September 30, 2009

The Iranian Bomb

Filed under: Global War On Terror, Globalization — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 8:59 am
Here’s a rundown on the situation with Iran.
1. In spite of some inflammatory rhetoric on both sides, it’s extremely unlikely that any Iranian regime would launch a bolt out of the blue strike against Israel if they had the bomb. But the neocons at least claim to believe this, which gives them their alleged rationale for beating the war drums.
A neocon always wants war, somewhere, everywhere. It’s the essence of the Global War on Terror. Any pretext will do, and any conceivable threat, however absurd in practice, will be represented as a plausible clear and present danger to the American homeland. Thus we have had the spectacle of the Eastern European missiles (really meant to help reestablish Cold War conditions vis Russia) represented as a critical defense against the existential threat nonexistent Iranian ICBMs pose to our cities.
2. Iran believes it has the right to develop a bomb; that it’s absurd on its face that America and Israel have the right to the bomb but not them.
Indeed, Israel is not an adherent of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and its own original grounds for refusal were precisely that the Treaty has no ethical basis for dividing the world into the pre-1967 nuclear powers (who got to keep their nukes) and everybody else, for whom they would be forbidden. This was purely an arbitrary, might-makes-right division.
So by Israel’s own logic, there’s no basis to forbid Iran the bomb. Iran adhered to the NPT only under duress; clearly where the weak agree under the pressure of the bullying of the strong, this agreement is not binding the way it is for what strong impose on themselves.
(American allies India and Pakistan are also non-adherents who have gone on to develop their own bombs.)
Also, one of the “three pillars” of the NPT, along with non-proliferation and “peaceful use”, is nuclear disarmament. In theory signatories are supposed to seek a weapon-free world.
Of course, American and Britain never intended any such thing; for them that provision was just nukewashing. And by now non-signatory Israel fully supports the arbitrary morality of the NPT division which it originally rejected, now that its own rogue nukes have been normalized within the neocon order.
That disposes of the moral right and wrong
3. Are the Iranians absolutely committed to developing a bomb, or are they trying to use it as a bargaining chip? This is unknown, but see (8) below.
4. To the extent they really want the bomb, they want it as a deterrent. Clearly America is an erratically aggressive, bullying power which understands only strength. You can deal with bullies like neocon America only if your position is credibly backed up by the real threat of force. That’s the lesson of Munich, which North Korea took to heart. Not long ago there was a lot of threatening bluster spewed Pyongyang’s way. Since it’s come to be believed that the North now has the bomb, we don’t hear the Korean war drums as much anymore.
5. What’s America’s circumstance? By any reality-based measure, it’s not prepared to start another war. The military is already overstretched (even not counting another escalation in Afghanistan), and fantasies of a few “smart” strikes are not likely to get the job done. Of course our financial and physical resources are spent. As for the politics, the American people have definitively turned against the Iraq war, the polls now run against Afghan escalations and even the war itself. Nobody except the neocons and the corporations wants to launch another war.
6. In the event of an attack, Iran’s most likely retaliation would be to mine the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil exports pass. They have said they would do this, and it’s the only effective thing they could do anyway.
The results of the subsequent oil shock and price shock would be devastating to the “recovery”. The green shoots would wither and die without the constant watering of relatively cheap oil. 
To mine the Straits they would use a vast fleet of small boats. While America’s military flyswatter can swat fly after fly, we’re talking one huge swarm of flies. If these boats could launch their coordinated sowing, as they would be able if Israel struck unilaterally, it would be excruciating to sweep out the place afterward. 
So attack, if it’s to make any tactical sense, has to be coordinated ahead of time between America and Israel (or just launched by America by itself). The attacks would have to try to destroy the whole minelayer fleet preemptively, even though that’s hundreds of small boats all along the Iranian coast. Israel could never do it by itself. 
7. So a unilateral Israeli strike is no good. But, if Obama hesitates, could Israel engage in Strangelovian extortion? Could it insist that it will attack, unilaterally if need be and to hell with the consequences, thereby presenting Obama with the equivalent of General Ripper saying “you boys better send SAC in after them or you’ll get destroyed by the commie retaliation”? Could Israel’s equivalent be “you’d better go in with us or face the straits mining without preemption”?
So as we can see from 5-7, the military “option” is no good. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not crazy enough to do it anyway.)
8. Diplomacy? What’s the carrot, what’s the stick? The stick would supposedly be sanctions (Iran is most vulnerable in its gasoline imports). But the requisite Russian and Chinese consent are not likely. Since it’s also unlikely that the Americans would really try to sanction Chinese energy companies (important Chimerica players), it seems that just like with “financial regulation” and “health care reform”, so for Obama “sanctions” looks like yet another empty word.
The carrot probably doesn’t exist. Peaceful nuke technological assistance? (The third pillar.) But this would come at the price of bowing to American diktat. So from the Iranians’ point of view this wouldn’t be a carrot at all, but a lesser stick. So far as I’ve read, America has nothing they want; they want America out of their face.
9. So it looks like they’ll continue on their current path. They’ll delay talks, go through the motions, but not let American threats, which they perceive to be impotent bluster, to deter them from their goal.
If that’s the case, then America must resign itself to the Iranian bomb or take the crazy route of war, which probably won’t work anyway.
10. As for we Americans, to us this bomb is of course not a joke. Proliferation is a bad thing, and it’s too bad the corporatist faction in America chose the globalist path which both rendered proliferation more likely and guaranteed that the proliferators would see America as the predator they were seeking to deter.
We should see that the real enemy is domestic, and permanent war empowers him. The best way to start waging war against the real enemy is to prevent him from using hijacked American resources to wage imperial war abroad. That means ending the GWOT: shutting down existing theaters and preventing the opening of new ones.  

September 28, 2009

Which Way in Afghanistan?

