Tag Archives: Captialism

‘A Great Day for Corporate America’: US Senate Passes Fast Track

‘Shameful’ vote all but ensures approval of mammoth trade deals like the TransPacific Partnership

By Deirdre Fulton
June 24, 2015
Common Dreams

 

Thirteen Senate Democrats joined Republicans to make sure corporate interests had the necessary votes to pass the Fast Track bill through the chamber. “How shameful,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who voted against the measure. (Photo: Archive/with overlay)

In a win for multinational corporations and the global one percent, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday narrowly advanced Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) —ensuring for all practical purposes the continued rubber-stamping of clandestine trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The cloture motion to end debate needed 60 votes and it got just that, passing the chamber 60-37. The full roll call is here. A final vote will come on Wednesday. Having overcome the biggest hurdle, the legislation is expected to pass, and will then be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk to become law.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who campaigned vigorously against Fast Track, said the vote represented a win for corporate America. “The vote today—pushed by multi-national corporations, pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street—will mean a continuation of  disastrous trade policies which have cost our country millions of decent-paying jobs,” the presidential candidate said in a statement.

And Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), another of the most vocal opponents of Fast Track, railed against TPA moments before the vote, accusing Congress of turning on its “moral” obligation to assist the working class.

“How shameful,” Brown said. “We’re making this decision knowing that people will lose their jobs because of our action.”

According to The Hill:

Thirteen Democrats backed fast-track in Tuesday’s vote, handing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a major legislative victory. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) voted against the procedural motion.

The Democrats cast “yes” votes even though the trade package did not include a workers assistance program for people displaced by increased trade. The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program was a part of the last fast-track package approved by the Senate in May, but became a key part of opposition to the package among Democrats in the House.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, pointed out that the vote only came about via “elaborate legislative contortions and gimmicks designed to hand multinational corporations their top priority.”

Such contortions were necessary, she added, “because the American people overwhelmingly oppose these deals, notwithstanding an endless barrage of propaganda.”

Indeed, response from the progressive grassroots was fast—and furious.

“We’re outraged that Congress today voted to fast track pollution, rather than the job-creating clean energy we need to address climate change,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org. “It’s clear this deal would extend the world’s dependence on fracked gas, forbid our negotiators from ever using trade agreements in the fight against global warming, and make it easier for big polluters to burn carbon while suing anyone who gets in the way. That’s why we’re so disappointed President Obama has taken up the banner for ramming this legislative pollution through the halls of Congress, in a way he never pushed for a climate bill.”

Groups threatened political fall-out for those Democrats who voted in favor of Fast Track.

“Senate Democrats who just voted to proceed on Fast Track for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership openly betrayed the grassroots Democratic activists who helped elect them and have been exceedingly clear in their opposition to any legislation that allows more NAFTA-style trade deals to be jammed through Congress,” said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America. “The Senate Democrats who allowed Fast Track should know that this vote will be remembered, it will not be erased, and we will hold you accountable.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, echoed that warning as she declared, “The senators who provided the margin of Fast Track victory will face angry voters in their next elections. Constituents will hold them accountable for putting the interests of transnational corporations ahead of the public.”

In addition to calling out Senate Democrats who “betrayed people and the planet” by voting for cloture on Tuesday, National People’s Action Campaign executive director George Goehl lambasted “the virtual silence of the leading Democratic candidate for president,” which he said “shows the stranglehold corporations have over both political parties.”

And Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, said it was clear who will benefit most if the pending deals are given final passage. Today is a “great day for the big money interests,” she said following the Senate vote.

Global refugee crisis worst since World War II

By Joseph Kishore
June 16, 2015
World Socialist We Site

 

The global refugee crisis is more dire than at any point since the end of the Second World War, according to a report released yesterday by Amnesty International.

The report provides a partial picture of the disaster produced by global capitalism and the operations of imperialism in different parts of the world, with a focus on Syria, North Africa and the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Dadaab camp in Kenya now holds nearly 50,000 refugees [Source: UN Refugee Agency]

Tens of millions of people have been forced to flee their homes, traveling great distances in an attempt to escape war, economic devastation and political persecution. Refugees often face deplorable conditions in the countries to which they flee, and with increasing regularity are turned away or perish during the journey.

Amnesty notes that in 2013, for the first time since the 1940s, the number of refugees was estimated at more than 50 million. In the ensuing two years, millions more have become refugees.

The situation in Syria and its neighboring countries in the Middle East is particularly dire. “More than half of Syria’s population is displaced,” including those displaced internally, according to the report. “Some four million women, men and children have fled the country and are refugees, making this one of the biggest refugee crises in history.”

Amnesty castigates the major powers for failing to provide assistance to the surging refugee population, many of whom have ended up in neighboring Lebanon (where 20 percent of the population now consists of Syrian refugees), Jordan and Turkey. It notes that the United Nation humanitarian appeal for $4.5 billion to aid Syrian refugees had reached only 23 percent of its goal by early June.

The entire UN emergency fund for Syrian refugees is less than one percent of the annual budget of the US military.

“The total number of places offered to refugees from Syria is less than 90,000, only 2.2 percent of the refugees in the main host countries (Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey),” the report states. Faced with a surging population and limited funding, the World Food Programme has been forced to reduce its level of food assistance to less than $0.46 a day to Syrian refugees in Jordan and $0.62 a day to refugees in Lebanon.

The desperate situation facing refugees from Syria exposes the “humanitarian” pretenses of imperialist operations in the region. The crisis is a direct result of the US-stoked civil war in the country, which has included the financing of Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the campaign to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The Obama administration is now utilizing the crisis created by American imperialism to justify the expansion of military operations in both Syria and Iraq, ostensibly targeting the Islamic State. The 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq itself produced millions of refugees.

Amnesty also points to new restrictions on border crossing imposed by Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, all US allies. Turkey has closed almost all of its border gates to Syria. Over the weekend, Turkish military forces used water cannon against refugees fleeing fighting across the border from the southeastern Turkish town of Akcakale.

The report says nothing about the origins of the crisis. The civil war in Syria is also a main driving force behind the sharp increase in the number of refugees seeking to cross the Mediterranean. Many Syrians have fled to Libya where they, along with refugees from other parts of the Middle East and Africa, face disastrous conditions in a country torn apart by the NATO war in 2011.

Libya is riven by rival Islamist militias, many of which were financed and armed as part of the US-led campaign to overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Refugees in Libya are subjected to harassment, torture, sexual assault, extortion and forced labor while seeking access to boats to take them across the sea to Italy.

In April, two boats packed with refugees sank in the Mediterranean, killing over 1,200 people. In the first five months of this year, 1,865 people have died attempting the journey, compared to 425 during the same period last year. The report notes that the “dramatic increase in the number of lives lost” is “partly due to the decision by Italy and the European Union (EU) to end the Italian navy operation Mare Nostrum at the end of 2014 and replace it with a much more limited EU operation.”

The response of the European imperialist powers, which backed the war in Libya as part of an attempt to reassert control over their former colonies, has been to strengthen “Fortress Europe” and block the flow of refugees. Last month, the EU agreed to a quota system to house 20,000 refugees, a tiny fraction of those seeking to flee Libya.

At the same time, the European powers are citing the refugee crisis as a rationale to prepare military strikes in Libya itself, aimed in the first instance at destroying the boats used to transport people across the Mediterranean.

A similar disaster has unfolded in Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific in the first part of 2015, as boats filled with refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been turned away by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. It is estimated that 300 people have died at sea so far this year due to starvation, dehydration or abuse.

The Amnesty report notes that the initial refusal of governments in the region to accept the refugees was a “flagrant violation of their international obligations.” It states that “Australia’s offshore processing policy—whereby it takes asylum-seekers who attempt to reach Australia by sea to detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island (Papua New Guinea)—is particularly egregious… [T]he deliberately harsh, humiliating conditions at the Australian-run detention facility were designed to pressure asylum seekers to return to their country of origin, regardless of whether or not they were refugees.”

