Sunday, June 17, 2018

On Father's Day

I last saw my father at the age of three. Fifty years later, I learned he was murdered for his car, in 1948. After ten years spent with an abusive step father, I was left totally fatherless. Author Phillip Wylie became a sort of unknowing father figure to me, for many years. I grew up not caring enough about my father to check on him, for he and my mother had a rough relationship, before she ditched him to join the Okie flood to California. I think I was over forty before I began to feel a need to know the man. It was a feeling of being left unmoored on one of two pillars, the other representing my mother. I don't think one can feel complete without knowing both sides that contributed to their origin. I salute my father on this day. I hope he had a good time of it in the short time he had after we left him.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Reprint article on the Authentic Left

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/needed-now-a-real-and-radical-left/
For Marx, and I think for any authentic left today, the moral predisposition of bourgeois “elites” was and is of little concern. It’s not about speaking truth to wealth and power. Beseeching our capitalist masters to be nicer and smarter for the common good of all is a fool’s errand. We’re not trying to write a Charles Dickens novel in which rich Mr. Brownlow saves the day for poor Oliver Twist or the bad capitalist Scrooge becomes the good capitalist Scrooge. We know there’s no appealing to capitalist chieftains’ better angels where money and profit are concerned.

Real leftists know that five people owning as much wealth as the bottom half of the species while millions starve and lack adequate health care and half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor is capitalism working.

We know that giant corporations buying up every last family farm, tapping every new reserve of cheap global labor, raping the Congo’s raw materials in alliance with warlords, purchasing the votes of nearly every elected official, extracting every last fossil fuel and driving the planet past the limits of environmental sustainability is capitalism working.

We know that a giant military-industrial complex, generating vast fortunes for the owners and managers of high-tech “defense” (war and empire) firms while schools and public parks and infrastructure and social safety nets are underfunded—we know that that too is capitalism working.

I could go on.

The only solution, a real left would know, along with Marx, is for workers and citizens to organize collectively to overthrow the amoral profits system and take control of what they produce and how society is organized.

Power to the people. Power to the workers. And power to the commons, whose enclosure was and remains among other things the making of modern capitalism and its wage-enslaved working class.

That is what I have always understood to be the basic irreducible bottom-line perspective of anything that deserves since the time of Marx to be called “the left.”

I’m always amused when I hear mainstream U.S. media reporters, talking heads or pundits refer to “the left” in statements like “the left won’t like Trump’s tax plan” or “the left is gearing up for the 2018 midterms.” What left are they talking about?

In the reigning U.S. media-politics culture, “the left” refers first and foremost to the Democratic Party and its many allies at places like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, most of academia and a host of other elite sectors and actors. But for anyone who knows anything about the history and meaning of radical movements, calling the dismal dollar-drenched Democrats and their many media allies “the left” is like calling the National Pork Producers Association vegan. As the multimillionaire House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told a young CNN town hall questioner last year, “We’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.”

The Robert Rubin-approved and Goldman Sachs- and Citigroup-backed presidential candidate Barack Obama wrote and spoke with gushing praise for the lords of capital and their supposedly glorious profits system, which he called the source of a “prosperity that’s unmatched in human history.” His policy record as a militantly pro-Wall Street and arch-neoliberal president consistently matched his words. He did more for the nation’s leading financial institutions and corporations than any Republican president could have in the wake of the Great Recession, caused by concentrated wealth.

And he was proud of it. “People call me a socialist sometimes,” Obama told some top corporate executives at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council with a laugh in late 2013. “But no,” the arch-neoliberal president, TransPacific Partnership advocate and drone war champion said, eliciting chuckles from his ruling-class friends, “you’ve got to meet the real socialists. You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.” The CEOs in attendance got a big chuckle out of what CounterPunch called that “tender ruling class moment.”

“Socialists”? The “lying neoliberal warmonger” and arch-corporatist Hillary Clinton recently added those nasty socialists in the Democratic Party to the list of people other than herself and her Wall Street bankrollers that she blames for her defeat in 2016. If socialists in the Iowa Democratic caucuses had properly understood and respected her commitment to what top Democrats oxymoronically called “inclusive capitalism,” Hillary thinks, Trump would not be president.

Leftish liberals call for the supposed “party of the people” to abandon its “corporate and cultural elitism” and “return” to its purported grand mission of “fighting for social justice and ensuring that workers get a fair deal.” When, the plaintive progressive cry goes, will they learn how to win? But for the dismal Dems it isn’t about winning; it’s about serving corporate masters. As William Kaufman told Barbara Ehrenreich on Facebook last year, “The Democrats aren’t feckless, inept, or stupid, unable to ‘learn’ what it takes to win. They are corrupt. They do not want to win with an authentically progressive program because it would threaten the economic interests of their main corporate donor base. … The Democrats know exactly what they’re doing. They have a business model: sub-serving the interests of the corporate elite.”

The reigning corporate Democrats would rather lose to the right, even to a proto-fascistic white nationalist and eco-apocalyptic right, than lose to the left, even to a mildly progressive social democratic left within their own party. So what if Bernie Sanders, running (imagine!) in accord with majority progressive opinion would have been considerably more likely to defeat Trump than the incredibly unpopular and transparently elitist Hillary Clinton in the general election in 2016? The Democrats preferred handing the presidency and Congress to the Insane Clown President and the ever more radical right over letting a leftish neo-New Dealer into the White House. That was the “Inauthentic Opposition”—as the late Sheldon Wolin called the Democrats in 2008—doing its job.