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 4:27 am
In 2001 America had the opportunity and the justification to launch a big raid to capture and destroy Al Queda and, as punishment, knock the Taliban out of power. If the Bush administration had been acting in good faith to avenge 9/11 and apprehend or kill the AQ leadership, this would probably have been accomplished.
But Bush was really using 9/11 as a pretext of power, and the real target was Iraq. As always with the Bush crew, where they didn’t really care about what they were doing, they totally botched it. So it was in Afghanistan. (I’ve wondered whether the idea actually was that Osama bin Laden was more useful alive and at large, as a political bogeyman, than dead, and that they let him get away at Tora Bora. It’s possible, but we hardly need such explanations. Bush incompetence and half-assedness always lay at the root of everything he did.)
For the next seven years the Bush war was ad hoc, without strategy, without consistent funding or staffing, without sufficient forces. When the Taliban regrouped and reasserted their control of much of the country, Bush and his Pentagon simply lied about it.
As a result, Afghanistan is today a quagmire, and the question of the day is whether to extract the mired leg or plunge in with the other. It’s now that the long-feared Vietnam parallels begin to get triggered.
Obama is frequently being compared to Lyndon Johnson. The situation looks the same. A proclaimed domestic reformer comes into office saddled immediately with an existing war. Johnson thought his Great Society agenda depended upon a quid pro quo with Congressional hawks, that he give them their war in exchange for their votes. He also thought he was politically vulnerable if he wasn’t a warrior president. (This was rendered nonsensical when he ran in 1964 as the peace candidate; that he still had political fears after that was idiotic.)
So it seems nominally with Obama. He says he really wants to reform health care and the financial system, but also has to deal with this inherited war. But that’s really an illusion, since Obama definitely never needed any Republican votes to achieve anything, was never going to get them anyway, and seems to really like the Global War on Terror in principle. So if he ever really believed any of this LBJ parallel stuff, that’s just his personal demon. It’s not reality-based.
(I should also mention that LBJ sincerely wanted, ferociously fought for, often against odds, sometimes losing, his Great Society program. Meanwhile all the evidence is that Obama never really wanted finance reform or health care reform. So far he has certainly been unwilling to lift a finger to get either. So as rightfully tarnished as LBJ’s legacy is thanks to his Vietnam derangement, it would still be unjust to regard he and Obama as the same.)
If Obama really is having second thoughts about an Afghan escalation, he should remember that he’s had no problem breaking all his other campaign promises. So he shouldn’t worry about this promise, to escalate in Afghanistan. This is the one promise he should break.
Obama has compared American war policy to a large ship at sea. It takes time to make a ponderous turn toward a new course. That’s true; government policy has considerable inertia. But:
1. The point is nevertheless to turn as quickly as possible.
2. With an intrepid mindset, you can do it much faster. For example, although they don’t like to talk about it this way, one of the reasons they can’t withdraw troops more quickly from places like Iraq is because they’re protecting not American interests but the private interests of war profiteers. Another piece of dead weight is existing privateer contracts in these war zones.
Well, I think a good way of trimming down this tanker to a sleeker vessel would be to jettison these invalid concerns and illegitimate “interests”. If it’s true that there’s no right to strike against the public interest, it’s equally true that no one in government has a right to sign contracts against the public interest.
It’s all academic for the moment; tanker or speedboat, so far Obama is full steam ahead.
So where are we chronologically, compared to Vietnam? In one sense Obama is Nixon, taking on an existing war and making it his own. As Nixon and his new commander Creighton Abrahms came in with the “new” strategy of withdrawing troops, Vietnamization, and extending the war beyond Vietnam’s borders into Cambodia and Laos, so Obama has indicated that he cherishes a new emphasis on Pakistan, while his guy McChrystal wants to refocus the military effort in Afghanistan from search-and-destroy to pacification and Vietnamization. Richard Holbrooke, a pacification cadre in Vietnam himself, is gung ho about this program.
At the same time, the parallel is also to 1965 and LBJ. Here the newly elected president inherits an ongoing but still relatively small scale war and chooses to greatly escalate the troop levels and the scope of action. Thus Obama has already deployed 21000 more troops toward a total of 68000 by December (plus 75000 contractors, plus the fact that they’ve been rotating out support troops, whose positions are taken by contractors, while they rotate in more “trigger-pullers”; in this way they are escalating the combat troop level without additionally escalating the aggregate troop level), and McC is expected any day now to request anywhere from 10-45000 more, with the expectation being that Obama would end up authorizing the middle case of twenty-something thousand, what they’ve been calling the Goldilocks figure.
Or, that was the expectation, until Obama reportedly began to hesitate. In spite of denials, the brass has apparently been putting on the pressure. Last week they leaked McC’s classified report predicting failure without a large troop escalation. JCS Chairman Mike Mullen has been beating the drums for more troops to retrieve a “deteriorating” situation. Mullen, Centcom commander Petraeus, and McC had a powwow in Germany a few days ago. The bloodmongers in the media and Congress (republican and democrat) have been shrieking. It’s hard for me to believe Obama’s going to stand up to this kind of confrontation, even if he did end up changing his mind about the policy. We might end up with Obama himself becoming the McNamara here, in his mind no longer believing, but too weak to say No.
We can take this moment to point out another parallel. Just as Westmoreland could never give a coherent explanation of why the Vietnam war should be fought, but took it for granted and kept demanding ever more troops, so these admirals and generals today also offer no cogent rationale for the GWOT or for any of its theaters, beyond parroting neocon boilerplate. We’re of course not talking about something like WWII, where the point of the war was obvious to almost everyone, and it had to be fought to the bitter end regardless because it was total war. One would think that mercenary wars of choice, being fought for no obvious reason, and certainly no existential reason, call for explanations. But instead calling for escalation is simply what officer cadres in a professional military fighting mercenary wars do. It’s ingrained; it’s careerist; it’s inertial.
So when we turn to those neocons and their MSM megaphone, what reasons do we hear? Pretty much the same reheated Vietnam leftovers. Just as aggressive global Communism had to be fought everywhere or it would triumph everywhere, so now Islamofascism is the hydra who will keep sprouting heads if you don’t chop off the existing ones. It’s the Domino theory redux. Just as victory in Vietnam would set off a chain reaction sending communism on a triumphal progress through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and so on until we’d have to “fight them in San Francisco”, as LBJ put it in a report to Kennedy while still VP, so if a fundamentalist regime can triumph in Afghanistan, down will go Pakistan, Yemen, and from there the rest of the Mideast and Central Asia, until we ended up fighting them in San Fran and other American cities.
Since this already looks dubious, since we already, through American-brokered elections, brought fundamentalist or quasi-fundamentalist regimes to power in Gaza and Iraq, not to mention the pre-existing Iranian regime, it looks like if dominoes are going to fall they’re going to fall anyway. And so far American arms have shocked and awed only in their fecklessness and inability to achieve what American leaders say they want to achieve.
So the jingoists have already trotted out the most malicious Vietnam tropes, “credibility” and even “honor”. These are of course moonshine, as Sherman would have called them. Needless to say America’s Vietnam disaster brought to the government only discredit and dishonor, abroad and for many at home.
What “credit” could Obama possibly seek today in Afghanistan? Credibility with terrorists? The concept makes no sense. If they are physically able to attack, they will attack. They’re not gauging America’s “moral fiber” the way it might have been done in Cold War brinksmanship. They care nothing for their perception of American resolve.
More important, it’s just as true today as it was during Vietnam that the best way to salvage credibility is to recognize when you’ve taken on a misguided project, horrendously expensive in money and blood, which you can never finish in any satisfactory way (where you cannot attain “peace with honor” in the stupid phraseology of 1969, “honor” being some nebulous substitute term for “victory”, but as a concept just as vague, empty, and bombastic), and make the decision that it’s not worth continuing. To keep going at that point is madness.
Meanwhile, just as the North Vietnamese were not stooges of the Soviet Union or China, so the Taliban is not controlled by Al Queda (and AQ itself is no longer the tight global network it once was; today terrorism is decentralized and generally far less professional, with “Al Queda” more a name than anything else, its professional cadre having been decimated – the war on terror has succeeded, to the extent it was meant to be just a reality-based war on terror).
But there is an incontrovertible stooge here, the mayor of part of Kabul, I mean Afghan President Diem, I mean Karzai. Karzai is an illegitimate kleptocrat presiding over a regime where corruption and impotence vie for supremacy. His latest theft has been any semblance of legitimacy for the election in which Obama vested such hopes (and for whose protection and integrity he dispatched those extra 21000 troops). This client will almost certainly never be any more legitimate, self-supporting, or morally worthy of support than any of the plutocratic and kleptocratic South Vietnamese regimes. If you want to build a nation, and a nation means a government, then there’s no nation to build. You can only temporarily clear, you can’t hold for long, and you certainly can’t build.
(Some are already playing the “blame Diem” card. If we could only get a good guy in there…It’s not that the very concept of “South Vietnam” is flawed. No – we just have some bad personnel.)
There’s other echoes. The frequent, reiterated fact-finding tours and “assessments” (redolent of the Peter Principle), as if you think asking the same question of the same facts over and over will eventually return a better answer. The gradually growing resistance in Congress (today we have Jim McGovern in the House and Feingold in the Senate taking the lead in calling for a timeline for withdrawal). The increasingly frequent atrocities.
There are some real contrasts. The most obvious and important is that today there’s no draft, nor is it politically conceivable that there could be a draft. This places a cap on how far the troop escalation can go (Mullen has been complaining about how overstretched the army already is, and yet he still wants to escalate in Afghanistan).
On the other hand, we’re no longer on the gold standard. This placed a cap on how far LBJ could economically escalate, as following Tet in 1968 a delegation of Europeans lectured him on how he needed to rein in the cost of the war, or else they’d have to think about demanding gold for their dollar holdings. It was probably that more than anything which signalled “peak war” to LBJ. He psychologically gave up after that.
Obama in theory faces no such limits. His administration has already shown a willingness to borrow obscene amounts to throw down a rathole – the bailouts. So presumably cost and debt would be no object for something equally stupid and useless like this war (only worthwhile things that could actually help people, like health care reform or a carbon cap, are to be subject to cost controls).
And perhaps the gathering depression will throw enough people out of work, render the masses desperate enough, that they wouldn’t need a draft to build a mass army. If the reserve army of capitalism gets big enough, and permanent war is the only job opportunity left…
But it won’t be possible to print that much cash without triggering hyperinflation. Gold standard or not, there’s a limit to how much borrowing you can do. Eventually they’ll have crammed so much cash down the world’s throat that it’ll have to be vomited back out, and that’ll be the end of the dollar. It’s difficult to see how they could keep waging high-input, high-tech, high-maintenance imperial war after that.
And then there’s Peak Oil…..
Also, “victory” in Vietnam, although unachievable, could at least be defined: the continued existence of the South Vietnamese regime, under its own strength, for a long enough time after American withdrawal that America’s honor and credibility could remain plausible.
But what constitutes victory in the Afghan theater, let alone the Global War on Terror? They have no idea. “We’ll know it when we see it” is the glib response of administration war hawk Holbrooke. This reply, a combination of know-nothing arrogance and desperation, can be taken as exemplary of the administration’s entire mindset.
So now Obama gets to be the decider. Almost no one, including Obama, questions the GWOT or its Afghan theater in principle. In spite of the efforts of McGovern and Feingold, it’s highly unlikely Congress would resist any level of escalation in the foreseeable future. (Although if the health care Progressive Block could hold together, that might embolden them to make another stand. As for the Republicans, don’t be surprised if they cheerfully vote against war measures. As extraordinarily hypocritical as that would be even for them, we know they care nothing for anything but money and political advantage. I imagine they’d be confident they could “vote against the troops” and then go back home and successfully blame it on the Democrats. Their voters would fall for it.) The military, the rightist thugs, and the corporate media are pressing him.
This doesn’t look like a situation where Obama fails to take the path of least resistance. But we’ll see.

Letter to the NYT Public Editor

Filed under: Mainstream Media — Tags: — Russ @ 3:55 am
Yesterday the NYT public editor published an apology to right wingers for the NYT’s allegedly inadequate coverage of the ACORN crisis. (You didn’t know it was a crisis? Thought it was trivia compared to everyday corporate and governmental corruption? So did I.)
The gist: We at the NYT are so sorry that we didn’t give adequate coverage to the defining story of our non-corrupt times, the ACORN atrocity. In our epic failure we have insulted decent, upstanding conservative Real Americans everywhere. But thanks to their vigilance, we have seen that we were in error, and on everyone’s behalf I offer this apology. Now please don’t keep calling us the “liberal media”. You know how that makes us cry.
Well, I was pretty pissed off reading yet another iteration of this crap. Now the hysteria over ACORN is going meta, evidently. So to exorcise my frustration I sent an e-mail, which I’ll put up here. I hope I expressed myself well, not that I think it matters with these people:
I can’t believe what I just read here.
If you think the ACORN story merited even one significant story space, you must think we need the equivalent of hundreds of front pages, every day, to cover the crimes and corruption of Blackwater, Halliburton, KBR, Pfizer, and of course the ongoing crimes of Wall Street.
You have to think this if you have even a child’s sense of proportion.
That you would instead engage in this most vile kind of false equivalence, that some trivial stupidity on the part of a trivial organization is the journalistic and moral equivalent of trillions of dollars in corrupt bank bailouts and defense contracts, shows how despicably far you personally and the Times itself have fallen from any ideal of journalism or even simple human decency.
I’d be inclined to attribute it to cowardice in the face of right wing thuggery, and certainly you are such cowards. They sure know how to play you: demanding coverage for their obsessions; screaming that the coverage is biased; all the while absurdly calling you (by any historical standard a rightist newspaper, and a rightist media in general) the “liberal media”, a patent absurdity that you happily embrace. Yes, they know who they’re bullying.
(Are you historically ignorant as well? Do you not know how ACORN has been a right wing obsession for decades? Not because it has accomplished much by the measure of power, but because of the principle, because of what it’s trying to accomplish, which is to help empower the weakest, poorest people.)
But far more it’s simply that your corporate media, every bit as much as the political parties, are the bought and paid for flunkies of these criminal corporations.
That’s of course why Congress rushed to pass an unconstitutional bill of attainder against ACORN, and the IRS cut ties with them, even as the Blackwater State Dept. contract is happily renewed without a whisper of protest.
Why is ACORN being crucified for spitting on the sidewalk while Blackwater remains the privileged darling even after committing literal and figurative massacres? It’s very simple: because ACORN actually exists to help the poor and the weak. How quaint. How strange.
That’s why you in the corporate media always despised them and laughed at them in principle: because your mission has become to comfort the powerful and afflict the afflicted.
And that’s why, when ACORN is found to have done something silly but trivial compared to real corporate crimes, the right wing screams out the standard equivalence lie.
And when the media didn’t jump to with enough alacrity, when the thugs demand still more blood, we now have the “public editor” of all people solemnly intoning that the Times did indeed not sufficiently emphasize this pivotal story of our times.
I’d say you should be ashamed of yourself, if I thought shame any longer existed in this prostituted country.
If you don’t get that corporate power is the enemy of everything American, everything decent, everything human, and that the measure of any constructive action, and especially of journalism, to whatever meager extent it still exists, is to act on behalf of the public interest against this anti-public interest power, then you are utterly worthless to anyone other than those predatory interests.
I used to worry about the plight of “traditional journalism”. How there would no longer be serious reporting if the traditional newspapers went down.
No longer.
Now I know real journalism exists only among alternative outlets like TomDispatch and the Nation. As for the corporate media, real journalism, whose core, objective, professional mission includes comforting the afflicted and afflicting the powerful, and most of all a commitment to truth, including the moral truths of proportion and true equivalence, is dead there.
Oh, there may still be good, important stories sometimes reported there. But these are accidents. They do not arise out of an underlying commitment to truth or to the public.
The real commitment of the mainstream media, including that of the NYTimes and its Potemkin Public Editor, is to the aggrandizement of the corporate power.
And yet all this vile subservience isn’t helping with your advertising rates. How ironic. How poetic. Does it seem worth it?
To repeat: Anyone who truly cares about reporting on corruption and abuse among government-funded groups could fill the front page for the next thousand years with nothing but stories on big corporations and powerful interest groups, while the likes of ACORN and what it’s accused of would never merit more than a blurb on page 17. This would constitute true objectivity, true lack of any bias other than the humanistic.
Anyone who says differently has another agenda, and a far more nefarious bias. 