The Australian government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is currently facing allegations that it has paid people smugglers to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia, allegations that the government has tacitly acknowledged. These illegal actions underscore Australia’s central role in spearheading the persecution of refugees throughout the region.

In Sub-Saharan Africa there is an estimated population of 3 million refugees, the result of waves of people fleeing wars and conflicts in different parts of the continent, including Nigeria, South Sudan, the Central African Republican and Burundi. These wars are invariably connected to struggles over natural resources, with the imperialist powers viewing the deeply impoverished region to be of interest only as a source of oil and minerals.

The Amnesty report’s conclusions are predictable, consisting of impotent calls for governments to do more. “The global refugee crisis will not be solved unless the international community recognizes that it is a global problem and deals with it as such,” the report states.

The catastrophic situation facing refugees, however, is one particularly horrific expression of a bankrupt social and economic system. The surge of refugees is a direct product of unending war and social counterrevolution. The persecution of those uprooted by imperialism is inseparable from the attack on the democratic and social rights of the working class in every country.

JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon Deals With His Bank’s Felony Charge – Badly

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens
May 22, 2015
Wall Street on Parade

 

JPMorgans-Forex-Dept.JPMorgan Tries to Claim It’s a Felon Because of One Bad Apple

After more than 200 years of operation, yesterday JPMorgan Chase became an admitted felon. That action for foreign currency rigging came less than two years after the bank was charged with two felony counts and given a deferred prosecution agreement for aiding and abetting Bernie Madoff in the largest Ponzi fraud in history. The felony counts came amid three years of non-stop charges against JPMorgan Chase for unthinkable frauds: from rigging electric markets to ripping off veterans to charging credit card customers for fictitious credit monitoring and manipulating the Libor interest rate benchmark.

Against this backdrop of a serial crime spree on the part of employees on multiple continents and coast to coast in the United States, JPMorgan released a statement yesterday regarding the bank pleading guilty to a felony charge for engaging in the rigging of foreign currency trading, calling it “principally attributable to a single trader.” In the statement, Dimon says the bank has a “historically strong culture.”

Dimon is, if nothing else, a master of the grand illusion.

In 2012, when Dimon was asked about reports in the press that one of his London traders was making massive bets in derivatives, he called the matter a “tempest in a teapot.” That tempest, dubbed the London Whale scandal, cost JPMorgan Chase at least $6.2 billion in losses, over $1 billion in fines, and a scathing 306-page report from the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Subcommittee at the time, said JPMorgan “piled on risk, hid losses, disregarded risk limits, manipulated risk models, dodged oversight, and misinformed the public.”

Attempting to foster the illusion that there was simply one bad apple behind JPMorgan having to finally plead guilty to a felony is not only an insult to the public, it flies in the face of five regulators’ findings in the matter. JPMorgan’s involvement in the rigging of foreign currency has now been looked at by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the U.S. Justice Department, the Federal Reserve, and the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. Not one of these regulators alluded to the problem as being one bad apple.

The CFTC placed the blame squarely at the feet of management, writing: “This conduct occurred at various times over the course of the Relevant Period without detection by JPMC in part because of internal controls and supervisory failures at JPMC.”

Not only was the supervisor of Foreign Exchange at JPMorgan not fired, but as we reported last week, that individual, Troy Rohrbaugh, who has been head of Foreign Exchange at JPMorgan since 2005, is now serving in the dual role as Chair of the Foreign Exchange Committee at the New York Fed, helping his regulator establish best practices in foreign exchange trading.

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UN Lawyer Calls TTP & TTIP ‘a dystopian future in which corporations and not democratically elected governments call the shots’

By Eric Zuesse
May 6, 2015
Washington’s Blog

 

The Obama-proposed international-trade deals, if passed into law, will lead to “a dystopian future in which corporations and not democratically elected governments call the shots,” says Alfred De Zayas, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order.

These two mammoth trade-pacts, one (TTIP) for Atlantic nations, and the other (TPP) for Pacific nations excluding China (since Obama is against China), would transfer regulations of corporations to corporations themselves, and away from democratically elected governments. Regulation of working conditions and of the environment, as well as of product-safety including toxic foods and poisonous air and other consumer issues, would be placed into the hands of panels whose members will be appointed by large international corporations. Their decisions will remove the power of democratically elected governments to control these things. “Red tape” that’s imposed by elected national governments would be eliminated — replaced by the international mega-corporate version.

De Zayas was quoted in Britain’s Guardian on May 4th as saying also that, “The bottom line is that these agreements must be revised, modified or terminated,” because they would vastly harm publics everywhere, even though they would enormously benefit the top executives of corporations by giving them control as a sort of corporate-imposed world government, answerable to the people who control those corporations.

Obama is pushing for international cartels to replace important functions of today’s national governments, and De Zayas is saying that, “We don’t want an international order akin to post-democracy or post-law.” 

De Zayas told the Guardian that the panels that are proposed to be at the very center of these trade-pacts “constitute an attempt to escape the jurisdiction of national courts and bypass the obligation of all states to ensure that all legal cases are tried before independent tribunals that are public, transparent, accountable and appealable.”

That is, in fact, the motivation behind these deals. Costs get transferred from corporations onto consumers, workers, and the environment, while profits are increased for the corporation’s investors, and CEO pay will soar. In fact, the EU’s own study of the economic impact of the TTIP with America, calculated “economic gains as a whole for the EU (€119 billion a year) and US (€95 billion a year). This translates to an extra €545 in disposable income each year for a family of 4 in the EU, on average, and €655 per family in the US. … Income gains are a result of increased trade. EU exports to the US would go up by 28%, equivalent to an additional €187 billion worth of exports of EU goods and services. Overall, total exports would increase 6% in the EU and 8% in the US.” According to the analysis, no one would lose anything. For example, tariffs would be reduced but income taxes and other taxes that the public pays wouldn’t be increased in order to make up for that loss of income to the state from reduced tariffs. Not at all. Instead: “As much as 80% of the total potential gains come from cutting costs imposed by bureaucracy and regulations, as well as from liberalising trade in services and public procurement.” 

In other words: government regulations of product-safety and the environment and workers’ rights are a terrible waste, which would be eliminated and handled more efficiently by letting international corporations themselves handle those things, according to the EU’s study. And “liberalising trade in services and public procurement” would cut “red tape” that has prevented government officials who are the purchasers in “public procurement” from getting high-paid corporate directorships, etc. under the existing regulatory structures in democratic nations where the public, the voters, can hold their own government accountable for such corruption. If these functions become the domain of the international corporations themselves, then existing regulations and the government employees who enforce them can be eliminated. Accountability, in other words, is such a waste, for the inside investors in large corporations. They don’t need it; they fight against it. They are fighting against it. They don’t even want accountability to their own outside investors, who might want them removed from corporate management.

The EU simply doesn’t mention the downsides. And they also don’t mention that, “Obama’s TTIP Trade Deal w. Europe Would Be Disastrous for Europe, Says the First Independent Study.” That study wasn’t paid for by the EU, so they just ignore it. (They even ignore that it found that America’s international corporations would benefit even more from the deal than would Europe’s international corporations, which is the exact opposite result than the EU’s own study calculated. President Obama performs brilliantly for America’s billionaires, even though most of them are Republicans.) The economist who did that study wasn’t paid by anybody to do it. Occasionally, a study like that is performed by an economist. However, paid-for studies get far more publicity, because the findings are then heavily promoted by the sponsoring organization — after all, it’s propaganda.

On 23 January 2015, Britain’s Financial Times bannered, “Davos 2015: Businesses rally support for transatlantic trade deal.” Attendees there would pop the champagne corks if these deals pass.