Among other things, Russiagate is the Inauthentic Opposition following its business model and doing its job, working to cover its tracks by throwing the debacle of its corporatist politics down George Orwell’s memory hole and attributing their largely self-made defeat to Russia’s allegedly powerful interference in our supposed democracy. Russiagate is meant to provide corporate Democrats cover not only for 2016 but also for 2018 and 2020. It is meant to create a narrative that lets the Fake Resistance Party continue nominating corporate captive neoliberal shills and imperialists who pretend to be progressive while they are owned by the nation’s own homegrown oligarchs, the real masters of America’s oxymoronic “capitalist democracy.” This year’s crop of Democratic congressional candidates is disturbingly loaded with military and intelligence veterans, a reflection of the Democrats’ determination to run as the true party of empire.

As Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano write in their book “The Russians are Coming, Again,” “The scapegoat of Russia functions as a distraction for a ruling class that has lost its legitimacy.”

What is the Democrats’ leading cry? That the terrible Trump is truly terrible. And, of course, that is all too terribly true. But after you’ve bemoaned the terribleness of the beastly, orange-tinted Trump for the 10,000th time, are you ready to get serious about the systemic and richly bipartisan, oligarchic context within which he has emerged? “The Trump administration,” my fellow Truthdigger Chris Hedges reminds us:

“did not rise … like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count.”

Corporate Democrats could well re-elect Trump in 2020. The smart money now is on their running the tepid neoliberal centrist Kamala Harris. Part of what could make her irresistible to the corporate and professional-class know-it-alls atop the party is that she would be a “progressive neoliberal”-bourgeois identity politics double whammy when it comes to keeping their own party’s portside wing at bay. With Obama as their standard bearer, the corporate-war Democrats got to call their progressive critics racists. With Hillary as their candidate, the corporate-war Democrats got to call their progressive critics sexists. With Kamala Harris atop the ticket they could call their disobedient left racists and sexists if progressives dare to publicly notice her captivity to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Council on Foreign Relations and the military-industrial complex.

Not that Sanders, who was the Democrats’ best chance to defeat Trump, is all that “left.” Bernie “F-35” Sanders’ occasional and carefully hedged claims to be a “democratic socialist” were contradicted by his dutiful if quiet embrace of the mass-murderous U.S. military empire. It takes real chutzpah to repeatedly mention Scandinavia as his social-democratic role model without once noting that Sweden, Denmark and Norway spend comparatively tiny percentages of their national budgets on militarism. Failure to tackle the giant U.S. war budget (a vast mechanism of upward wealth transfer) means that you can’t pay for poverty-ending progressive transformation at home.

Sanders has never seriously criticized capitalism, the profits system or modern class rule. He has never questioned the underlying and foundational institutional despotism of capital over labor and the commons that makes a mockery of the West’s democratic pretense while placing human life itself at grave peril. Along the way, Sanders has sustained progressives’ deadly attachment to the nation’s narrow and strictly time-staggered election- and candidate-centered politics. “The really critical thing,” the great American radical historian Howard Zinn once sagely wrote, “isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.”

“The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change,” Noam Chomsky told Abby Martin in the fall of 2015, “is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle.” Sanders was and remains about the masters’ election cycle, which is dedicated to the delusional notion that we the people get meaningful democratic input into policy by spending three minutes in a voting booth choosing from among a handful of candidates selected in advance for us by the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money once every two years.

The Democrats know that lots of citizens think like Zinn. That’s why they set up Astroturf outfits like Indivisible and Move On and the Town Hall Project. These fake resistance groups masquerade as extra-electoral grass-roots movements, but they’re all about channeling everything into a big get-out-the-vote campaign for candidates affiliated with the not-so-left-most of the two reigning corporate parties.

A number of Sanders supporters have migrated into DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America, whose popular online “Thanks Capitalism” video defines “socialism” as little more than collective bargaining and civil rights. It says nothing about capitalism’s destruction of livable ecology or about its evil twin, imperialism, whose vast military budgets cancels out social democracy in the “homeland.” The video says nothing about Marx’s and other authentic leftists’ long-standing understanding of socialism as workers’ control.

A panoply of outwardly and sometimes substantively progressive advocacy, policy and service organizations can be found across the U.S. But as Les Leopold has noted, they are badly crippled by single-issue-ism, related to do their budgetary dependence on private foundations. “For the last generation,” Leopold wrote last year, “progressives have organized themselves into issue silos, each with its own agenda. Survival depends on fundraising (largely from private foundations) based on the uniqueness of one’s own silo. The net result of this Darwinian struggle is a fractured landscape of activity. The creativity, talent and skill are there in abundance, but the coherence and common purpose among groups is not.”

There are multi-issue nonpartisan progressive policy, lobbying and protest groups in the Citizen Action tradition across the nation. Their 501c3 (nonprofit) status prevents them from openly identifying as Democratic Party-affiliated groups, but that is what they are. Real authentic root-and-branch radicals who want to keep their jobs know to tread carefully and watch their backs when they work in the “progressive” nonprofit sector. It’s the same in “higher education” and the so-called labor movement.