September 26, 2009

The G20, the Globalist Police State, and Peak Oil

The G20 summit in Pittsburgh wrapped up yesterday leaving little behind but the standard empty talk, real action punted to the future, and some object lessons in the way of our world.
A major issue of discussion was finance reform. Just as with Obama’s domestic finance policy, so here the goal is to talk, pretend, and do nothing. And, just as the US and China have for years effectively forestalled international action on carbon emissions by playing the “you go first”, “no, you go first” game, so here it was Obama and Europe each agreeing in principle that something has to be done, disagreeing on what that something should be, and in the end happily agreeing to talk more about it in the future.
The US says it wants an increase in required bank reserves and capital requirements for Too Big To Fail entities and entities involved in derivatives and other casino gambling. Because even the inadequate US reserve requirements are higher than Euro requirements, the Europeans see themselves as disadvantaged by this proposal, and instead want the focus to be on exec pay. As transparently demagogic as that is, it’s still too serious for the brazenly corrupt Americans to swallow.
Of course both sides are just pretending. In both cases the problem is systemic, and anyone serious about reform would be acting systemically. Reserve requirements of the pre-crash period, as anemic as they were, were still the subject of rampant flouting and evasion by the intrinsically criminal finance class. This would certainly continue to be the case with increased requirements. The same goes for heightened regulation of casino capitalism.
As for executive pay, a problem which goes way beyond the banks (there it’s just at its worst), the problem is systemic greed and criminality. There too any regulation will be evaded.
In both cases the necessary action is obvious and easy given the political will: Too Big To Fail is Too Big To Exist – tear apart the big banks; ban all exotic derivatives and close the casino; rule out extreme wealth concentration via a rigorously progressive tax system, including confiscatory marginal rates.
These would only benefit the people and punish the criminals. While the empty talk from Pittsburgh did nothing but leave the status quo in place. (They agreed to agree on some proclamations, no numbers, and to have some real regulations in place by the end of 2010. Also by then: regulations on how to resolve TBTF insolvency and reduce agricultural protectionism. Not, of course, how to break up big banks and Big Ag completely. Anyone who’s followed the UNFCCC meetings over the years knows what to expect here.)
Always remember the rule: a government which has the power to enact real systemic reform but chooses instead to seek measly nibbling “regulation” because it is corrupt or cowardly, will also lack the will to enforce those regulations.
Regulation which leaves rentier organized crime in existence is always an endless war of attrition between regulators and resolute criminals, and in this version of Vietnam, even well-intentioned regulators will always lose. You want to win? Eradicate the criminals and their crime network. Nothing short of that can work.
Of course this begs the question, what are these governments? Are they of, by, and for the people? We know they are not. On the contrary, their lack of will to destroy the rackets completely, or even to try to convincingly go through the motions of pretending to seek to regulate them, displays that they are in fact the instruments of organized crime.
This is very visual in the contrast between how different kinds of protestors are described and dealt with. This cabal of international gangsters was elegantly whisked into a de facto fortress, while national guardsmen and militarized police cordoned off vast parts of the city, while launching a welter of aggressive actions, from paramilitary raids to petty harassment of food vehicles, all against the rather modest number of protestors against organized crime and for the public interest.
Meanwhile the vastly more numerous and belligerent neo-fascist mob demonstrating for the gangsters and against America was handled with great indulgence by the police state. (While the mainstream media, as part of its love letter to the teabaggers, grossly overstated their numbers, these numbers were still much larger, and vastly more disruptive, than the truly American protestors at Pittsburgh. This mob disruption was also downplayed. Meanwhile the numbers in Pittsburgh have been understated, and described in rather pathetic terms, while any disruption there, mostly police-instigated, has been blown up. Of course, as the protestors themselves admit, their efforts have had to be relatively feeble given the way they were physically ghettoized by the police, kept far away from where a delegate would so much as catch a sight of them.)
The summit also grappled rhetorically with a more existential problem, something they do care about. Globalization has become unbalanced. In a nutshell, America needs to ratchet down its borrow-and-binge model of exponential debt and extreme consumption, while China and Japan need to rouse their own domestic consumption from their relatively dowdy save-lend-manufacture for export model.
Needless to say, the system remains utterly based upon exponential debt and extreme wasteful consumption (and, I would add, the continuing transformation of human citizens into subhuman consumers). But the powers that be recognize that the system cannot continue in such a lopsided way. The profligacy needs to be more globally distributed.
But this runs into a structural problem: it contradicts the basic premise of globalization. Globalism is the quest for absolute advantage on the part of a rootless stateless cabal (“comparative advantage” is a fraudulent concept meant to cover up the real process; it does not describe what has actually happened nor what the actions prove was intended to happen). This quest manifests as the race to the bottom for wages, labor conditions, environmental protections.
They have sometimes overtly waged aggressive warfare to seek power (e.g. Iraq). Economically aggressing into a country seeking free power over its markets in order to mine it economically, perhaps with the consent of local elites (in this case “capitalists” and thugs), is no less aggressive than physically/militarily aggressing, seeking physically coercive power over the whole society to mine it both economically and for all other aspects of its power, perhaps with the collaboration of those same elites.
This worked well for awhile, as the previously wealthy societies were defenestrated through outsourcing and offshoring, while the people of the global South were dispossessed by local kleptocracies which collaborated with this international syndicate.
But just as domestic Walmartization reaches its limit where it has successfully destroyed so many real jobs that there aren’t enough “consumers” to afford even its lowest prices, so global Walmartization, which is simply globalism itself, is reaching that same limit. Western consumers are spent, jobless and indebted to death. Now globalization is going to try to prop itself up by synthesizing new consumer hordes in the industrializing countries.
But it’s not going to be possible for the developing countries to fully industrialize and modernize the way the West once did. Within five years, this is going to run into the brick wall of Peak Oil. 
(They’re not even going to try to revamp the economies of the West. They know the Western middle class is gone beyond redemption; those consumers aren’t coming back, period. Peak Oil forecloses an economic growth renaissance for America even if the political will existed, which of course it does not in a now overtly kleptocratic political system.
Instead, the corporatist system, increasingly neo-feudal in its structures and intent, is going to try to leverage Peak Oil itself into the most radical politico-economic retrogression in history, the restoration of full-scale feudalism. Resourse Fascism will be the path by which the power structure mobilizes the dumber, more nostalgic and aggressive elements of the masses, on behalf of one last attempt at an imperial resource grab abroad, and fortress concentration of resources and wealth in the homeland, even as those same masses, economically heading downward the whole while, become serfs living in literal hovels, dark and cold and hungry, working the fields without tractors or fertilizer or pesticides (no scarce fossil fuel inputs will be wasted where slave labor can be used), with their hands and with medieval tools, while the ever more sparse harvests go to the fortress enclaves, the final gated communities.
The teabaggers are the first wave of history’s most extreme example of a violent mob using violence ultimately against itself, to enslave itself.)
The financial crisis and Peak Oil portend the end of globalization, which was a wicked, lying system to begin with, which never had any intention but to hollow out and colonize all countries, from the poorest of the Third World to America itself.
The facts since the 1970s prove this. The cosmopolitan elites never sought “comparative advantage” but only absolute advantage, everywhere. America’s only (fictional) comparative advantage was in printing the reserve currency and thereby running up debt to temporarily prop up a fictitious potemkin middle class of “consumers” who could be temporarily deluded into believing they were prosperous even as their wages and social safety net were ground into the dust.
What’s the point of a society, a country, an economy, a government? It is of course the good of its people, never the good of a handful of even domestic criminals, let alone a stateless, rootless cabal. From the point of view of folk wisdom (charity begins at home), common sense, and of capitalism itself (the “invisible hand” of self-interest), mercantile economics intuitively makes sense, while globalization preaches the most extreme selflessness and self-immolation on the part of today’s workers and masses, promising that in the ultimate long run this will somehow cause global paradise to trickle down to the future.
Such a claim is, to put it mildly, counterintuitive. The burden is certainly on the “free” traders to prove that their system does the most to spread the wealth and bring prosperity to all. Of course they can’t prove it, as they’ve had over sixty years since Bretton Woods and what have they wrought? Nothing but social destruction and wealth concentration.
Given the evidence, and given the track record of utopian schemes which cried out for infinite sacrifice and totalitarianism today in order to build paradise for tomorrow, we can be certain that this scheme as well was always a flat out lie.
Governments have shown their bad faith by enshrining GDP as the measure of economic and social health and prosperity. In truth GDP was always meant to cover up growing sickness, inequality, hardship, pain. (For example, the proximate reason they switched from GNP to GDP as the preferred measure was to obscure the growing trade deficit and the hollowing out of domestic manufacturing. GDP show greater “growth” under these conditions.) There have been attempts, most lately that of Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, to draw up an alternative to GDP which would provide a more accurate and comprehensive depiction of a country’s health.
Pretty much anything would do, and they’re probably making it more complicated than it has to be. Here are three basic metrics: The number of living wage jobs, the direction and rate of change in living wage jobs relative to population, and the level of wealth inequality. Aim to maximize the first, keep the second improving or stable depending on demographics, minimize the third.
Gauge all economic and political policy first and foremost as it will affect these, judge all policy as it has affected these, and you’re unlikely to go wrong. You could certainly never go as wrong as America has under its regime of macroeconomic gangsterism.
Globalists were never citizens of any country, but only a cosmopolitan cabal presiding over the treason of multinationals and corrupt governments.
How foolish of mere slaves, er, “workers”, to have a problem with that. And of course, as our globalist betters lecture us, governments are supposed to be loyal to multinationals, not to petty little domestic concerns.
Nothing’s ever going to be fixed until we wipe away such captured governments and restore actual domestically loyal governments who understand what their moral purposes and imperatives are. We need the opposite of the absolute social and moral dissociation and betrayal on display at the G20.
We need action for the people and against the enemy, not the other way around. 