David Korten at YES! magazine, headlined on 15 April 2015, “A Trade Rule that Makes It Illegal to Favor Local Business? Newest Leak Shows TPP Would Do That And More.” He stated, in common language, a recently-leaked (from wikileaks) chapter of the TPP, the treaty’s Investment chapter. Key provisions of it are:

Favoring local ownership is prohibited. …

Corporations must be paid to stop polluting. [Yes: Obama demands that corporations possess an actual right to pollute! It’s in the contract!! Ignore his mere rhetoric.]

Three [corporate] lawyers will decide who’s right in secret tribunals. …

Speculative money must remain free [of governmental regulation]

Corporate interests come before national ones. …

Then, there’s a sixth basic provision: to “prohibit governments from requiring that a foreign investor be under any obligation to serve the host country’s people or national interest.”

And that’s just one chapter of the proposed document. No wonder, then, why the billionaires at Davos are eager for Obama to ram this secret treaty through Congress. (Their people were in on the drafting of this proposed treaty, so Davosians didn’t need Julian Assange’s organization for them to know what the treaty contains. Only we do. And so now we understand why Obama wants to imprison or execute Assange.)

In the United States, congressional Republicans are almost unanimously in support of Obama’s trade-deals, but most congressional Democrats are opposed to these deals. President Obama doesn’t even enforce the workers’ rights provisions in the existing NAFTA and other existing trade-deals. Murders of labor union officials are prohibited under NAFTA but the Obama Administration ignores them. On April 22nd, Huffington Post bannered, “AFL-CIO’s Trumka: USTR Told Us Murder Isn’t A Violation Under U.S. Trade Deals” and quoted an AFL-CIO official, “‘The question is whether USTR [Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative, the same man who is negotiating both the TPP and the TTIP] considers murder to be a violation of the labor chapter. That is the question,’ she said. ‘The point is that USTR has informed us that labor-related violence does not constitute an actionable violation of the labor provisions [of NAFTA]’.” Obama relies almost entirely upon congressional Republicans for support of his proposed trade-deals, and of his existing trade-policies (such as non-enforcement of NAFTA). The only real question is whether congressional Democrats will be able to block his deals. When American voters in 2014 elected Republicans to majorities in both houses, the result was to ease the way for passage of Obama’s proposed international-trade deals. Harry Reid controlled the Senate and blocked them, but he was now replaced by the Republican Mitch McConnell, who is trying to win Senate approval for the TTIP. Reid, now as the Minority Leader, is still doing the best he can to block that; he just doesn’t have the power he did when he was Majority Leader.

Within the general American public, however, there seems to be more support for the TTIP among Democrats than among Republicans. On 9 April 2014, Pew Research Center issued a poll that was sponsored by the pro-deal Bertlelsmann Foundation, headlined “Support in Principle for U.S.-EU Trade Pact,” and the poll’s key question was: “Q3 As you may know, the U.S. and the EU are negotiating a free trade agreement called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. Do you think this trade agreement will be a good thing for our country or a bad thing?” In the United States, 53% of respondents marked “Good thing,” 20% marked “Bad thing,” and 14% marked “Haven’t heard enough.” (Most of the others marked “Don’t know.”) Whereas 53% of all respondents said “Good thing,” 60% of Democratic respondents did, but only 44% of Republican ones did. That’s a 16% difference — substantial. Thus, apparently, at least as of a year ago, when a member of the public heard “TTIP,” the person mainly thought that it came from Obama (which it does), and that Obama is a Democrat (which he isn’t, except in rhetoric, but members of Congress are different; they know that he’s not, even if the public don’t); and, so, Republican voters were far less supportive of TTIP than were Democratic voters. The general public judged the deal by the nominal party of the person who initiated and is negotiating it. This is why, whereas in Congress, Republicans almost unanimously want TTIP to pass, and most Democrats want it to fail, the situation among the voting public is in the exact opposite direction: overwhelmingly favorable to the deal among Democrats, but only slightly favorable to the deal among Republicans. On the other hand, all Republican U.S. Presidential candidates support Obama’s trade-deals in principle and they only want him to speed up his getting other nations’ leaders to sign onto to them — as if he even has the power to do that.

If the TTIP and the TPP pass and become law, then historians will almost certainly remember Obama far more for those international trade-deals than for Obamacare or anything else, because of the enormous global political change they will bring. And Obama will then probably be generally regarded as the worst President in U.S. history, because he will then have done more to bring back dictatorship as the global norm and ended democracy, than any other nation’s leader, in all of history, ever did.

The evidence strongly supports Alfred De Zayas’s statement, that these trade-deals would produce “a dystopian future in which corporations and not democratically elected governments call the shots.” His statement was alarming, but not at all alarmist.

De Zayas is the chief UN official responsible for “reporting” on proposed international-trade treaties. As the likelihood of Obama’s proposed treaties passing has increased, he has become increasingly vocal about what their implications would be, for the UN’s founding vision of gradual evolution toward a democratic world-government — something comprehensive like what is now being suddenly rammed through, but democratic instead of fascist, and thus more the opposite of Obama’s vision instead of similar to it. On April 23rd, Reuters headlined, “U.N. expert says secret trade deals threaten human rights,” and De Zayas spoke in far more measured terms, not nearly so direct. He said:

“I am concerned about the secrecy surrounding negotiations for trade treaties, which have excluded key stakeholder groups from the process, including labour unions, environmental protection groups, food-safety movements and health professionals”

———-

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, and of Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.

Baltimore as a Microcosm of America

Michael Krieger
May 1, 2015
Liberty Blitzkrieg

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 10.25.59 AMIn these drug-saturated neighborhoods, they weren’t policing their post anymore, they weren’t policing real estate that they were protecting from crime. They weren’t nurturing informants, or learning how to properly investigate anything. There’s a real skill set to good police work. But no, they were just dragging the sidewalks, hunting stats, and these inner-city neighborhoods — which were indeed drug-saturated because that’s the only industry left — become just hunting grounds. They weren’t protecting anything. They weren’t serving anyone. They were collecting bodies, treating corner folk and citizens alike as an Israeli patrol would treat Gaza, or as the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day. They’re an army of occupation. And once it’s that, then everybody’s the enemy. The police aren’t looking to make friends, or informants, or learning how to write clean warrants or how to testify in court without perjuring themselves unnecessarily. There’s no incentive to get better as investigators, as cops.

– From the excellent Marshall Project article: David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish

Baltimore, Maryland is in many ways the perfect microcosm for these United States of America. If you still don’t get that, you’ll be in for a rude awakening in the years ahead.

A gradual erosion of the Constitution and the civil rights of the citizenry, the abuse of power by people in authority, perverse financial incentives that lead to horrible outcomes, zero accountability, and a ubiquitous surveillance state apparatus; Baltimore has it all. Yet all of these troubling traits have also come to characterize early 21st century America.

As tends to be the case, the populations that have been victimized the longest and most systemically — in Baltimore and across the U.S. — are the poor, weak and disenfranchised.  Like a cancer, corruption, theft, and blatant abuse of the citizenry by the powerful will spread and spread until it consumes everything unless the tumor is removed. It has now spread so deeply and so dangerously throughout American life, the general public will soon have no choice but to confront it and do something about it, or face a total extinction of opportunity and suffer the same desperate fate as the people out in the streets of Baltimore.

David Simon, creator of the excellent hit HBO series “The Wire,” recently sat down for an interview with former New York Times reporter Bill Keller to explain the situation in Baltimore as he sees it; its origins and what is needed to fix it. As you read, think about the many parallels to the U.S. economy in general; the endless criminal maneuverings within the centers of power in Washington D.C. and Wall Street, the forever spinning revolving door of corruption, the marauding gangs of cronies making impossibly large piles of money based on connections, fraud and rigged markets as opposed to adding value, the idiocy of the war on drugs, the fraudulent accounting, and the overbearing surveillance state. Increasingly, when America looks in the mirror Baltimore and Ferguson are staring right back. We just haven’t admitted it yet.