There are a number of groups that call themselves Marxist in the U.S.—an alphabet soup whose various names and sectarian tendencies can be reviewed on Wikipedia. None of them have anything close to a large membership. Many of them spend more time tearing each other apart in sectarian squabbling than in organizing or inspiring anyone to fight the many manifest evils of capital.

Left anarchism seems as fragmented, marginal and sectarian as the Marxist left.

We’ve seen hopeful seeds of rank-and-file people’s organizing over the years with developments like the Wisconsin Rebellion before it was electorally co-opted, Occupy, the Fight for $15, the Chicago and subsequent statewide teacher strikes, the Verizon strike, rebellions and the movement against racist police killings—a movement bigger than just the Ford Foundation-funded and Borealis Foundation-coordinated Black Lives Matter brand. There’s been the Malcom X Grassroots Movement, We Charge Genocide, the remarkable Standing Rock moment, the broader struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the successful struggle against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the remarkable alternative economy political developments led by black radicals in Jackson, Miss., something that strikes me as the most potentially radical and remarkable development of all so far.

Now we have the Poor People’s Campaign, just underway, under the leadership of the Rev. William Barber, who has criticized U.S. militarism and kept Democratic Party politicos off his speaking platforms. Perhaps the PPC can develop in ways that will help us build an authentic radical left—not just another leftish moment that gets folded into a Get Out the Vote for Democrats campaign. To do so, it will need to open its platforms to serious left anti-capitalists. It will have to step further away from the not-so left-most party of capital, the Democrats. It will need to speak less in terms of the immorality of poverty and more in terms of how poverty is rooted in the profits system of class rule and the racism and imperialism that go with capitalism “like white on rice.”

“For whatever reason,” a PPC supporter writes me from Pennsylvania, the campaign is “unwilling or unable to name the disease, capitalism. In the absence of this diagnosis,” he says, “I worry that the PPC might be nothing more than a sheepdog for the Democrats in 2018.”

For now—and this must change—“the [U.S.] left” is still far too scattered, excessively siloed, overdependent on corporate foundations, overly identity-politicized, excessively episodic, excessively metropolitan and bicoastal, excessively professional and middle-class, insufficiently radical, insufficiently working-class, insufficiently anti-capitalist and insufficiently distanced from the dismal, demobilizing, depressing and dollar-drenched Democratic Party.

Noam Chomsky’s judgment five years ago remains all too accurate today: “There is no real left now” in the United States, Chomsky told David Barsamian. “If you are just counting heads,” Chomsky elaborated, “there are probably more people involved than in the 1960s, but they … don’t coalesce into a movement that can really do things. We’re not supposed to say it,” he continued, “but the Communist Party was an organized and persistent element. It didn’t show up for a demonstration and then scatter so somebody else had to start something new. It was always there and it was there for the long haul. … That mentality is basically missing [now]. And it was during the 1960s, too,” Chomsky said.

The absence of a real, dedicated, persistent and serious, adult left is profoundly dangerous. People who are getting shafted and who know it are going to get behind militant and angry politicos seeking to channel their understandable rage. If there’s no effective, durable, organized, intelligent and durable through-thick-and-thin anti-capitalist left around, the job of channeling that popular anger falls by default to the white nationalist racist, nativist and sexist right—the Hitlers, Goebbels, Marine Le Pens, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salivinis, Nigel Farages, David Dukes, Steve Kings, Donald Trumps and Steve Bannons of the world. Resentment abhors a vacuum.

At the same time, without a functioning left able to fight and do things for ordinary working and poor people, we will have nothing to defend and sustain our households, families and communities when the next big capitalist meltdown comes—an event that is due in the very near future. Before the coming collapse, Hedges tell us, “We must invest our energy in building parallel, popular institutions to protect ourselves and to pit power against power. These parallel institutions, including unions, community development organizations, local currencies, alternative political parties and food cooperatives, will have to be constructed town by town.”

Hedges’ list of institutions for parallel people’s power should be expanded to cooperative production, under the participatory and self-managed ownership, control and design of the “associated producers” themselves in harmony rather than at war with the natural environment.

It’s no small matter, given what we know now to be the essentially ecocidal nature of modern capitalism. “If there is not future for a radical mass movement in our time,” Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 15 years ago, “there can be no future for humanity itself.” 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ideology of Death: Patriotism Sold by the 1% and Borne by the Rest of Us