September 25, 2009

Afghanistan and the Corporate Abyss

Filed under: Afghanistan, Corporatism, Global War On Terror, Globalization — Tags: , , — Russ @ 1:08 pm
As we wait to learn what will be General McChrystal’s troop request (today or in the next few days), and as the neocons across the political spectrum from moderate right to hard right (that’s almost all of it) have been revving up the propaganda machine for war, war, WAR!, we’ve been hearing, wonder of wonders, that Obama may actually be having second thoughts here.
Obama’s warmongering on the campaign trail was one of his few cases of truth in advertising, as he embraced the Afghanistan-as-Good-War theme and vowed to play the tough guy there, even as he withdrew from Iraq.
Well, it turns out we’re perhaps not going to be withdrawing all that much from Iraq after all, and on every other front Obama has been delighting corporate feudalists everywhere, but at least where it comes to escalating in Afghanistan he’s been as good as his word. Early on he replaced the previous theater commander with McC and approved an escalation of 21000 troops. (This was supposed to ensure an orderly, credible election.) With these two actions he took full personal ownership of the war.
For good measure, in an August speech he endorsed all foregoing neocon ideology and “morality”, declaring Afghanistan, and by extension the Global War on Terror, a “war of necessity”.
But now Obama contemplates his handiwork. He sees what a heckuva job we did with the election, what a great friend we have in Karzai (and, perhaps, he looks at the stiffening political resistance he’s facing from all the people he betrayed at home, who he assumed he could strong-arm and kiss off). Now he faces the demand for tens of thousands more troops to continue with an already dubious adventure rendered even more doubtful by the “election”. He sees how his only friends in arms are the Republicans and the neocon establishment, while the people increasingly reject the war.
Is it possible that he might look into the abyss, see the abyss staring back into him, and decide he doesn’t want to become such a monster himself? (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil section 146) And could the transformation of a knee-jerk warmonger into a sober statesman presage a more aggressively human policy on the domestic front, where contrary to the international front, war, on the banks, on the insurance racket, on the agricultural racket, and on all the other rackets, is exactly what we do need?
Maybe it’s too much to hope for such a revolution. (I was indulging some spacious thoughts.)
But according to the reports Obama is for the moment second-guessing the expansion of the war, at least in terms of sending more troops. Thus he’s coming under thuggish pressure from the militarists, for example in the leaking of McC’s policy report.
But such a second-guessing brings up more fundamental questions. Economically America has become a permanent war society. This is true not only regarding direct Pentagon budgets, but extends further and further into what is nominally the civilian economy as well. This is even increasingly true psychologically.
The economy is based on exponential growth, and must collapse completely without such growth. This growth in turn depends on a permanently increasing oil supply, and the ever-repeated feudal accumulation of plunder, as economic fuel which can then be fed into global finance capitalism.
Neither of these are any longer attainable other than through permanent imperial war. To end the Global War on Terror (GWOT), or even significantly hinder its expansion, is tantamount to packing up the whole growth machine. To wince at expanding the Afghanistan theater would make it hard to keep the war momentum going. (There’s some speculation that Obama instead wants war with Iran, and that’s why he’s hesitating on Afghanistan, but speculation is all that is so far.)
The corporate war establishment understands this, as we can see in its ecumenical rhetoric, ideology, and personnel. Robert Gates in particular seems the epitome of the pure permanent warrior, as much at home as Defense Secretary in the Obama administration as he was for Bush. He has effortlessly carried over his rhetoric and policy of permanently looking “beyond the horizon” to “the next war”; “our wars”, whichever we fight at the moment, always simply the stepping stones to the next war, always and forever. America’s military must be organized, its foreign policy tailored, its economy geared, its populace primed, for an endless string of wars of choice to “seize the global commons”, including in “space and cyberspace”.
This overt goal of military world domination dovetails with globalization. In both cases the “global commons”, all public resources, all public property, everywhere, is the corporate target. The GWOT is the military (neoconservative) manifestation of the parallel neoliberal economic onslaught. Just as the financial policy everywhere has been bailouts, “quantitative easing”, and where necessary fiscal stimulus, anything to artificially shock the global economic machine into continued life, so the physical crisis policy has been troop deployments and war. These together, bailouts and war, constitute the imperial momentum. Both have been institutionalized as permanent. The slacking of either threatens to bring on the collapse of Western “civilization”.
This is the prospect Obama faces. By the corporatist logic of his administration, and indeed by the capitalist logic of his whole upbringing (brainwashing), he must push on with the bailouts and the GWOT. As must any corporatist president.
But his domestic political outlook is getting more rotten by the day. More and more he must turn to the Republicans if he wants aid and comfort. (But he won’t find any there. I bet the Reps will happily vote against appropriations, authorizations, whatever, that is fail to “support the troops” by their own standard, and still be able to explain to the hillbillies how that’s really Obama’s fault.) During the campaign McCain was slammed for speaking of how he envisioned a hundred years’ war in Iraq. Turns out he was simply too honest for the campaign, that’s all. Now we have Obama officer Richard Holbrooke (a pacification cadre in Vietnam, perhaps still trying to redeem the crimes of his youth) chirping about victory, “we’ll know it when we see it”.
Even LBJ and Nixon knew what victory in Vietnam was supposed to look like (a lasting South Vietnam; America leaving with “honor” and “credibility” intact), however unattainable this vision was.
But here we have the Obama administration admitting it can’t even visualize “victory” in the GWOT. That’s because by definition permanent war can never realize victory, and a permanent war society, like ancient Sparta, can never know peace. These concepts are simply ruled out of existence, and ruled out of the language as well.
It’s a hideous, anti-American prospect. It’s a betrayal of everything America was founded to be, everything it was ever supposed to stand for.
Is Obama having second thoughts about being such a traitor? Does he really want to surrender America completely to the banks, and through them to the military-industrial and security-industrial complexes? So far his actions have come through loud and clear. He’s governed as this corporatist. If he intends to continue along this path, he has to go all the way with it. If he backpedals on Afghanistan, none of the rest of it makes any sense, and none of the rest of it will stand for even the short time that the doomed attempt at permanent war could help prop it up.
Or, he could take the radical step of relinquishing and reversing the corporate war on all its fronts. Such may be the last chance America has at rediscovering, cleansing, and redeeming itself.
Like I said, this is just a meditation on “what could be”, if Obama really is, for the first time, questioning one of the fundamental props of the nightmare. I’m not saying I think that’s what’s likely to happen, or that those reports themselves aren’t overblown.
And of course, as we speak, he still seeks a reactionary health anti-reform bill. And the bank front keeps caving in (the last few days: caving on “vanilla” requirements; caving on consumer protections vis non-bank entities; bizarre FDIC shenanigans like with the Franklin Bank). Things look extremely bad.
Which always just renders it all the more painful and repulsive, when we see how easily everything could be turned around….