Now, from the Marshall Project:

Bill Keller: What do people outside the city need to understand about what’s going on there — the death of Freddie Gray and the response to it?

David Simon: I guess there’s an awful lot to understand and I’m not sure I understand all of it. The part that seems systemic and connected is that the drug war — which Baltimore waged as aggressively as any American city — was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community and the police department. Probable cause was destroyed by the drug war. 

Probable cause from a Baltimore police officer has always been a tenuous thing. It’s a tenuous thing anywhere, but in Baltimore, in these high crime, heavily policed areas, it was even worse. When I came on, there were jokes about, “You know what probable cause is on Edmondson Avenue? You roll by in your radio car and the guy looks at you for two seconds too long.” Probable cause was whatever you thought you could safely lie about when you got into district court.

Then at some point when cocaine hit and the city lost control of a lot of corners and the violence was ratcheted up, there was a real panic on the part of the government. And they basically decided that even that loose idea of what the Fourth Amendment was supposed to mean on a street level, even that was too much. Now all bets were off. Now you didn’t even need probable cause. The city council actually passed an ordinance that declared a certain amount of real estate to be drug-free zones. They literally declared maybe a quarter to a third of inner city Baltimore off-limits to its residents, and said that if you were loitering in those areas you were subject to arrest and search. Think about that for a moment: It was a permission for the police to become truly random and arbitrary and to clear streets any way they damn well wanted.

How does race figure into this? It’s a city with a black majority and now a black mayor and black police chief, a substantially black police force.

What did Tom Wolfe write about cops? They all become Irish? That’s a line in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” When Ed and I reported “The Corner,” it became clear that the most brutal cops in our sector of the Western District were black. The guys who would really kick your ass without thinking twice were black officers. If I had to guess and put a name on it, I’d say that at some point, the drug war was as much a function of class and social control as it was of racism. I think the two agendas are inextricably linked, and where one picks up and the other ends is hard to say. But when you have African-American officers beating the dog-piss out of people they’re supposed to be policing, and there isn’t a white guy in the equation on a street level, it’s pretty remarkable. But in some ways they were empowered. Back then, even before the advent of cell phones and digital cameras — which have been transforming in terms of documenting police violence — back then, you were much more vulnerable if you were white and you wanted to wail on somebody. You take out your nightstick and you’re white and you start hitting somebody, it has a completely different dynamic than if you were a black officer. It was simply safer to be brutal if you were black, and I didn’t know quite what to do with that fact other than report it. It was as disturbing a dynamic as I could imagine. Something had been removed from the equation that gave white officers — however brutal they wanted to be, or however brutal they thought the moment required — it gave them pause before pulling out a nightstick and going at it. Some African American officers seemed to feel no such pause.

This is another fascinating microcosm considering how Barack Obama has done absolutely nothing to help the black community or poor in this country. It took a black President to so shamelessly hand everything to a handful of oligarchs and further oppress black communities.

What the drug war did, though, was make this all a function of social control. This was simply about keeping the poor down, and that war footing has been an excuse for everybody to operate outside the realm of procedure and law. 

“The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O’Malley.”

In case you aren’t aware, Martin O’Malley was the ambitious Mayor of Baltimore who had his eyes dead set on the Governor’s seat. So much so that he cooked the crime books of Baltimore to create a crime “miracle,” and destroyed city police work in the process. Mr. O’Malley has recently discussed possibly running against Hillary in the 2016 Democrat primary.

But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper.

How? There were two initiatives. First, the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail – forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner. And tens of thousands of people signed that form. 

Unsurprisingly, the rule of law often dies at the hands of an ambitious politician.

The situation you described has been around for a while. Do you have a sense of why the Freddie Gray death has been such a catalyst for the response we’ve seen in the last 48 hours?

Because the documented litany of police violence is now out in the open. There’s an actual theme here that’s being made evident by the digital revolution. It used to be our word against yours. It used to be said — correctly — that the patrolman on the beat on any American police force was the last perfect tyranny. Absent a herd of reliable witnesses, there were things he could do to deny you your freedom or kick your ass that were between him, you, and the street. The smartphone with its small, digital camera, is a revolution in civil liberties.

In these drug-saturated neighborhoods, they weren’t policing their post anymore, they weren’t policing real estate that they were protecting from crime. They weren’t nurturing informants, or learning how to properly investigate anything. There’s a real skill set to good police work. But no, they were just dragging the sidewalks, hunting stats, and these inner-city neighborhoods — which were indeed drug-saturated because that’s the only industry left — become just hunting grounds. They weren’t protecting anything. They weren’t serving anyone. They were collecting bodies, treating corner folk and citizens alike as an Israeli patrol would treat Gaza, or as the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day. They’re an army of occupation. And once it’s that, then everybody’s the enemy. The police aren’t looking to make friends, or informants, or learning how to write clean warrants or how to testify in court without perjuring themselves unnecessarily. There’s no incentive to get better as investigators, as cops. There’s no reason to solve crime. In the years they were behaving this way, locking up the entire world, the clearance rate for murder dove by 30 percent. The clearance rate for aggravated assault — every felony arrest rate – took a significant hit. Think about that. If crime is going down, and crime is going down, and if we have less murders than ever before and we have more homicide detectives assigned, and better evidentiary technologies to employ how is the clearance rate for homicide now 48 percent when it used to be 70 percent, or 75 percent?

Because the drug war made cops lazy and less competent?

How do you reward cops? Two ways: promotion and cash. That’s what rewards a cop. If you want to pay overtime pay for having police fill the jails with loitering arrests or simple drug possession or failure to yield, if you want to spend your municipal treasure rewarding that, well the cop who’s going to court 7 or 8 days a month — and court is always overtime pay — you’re going to damn near double your salary every month. On the other hand, the guy who actually goes to his post and investigates who’s burglarizing the homes, at the end of the month maybe he’s made one arrest. It may be the right arrest and one that makes his post safer, but he’s going to court one day and he’s out in two hours. So you fail to reward the cop who actually does police work. But worse, it’s time to make new sergeants or lieutenants, and so you look at the computer and say: Who’s doing the most work? And they say, man, this guy had 80 arrests last month, and this other guy’s only got one. Who do you think gets made sergeant? And then who trains the next generation of cops in how not to do police work? I’ve just described for you the culture of the Baltimore police department amid the deluge of the drug war, where actual investigation goes unrewarded and where rounding up bodies for street dealing, drug possession, loitering such – the easiest and most self-evident arrests a cop can make – is nonetheless the path to enlightenment and promotion and some additional pay. That’s what the drug war built, and that’s what Martin O’Malley affirmed when he sent so much of inner city Baltimore into the police wagons on a regular basis.

So much of what was said there characterizes the perverted culture in Washington D.C. and on Wall Street. People are financially incentivized to commit fraud, crime and deceive customers. Those people are then promoted and train the next class. And the beat goes on…

The second thing Marty did, in order to be governor, involves the stats themselves. In the beginning, under Norris, he did get a better brand of police work and we can credit a legitimate 12 to 15 percent decline in homicides. Again, that was a restoration of an investigative deterrent in the early years of that administration. But it wasn’t enough to declare a Baltimore Miracle, by any means.

What can you do? You can’t artificially lower the murder rate – how do you hide the bodies when it’s the state health department that controls the medical examiner’s office? But the other felony categories? Robbery, aggravated assault, rape? Christ, what they did with that stuff was jaw-dropping.

Now for the accounting fraud. Looks like Baltimore authorities learned well from Wall Street.

So they cooked the books.