You have to give it to them, the super rich are uber brilliant. On second thought, brilliance implies some sort of virtue that others should emulate. The 1% are actually wickedly cunning. If the devil works magic through duplicity and lies, he taught his minions on earth very well. For the oligarchy have managed throughout history to dupe the ever obsequious public to bow before them while they accumulate treasures by spreading pestilence throughout the world. Nowhere is this paradigm more evident than the issues of war and bloodshed.
Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, who was the most highly decorated leatherneck in the history of the Marines at the time of his death, noted that wars are rackets fought to enhance the fortunes of corporations and plutocrats. Neocon and neoliberal chicken hawks, whose closest encounters with war are the high definition graphics of drones and missiles they see while promoting genocides in their air conditioned TV studios, would have called Major General Butler a traitor to his country. Capital swindlers react violently to anyone who dares speak truths that threaten to expose their hustle.
Their hustle is pretty slick; plutocrats, politicians and media personalities—all working for their corporate masters and plutocrat benefactors—keep convincing the poor, working and middle class to fight wars while they count their opulence. With each bomb that explodes, every limb shredded off and each life that is snuffed out, the cause for peace and justice takes leaps and bounds backwards. However, these same bloodbaths are boons for moneyed interests; there is nothing that is more pleasing to Wall Street and the gentry than breaking news of death and carnage.
Lest you think what I write is hyperbole, just think back to September 11th, 2001. While most Americans were in shock and mourning, traders on Wall Street and traitors to humanity were licking their chops to make a killing from the killing of innocent lives. Not only were institutional holders trying to figure out how to profit from America’s mass causality, there were some who were betting on an incoming terror before the Twin Towers were reduced to rubble. In the days before 9/11, there was an abnormal spike in put options against airline companies. Put options are bets that are made in anticipation of sudden downturns which yield tremendous profits in the event of a market retrenchment. A report by the San Francisco Chronicle noted:
“There was an unusually large jump in purchases of put options on the stocks of UAL Corp. and AMR Corp. in the three business days before the attack on major options exchanges in the United States. On one day, UAL put option purchases were 25 times greater than the year-to-date average. In the month before the attacks, short sales jumped by 40 percent for UAL and 20 percent for American.”
What took place prior to September 11th was not an aberration as much as it was an accepted practice for those who see bad news for humanity as great news for business. This past Friday—in anticipation of Donald Trump following through on his promise to bomb Syria—the share prices of Raytheon, Boeing, and Northrup Grumman all jumped sharply before the markets closed for the weekend. The future is past tense for those who have enough money to dictate policy decisions and political discourse. For the billionaire class and their millionaire underlings, everything is about the Benjamins. If Russia ever launches a nuclear trident in the direction of Omaha, the last act of Jim Cramer will be yelling at viewers to buy! buy! buy! shares of Service Corporation International.
Patriotism is serving one’s nation not profiting from its destruction. Sadly, we are being led and bled by public serpents who care only about self-interest.
This is the corrosive nature of money and power; people who accumulate enough of both have their souls inverted and replaced by savagery. I often ponder where compliance ends and evil begins. I’ve reduced it to this: evil is contained to those who actively push suffering upon humanity—the rest of us are guilty through consent. Sadly, it is our acquiescence to those who purvey evil that has been the root of our collective woe throughout the ages. While the upper crust of society amass capital, the rest of us keep acquiring sorrows. Artificial constructs like race, ideology and the ever proliferating identities that are imposed upon us serve to shatter humanity and make us fight each other.
We become crabs in barrels snipping at each other instead of working together to escape our vessels. As we bicker, we don’t notice the water boiling around us as each day more and more of us are broiled by creeping insolvency or entombed by indigence. To distract us from the fact that our hardships can be traced to the few who reign atop of us, demagogues and shills are pushed by the establishment to continually antagonize us and keep us focused on our differences. The whole of our politics is centered on this axiom: as long as we view the world through left/right and black/white prisms, we will never be able to muster the unity that is needed to overcome injustice.
Carl von Clausewitz noted that war is politics by other means. He could not have been any more right, except few actually understand the profound depth of his statement. War is the natural extension of politics because ideological divides are the wombs that give birth to combat. The same way we are made to demonize each other domestically through tribalism is how the politico-media complex demonizes foreigners to gin up conflict and start warfare. The “us versus them” battles that take place internally is used by jingoists to drum up war and initiate strife globally. Patriotism is sold by the 1% only to be borne by the rest of us—we are led by an ideology of death.CLICK TO TWEET
Our nation was founded on the principles of self-determination and limited governance. Some of the founders were wise enough to warn about the perils of becoming the police of the world. Proving that all revolutions devolve right back to the tyranny that gave birth to them, our government has now become the police, judge, jury and executioners of the planet. Samuel Johnson once said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, he was warning us about the current crop of political leaders on both sides of the aisle who are marching us down the path of destruction. They use euphemisms and nationalism to mask their malevolence; as they sign the death warrants of soldiers and foreign nationals, they turn around and collect checks from arms dealers and debt traders. King George was an altruistic angel compared to our governance.
I don’t know when we will wake up to this never ending hustle of war and lies. As warmongers get on TV to cheer on yet another bloodletting in Syria that can induce humanity’s nuclear extinction, the victims of perpetual war are stacking up in almost every city and town throughout America and throughout the world. On Friday, more than 100 missiles were launched into Damascus. Each missile costs roughly $1.5 million to manufacture. In a blink of an eye, more than $150 million was wasted to destroy another nation instead of building our breaking country. The water pipes in Flint could have been replaced and every homeless veteran in Michigan could have been given a house to live in with the money we frittered to bomb a nation that never attacked us.
It is our greatest shame that we waste billions building weapons that enrich defense contractors only to let veterans suffer in silence on sidewalks throughout America.
Alas, the wealthy don’t want to solve problems because profit is only found through wars and tribulations. So the beat goes on; children keep dying from Douma to Detroit and beyond for lack of water or through the shell shock of war and these developments just bleeds into the background. Human suffering has become a cost of doing business; we shrug our shoulders or take to social media to show hashtag outrage but in the end we accept injustice and move on to the next selfie laden protest. Soon enough, our turn on the line will arrive; injustice anywhere eventually becomes a noose that finds home upon our necks. I pray we rise from our collective coma before a stool kick becomes our culling wake.
Just remember, this war that politicians in DC and pundits in mainstream media are pushing is not the run of the mill wars we have been enmeshed in for the past 50 years. Parenthetically, wars which have taken the lives of millions around the world. Russia and China are not Iraq and Syria. The tensions that are being stoked by armchair generals—God forbid they boil over into open hostilities—will take the lives of billions if not usher in the age of Armageddon. The 1% have their bunkers built for this eventuality. If CNN leads with ICBMs heading for the nearest city, the gentility will be dinning on foie gras below ground as we are grazing on dry grass above them. Either we unite by choice or we will be united by a global holocaust. #IdeologyOfDeath
“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, April 12, 2018