September 18, 2009

Peak Oil and Legislation


America is entering a stage of crisis perhaps unprecedented in its history. The banks and their compliant government policy have plunged us into what will likely be a permanent depression, measured by the standards of the space age paradise we were being promised just a few years ago. Instead, the very processes of industrialism have plunged the globe into an environmental crisis which will, for top-heavy energy-intensive industrial civilization, likely be irrecoverable. The spear point of this ecological blowback is the climate crisis already enveloping the unindustrialized world with drought, famine, and pestilence. Now these effects are increasingly coming to the homeland.
Is America at least looking to its safety net, the one thing which could possibly hold it together through the travails we shall endure? Not a bit: on the contrary, the health crisis of fifty million uninsured and growing is seen by the corporate structure and the prostitute political and media class as a war profiteering opportunity, the war being waged by the corporate/political/media class against the American people.
Never has the very basis of the country, physical and moral, been so eroded. The World Wars were boom times for the economy, and the resource base was still intact. The people were largely united, and no enemy seriously threatened the homeland. The War Between the States, often miscalled a civil war, was at its core the assertion of dominance of a strong economic predator over a decrepit one, while the people, for the most part understanding little of the structural issues and caring even less, simply went along with what their state did.
Today the two great features are Peak Oil and civil disintegration. The physical resource base is shot, the real economy is gutted, and America will not be able to rebuild along these lines. At the same time the power structure has become purely predatory, psychotic, and anti-American. It is now a vast parasite plaguing the land.
It understands the physical impossibility of maintaining its power through the normal manipulation of debt and democracy. Exponential debt and mass liberal democracy were luxuries of the Oil Age. Today a power elite will be able to hold a vast mass in thrall only through overt resource imperialism abroad and class war at home. Oil wars and authoritarian government are the only way to keep the energy flowing for the existing power structure.
Let’s take a look at what this means for legislation. Two of the Obama administration’s top legislative priorities have been health care and climate change, while they have also (unwillingly) pushed for finance sector reform.
Where it comes to the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) the priority of both parties is clear. Everything possible is to be done to further empower these rackets, everything to increase their profits, everything to turn the country into a cash cow. While politically the Democrats would probably prefer to leave the status quo in place, they have felt enough bottom up pressure to go through the motions of “reform”.
Since we have not capitalism but disaster capitalism, the goal of the rackets and their political whores is to use this opportunity to further tighten their stranglehold. This is currently most clear with health care legislation, where the clear goal of the Dems is to impose an odious individual mandate without a public plan, or at most a phony public plan. The only purpose here is to really add the “I” to FIRE, to increase the massive tax the health insurance racket already extorts from those who work.
(By now I’m convinced the “public option”, which requires the mandate in order to constitute reform, was always a Trojan Horse. When they first dangled the public option they were lying. Anyone who sincerely wanted reform would’ve sought single-payer, with a strong public plan as the one and only compromise position. Perhaps Obama might have really had to fight for single-pay, but he probably could have achieved it.
Instead, what do we have? Few ever put up a fight for a real public plan at all, while the public plans which have passed out of various committees are Potemkin plans. I may still be proven wrong, but the chances look vanishingly small that anything with a real public option will ever come up for a vote.)
Just as we have a finance racket with trillions looted through direct giveaways, no-interest loans, loan guarantees, sweet “consulting” contracts, so they want to set up a parallel trillionaire looter insurance racket. Once this mandate’s in place, with zero competition and only the lying veneer of “regulation”, nothing short of mass civil disobedience and taxpayer strikes (the IRS is supposed to serve as the strong-arm goon for the insurer) can stop them from astronomically jacking up rates while imposing monstrous deductibles and every other kind of co-pay and surcharge. Promised subsidies will not materialize and regulations will not be enforced.
(A government which has the will to enforce regulations has the will to enact the right policy in the first place. Regulating insurers is not politically easier than enacting single payer, it’s just being mean and paltry. It bespeaks what Wilfred Owen condemned as “paucity that was never simplicity”.)
Meanwhile the propaganda machine promises bank reform. And with good reason, you’d think, after what the banks have done to America, the crimes they’ve committed against it.
Even if you don’t agree that they’re criminals, certainly all sane people agree Too Big To Fail must now mean To Big To Allow To Exist. The number one priority has to be to break up these banks and NEVER allow any financial entity to ever become so big again.
So that’s the bank equivalent of single payer.
But what do we see here, but the exact same sellout. Instead of TBTF breakup, we get the promise of a Consumer Finance Protection Agency, the Fed as systemic regulator, derivatives regulation, exec pay restrictions. Of these only the CFPA is any good in theory, but we see from the start how it’ll be rendered toothless, since making the arch-bank the lead bank regulator is as clear a signal as possible that business as usual will continue. The point of the Fed is not to regulate anything, but to allow every reckless and criminal practice and then pick up the pieces afterward using taxpayer money. In principle the Fed is there to set up the casino, let the banks play with house money, and pay off their bets even when they lose.
Even if you look at the alleged mechanism for the “resolution” of Too Big To Fail crackups (“systemically important” entities), you find there’s no there there. And then there’s the derivative and exec pay proposals, which even on paper are paper tigers, ridden with loopholes.
Most of all, there’s zero will to break up the TBTF banks proactively. Since this is the only real reform, the whole package equals no reform, anti-reform.
If a government had the will to regulate at all, it would enact the right policy to begin with, not the wrong one which it then tries to fix.
For all their political power at the moment, banks and insurers remain epiphenomena. The very fact that they embody no economic reality is what would make it so easy to cleanse them if the people could only muster the political will.
Climate change is a tougher knot, since greenhouse gases are the normal result of the real industrial civilization. To really mitigate them in order to forestall the worst effects of climate change would require real changes in civilization itself.
So it’s not surprising that here too we see only the phony motions of reform, while the legislative package is really meant to further enrich the polluters and – you guessed it – the banks.
The ACES bill has an insufficient cap to begin with, this cap is flimsy (we again see the sinister term “trigger”, in this case meaning that if the price of emissions permits goes too high, that is if the cap is doing its job, new permits will be issued; this is also called an “off-ramp” or a “safety valve”), the worst polluters among fossil fuel and industrial agriculture interests are exempted from regulations and receive lots of pork.
The bill allows many of the putative emission reductions to be exported through the use of offsets. This kind of imperialism allows the first world to continue its high-impact high-pollution activities while the non-industrial world is forced to forego such activity. (That is, the kleptocrats of these countries pocket the offset money while the people go without the benefits of whatever projects are cancelled or foregone; and that’s assuming such projects really are foregone. The record of the offset mechanism is pretty spotty.)
Most of all, the permit and offset markets are intended to open a new frontier of securitization and casino gambling for finance speculators. In the eyes of the bankers this is one of the most promising new bubbles waiting to be blown.
(If you doubt this, compare the low interest legislators have shown in writing strong anti-speculation safeguards into the ACES bill to the clear lack of will the administration shows for regulating the finance racket. Then compare both to the standard behavior of the banks and speculators, how their casino is fully back not even one year after the crash they caused, and now running completely on public money. I think you’ll agree, only a naif would expect them not to turn this into one of their casino games. See my post Subprime Carbon on the looming carbon casino.)
So let’s sum up these three legislative projects.
*There’s the up-front good sounding stuff:
Health care – ban on rejecting pre-existing conditions, ban on recissions, ban on “extra charges”, promised regulation of rates, some competition mechanism such as a public plan.
Bank reform – CFPA, Fed as systemic regulator with resolution authority, derivatives regulation, exec pay regulation.
Carbon reform – finally a mitigation mechanism, and a better political position going into the Copenhagen climate change conference this winter, which is the last chance to get real international action in time.
Yet these are all immediately countered by
*the up-front assault on the people:
Health care – an insurance mandate without a strong public plan is prima facie pure highway robbery.
Bank reform – here it’s implicit: TBTF and the bailout bonanza are now officially enshrined as the law of the land.
Carbon reform – the ACES bill would strip the EPA of its command and control authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA). More on this in a moment.
*Then there’s the elements which will be chronically profitable for the rackets:
Health care – the whole point is to maintain the insurance racket in existence, while anyone who didn’t have this priority would have fought for single-payer. Even the MSM widely admitted in its coverage that the benefit of private insurers is the most important thing here. That’s the ONLY reason concepts like “co-ops”, “exchanges”, “triggers”, or the public option itself are even part of the discourse.
Bank reform – same thing. The point is to enshrine banks as a corporatist protection gang in perpetuity. Enshrining the chief gangster, the Fed, as chief regulator is meant to not only maximize the profitability of the TBTF version of corporatist ideology, but to forestall once and for all any other reform approach, short of revolution.
Carbon reform – there’s the free allocations of permits instead of auctions. This is simply giving away public property. The poison pill provisions guarantee the prices of the permits which are auctioned will never be too onerous. The emissions of industrial ag are grandfathered in, and EPA is forbidden from applying indirect land use calcuations to those emission measures in the first place. The “clean coal” scam is included to let Big Coal in on the feeding frenzy. So to borrow what Gal Luft said about the 2005 energy bill, this mitigation bill is really “the sum of all lobbies”.
*Finally the long run gutting:
Health care – the point of the trigger would be to gut any nominal public option which might be included. And of course all the supposedly good features of the bill (universal coverage, no rejection for pre-existing), under the scenario of a universal mandate and no real public option, will open up the space for the rackets to charge arbitrarily extortionate rates. Optimally for them, the taxpayer would subsidize it all. In practice these subsidies will not exist, but the coercive mechanism will still be there to extract the maximum rent possible.
Banks – we already know the game plan. Boom-bust, bubble-crash, casino-disaster, with the Fed’s role being benevolent negligence in the upsurges, active loot conveyor in the disasters.
Carbon reform – we have the anemic cap to start with, the off-ramp/safety valve, the offset market. While the cap is in principle a good thing, the whole setup of this bill is a signal that in practice it will be gutted. The fact that they don’t seek a lower, firmer cap probably means they won’t defend a higher one.
*What should be done? What is the strong policy which would mean business and achieve real change?
Here too it’s a matter of political will, but those who had the will would seek action this way:
Health care – it’s simple. Single-payer, single negotiator of drug rates, change provider fee structure from per-service to per-patient or per-case or per-team, cost-effectiveness measures. All these are well known ideas. We know how to enact them. All we need is legislative authority to do so.
With the other two it’s even easier, since we not only know what to do but already have the authority.
Bank reform – Break up the Big Banks! Too Big To Fail is Too Big To Allow To Exist! And existing law, the Prompt Corrective Action Law (PCA) already requires the breakup of insolvent banks. Bush and Obama have been breaking the law by bailing these things out. (Their bogus excuse has been that the PCA doesn’t empower them to regulate bank holding companies. Like that kind of legerdemain ever stopped anyone who wanted to enforce a law.)
Carbon reform – The Supreme Court in EPA vs. Massachusetts affirmed the obvious, that greenhouse effect-causing carbon is a pollutant under the CAA, that the EPA has the authority and indeed the mandate to regulate it. So EPA could take rigorous action today against carbon polluters toward achieving the same goals as carbon legislation. Even if you think the legislative route is more certain than EPA command and control, it’s still clearly an important part of the toolbox.
So what’s the most important tool of the ACES toolbox? Explicitly countermanding the court decision and stripping EPA of its regulatory power. That the polluters lobbied for this and the crooks in Congress gave it to them should tell you how potent the regulatory power already existing under CAA should be.
So why don’t we try using that instead?
These are examples of how the power structure will toy with reform ideals and abuse the legislative process to give the simulacrum of change while actually further entrenching the status quo. The goal every time is to buy time, to stave off action, to satiate the will to Change.
Perhaps by now our best hope is gridlock. If both parties are enemies of the people, if any bill passed can only make things worse, then it follows that we should want no more bills passed.
It also follows that optimally we’d have the executive and legislative branches in the hands of the opposing gangs, but that the majority in the Senate not have 60 votes. (And we should stop trying to get rid of the filibuster. It seems quaint how not that long ago (last January) I still wanted to do away it. That’s when I was still being optimistic about the Dems seeking Change now that they held all the nominal power. Now I regard it as one more safeguard.)
Meanwhile the real Change Movement has to temporarily give up on Washington. We have to focus on movement building, and our electoral goals for the foreseeable future are at the local and state levels. 