Oh yeah. If you hit somebody with a bullet, that had to count. If they went to the hospital with a bullet in them, it probably had to count as an aggravated assault. But if someone just took a gun out and emptied the clip and didn’t hit anything or they didn’t know if you hit anything, suddenly that was a common assault or even an unfounded report. Armed robberies became larcenies if you only had a victim’s description of a gun, but not a recovered weapon. And it only gets worse as some district commanders began to curry favor with the mayoral aides who were sitting on the Comstat data. In the Southwest District, a victim would try to make an armed robbery complaint, saying , ‘I just got robbed, somebody pointed a gun at me,’ and what they would do is tell him, well, okay, we can take the report but the first thing we have to do is run you through the computer to see if there’s any paper on you. Wait, you’re doing a warrant check on me before I can report a robbery? Oh yeah, we gotta know who you are before we take a complaint. You and everyone you’re living with? What’s your address again? You still want to report that robbery?

They cooked their own books in remarkable ways. Guns disappeared from reports and armed robberies became larcenies. Deadly weapons were omitted from reports and aggravated assaults became common assaults. The Baltimore Sun did a fine job looking into the dramatic drop in rapes in the city. Turned out that regardless of how insistent the victims were that they had been raped, the incidents were being quietly unfounded. That tip of the iceberg was reported, but the rest of it, no. And yet there were many veteran commanders and supervisors who were disgusted, who would privately complain about what was happening. If you weren’t a journalist obliged to quote sources and instead, say, someone writing a fictional television drama, they’d share a beer and let you fill cocktail napkins with all the ways in which felonies disappeared in those years.

I mean, think about it. How does the homicide rate decline by 15 percent, while the agg assault rate falls by more than double that rate. Are all of Baltimore’s felons going to gun ranges in the county? Are they becoming better shots? Have the mortality rates for serious assault victims in Baltimore, Maryland suddenly doubled? Did they suddenly close the Hopkins and University emergency rooms and return trauma care to the dark ages? It makes no sense statistically until you realize that you can’t hide a murder, but you can make an attempted murder disappear in a heartbeat, no problem.

But these guys weren’t satisfied with just juking their own stats. No, the O’Malley administration also went back to the last year of the previous mayoralty and performed its own retroactive assessment of those felony totals, and guess what? It was determined from this special review that the preceding administration had underreported its own crime rate, which O’Malley rectified by upgrading a good chunk of misdemeanors into felonies to fatten up the Baltimore crime rate that he was inheriting. Get it? How better than to later claim a 30 or 40 percent reduction in crime than by first juking up your inherited rate as high as she’ll go. It really was that cynical an exercise.

So Martin O’Malley proclaims a Baltimore Miracle and moves to Annapolis. And tellingly, when his successor as mayor allows a new police commissioner to finally de-emphasize street sweeps and mass arrests and instead focus on gun crime, that’s when the murder rate really dives. That’s when violence really goes down. When a drug arrest or a street sweep is suddenly not the standard for police work, when violence itself is directly addressed, that’s when Baltimore makes some progress.

But nothing corrects the legacy of a police department in which the entire rank-and-file has been rewarded and affirmed for collecting bodies, for ignoring probable cause, for grabbing anyone they see for whatever reason. And so, fast forward to Sandtown and the Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray gives some Baltimore police the legal equivalent of looking at them a second or two too long. He runs, and so when he’s caught he takes an ass-kicking and then goes into the back of a wagon without so much as a nod to the Fourth Amendment.

So do you see how this ends or how it begins to turn around?

We end the drug war. I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the fucking drug war. The drug war gives everybody permission to do anything. It gives cops permission to stop anybody, to go in anyone’s pockets, to manufacture any lie when they get to district court. You sit in the district court in Baltimore and you hear, ‘Your Honor, he was walking out of the alley and I saw him lift up the glassine bag and tap it lightly.’ No fucking dope fiend in Baltimore has ever walked out of an alley displaying a glassine bag for all the world to see. But it keeps happening over and over in the Western District court. The drug war gives everybody permission. And if it were draconian and we were fixing anything that would be one thing, but it’s draconian and it’s a disaster.

This is true about the drug war, but even more true about the “war on terror.” Also endless, also used to justify anything.

Medicalize the problem, decriminalize — I don’t need drugs to be declared legal, but if a Baltimore State’s Attorney told all his assistant state’s attorneys today, from this moment on, we are not signing overtime slips for court pay for possession, for simple loitering in a drug-free zone, for loitering, for failure to obey, we’re not signing slips for that: Nobody gets paid for that bullshit, go out and do real police work. If that were to happen, then all at once, the standards for what constitutes a worthy arrest in Baltimore would significantly improve. Take away the actual incentive to do bad or useless police work, which is what the drug war has become.

So much of what’s been happening in Baltimore for decades is now also business as usual within the highest corridors of American power. As I’ve said time and time again, incentives are the key variable here. If you’re rewarded for fraud and white collar crime, you will get more of it. If you jail the perpetrators of it, you’ll get less of it. TBTF Wall Street execs and private equity guys don’t want to sit in a jail cell for a decade, believe me. They’d sell 50 Picassos and 30 sharks soaked in formaldehyde before that ever happened.

The sad part is we aren’t even trying to change the incentive structure of status quo criminality. This is because the current generation of power players were trained and molded by the same types before them. This is all they know. Money and power are their gods. Crime is their religion. We have no choice but to stop them.

For related articles, see:

The U.S. Department of Justice Handles Banker Criminals Like Juvenile Offenders…Literally

Tim Geithner Admits “Too Big To Fail” Hasn’t Gone Anywhere (and that’s the way he likes it)

Meet Mary Jo White: The Next SEC Chief and a Guaranteed Wall Street Patsy

Some Money Launderers are “More Equal” than Others

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

Capitalism, the working class and the fight against police violence

By Joseph Kishore
May 1, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

The events in Baltimore, Maryland following the police killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray mark a political turning point in the United States. The enormous class divide in America, the bankruptcy of the entire political system and the collapse of democratic forms of rule—all have been laid bare by this latest act of state brutality and the military-police mobilization against the eruption of social anger.

In recent days, thousands of people have participated in demonstrations in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and other cities throughout the country. Further protests will take place today and over the weekend. While the police violence is the immediate spark, far deeper issues are involved: mass unemployment, poverty, the decay of cities and social infrastructure, and unprecedented levels of social inequality.

The entire political superstructure has responded to the unrest in Baltimore by backing the deployment of thousands of troops from the National Guard, a branch of the armed forces. Baltimore, only 40 miles from the nation’s capital, has effectively been occupied, with heavily armed units placed in key public locations throughout the city, accompanied by armored vehicles and military helicopters. A state of emergency has been declared, and a curfew imposed on all residents.

The actions in Baltimore come half a year after the crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri last August, when the city was turned into a war zone in response to demonstrations over the police killing of Michael Brown. The state violence was repeated later in the year, following a rigged grand jury proceeding that exonerated Brown’s killer.

The irony is hard to miss. The United States government, which wages war all over the world on the phony pretext of defending “democracy” and “human rights,” increasingly relies on the methods of martial law in response to any indication of social unrest within its borders.

Conditions in Baltimore exemplify the immense social inequality that is the defining feature of American society. As a whole, it is ranked the sixth poorest city in the country. In the Sandtown-Winchester area where Gray was arrested, more than half of the working-age population is unemployed, and a third of all residential properties are vacant or abandoned. A report put out by the city in 2011 found that nearly a third of all families in the neighborhood live in poverty.

To regulate this social catastrophe, the police have been armed to the teeth and given free rein to terrorize the population. Arrests, beatings and harassment are a daily reality. A report by the Baltimore Sun last year found that the city paid out $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits related to police violence. “Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones—jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles—head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests,” the newspaper reported.