https://ghionjournal.com/potemkin-society/



I Don’t Give a Damn about the First (Insert Identity Here) CEO or President

Do you know what literally repulses me these days? Hearing about the first so and so to get accepted into the exclusive club of the aristocracy. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about the latest first black president or first woman CEO. Who cares! I don’t know how we have arrived at this notion where we measure the wellness of humanity not based on the well being of the least among us but based on the accumulation of the the wealthiest among us. This annoyance of mine got revved up to full blown peeve two days ago when I heard a report of how Kamala Harris has a chance to become the first black woman president.
I can’t believe I used to fall for this nonsense! It takes a stupendous level of cognitive dissonance to at once celebrate the fortunes of someone from a specific identity while looking past the vast sea of people from said identity who are stuck in gut wrenching poverty. We pop champagnes for the neo-gentry while disregarding our own tribulations. It’s the most stunning form of logical Ju-Jitsu the establishment has successfully conditioned us to accept; instead of gauging the health of the economy and the vitality of our nation based on the collective whole, we have been hoodwinked to accept the elevation of a few as success for us all.
Diversity has become a scam and nothing more than a corporate bamboozle and a federated scheme that is used to hide the true nature of crony capitalism. We have become a Potemkin society where tokens are put on the stage to represent equality while the vast majority of Americans are enslaved by wages or kneecapped by dependency. The whole of our politics has been turned into an identity driven hustle. On both side of the aisle and at every corner of the social divide are grievance whisperers and demagogues who who keep putting fuel on the fire of tribalism. They use our pains and suffering to make millions only to turn their backs on us the minute they attain riches and status.
Sadly, too many of us keep falling for this breathtaking deception. Liberals swooned for “the first black president” the same way that conservatives fell for our current infantile chief executive. What is true of our politics is true of wider society; at every turn, we keep being inundated with the latest news of the first “black”, woman, Latino, gay, Muslim or transgender to soar to the upper strata of privilege while millions are mired in abject indigence. We are sliced and diced in a million different classifications; the more we are splintered, the easier it is to pit us against each other and make us think that others who struggle just like us are our enemies. All the while, a procession of diverse mannequins are paraded on media and displayed on corporate billboards to represent advancement.
Corporate campaigns and media conditioning keeps presenting a sanitized version of reality, we have become a Potemkin society where tokenism hides injustice.
This is mass-propaganda that Joseph Goebbels would be awed by. A facade of equality and a veneer of freedom paints over the swelling numbers of Americans who have become statistic of unbridled capitalism. In this ongoing economic terrorism that has been unleashed against the bottom 99% of humanity, the victims are just as responsible in perpetuating the crime as the victimizers. Too quick to bow before political idols and worship the rich and famous, we conflate the prosperity of few with progress for the rest of us. Far from defending our economic self-interests, we are now delirious enough to “donate” money to millionaires and billionaires. This is mental slavery on steroids!
This form of tribal affinity is perilous. My native land Ethiopia, and “Africa” as a whole, was shattered and plundered because foreign actors intervened and convinced us to focus on clan above humanity. Fixation on our differences superseded our commonalities; the price we paid for this imprudence is evident. Capital is hoarded by a few while suffering is socialized to the general population. This level of omnipresent greed and strife is not contained to developing nations; the same playbook of slice, colonize and brutalize is happening right here in America and globally. Four billionaires are worth more than 40% of Americans put together, this level of consolidated edacity is what gave birth to the French Revolution.
Alas, instead of saying enough, reclaiming our sovereignty and standing up for our dignity, too many of us keep fawning over stars and going gaga over media personalities. This is the tragedy of humanity, the oppressed have a way of deifying their oppressors. As the plutocracy and their paid puppets in the media-politico complex lead lives of royalty, the rest of us are being grounded into a pulp by economic anxieties. Tokenism has become our collective sedative; instead of paying attention to the injustices of society, we would rather self-medicate by inhaling the vapors of the affluent only to exhale fumes of misfortunes.CLICK TO TWEET
It took a mean mugging by reality for me to realize this most insidious sham of our governance and corporate totalitarianism that are bleeding humanity. Away from the sterilized diversity of politics and media driven personalities are the harsh realities of shared suffering. There is an alternative diversity that more and more people are being sucked into. Pervasive economic hardship and heart rending injustices are nullifying the hopes and dreams of tens of millions in America and billions globally. This reality traverses the countless constructs and identities that are erected to ghettoize humanity. While the rich are diversifying their portfolios, a diverse body of humanity are being made equal before insolvency.
Think about these things next time mainstream media broadcasts a story about the first so and so to accomplish a tremendous feat. Ask yourself if the fortunes of the 1% is more important than the misfortunes of humanity. But if you insist on waving pompoms for the newest member of the bourgeoisie, that is your right but just know what they eat will not feed you. As for me, I won’t have none of it. I am done celebrating the lavish lives of the well to do; my heart and my attention is focused on the least among us who dwell in adversities. I don’t give a crap about the “first black CEO” or the “first woman president”, I want a world where we witness the last child going to bed at night hungry and replace exclusive wealth with inclusive opportunity. #PotemkinSociety
“The rich rob the poor, and the poor rob one another.” ~ Sojourner Truth

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

paradox of a superb military that never gets the job done

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-american-military-system-dissected/

The purpose of all wars, is peace. So observed St. Augustine early in the first millennium A.D. Far be it from me to disagree with the esteemed Bishop of Hippo, but his crisply formulated aphorism just might require a bit of updating.