September 16, 2009

One Year Since Lehman: Bigger and Failinger

September 15 was hailed as the anniversary of the fall of Lehman, the iconic mediagenic casualty of the financial crash. An anniversary usually means a media excuse to focus on a discrete event while obscuring or lying about a broad trend. So it was this time, as the MSM hit all their points on how letting Lehman go down was a mistake, how this caused the crash, how Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke set us on the road to recovery, and how we now are in full recovery mode.
They don’t deny that nothing has changed since 9/15, that the Too Big To Fail banks are bigger and more concentrated than ever, that TBTF has been officially enshrined as the policy of America, but this is simply accepted as the price of recovery.
So we see how nothing changes except the nominal government. Corporations, media, government policy remain constant. For as long as this holds, exploitation and disaster will be constant. For the establishment, there is zero will to undertake the number one imperative pressing upon this country: dismantle the Big Banks.
We still make the call: “Too Big To Fail is Too Big To Allow To Exist!” Those who understand the economy and want the best for the people want to tear apart the Big Banks once and for all, as should have been done last year. (They should never have been allowed to exist in the first place.)
This could only be beneficial for the people, for the country. And it’s the only bank policy which could be beneficial.
But this country is ruled by the finance protection racket. This is the prime, overarching policy of the government. But TBTF was always a lie. The notion was that we needed to bail out Wall St in order to save “Main St”; that if the big Wall St entities went down the contagion would destroy the rest of the economy. It was also claimed that the big banks were leaders in the constructive activities of the economy. But we know by now that these are lies.
First, the banks were rescued by the taxpayers, and they’re now flourishing with our money. Yet the real economy (Main Street) continues to tank. Jobs continue to be destroyed and consumer activity is moribund except where the government, as part of the bailouts, is artificially propping up demand (cash for clunkers; homebuyer’s credit). So it seems any contagion wasn’t confined, but allowed to infect the economy while the Wall St vector was rewarded. (This would be in keeping with the disaster capitalist phase of the boom-bust casino capitalism cycle.)
Second, we had the resources to prevent any Too Big to Fail effect. The welter of bailouts, the monumental monetary resources deployed: the TARP, the loan guarantees, the loan facilities, and Helicopter Ben’s “quantitative easing” (flooding the bank vaults with free taxpayer money for them to play with any way they please), prove that the government had the resources to do something radically different, to backstop the small Main Street banks, to seed financial alternatives like credit unions, to bolster the real banking activities of real, socially entrepreneurial banking institutions so that these could have continued to service the economy and bolster the precious public confidence even as Wall St crashed and burned. (This crash and burn itself could have been used intrepidly as a confidence builder if it had been turned into the auto da fe it should have been, an ideologically transformational moment.)
Meanwhile the stimulus could have been dovetailed with this decentralized levee building, so that the funds went through the bolstered smaller institutions and completely bypassed the quarantined Wall St Sodom, now thrashing in its death throes. So the “bailout”, instead of being the bailout of our oppressors now using our own money as a weapon against us, to enslave us, could have been our self-bailout from the peril we’d been led to by a criminal leadership.
We never needed the big banks, ever. They have never acted in any capitalistic, entrepreneurial, creative, innovative, social value-generating fashion, but only in a parasitic rent-seeking one. (The most recent true innovations were credit cards and the ATM.) They’ve acted only to impose a tax on the productive work of society, to increase social costs, complexity, and socialized risk, and obscure as much real market information as possible, the better to perpetrate their securitization frauds. Their political agenda has been to attack all regulation, strip it, and capture the regulators so that any rump regulation which does exist is not enforced. (And the naive still think we can fix this with more regulation….)
They’ve sought monopoly, swallowed smaller banks but haven’t replaced these banks’ real services as dedicated lenders. Instead, to quote George Washington:
Since Glass-Steagal was repealed in 1999, the giant banks have made much of their money in trading assets, securities, derivatives, and other speculative bets, the banks’ own paper and securities, and in other money-making activities which have nothing to do with traditional depository functions.
Now that the economy has crashed, the big banks are making very few loans to consumers or small businesses because they still have trillions in bad derivatives gambling debts to pay off, and so they are only loaning to the biggest players and those who don’t really need credit in the first place….
It is simply not true that we need the mega-banks. In fact, as many top economists and financial analysts have said, the “too big to fails” are actually stifling competition from smaller lenders and credit unions, and dragging the entire economy down into a black hole…
So we don’t really need these giant gamblers. We don’t really need JPMorgan, Citi, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. What we need are dedicated lenders.
When America was stampeded into the bailouts we were promised that the TARP would strengthen the big banks so they could get back to lending. They weren’t lending anyway in the first place, so that was a lie. Even more of a lie was that they’d lend now, after they had internally collapsed. (I’ll leave aside for now the fact that we cannot continue to run up exponential debt, and that the solution is not more profligate lending, but winding down the debt economy. For today I’ll just take the power structure’s delusions at face value.)
But they did not lend, and they will not lend, because they know they’re insolvent. They are insolvent and they are NOT profitable. BofA and Citi were able to post phony profits through shuffling around some numbers in their Byzantine structures, while Goldman simply made December disappear from its books. Even AIG was able to fraudulently account its way to a “profit”.
But the bankers know they are insolvent because of the uncanny toxic paper which still saddles their books. Even under the new mark-to-management accounting (i.e. tell any lie you want on your books), they still can’t get rid of it. They won’t get rid of it because they could never sell it at any price which wouldn’t force them to take a big writedown, which would puncture the fantasy Wall St and Washington are peddling. Even the putative Public-Private Investment Partnership (on paper as rank a piece of corrupt skullduggery as you could find) has been moribund. Even at heavily socialized prices no one wants to buy this junk.
(I’ve always laughed at how every bank implicitly says every other is lying about its solvency even as it claims to be sound itself. If they believed one another there’d be buyers for this crap paper.)
So all the claims of bank soundness and recovery – the bogus profits, the potemkin stress tests, administration and MSM propaganda – and the stock market rally have all been a charade floated on a farce puffed up by a lie. It’s already a new Bubble – a Bailout Bubble, a stock bubble, a quantitative easing bubble (the Fed itself is the biggest and failingest of the Too Big To Fail banks). The hysteria over “recovery” is all fictive. The zombie banks, propped up by the Fed’s vaporous dollars…it’s like a rich girl who thinks she supports herself because she physically hands the check to the landlord, even though it’s daddy’s check (not to mention one of these days the check is going to bounce).
The Wall Street wards of the state have been allowed to use our money to fire up the casino again and prepare a new disaster for us. They’re scrambling to blow up other bubbles. Commodity bubbles, Asian bubbles, carbon bubbles, and of course the underlying sovereign debt bubble, the QE bubble….once the creditors get spooked on that one, there’ll be nothing left to do but to fire up the printing presses, and that’ll be the end.
We’re just being stood up and tied to the stake before the firing squad of the next crash. Prime mortgages are starting to default. And then there’s the ticking time bombs: commercial real estate, credit card debt, other securities. These are post-bubbles still waiting to burst, even as we blow up new ones. Soon it’ll be the real crash, the terminal crash for this system.
Since the banksters know they’ll never return to stodgy old Boring banking (the actual real jobs of bankers who live in a community), and time is limited, they focus on Exciting banking and bonus recidivism. Get while the getting’s good. Their long time professional credo has been “IBG” (“I’ll Be Gone” with the stolen cash once the thing blows up, leaving my victims to pay for the cleanup).
IBG is the conscious, premeditated ideology and strategy for the entire sector. The sector is incorrigible. The personnel are objectively antisocial. They are pure sociopaths. When Obama in his Wall St speech the other day was reduced to begging these criminals to act as citizens, he was not only being despicably abject, but he was just as delusional as when he ever thought he could compromise with Republicans. It’s the same delusion when he thinks the existing cadre can ever play any legitimate, constructive role.
The finance cadre will not moderate its crimes or cease from its treasonous war on America. They are objective, existential, incorrigible, congenital enemies. It’s what they do. They’ve become psychopathic. There’s no restraint, no shame, no citizenship, no community possible. They will never stop. 
There can never be a mutually beneficial compromise between this cadre and the community. That’s why “regulation” while leaving the system fundamentally intact will never work. Obama’s proposals include a Consumer Finance Protection Agency, having the Fed act as the systemic risk regulator it has always refused to be on principle (and which it’s shown zero aptitude to be anyway, given that the Fed itself is the ponzi base of the inverted pyramid), an exchange which would publicly trade some derivatives but provide loopholes for most, and some sort of restrictions on exec pay.
These are woefully insufficient even in theory. The CFPA is the only one which is intrinsically a step in the right direction, while letting the Fed be system regulator is absurd, as it drives all the systemic risk of the system. Asking it to police risk would be like asking it to cease functioning at all (this is how its existing cadre would see it; as always, cadres mean everything).
Besides, the point is NOT to pretend to have ways to protect against the unravelling of TBTF entities. The point is to dismantle them completely. Too Big To Fail is Too Big To Allow To Exist.
As for the derivatives, the ONLY way possible would be to force ALL derivatives to be traded on public exchanges. This would cut down on the “excitement” for the “innovators”? TOUGH. We’ve had enough excitement out of that scum. We don’t need customized derivatives at all. If they insist on betting with one another, let them bet informally. Such bets aren’t legal contracts. Let them figure it out. (I still can’t fathom why the community ever recognized any of these private bets among criminals as legal contracts. It’s a mystery.)
Regarding executive pay restrictions, we all know this can be infinitely gamed. You restrict “bonuses”, they jack up base salary. Restrict that, they come up with “consultation fees” or something. Going that route you’ll play whack-a-mole forever. I’m afraid the only remedy for obscene pay (assuming you’re going to leave these cadres in place at all) is better, more fair, more community-oriented taxation.
So on paper these are feckless. After what’s happened, that they propose such meager measures proves they’ve learned nothing and forgotten nothing. And then, the history of regulation is such that we can be sure they won’t enforce any regulations they do enact.
The Fed already wants to gut anything which encroaches in its turf as fox in the henhouse. That’s how it already scotched the very idea of there ever being any real resolution authority for the “systemically important”, that is Big, finance entities. Instead there’ll be some cosmetic coordinating committee to provide the simulation of independent oversight, but it would have only advisory authority. A fig leaf.
We must understand that the Fed is in its bones diametrically opposed to all reform or to any restraint upon the finance racket or its boom/rent -> bust/bailout procedure. It was created in the first place to be the middleman of finance corporatism, to coordinate the cycle of normal casino looting during the booms and disaster capitalist bailout looting during the busts. It is automatically opposed to any public interest policy which would seek to reform bank behavior, moderate the crisis cycle of finance capitalism, or do away with systemic risk and bailouts completely. These are the very reasons the Fed exists. So by definition it cannot be part of a reform offensive.
When you consider restraints upon the banks, remember that the Fed is always the most radical bank.
Too Big To Fail = Too Big To Allow To Exist. We must break up the rackets. That’s the one and only reform. All the rest is dishonesty, naivete, or cowardice. As I said earlier, we could have done it before.
At any rate, now, when we’re not in a “panic”, is a fine time to strike. But of course, in standard heads-I-win tails-you-lose fashion, the temporary lull and false recovery are used as an excuse to do nothing (while during the surface crisis the excuse was that it would aggravate the panic).
Although the MSM doesn’t talk about them, other than to trot one out once in awhile like an exotic animal Joan Embery brings onto a talk show, a roster of distinguished economic thinkers agree that the TBTF banks must be broken up. This is the number one social priority. You can find a list of them here.  
But what is the corporatist political system doing? Its number one priority is to let the banks further entrench, further concentrate. A year ago there were around a dozen top tier banks. Today Goldman and JPMorgan are dominant, trailed by a bunch of hangers-on, with Citi and BofA each to be called the “Sick Man of Wall Street”, as they used to call the decrepit Ottoman Empire the Sick Man of Europe in fin de siecle times. But these two are only relatively more dependent upon public welfare. NONE of these banks could have existed or can exist on its own. They are all absolute wards of the bailout.
They have not changed any practices or done any particular restructuring or streamlining. They remain the same bloated, labyrinthine, reckless, overpaying, hermetic, nihilistic structures they always were. Except for some lower-level people no one lost their jobs, and no one’s pay was cut. The worst criminals in American history get to keep everything they stole and are allowed to steal ever more as the rotten government cheers them on.
These monuments to corporate welfare are now permanent quasi-state organs. They receive all funding from the public and get to use it any way they wish, with no restrictions, running up any risks they choose, in order to privately pocket every cent of revenue, and when it all crashes again, the public will make them whole, pay for everything, give them an even bigger cash infusion, and it’ll continue.
The choice is to submit forever to the rule of this gangster racket, the permanent round of expropriation, disaster, and impoverishment, or to blast them out of the entrenchments. Take back the country.
Too Big To Fail? So far we have failed as a people. Clearly our own government doesn’t see us as all that big, in power or in desert. The question is whether we’ll continue to fail, or whether we’ll decide that the rackets and their paid hacks and goons are not bigger than our will to our future.
If we have that will, they’re not too big to topple and smash.    