While the vast majority of the population in Sandtown-Winchester is African-American, the fundamental division in Baltimore—as in American society as a whole—is class, not race. Like many urban centers, Baltimore is run by a predominantly black political elite, including the mayor, the city council president, the police chief, the top prosecutor and many others. Half of the police force is black as well.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake—who led the charge in denouncing Baltimore youth as “thugs” earlier this week—personifies a layer of the African-American upper middle class that has become part the Democratic Party political establishment and attained positions of power and privilege. The daughter of a longtime Maryland politician, Rawlings-Blake has worked closely with the city’s business elite to develop and gentrify sections of downtown, while areas like West Baltimore have been laid to waste.

It is now a half century since the wave of urban uprisings that swept the United States in the late 1960s—including in Baltimore and countless other cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968.

The rebellions in the 1960s came during the last gasp of liberal reformism in the United States. Over the past 50 years, the ruling class has gone on the offensive, carrying out a relentless assault on jobs, wages and living standards. Social inequality has soared to levels not seen since before the Great Depression of the 1930s. Cities like Baltimore have been deindustrialized, with entire sectors of the economy wiped out.

To facilitate the war on the working class, the ruling class worked deliberately to integrate a small minority of the African-American middle class into the mechanisms of state power, including through policies such as affirmative action. Meanwhile, conditions for the vast majority of African-American workers and youth are worse today than they were in the 1960s.

Obama himself represents the culmination of this process. The first African-American president has presided over an unprecedented transfer of wealth to the top one percent, unending war abroad and an assault on the most basic democratic rights. Since the economic crisis of 2008, unlimited resources have been funneled to the banks and Wall Street. The stock market and corporate profits are at record highs, while the administration has spearheaded the assault on wages, public education, health care and the conditions of life of the working class as a whole.

Since 2009, nearly all income gains in the United States have been captured by the top one percent of the population, with the 400 wealthiest individuals in the country now controlling a staggering $2.29 trillion. More than $600 billion a year is devoted to financing the US military juggernaut, yet in cities like Baltimore and Detroit thousands of households are being shut off from running water, the most basic necessity of modern life.

There are no political mechanisms within the political system through which any of the grievances of the vast majority of the population can find expression. Everything that has passed for “progressive” or “left” politics—including the politics of race—has been exposed by events. It is precisely this that terrifies the ruling class, and explains its ever more direct resort to force and violence.

The rights of the working class can be achieved only through revolutionary struggle, uniting workers of all races in an independent political movement in opposition to the Democratic and Republican Parties and the capitalist profit system they defend.

The SEP calls for the mobilization of the entire working class in defense of the workers and youth of Baltimore. The same police-state apparatus, trained in Iraq and Afghanistan, that terrorizes the population of Baltimore and has been called out to suppress popular protests is and will be deployed against all opposition to the policies of the corporate and financial aristocracy.

Mass meetings and demonstrations should be organized throughout the country to demand the immediate arrest of Gray’s killers, the lifting of the state of emergency in Baltimore and the withdrawal of the National Guard and the demobilization of the police. These democratic demands should be linked to a program that advances the social rights of the entire working class—including a massive redistribution of wealth to provide decent-paying jobs, education and health care for all.

Nothing can be achieved without a frontal assault on the domination of society by a financial aristocracy that is determined to maintain its stranglehold through violence and terror. Their grip over economic and political life must be broken through the establishment of a society based on public ownership and democratic control of the forces of production. To implement this program, the working class must take political power—in the United States and internationally.

The solution to the crisis confronting workers depends on the construction of an independent, socialist leadership of the working class. It is to build this leadership that the International Committee of the Fourth International has organized the International May Day Online Rally, to be held on Sunday, May 3. We call on all workers and youth to make plans to participate today.

 

American Politics: A House of Mirrors

By Ulson Gunnar
April 25, 2015
New Eastern Outlook

 

H53534532222A house of mirrors is an immersive, highly distorted and intentionally confusing version of reality. Those walking its corridors are sometimes amused and sometimes frightened by the disorienting experience, but luckily for them, it is only temporary. There is an exit, and they will walk through it, back to reality.

But what if one existed their entire lives in such a distorted reality and knew of no exits? Would they convince themselves that these distorted images reflected back at them were in fact reality no matter how unnatural they appeared? Could they convince themselves to enjoy and even embrace this distorted reality?

One ponders such questions when looking from the outside-in on American politics. It too is a house of mirrors reflecting back a reality entirely distorted. Also like a house of mirrors, American politics have been intentionally constructed this way, to confuse, disorient and even frighten the American people when necessary to exercise mass persuasion over them. The final result is perpetual impunity granted to the powers that truly be, hiding behind the powers that allegedly were “elected,” and powers whose authority only exists in this house of mirrors and no further.

New Leaders, Old Wars 

Consider US President George Bush Sr. He launched the inaugural war of what he himself called a “New World Order.” Operation Desert Storm included multiple nations comprising of nearly a million soldiers who swept from the map one of the largest conventional armies (4th largest) in the world. Bush Sr., however, paused just ahead of sweeping the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power. His successor, US President William Jefferson Clinton would keep Iraq subdued with periodic bombing campaigns and the imposition of both crippling sanctions and no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq.

Clinton would serve 8 years in office and lock horns with Russia in Serbia in a proto-Ukraine-style conflict. In 2000, we should remember that George Bush Jr. ran on a platform opposed to global interventionism. For those trapped in the house of mirrors, this distortion of reality seemed very convincing. For those who understood the hegemonic mission of America’s special interests, those that transcend elections and political parties, they knew Bush Sr.’s desires for a “New World” endured and would manifest themselves in a yet revealed, muscular foreign policy that only needed the right impetus to be justified in the eyes of the American people.

Conveniently, the events of September 11, 2001 delivered just that. So began the 8 year “War on Terror.” So sick of wars were Americans at the end of those 8 years, that anyone promising to end them would likely win the 2008 elections. And so Barack Obama did and thus became “US President.” However, not only did the wars not end, and not only were they in fact expanded, new wars were begun. In fact, these new wars were all the planned wars Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. never got around to fighting.

Yet, no matter how unnatural this distorted reflection appeared in the American politics house of mirrors, those trapped perpetually within its mirrored walls found it perfectly acceptable for a Democratic president to continue Republican wars and start new wars the Republicans could only have dreamed of starting but couldn’t because of left-wing anti-war movements now silent because “their guy” was in office.

Hillary = Obama = Bush Jr. = Clinton = Bush Sr.  

With Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she is running for office in 2016 with President Obama’s full endorsement, those infected with neo-liberalism and wandering the corridors of this house of mirrors see yet another distorted, ghoulish image staring back, but one they are yet again ready to embrace.

Here is a woman who as US Secretary of State laughed and mocked the Libyan people upon hearing their leader had been murdered by terrorists in what constituted by all accounts a war crime. Before that, she played an active role in selling the war upon Libya in 2011 to the American left (as the American right had already desired such a war for years and needed no convincing). By 2016 we may have yet another Clinton in office, and a Clinton fully dedicated to carrying on the wars of both the Democrats and Republicans that came before her.

To say this is continuity of agenda is a bit of an understatement. American foreign policy has been so singular in purpose and focus for the past several decades that it is clear that behind the distortions of this house of mirrors, something singular and very nasty has been there the entire time. Who or what could it be?

The Real President of the United States Lives on Wall Street, not Pennsylvania Avenue 

How about we look at the people who pay for the political campaigns to put these various spokesmen and women-in-chiefs into office in the first place? Or the immense interests driving lobbying efforts that target and control both sides of the political aisle in American politics? A single Fortune 100 corporation has enough money to buy out every relevant politician on Capital Hill and still finish up the fiscal year bloated with billions in profits. And what happens when these interests converge across various think-tanks they themselves have set up and created to generate the singular foreign and domestic policies we see carried forward from presidency to presidency, from congressional session to session?