I’m not a saint or even a bishop, merely an interested observer of this nation’s ongoing military misadventures early in the third millennium A.D. From my vantage point, I might suggest the following amendment to Augustine’s dictum: Any war failing to yield peace is purposeless and, if purposeless, both wrong and stupid.

War is evil. Large-scale, state-sanctioned violence is justified only when all other means of achieving genuinely essential objectives have been exhausted or are otherwise unavailable. A nation should go to war only when it has to — and even then, ending the conflict as expeditiously as possible should be an imperative.

Some might take issue with these propositions, President Trump’s latest national security adviser doubtless among them. Yet most observers — even, I’m guessing, most high-ranking U.S. military officers — would endorse them. How is it then that peace has essentially vanished as a U.S. policy objective? Why has war joined death and taxes in that select category of things that Americans have come to accept as unavoidable?

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The United States has taken Thucydides’s famed Melian Dialogue and turned it inside out. Centuries before Augustine, the great Athenian historian wrote, “The strong do what they will, while the weak suffer what they must.”Strength confers choice; weakness restricts it. That’s the way the world works, so at least Thucydides believed. Yet the inverted Melian Dialogue that prevails in present-day Washington seemingly goes like this: strength imposes obligations and limits choice. In other words, we gotta keep doing what we’ve been doing, no matter what.

Making such a situation all the more puzzling is the might and majesty of America’s armed forces. By common consent, the United States today has the world’s best military. By some estimates, it may be the best in recorded history. It’s certainly the most expensive and hardest working on the planet.

Yet in the post-Cold War era when the relative strength of U.S. forces reached its zenith, our well-endowed, well-trained, well-equipped, and highly disciplined troops have proven unable to accomplish any of the core tasks to which they’ve been assigned. This has been especially true since 9/11.

We send the troops off to war, but they don’t achieve peace. Instead, America’s wars and skirmishes simply drag on, seemingly without end. We just keep doing what we’ve been doing, a circumstance that both Augustine and Thucydides would undoubtedly have found baffling.

Prosecuting War, Averting Peace

How to explain this paradox of a superb military that never gets the job done? Let me suggest that the problem lies with the present-day American military system, the principles to which the nation adheres in raising, organizing, supporting, and employing its armed forces. By its very existence, a military system expresses an implicit contract between the state, the people, and the military itself.

Here, as I see it, are the principles — seven in all — that define the prevailing military system of the United States.

First, we define military service as entirely voluntary. In the U.S., there is no link between citizenship and military service. It’s up to you as an individual to decide if you want to take up arms in the service of your country.

If you choose to do so, that’s okay. If you choose otherwise, that’s okay, too. Either way, your decision is of no more significance than whether you root for the Yankees or the Mets.

Second, while non-serving citizens are encouraged to “support the troops,” we avoid stipulating how this civic function is to be performed.

In practice, there are many ways of doing so, some substantive, others merely symbolic. Most citizens opt for the latter. This means that they cheer when invited to do so. Cheering is easy and painless. It can even make you feel good about yourself.

Third, when it comes to providing the troops with actual support, we expect Congress to do the heavy lifting. Our elected representatives fulfill that role by routinely ponying up vast sums of money for what is misleadingly called a defense budget. In some instances, Congress appropriates even more money than the Pentagon asks for, as was the case this year.

Meanwhile, under the terms of our military system, attention to how this money actually gets spent by our yet-to-be-audited Pentagon tends to be — to put the matter politely — spotty. Only rarely does the Congress insert itself forcefully into matters relating to what U.S. forces scattered around the world are actually doing.

Yes, there are periodic hearings, with questions posed and testimony offered. But unless there is some partisan advantage to be gained, oversight tends to be, at best, pro forma. As a result, those charged with implementing national security policy — another Orwellian phrase — enjoy very considerable latitude. 

Fourth, under the terms of our military system, this latitude applies in spades to the chief executive. The commander-in-chief occupies the apex of our military system. The president may bring to office very little expertise pertinent to war or the art of statecraft, yet his authority regarding such matters is essentially unlimited.

Consider, if you will, the sobering fact that our military system empowers the president to order a nuclear attack, should he see the need — or feel the impulse — to do so. He need not obtain congressional consent. He certainly doesn’t need to check with the American people.

Since Harry Truman ordered the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, presidents have not exercised this option, for which we should all be grateful. Yet on more occasions than you can count, they have ordered military actions, large and small, on their own authority or after only the most perfunctory consultation with Congress. When Donald Trump, for instance, threatened North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen,” he gave no hint that he would even consider asking for prior congressional authorization to do so. Trump’s words were certainly inflammatory. Yet were he to act on those words, he would merely be exercising a prerogative enjoyed by his predecessors going back to Truman himself.