September 15, 2009

Two Speeches, One Policy

Another week, another speech. Another year, another unfolding disaster.
We saw quite a contrast yesterday between two opposed philosophies on what public service is supposed to be about, and what America is supposed to be about. Judge Jed Rakoff finally said he’d had enough of the criminal collusion in his court. The case is over how Bank of America lied to its shareholders about its pending deal to buy Merrill Lynch, promising that there would be no “bonuses” paid at Merrill. In fact they already knew that $3.6 billion in bonuses were all set to go. Under pressure from defrauded Bank of America shareholders, the SEC felt constrained to bring an action against BofA, which the collaborating parties agreed to settle for a slap on the wrist and no admission of wrong-doing. Corporatism in action. All the bigshots are happy, and everyone can get back to business as usual.
Just by accident, this case landed in the court of a judge who actually takes his job seriously. He repeatedly denounced the settlement as a whitewash and demanded more answers. He demanded to know who was personally responsible for this crime. BofA tried to claim that its executives never made any decisions, but only obeyed the advice of lawyers. But in order to maintain their client-attorney privilege they laundered the lawyer story through the SEC brief. So “both” sides agreed, no one in particular could be held responsible.* When the litigants (that is, the defiant defendant and its flunkey “prosecutor”) finally were reduced to insulting the court’s and the public’s intelligence in this way, Rakoff had enough. He rejected the settlement and ordered them to prepare for trial.
Everything the judge wrote sounds downright quaint. He said the settlement was “not fair”. He demanded to know where “justice and morality” have gone, where personal responsibility. He was especially incensed that even the token $30 million fine in the settlement would have been paid not by the executive wrongdoers, but by the very shareholders who were defrauded.
It’s a good bet that everyone on Wall St and in Washington today are scratching their heads over this decision and its language. It doesn’t make any sense to them. The words are familiar enough; we hear them all the time in politics. But what’s up with this action which seems to indicate that this guy actually means something by those words?
Luckily everyone could relax and listen to some similar words in a more familiar way, when Obama went up to Wall St to say something about financial reform. Here everyone could expect the same platitudes and bluster as in last week’s health reform speech, equally contradicted by his every action. He didn’t let them down. (Of course as the psychopathic louts they are they couldn’t even pretend to feel remorseful, even as an exercise in political tact. That’s how confident and incorrigible they are.)
“We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess at the heart of the crisis.”
Just as with health care, this rhetoric is belied by this administration’s policy. From day one, and indeed going all the way back to the campaign, Obama has supported the massive redistribution of wealth from the people to the finance racket. He has done all he can to facilitate this conveyance, through bailouts, loan guarantees, loan “facilities”, maintaining illegal secrecy about these disbursements, and generally flooding the system with cash in order to prop up phony values on the stock market and on bank balance sheets. They call this “quantitative easing”, and it certainly does make it easy to pretend we’re “recovering”, even as the debt-hallucinated “wealth” of the middle class vaporizes like the hologram it has long been.
Meanwhile the very real jobs America used to enjoy have been permanently destroyed. They will not come back under this system. Even the propagandists are forced to call what they’re peddling a “jobless recovery”. Except that the phony mortgage bubble recovery following the early-2000s recession was already the start of a permanent jobless death march, which itself was the intensification of a forty year trend of eroding wages and concentration of wealth. The financialization of the economy was dialectically both a cause and effect of this increasingly social Darwinist economy.
Obama says they can’t commit the same crimes “and expect that next time, American taxpayers will be there to break their fall”. This is a flat out lie, because everyone knows Too Big to Fail is now officially enshrined American policy. Every aspect of Obama policy, simply following through on Bush policy, contradicts this lie and promises that in the inevitable future crashes the bailouts will be repeated. The entire sector, and by extension the business class, are structuring around this promise.
Indeed there’s no reason to believe the bailed-out banks will ever again be anything but wards of the lemon socialist state. Although Goldman and JPMorgan and a few others “paid back” the TARP money with much fanfare and administration self-congratulation, this was only a small portion of the bailouts. Trillions remain outstanding; nobody outside the Fed or government knows how much or held by whom, since the administration has tyrannically kept this information a secret from the very taxpayers whose money is being looted.
For this reason Congressman Brad Sherman, one of those who voted against the TARP last fall, raised a protest after yesterday’s speech over the provisions of the administration’s proposed systemic risk plan, which would, reminiscent of its health care proposal, require a large number of institutions to pay into an insurance fund which would offer benefits to only a handful of privileged big banks. As usual, the mass of small players must bear all the costs and losses of the big rentiers, who rake in all the profits. Sherman condemned it as “TARP on steroids.”
We can only wish that protest like this could lead to another kind of Progressive Block. 
This taxpayer bailout promise is summed up in the sardonic term “Bernanke put” (AKA Geithner put, back when they were attempting a more direct loot conveyance through the PPIP; today it’s more through the Fed’s quantitative easing)
This term can encapsulate the entire Obama economic ideology and policy, which is simply an extension of the longstanding corporatist ideology and policy.
So this economy is both mean and predatory in general, and has become permanently unstable and prone to crisis and crash as well. There is no longer any real, stable basis for this economy. It’s now a permanent casino, dependent upon the bubble and crash, boom-bust cycle.
This is the economy as dominated by the finance sector. It’s an economy of, by, and for the bankers. A government policy which is dedicated to sustaining this casino is as pure a distillation of corporatism as is possible. This is truly the end stage of monopoly finance capitalism.
Obama’s government has dedicated itself to this casino barker role. It has done nothing to restrain the “recklessness” and “excess”; on the contrary it has enshrined it as the core quality of America.
All American policy now emanates logically from this racketeering core. Every other racket, and even the legitimate businesses, are arranged according to their logical places in the financialized structure. All other policies stand or fall according to whether they fit in with this logic.
Thus with health care reform, since the combination of individual mandate-phony regulation confirms the loot flows along the chart from people to insurers and up to banks and bank shareholders, this is anointed as not only the correct policy but the only policy in the eyes of the feudal nexus of corporation-government-mainstream media.
Meanwhile since single-payer or a real public plan make no corporatist sense, they are beyond consideration. Establishment Democrats and the MSM treat a public plan as a stupid whim on the part of romantics, while single-payer is so alien as to not even be deemed a fit topic for conversation. Even the progressives are wobbling: are we really going to stand against the entire logic and vote against its result?
I guess the answer boils down to, is it really just a whim on the part of those who are system players at heart? Or are they true progressives, who have no choice by now but to become rebels vs. this system?
Where you see anyone say, let’s cave in again, but we’ll get ’em next time, you have your answer.
So it has been so far with pretty much everyone vis the big banks.
[* This Kafkaesque idea of saying “the lawyers told him it was OK, so we can’t prosecute him”, while the lawyers can’t be held to account at all since they were simply giving professional advice for which they take no responsibility, seems to be popular with the Obama people. It’s also Eric Holder’s preferred way of dealing with the Bush administration’s war crimes.]      

September 14, 2009


Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror, Globalization, Mainstream Media, Peak Oil — Tags: — Russ @ 11:37 am
In the evolutions of the Global War on Terror, which is itself the evolution of the corporatist imperial war of the globalist/Peak Oil age, Afghanistan once again comes to the fore, while Iraq wanes in our consciousness.
Evolution, here as always, is not a moral term. Nothing gets better, nothing reaches a “higher” plane, there is no “progress” in the grandiloquent sense. Nor is there simple progress toward a goal. War has long been considered a permanent state of affairs by the elite. It’s an assumed element of the notorious Washington Consensus. The only thing 9/11 changed was how it provided the new scenic overlook where the public could be shown the vista of endless war but convinced that it was practically necessary for the national interest, as well as morally justified.
In fact neither of these is true. The Iraq war, which is the real core of the campaign (Afghanistan started out as a politically convenient sideshow), was planned long ago in the neocon think tanks, and advocated for years during the Clinton administration. The most specific objective was the oil, as insiders like Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney have long been aware of looming Peak Oil and concerned themselves with ensuring America’s supply for as long as possible through force. The broader objective was extending America’s corporatist reach, turning Iraq into a free-fire zone for free-market weaponry, using it as the base for further economic and military aggression.
In both these ways it’s a typical and key piece in the neolib/neocon process of resource, wealth, and power accumulation, meant to feed the ravening debt bubble economy back in the Western homeland. It’s a classical totalitarian process in that (1) each step is meant to accumulate as much loot as possible even as it prepares the next step, so (2) no step represents “the” goal, (3) there is no end goal, (4) short of world domination.
So Iraq, far from being a sincere but misguided response to 9/11 (as the idiot MSM still believes to this day), was a longstanding, carefully premeditated, cold-blooded plan of imperialism. Indeed it wasn’t easy to fit it into the “war on terror” narrative. WMDs of dubious existence and threat, which somehow never mattered much back when we knew Saddam had them and was in fact using them, now the suddenly critical casus belli?
That America fell for something so flimsy is a (dis)tribute to the gullibility of the populace (granted, still shaken up over 9/11), the abdication of the media, and the cowardice of the alleged “opposition” party.
Well, we all know how things went in Iraq. Bush incompetence and unexpectedly fierce resistance combined to scotch the master plan, and now they’re bumming around trying to decide how to “withdraw” even as they don’t really withdraw, but stick around to maybe launch further attacks later when the situation improves, while minimizing casualties during the downtime.
Now the spotlight turns to Afghanistan. Here, at least, we can’t accuse Obama of selling us out. The one truth he did tell during the campaign was how he’d escalate this theater.
What happened in Afghanistan? On the merits, the Afghan campaign should have been one big, conclusive raid to temporarily knock the Taliban out of power, obliterate Al-Queda, put some warlord in charge and get out. Then, if he couldn’t maintain power against Taliban resurgence, it would be his problem. As angry as America was at the Taliban for harboring Al-Queda, they were not intrinsically the problem. Al-Queda was the problem, and if we had made them the Taliban’s problem as well, this could have achieved the desired result. Compare how in 1970 Jordan kicked out the PLO once they drew enough heat to become a problem for Jordan itself. These host governments may sympathize with foreign extremists and be willing to harbor them, but their first priority is their own survival in power.
If counter-terrorism was ever the real goal, this never required permanent destruction of the Taliban. That America, at first implicitly and later explicitly, claimed the mission of “nation-building” puts the war into the imperialist framework. Therefore we know counter-terrorism, although something they did want to achieve, was still the pretext, not the real objective.
At first they were complacent and haphazard about it. Just as they later would in Iraq, so first in Afghanistan the Americans thought toppling the existing regime would in itself create an open political space where the will to Western democracy and capitalism would spontaneously generate. (Then, as in the homeland, corporatism, plutocracy, and pseudo-democracy would be imposed from above, while the veneer of democracy would be used to prettify it.)
America invaded, drove out the Taliban and cornered Al-Queda at Tora Bora, where they let them escape. Already they thought it was in the bag, were losing interest, were looking ahead to Iraq. In April 2002 Bush proclaimed his “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, but as with every other nation-building proclamation it was big on words, short on follow-through in terms of staff and money. As I said, they were expecting this Western-style paradise to mostly build itself.
In 2002 there were 8000 American troops deployed, on terrorist-hunting duty. Barely anyone was even going through the motions of nation-building. There really wasn’t much for anyone to do. While the fugitive AQ and Taliban caught their breath in Pakistan, America sat around in Afghanistan wasting time.
In late 2002 there began a massive resource shift to Iraq. All the best intelligence cadres and elite military teams were transferred. Pretty much all resources coming from overseas were now earmarked for the Iraq buildup. The Afghan theater languished, but remained quiet through 2003.  At the same time as Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement, Rumsfeld made a similar announcement in Kabul.
In late 2003 there was a belated “surge” of nation-building interest. Incoming ambassador Khalilzad brought some money and some civilian cadres, with promises of more to come. In 2004 America was able to cobble together enough Afghans from enough groups to broker a new constitution, and this in turn led to the election in November making Karzai official president. On the surface, the mission was looking more accomplished all the time. All this time, in spite of the urgings of some experts and officials, the administration put little pressure on its ally Musharraf to move against the Taliban and AQ strongholds.
As the Taliban regrouped in Pakistan, America and NATO spent 2005 preparing for the transfer of full authority to NATO. Taliban infiltration and activity steadily increased until they launched an offensive in the spring of 06, carrying out hundreds of attacks. While not quite Tet, it was still a surprise to the Americans. Now Bush finally started pressuring Islamabad for some action vs. the sanctuaries.
In July 2006 NATO took formal responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. Over 2006-08 the Pakistani government gradually stepped up its actions against Taliban strongholds, even as the Taliban gradually seeped back into Afghanistan. America came to rely more and more on “smart” Predator strikes which are just as likely to massacre civilians as carry out successful assassinations.
For all the bluster, all the blood, the Bush administration threw away the opportunities, if any ever really existed, to remake Afghanistan. Bush bet the war’s momentum on Iraq, and by screwing that up, he screwed up the whole momentum.
Obama evidently never questioned permanent imperial war in principle. Nor did he look at what a mess Bush had made of it and decide to abort the whole project. Instead, as we’ve seen, he decided to take personal possession of the whole thing, even campaigned on this (while focusing on the quasi-withdrawal from Iraq, of course, and not bringing up how the resources withdrawn from there would merely be shifted to the Afghan escalation).
Since taking office Obama has installed a new commander with a reputation for aggressiveness, General McChrystal. He set in motion a troop escalation which will bring levels to 68000 by December. (Meanwhile since spring of 2008 polls have shown increasing public tiredness of the wars. In August 09 we reached a milestone: a majority now considers the Afghan war not to be worthwhile.)
What are the possible courses of action from here? The power structure and the MSM completely rule out ending the war. That’s not even part of the discussion among Decent Serious People.
Also not available is full escalation and really fighting the war America’s leaders claim they’re fighting. In its decadence America, even if it were physically and economically capable, which by now is questionable, is simply not morally or spiritually capable of using the level of force commensurate with its imperial ambitions.
It is malicious in intent but weak and craven in the execution.
So instead we have a selection of middling possibilities. We could continue to muddle through as we have been. We could largely withdraw ground forces and try to turn it into a true video-game war deploying mostly drones and other hi-tech. Or we could, wonder of wonders, try diplomacy; recognize that the Taliban is (1) not a jihadist monolith, but an aggregation of fighters with many different motivations, most of which motivations are generated by America’s presence and aggression themselves, and (2) it’s possible to co-exist on this Earth with the Taliban, without thereby empowering the real jihadists.
Those who say in principle they are not willing to co-exist, or that this is impossible, are nevertheless those who have long since conceded that they’re not willing to bring to bear the force necessary to utterly destroy this enemy. So their position, if really motivated by counter-terrorism, is incoherent. That’s part of how we know they’re really motivated by imperialism. 
There have been to date five “assessments” of the war this year (usually a symptom of the Peter Principle). McChrystal is currently halfway finished with presenting his theory on how the war should continue. (He was told to present basic policy suggestions first without any troop requests. The idea is that if the policy concept is widely considered reasonable, which it seems to have been, you then say OK, here’s the number of additional troops we need to carry that out. Those who already agreed in principle would then find it hard to backpedal when hit with the troop demand.)
McC’s prescription is the following: draw back the military from chasing around the countryside and focus on securing populated areas (that is, finally focus on classical counterinsurgency); step up the training of Afghan government forces (here too no numbers have been given); bring in many more civilian cadres – civil engineers, all sorts of trainers, most of all agricultural experts; and the ever-popular “streamline the military bureaucracy”. (This last one is especially favored by civilian and military leaders agreed upon a policy which is not universally popular in the upper military echelons.)
So to put it in Vietnam terms: switch from search-and-destroy to pacification; Vietnamization.
As for the upcoming troop request, it’s expected that McC will present a range of options, perhaps from 8000-45000 more troops depending upon how serious and sure people want to be, which will have been calculated to allow Defense Secretary Gates to recommend the “Goldilocks” option, twenty-something thousand.
(That Gates is a holdover from the Bush admin is also supposed to help provide Obama with political cover from attacks by Republican hawks wanting the high-end escalation. This guy just will not learn, will he?)
So Obama stands ready to take his first big step into what he thinks will be the glory of war. So we see the falsehood of the notion of “learning from history”. Intimates assure us that Obama is painfully aware of the double warning from history: that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires”, and of course the Vietnam lesson.
Obama is therefore giving us a twofer. He “understands” both, but finds a way to discount both so he can walk clear-eyed off the cliff.
I’ll close with this quote from the great 19th century historian Leopold Ranke, a quote often adduced in the 20th century, and it seems we’ll have lots more work for it in the 21st:
Neither blindness nor ignorance corrupts people and governments. They soon realize where the path they have taken is leading them. But there’s an impulse within them, favored by their natures and reinforced by their habits, which they do not resist. It continues to propel them forward as long as they have a remnant of strength. He who overcomes himself is divine. Most see their ruin before their eyes; but they go on into it.