We see complete control exerted over American politics as well as across the media, allegedly charged to serve as watchdogs and a check and balance, but instead turned into an echo chamber and instrument of mass persuasion by those who have clearly consolidated the summation of American politics in their pockets.

While policy might be debated over by these special interests, and groups moved in one direction or another to exert influence against competing special interests among this exclusive club, one thing is for sure, the American voter is the last voice considered in this process.

Since the American voter is incapable of seeing that they are in fact in a house of mirrors to begin with, and think they are “outside” in reality making real decisions, their decisions are completely irrelevant to those who really do live outside in reality and are actually making real decisions.

We must understand that for special interests that collectively control trillions of dollars in assets, profits and infrastructure all over the planet, the last thing they are willing to do is allow for the existence of a system that might actually put into power a form of authority above their own, that would set policy predicated upon the interests of the people, rather than their own. They have the money, the power and the ability to ensure policy is set to suit them, and them alone, and they clearly have done just that.

This is why US troops are still in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars are still being waged either directly or indirectly against Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iran and Russia and destabilization targeting China and other targets of Washington and Wall Street’s special interests continues unabated, albeit distorted within the house of mirrors, regardless of who is president.

So Americans may think they are voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and those infected with neo-liberalism the world over may think another enlightened champion of their progressive cause has taken the reins of the free world, but they might as well have voted for another Bush. The reality is, that as along as Americans and those who look to America from abroad for leadership dwell in this house of mirrors, the special interests that intentionally built this carnival called “democracy” will have their way back in actual reality.

Instead of fumbling through another four years trapped inside this carnival attraction, let’s find the exits. Let’s leave this house of mirrors and breathe a breath of fresh air. Are we really going to listen to another round of campaign promises, holding our breath hoping that this time they mean it? Or will we begin divesting from this system and building our own, one that might actually truly represent us this time, far from the mirrored walls that held us for so long?

Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 

Xenophobia in South Africa: The Apartheid Legacy of Racism and “White Corporate Capitalism”

By Garikai Chengu
April 20, 2015
Global Research

 

southafricaflagSouth Africa’s Apartheid regime is remembered as one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century. The White monopoly capitalist system that underpinned Apartheid remains alive and well today. White monopoly capitalism is the post-Apartheid economic system, whereby Whites continue to exert disproportional and undemocratic control over the nation’s economy, land, media and judicial system.

The American investment bank, Citigroup, recently ranked South Africa as the world’s richest country, in terms of its mineral reserves, worth an estimated $2.5 trillion. South African Whites and Western foreigners own a staggering 80 percent of this wealth.

South Africa is unquestionably, the world’s most racially unequal society.

Whites comprise only 12 percent of the population. Thanks to the past 350 years of racist exploitation, Whites owned 87 percent of agricultural land by Independence Day, 1994. During these twenty-one post-colonial years, precious little has changed. One exception is that Black people in rural areas have lost 600,000 jobs since Independence. This has created a great wave of migration into urban townships.

South African townships have served as both the location of recent xenophobic violence, as well as the catalytic cause of the violence. During the Apartheid Era, White monopoly capitalists created the township. The process included evicting Black people from properties that were in areas designated as “White only”, and relocating them into urban townships. Blacks were forced to move into squalid, overcrowded and segregated townships, designed to mould the Black labour force into an orderly, submissive underclass.

Streets of grim “matchbox houses” were arranged in strict grids and surrounded by a fence with only one or two points of entry, allowing the White regime’s police to seal off entire neighbourhoods with minimal effort. In such a setting, violence was both naturalised and easily-instigated for political purposes. To this day, Blacks in townships still have to contend with non-existent sanitation and electricity services, as well as rampant crime.

Far from being a Rainbow Nation, ongoing xenophobic violence in South Africa’s townships exposes the nation’s further entrenchment into two separate and unequal societies: one, predominantly Black and poor, located in the townships; the other, largely White and affluent, located in the suburbs.

What White monopoly capitalists have never quite understood, but what the Black South African can never forget, is the degree to which White capital is deeply implicated in the township. White institutions created it; White institutions maintain it; and White society condones it.

Edgar Pietrise of the University of Cape Town explains how Cape Town for instance, “was conceived with a White-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the Black and coloured labour forces to the east, each deliberately hemmed in by highways and rail lines, rivers and valleys, and separated from the affluent White suburbs by protective buffer zones of scrubland.”

When Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years in prison in 1990, the Black townships exploded in endless celebration. Today, after twenty one years of the ANC government, which has been more concerned with appeasing White monopoly capital than redistributing land and resources to poor Blacks, townships have exploded into violence.

The xenophobic Black-on-Black violence spreading across South Africa is a direct result of centuries of White-on-Black violence and oppression.

Franz Fanon, who was an expert on the psychology of colonial violence noted that the historical and current system of White-on-Black violence sends messages of Black inferiority that are so powerful that many Black people succumb to them, ultimately becoming defined by them.

Internalised racism, a term first coined by Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois in 1903, involves accepting a White supremacist social order that places Black people at the bottom, and adopting society’s negative stereotypes about Blacks concerning their lack of abilities, inherent violence and low intrinsic worth.

Internalised racism is a major legacy of Apartheid. South African society historically judges violence inflicted on Blacks less harshly than violence against Whites; consequently, Black people begin to believe that their own life and the lives of other Black African people are worth very little. Thereby creating the preconditions for the ongoing Afrophobic violence.

Filtered through the racist lens of the predominantly White-owned South African media, xenophobia is portrayed as merely further examples of “Black-on-Black” violence by an inherently unruly and violent underbelly of society. The four major media houses are still largely White and male-owned; collectively, they control over 80 percent of what South Africans watch and read. The White media focuses on the symptom rather than the disease by steering the national discourse away from broader issues of income inequality and economic democratisation, towards narrow issues of vandalism, looting and general criminality.

Xenophobia can be defined as a “hatred, dislike or fear of foreigners”; combining the Greek xenos (“foreign”) with phobos (“fear”). Internalized racism demonstrates itself as the absence of attacks against White immigrants because Black African immigrants are pejoratively portrayed by the media as “foreigners”; whereas, Whites are considered “tourists” or “expats”.

Whilst Black immigrants are being brutalized in townships, White immigrants are allowed to visit townships and take advantage of cute spaces carved out for tourists among the shacks and wastelands.

Thanks, in part, to the 2010 Fifa World Cup, major cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg offer so-called “safe streets” where tourists can enjoy the sights and sounds of ordinary township life. In Soweto, for instance, a pleasant stroll down Vilakazi Street takes in the old house of Nelson Mandela and the current homes of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Desmond Tutu, along with cafes offering cold beer and traditional African cuisine.

All that is required is that you turn a blind eye to the appalling standard of living endured by the slum’s Black inhabitants.

A few kilometers away at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, The Economist newspaper notes that among the 295 companies on the Exchange, only 4 percent of the CEOs are Black. Despite twenty years of South African democracy, five White-owned companies still control 75 percent of South Africa’s stock market. It’s the largest concentration of wealth and power on earth.

Corporate powers, which financially underwrote Apartheid in South Africa, are reminiscent of the great German companies that ran the Third Reich’s economy. The only difference between the Third Reich and Apartheid is that “reconciliation” in Germany did not leave pro-Nazi financiers in business; whereas in South Africa, those financiers are still firmly in control. These White-owned companies benefit immensely from cheap Black labour, tourist revenue and retail profits that stream out of townships everyday.

Neo-Apartheid companies in South Africa made record profits for Western shareholders since democracy in 1994; all the while, they shed hundreds of thousands of jobs. At independence, unemployment stood at 15 percent; today, that figure has skyrocketed to 25 percent. Instead of employing South Africans, major White-owned companies have sought to increase shareholder profits by outsourcing jobs abroad and hiring exploitable, African foreigners at home.