The Constitution invests in Congress the authority to declare war. The relevant language is unambiguous. In practice, as countless commentators have noted, that provision has long been a dead letter. This, too, forms an essential part of our present military system.

Fifth, under the terms of that system, there’s no need to defray the costs of military actions undertaken in our name. Supporting the troops does not require citizens to pay anything extra for what the U.S. military is doing out there wherever it may be. The troops are asked to sacrifice; for the rest of us, sacrifice is anathema.

Indeed, in recent years, presidents who take the nation to war or perpetuate wars they inherit never even consider pressing Congress to increase our taxes accordingly. On the contrary, they advocate tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest among us, which lead directly to massive deficits.

Sixth, pursuant to the terms of our military system, the armed services have been designed not to defend the country but to project military power on a global basis. For the Department of Defense actually defending the United States qualifies as an afterthought, trailing well behind other priorities such as trying to pacify Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province or jousting with militant groups in Somalia. The United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all designed to fight elsewhere, relying on a constellation of perhaps 800 bases around the world to facilitate the conduct of military campaigns “out there,” wherever “there” may happen to be. They are, in other words, expeditionary forces.

Reflect for a moment on the way the Pentagon divvies the world up into gigantic swathes of territory and then assigns a military command to exercise jurisdiction over each of them: European Command, Africa Command, Central Command, Southern Command, Northern Command, and Pacific Command. With the polar icecap continuing to melt, a U.S. Arctic Command is almost surely next on the docket. Nor is the Pentagon’s mania for creating new headquarters confined to terra firma. We already have U.S. Cyber Command. Can U.S. Galactic Command be far behind?

No other nation adheres to this practice. Nor would the United States permit any nation to do so. Imagine the outcry in Washington if President Xi Jinping had the temerity to create a “PRC Latin America Command,” headed by a four-star Chinese general charged with maintaining order and stability from Mexico to Argentina.

Seventh (and last), our military system invests great confidence in something called the military profession.

The legal profession exists to implement the rule of law. We hope that the result is some approximation of justice. The medical profession exists to repair our bodily ailments. We hope that health and longevity will result. The military profession exists to master war. With military professionals in charge, it’s our hope that America’s wars will conclude quickly and successfully with peace the result.

To put it another way, we look to the military profession to avert the danger of long, costly, and inconclusive wars. History suggests that these sap the collective strength of a nation and can bring about its premature decline. We count on military professionals to forestall that prospect.

Our military system assigns the immediate direction of war to our most senior professionals, individuals who have ascended step by step to the very top of the military hierarchy. We expect three- and four-star generals and admirals to possess the skills needed to make war politically purposeful. This expectation provides the rationale for the status they enjoy and the many entitlementsthey are accorded.

America, the (Formerly) Indispensable

Now, the nation that has created this military system is not some “shithole country,” to use a phrase made famous by President Trump. We are, or at least claim to be, a democratic republic in which all power ultimately derives from the people. We believe in — indeed, are certain that we exemplify — freedom, even as we continually modify the meaning of that term.

In the aggregate, we are very rich. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century we have taken it for granted that the United States ought to be the richest country on the planet, notwithstanding the fact that large numbers of ordinary Americans are themselves anything but rich. Indeed, as a corollary to our military system, we count on these less affluent Americans to volunteer for military service in disproportionate numbers. Offered sufficient incentives, they do so.

Finally, since 1945 the United States has occupied the preeminent place in the global order, a position affirmed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991. Indeed, we have come to believe that American primacy reflects the will of God or of some cosmic authority.

From the early years of the Cold War, we have come to believe that the freedom, material abundance, and primacy we cherish all depend upon the exercise of “global leadership.” In practice, that seemingly benign term has been a euphemism for unquestioned military superiority and the self-assigned right to put our military to work as we please wherever we please. Back in the 1990s, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it best: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

Other countries might design their military establishments to protect certain vital interests. As Albright’s remark suggests, American designs have been far more ambitious.

Here, then, is a question: How do the principles and attitudes that undergird our military system actually suit twenty-first-century America? And if they don’t, what are the implications of clinging to such a system? Finally, what alternative principles might form a more reasonable basis for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing our armed forces?

Spoiler alert: Let me acknowledge right now that I consider our present-day military system irredeemably flawed and deeply harmful. For proof we need look no further than the conduct of our post-9/11 wars, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

These myriad undertakings of the last nearly 17 years have subjected our military system to a comprehensive real-world examination. Collectively, they have rendered a judgment on that system. And the judgment is negative. Put to the test, the American military system has failed. 

And the cost so far? Trillions of dollars expended (with trillions more to come), thousands of American lives lost, tens of thousands of Americans grievously damaged, and even greater numbers of non-Americans killed, injured, and displaced.

One thing is certain: our wars have not brought about peace by even the loosest definition of the word.

A Military Report Card

There are many possible explanations for why our recent military record has been so dismal. One crucial explanation — perhaps the most important of all — relates to those seven principles that undergird our military system.

Let me review them in reverse order.

Principle 7, the military profession: Tally up the number of three- and four-star generals who have commanded the Afghan War since 2001. It’s roughly a dozen. None of them has succeeded in bringing it to a successful conclusion. Nor does any such happy ending seem likely to be in the offing anytime soon. The senior officers we expect to master war have demonstrated no such mastery.