September 11, 2009

Permanent War


In the early years of the Soviet regime there was much consternation over the future course of the revolution. The Russian Revolution had not occurred according to the progression of classical Marxism, and the Marxist ideologues had to square events with ideals. They also faced imperialist intervention on many fronts. It looked like global capitalism was going to try to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle” as Churchill fondly put it. Given these problems the Bolsheviks had to come up with a master strategy for the future.
Trotsky’s contribution was the doctrine of Permanent Revolution. The socialist USSR could not stand alone; as the first proletarian society it would exist in a state of never-ending war with global capitalism until one side or the other achieved total victory. Therefore the Soviet Union had to constantly foment revolution among all the capitalist powers. Only in this way could it generate multiple fronts to fight the enemy elsewhere than in the homeland, help bring about further revolutions, and eventually defeat world capitalism.
Toward this end all of Soviet society had to be organized as an armed camp and total war economy. This mode of organization would persist until total victory, however many decades it took.
Trotsky’s plan did not appeal to the Bolshevik rank and file who, having won the civil war, wanted to enjoy a peace dividend of power, careerism, even rudimentary material comfort. To them, Stalin’s counterdoctrine of Socialism in One Country had much greater allure. Trotsky went down to political defeat, while Stalin went on to dictatorship.
But Trotsky, who was so fond of citing the “trash heap of history” and might have lamented how his own idea had ended up there if he were prone to self-examination, might be surprised today to see by what a strange path his idea had found new life, and in such a strange place.
The ideology of the modern West is corporatism. Its economic aspect, globalization, is often called “neoliberal”, while its foreign policy is called “neoconservative”. These are two aspects of the same master plan for aggression which has prevailed since the fall of the Soviet Union. In its neoconservative aspect it carried on with the Cold War doctrine of counterinsurgency without missing a beat. The basic goal remained the same: the aggrandizement of multinational corporations and authoritarian governments, abroad and at home.
But no longer having the all-purpose ideological cover of anticommunism, neoconservatism has had to be more opportunistic. Thus its predatory interventions in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo were variously represented as humanitarianism, or to protect national sovereignty vs. “aggression”, or to depose a narcostate. (Though in September 1990 Defense Secretary Cheney did briefly admit before Congress that Desert Shield was about protecting access to oil; Republican discipline not yet the perfected machine it later became, it took them a few weeks to switch over completely to “sovereignty of Kuwait” and “Saddam’s aggression”.)
More recently, of course, they’ve found terrorism as the all-purpose bogeyman to replace communism. But in all cases the imperialist goal has remained fundamental. [Parenthetically I ask, why would those who always openly proclaim the domestic politics of attack-not-defend be believed when they claim their foreign policy outlook is the opposite? Yet there’s no lack of credulous liberals and media types ready to believe this.] The goal is the permanent revolution of capitalism. What does this have to do with Trotsky?
The West has entered the stage of its great economic travail. It depends completely on exponential growth for its power and wealth to continue to burgeon and concentrate and for society to exist at anything approaching its current level of material development. But permanent economic growth relies upon the permanent growth of the supply of oil and on permanent exponential debt. Both of these are unsustainable. American oil production peaked in 1970 and the globe has now reached Peak Oil, while the debt economy has for years been in the permanent crisis stage of boom-bust, bubble and crash. (In classic Orwell fashion this has been called the Great Moderation. What that has really meant is a reliable growth in wealth and power concentration for the elites and reliable degradation of wages and power, insecurity, debt, and disaster for everyone else on Earth.)
So within any finite system growth capitalism must eventually enter its stage of permanent crisis, at which point it must expand and repeat the original capital accumulation. That’s what globalization has done for the last forty years, with the process greatly accelerated and radicalized since the fall of the USSR. Capitalism, reaching the limits of the globe itself, in terms of space, environmental factors, and natural resources, must increasingly cannibalize mankind or else collapse.
Global capitalism is therefore in a position similar to that of the Soviet Union in the 20s as Trotsky saw it. There’s the sense of permanent militarism and power expansion or else collapse. Neoliberalism’s permanent economic war has gone hand in hand with neoconservatism’s permanent military advocacy.
In the age of permanent crisis capitalism, that radical capitalism, finding itself in this similar situation, has taken up the same idea from radical communism, is not an ironic coincidence. The history of ideas is clear on this point. Founding neocons like Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell were originally Trotskyites. They drank deep of Trotsky’s apocalypticism and fanatical will to preserve and expand a system and an ideology no matter what the cost. While over the years, especially during the Vietnam years, they moved from far left to far right along the so-called spectrum, they maintained the old Trotsky fanaticism, bloodthirsty and rather childish.
[We see several examples here of how this spectrum is inadequate to describe ideology and campaigns of action. That mass communism and mass capitalism both tend toward crisis indicates more affinity than difference. The convergence of the very terms neoliberal and neoconservative under the same ideological roof reflects how vapid the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are in general as alleged opposites. These alleged differences are just surface details. Corporatism is the underlying unity.]
So the rise of neoconservatism over the last twenty years, and the rise of its doctrine of Permanent War, must be considered a variation on Trotsky’s original doctrine of Permanent Revolution. This permanent war had for a time the official brand name Global War on Terror, and while politicians may try to give things new names, we should stick with the same name for the same war. “Global War on Terror” it should remain. 
Today the neocon ideology is ever more overt in its proclamations. It’s no accident that Defense Secretary Gates could effortlessly be held over from one administration to the next, for the Global War on Terror, even more than the bank bailouts, is now a constant and will remain so for as long as America remains a corporatist state.
Permanent war is the flip side of domestic colonization. The bailouts, the health care poll tax, the land and food monopoly of Big Agriculture, the total financialization of the economy, are all domestic fronts of the same war being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq, a war which according to the administration will be heading to many other theaters.
Perhaps there will be Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia redux, subsaharan Africa, and there will be more domestic Pakistans and Somalias just as we now have domestic Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s one war, and to counteract one front the people must counteract all. While this counteraction doesn’t have to be “socialism in one country”, it will have to focus on sustainability in one country. Sustainability of economy, resource use, consumption, and of wealth, power, grandiosity, aggression, and all the other things which must be constrained by limits or destroy us all.
Older Posts »