the rest could see steady improvement proved unacceptable to those rich, strong evidence that their elimination in 1929 might have been a good idea after all.

Since Americans are now groping in utter confusion for a solution to the mess that this conservative counterattack produced, the details matter. They matter because it is hard to see how the 99% can effectively defend themselves unless they understand the subtle ways in which the rich, with their lobbying army, are fighting this war. Occupy! Citizens may be heroes, but their street protest tactics are only the first phase and can hardly accomplish anything unless “we the people” do our homework.

Carter era defeats for the American people included the failure to pass tax reform, the failure to get a stronger consumer protection agency, and the failure of health care reform, and the failure to update labor relations laws to protect unions, and a cut in the capital gains tax. [See Hacker and Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics, pp. 98-100.] One might also mention a critical missing issue – even as TV was becoming the center of campaigns, no law was created to provide free TV time for candidates. The result of all these arguably small steps is, a generation later, about as hard to see as a tsunami: the electoral process has been so totally bought by the rich that democracy in the U.S. is more like gladiator games than anything related to government, American health care is scandalous as the worst in the developed world, we are plagued by poisonous consumer goods made by American companies but in China, unions are something old people can remember if they think carefully (with the final battle in the campaign to destroy worker rights now a cliffhanger in Wisconsin), and with the tax code punishing workers while rewarding Wall St. gambling, of course everyone who can is trying to gamble rather than work.

To many Americans, caught up either with daily lives or the drama of the Cold War, these initial battles under Carter of the class war by the rich did not seem all that dramatic, and, given the corruption of many labor unions at the time, also seemed somewhat justified. A generation later, with Wall St. having transformed itself from financer of American industry into a global casino for the rich to gamble with other people’s money and with some 15,000,000 unemployed (combining the unemployed looking actively for work and those who have given up in despair), those initial battles in the new class war appear far more significant than they did at the time.

Journalist Matt Taibi summarizes how the Class War by the Rich was being fought circa 2007:

Governor Kasich, yeah, and he was intimately involved with selling — getting the state of Ohio’s pension fund to invest in Lehman Brothers and buy mortgage-backed securities. And of course they lost all that money. And this, broadly, was really what the mortgage bubble and the financial crisis was all about. It was essentially a gigantic criminal fraud scheme where all the banks were taking mismarked mortgage-backed securities, very, very dangerous, toxic subprime loans, they were chopping them up and then packaging them as AAA-rated investments, and then selling them to state pension funds, to insurance companies, to Chinese banks and Dutch banks and Icelandic banks. And, of course, these things were blowing up, and all those funds were going broke. But what they’re doing now is they’re blaming the people who were collecting these pensions — they’re blaming the workers, they’re blaming the firemen, they’re blaming the policemen — whereas, in reality, they were actually the victims of this fraud scheme. And the only reason that people aren’t angrier about this, I think, is because they don’t really understand what happened. If these were car companies that had sold a trillion dollars’ worth of defective cars to the citizens of the United States, there would be riots right now. But these were mortgage-backed securities, it’s complicated, people don’t understand it, and they’re only now, I think, beginning to realize that they were defrauded. [Democracy Now 2/22/2011.]

Banks are, in moral terms, tools for society; they have no independent “rights.” When banks plot to defraud pension funds or behave with such abandon that they “just happen” to defraud pension funds on a regular and widespread basis, society needs to get itself new tools.

Now the mesmerizing (to the many naïve working class voters who supported Reagan while he ate their lunch, [not to mention the much more extreme gang under Gingrich that followed) the nonsense of trickle down has been exposed as the pure propaganda the small progressive sector claimed it was all along: cookie crumbs did not trickle down from the billionaire’s table for everyone else. That had actually been the New Deal “deal.” In reality, after Reagan, the rich became richer by stealing from the poor and by impoverishing the great middle class that personified the American dream. When a mortgage company CEO can skim a few thousand in excess fees off the top of hundreds of thousands of mortgages and then escape criminal responsibility by quickly selling those mortgages to…say, a Chinese bank, that CEO can do very well indeed, thank you, even in the midst of general disaster, and he can easily afford to contribute appropriately to the politicians who look the other way. That’s one good route for a rich man to get richer by stealing from the poor. It’s called “trickle up.”


The Global View of Class Struggle - Immanuel Wallerstein

The world income squeeze is real, and not about to disappear. The structural crisis of the capitalist world-economy is making the standard solutions to economic downturns unworkable, no matter how much our pundits and politicians assure us that a new period of prosperity is on the horizon. [Common Dreams.]