The generals who followed one another in presiding over that war are undoubtedly estimable, well-intentioned men, but they have not accomplished the job for which they were hired. Imagine if you contracted with a dozen different plumbers — each highly regarded — to fix a leaking sink in your kitchen and you ended up with a flooded basement. You might begin to think that there’s something amiss in the way that plumbers are trained and licensed. Similarly, perhaps it’s time to reexamine our approach to identifying and developing very senior military officers. 

Or alternatively, consider this possibility: Perhaps our theory of war as an enterprise where superior generalship determines the outcome is flawed. Perhaps war cannot be fully mastered, by generals or anyone else.

It might just be that war is inherently unmanageable. Take it from Winston Churchill, America’s favorite confronter of evil. “The statesman who yields to war fever,” Churchill wrote, “must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

If Churchill is right, perhaps our expectations that senior military professionals will tame war — control the uncontrollable — are misplaced. Perhaps our military system should put greater emphasis on avoiding war altogether or at least classifying it as an option to be exercised with great trepidation, rather than as the political equivalent of a handy-dandy, multi-functional Swiss Army knife. 

Principle 6, organizing our forces to emphasize global power projection: Reflect for a moment on the emerging security issues of our time. The rise of China is one example. A petulant and over-armed Russia offers a second. Throw in climate change and mushrooming cyber-threats and you have a daunting set of problems. It’s by no means impertinent to wonder about the relevance of the current military establishment to these challenges. 

Every year the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and enhance the lethality of a force configured for conventional power projection and to sustain the global network of bases that goes with it. For almost two decades, that force has been engaged in a futile war of attrition with radical Islamists that has now spread across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa.

I don’t know about you, but I worry more about the implications of China’s rise and Russian misbehavior than I do about Islamic terrorism. And I worry more about changing weather patterns here in New England or somebody shutting down the electrical grid in my home town than I do about what Beijing and Moscow may be cooking up. Bluntly put, our existing military system finds us focused on the wrong problem set.

We need a military system that accurately prioritizes actual and emerging threats. The existing system does not. This suggests the need for radically reconfigured armed services, with the hallowed traditions of George Patton, John Paul Jones, Billy Mitchell, and Chesty Puller honorably but permanently retired.

Principle 5, paying — or not paying — for America’s wars: If you want it, you should be willing to pay for it. That hoary axiom ought to guide our military system as much as it should our personal lives. Saddling Millennials or members of Generation Z with the cost of paying for wars mostly conceived and mismanaged by my fellow Baby Boomers strikes me as downright unseemly.

One might expect the young to raise quite a ruckus over such an obvious injustice. In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed their righteous anger over the absence of effective gun controls in this country. That they aren’t comparably incensed about the misuse of guns by their own contemporaries deployed to distant lands represents a real puzzle, especially since they’re the ones who will ultimately be stuck with the bill.

Principles 4 and 3, the role of Congress and the authority of the commander-in-chief: Whatever rationale may once have existed for allowing the commander-in-chief to circumvent the Constitution’s plainly specified allocation of war powers to Congress should long since have lapsed. Well before Donald Trump became president, a responsible Congress would have reasserted its authority to declare war. That Trump sits in the Oval Office and now takes advice from the likes of John Bolton invests this matter with great urgency.

Surely President Trump’s bellicose volatility drives home the point that it’s past time for Congress to assert itself in providing responsible oversight regarding all aspects of U.S. military policy. Were it to do so, the chances of fixing the defects permeating our present military system would improve appreciably.

Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil until the money changers are expelled from the temple. And that won’t occur until Americans who are not beholden to the military-industrial complex and its various subsidiaries rise up, purge the Congress of its own set of complexes, and install in office people willing to do their duty. And that brings us back to…

Principles 2 and 1, the existing relationship between the American people and their military and our reliance on a so-called all-volunteer force: Here we come to the heart of the matter.

I submit that the relationship between the American people and their military is shot through with hypocrisy. It is, in fact, nothing short of fraudulent. Worse still, most of us know it, even if we are loath to fess up. In practice, the informal mandate to “support the troops” has produced an elaborate charade. It’s theater, as phony as Donald Trump’s professed love for DACA recipients.

If Americans were genuinely committed to supporting the troops, they would pay a great deal more attention to what President Trump and his twenty-first-century predecessors have tasked those troops to accomplish — with what results and at what cost. Of course, that would imply doing more than cheering and waving the flag on cue. Ultimately, the existence of the all-volunteer force obviates any need for such an effort. It provides Americans with an ample excuse for ignoring our endless wars and allowing our flawed military system to escape serious scrutiny.

Having outsourced responsibility for defending the country to people few of us actually know, we’ve ended up with a military system that is unfair, undemocratic, hugely expensive, and largely ineffective, not to mention increasingly irrelevant to the threats coming our way. The perpetuation of that system finds us mired in precisely the sort of long, costly, inconclusive wars that sap the collective strength of a nation and may bring about its premature decline.

The root cause of our predicament is the all-volunteer force. Only when we ordinary citizens conclude that we have an obligation to contribute to the country’s defense will it become possible to devise a set of principles for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing U.S. forces that align with our professed values and our actual security requirements.

If Stormy Daniels can figure out when an existing contract has outlived its purpose, so can the rest of us.