The nation’s largest labour union, Cosatu, has just said that, “White monopoly capital in the hospitality and retail industry” had deliberately chosen to employ foreigners over their South African counterparts in order to exploit foreigners. The United Nations’ Office for Refugees confirmed that the recent wave of xenophobic, “attacks began in late March following an apparent labour dispute involving South African and foreign workers”.

The tragic irony of ongoing xenophobic attacks is that at least six Africans have lost their lives, and yet those Africans all came from nations that harbored South African freedom fighters during the War of Liberation against the White Apartheid regime.

All the while, during Apartheid, Britain was the single biggest investor in South Africa, followed by the United States, both yielding the highest return on capital in the world. The United States and the other Western capitalist governments not only supported, but directly benefited from the racist Apartheid regime. To this day, a large portion of South Africa’s budget pays Apartheid-era debt to Western nations. This means that Black people pay for their oppression twice over.

The power of White monopoly capital to dispossess, oppress and exploit Black people cannot be overstated. The willing and conscious ally, in the form of an African government, routinely places the interests of White capital over Black labour.

Apartheid, literally meaning “apartness”, transformed Black Africans into foreigners on their own land. For as long as Black South Africans continue to be foreigners to their own economy, living outside the borders of affluent neighbourhoods, violence will continue to tear at the very fabric of the so-called “Rainbow Nation”.

Garikai Chengu is a scholar at Harvard University. Contact him on garikai.chengu@gmail.com

Chicago Municipal Elections: Reports of Voters Receiving Ballots Already Marked for Mayor Rahm Emanuel

After a Facebook post suggested voting irregularities blew up, similar reports are emerging.

By Global Research
Global Research, April 10, 2015
In These Times

 

voting-sortitionBy Rick Perlstein

Around 10:30 this morning, Sam Dreessen, a 26-year-old unemployed DePaul University graduate (and former In These Times intern) who’s been voting in Chicago since 2006, walked into his polling place at Kozminski Community Academy on 54th and Drexel, a mostly black neighborhood in the city’s 5th Ward. He approached the election judge at the table and, like thousands of Chicagoans on this mayoral election day, received a paper ballot and a felt-tip pen. But, he says, one of the two blanks—the one you fill in to vote for Mayor Rahm Emanuel—was already filled in. Dreessen, a volunteer for Emanuel’s opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, smelled a rat.

“I just said to one of them, the one who gave me the ballot, ‘This has already been filled out. I want one that’s blank.’ And he acted surprised. He said, ‘I don’t know how that happened.’ And he even said there had been other ballots with similar problems.’ He gave me one that was blank, and I told him more than once that they should look at all the ballots, the ones that hadn’t been handed out yet, to see if this happened.”

Dreessen says he was too shocked to even take a picture. “And I thought, ‘I don’t know, this must be happening to other people.’ It just seemed to be so crude.”

He reported it next to the Garcia campaign office in nearby Woodlawn, where they said they had already received similar complaints. Then he took to Facebook, where he posts under the name “Barry Lyndon.” As of 6:08, 52 minutes before the polls close at 7, his post had been shared 538 times. He also texted what happened to a neighbor of his who is a city election commissioner, Marisel Hernandez, who said she was sending investigators “right away.”

I learned all this after tracking “Barry Lyndon” down and speaking to him late this afternoon. I was especially interested to confirm his story because on Facebook some Chicagoans, ever wary, feared the reports were a dirty trick from the Emanuel campaign to discourage people from voting. But no, Sam Dreessen is real and stands by his story. And similar accounts are circulating. The Garcia campaign says it has received several accounts of ballots pre-marked for Emanuel and was able to confirm one. DelMarie Cobb, spokesperson for 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, told me she personally talked with one voter who ran into the same problem voting at O’Keeffe Elementary School at 69th and Merrill—an even more heavily minority area. And she had heard similar reports from her boss this morning. (Alderman Hairston, meanwhile, a critic of the mayor, warned about the same ballot irregularity on her own Facebook page this afternoon.) Cobb also fielded a report from a person voting on an electronic machine that tried to register a vote for Emanuel every time she punched in a vote for Garcia.

I have’t been yet been able to turn up any reports of irregularities favoring Chuy Garcia.

Reached by the website DNAInfo, a Chicago Board of Elections spokesman did not deny the story, but did try to wave it away:

“If someone is suggesting that the judges somewhere are trying to slip one past our voters, I think you’re insulting the intelligence of our voters,” Jim Allen said. “If it were a conspiracy, it would probably be the least effective conspiracy in the history of conspiracies.”

This post will be updated if press representatives from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and Board of Elections are able to return my calls. As for young Sam Dreessen, he’s had a busy day. “People have been contacting me from ABC, NBC, etc. It’s just kind of crazy. And honestly I feel like they should go to the people who’ve picked up other complaints. I’m just one person. Others have been saying the same thing.”

Copyright Rick Perlstein, In these Times, 2015

Washington halts drawdown of troops from Afghanistan

By Bill Van Auken
March 25,2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

WarUS President Barack Obama announced Tuesday his reversal of a plan to withdraw some 5,000 more troops from Afghanistan. Instead, the present contingent of approximately 10,000 US military personnel will remain in the country until the end of this year.

Obama made the announcement at a joint White House press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Despite optimistic rhetoric from both Obama and Ghani about the so-called “security transition” and Afghan forces taking “full responsibility” for security throughout the country, underlying the abrupt change in the withdrawal timetable is a steadily deteriorating situation on the ground.

The Taliban and other armed groups opposed to the US puppet regime in Kabul are inflicting heavy losses on the Afghan police and army and regaining control of territories that have been abandoned by the US and other foreign occupation forces, particularly in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.

Tuesday’s press conference came in the middle of a state visit by Ghani, who was installed as president last year following a disputed and fraud-plagued election to succeed the longstanding US front-man Hamid Karzai. Ghani was accompanied by his former presidential rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who was named to the newly created post of “chief executive officer” under a power-sharing agreement imposed by Washington last September in a bid to forestall clashes between the two camps.

On Monday, the visiting Afghan officials huddled at Camp David with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other US security officials to discuss the growing military, economic and political crisis of the US client state. On Wednesday, Ghani is scheduled to speak before a joint session of the US Congress.

Following the Camp David sessions, Kerry announced that the US was creating an $800 million aid fund to “create Afghan self-reliance.” This is over and above the $4 billion to $5 billion—roughly triple the Afghan regime’s annual revenues—needed to fund the Afghan security forces.

Obama indicated at the press conference that Washington would continue picking up the tab for these forces until 2017. The US has already spent $65 billion to organize, arm and train the Afghan army and police forces.

The total cost of the nearly 14-year war, the longest in US history, is estimated in the trillions. The war has cost the lives of more than 2,215 Americans and left more than 20,000 wounded. There has been no accurate recording of the number of Afghans killed and wounded, but the number is certainly in the tens if not hundreds of thousands.

While the Obama administration formally declared the “end of US combat operations” in Afghanistan last December, US special operations troops are continuing night raids and other counter-insurgency actions, while US firepower is still being employed to support the Afghan forces.

This is the third revision of the troop drawdown plan first announced by Obama last May. In December, with a larger than anticipated decline in the number of other NATO troops in Afghanistan, the White House announced a postponement of the drawdown of the US force to 9,800. Prior to that change, Obama altered the rules of engagement for US special operations troops, making it clear that they would be used not just to pursue remnants of Al Qaeda, but to attack any forces challenging the regime in Kabul.

While Obama insisted there would be no change in his ultimate goal of pulling out by 2017, when he leaves office, all but 1,000 troops comprising an embassy protection force and military assistance group, the realization of that promise is clearly open to question.

The decision to maintain the present troop levels in Afghanistan through the end of this year has reportedly been under discussion for weeks. It is a response not so much to Ghani’s request, as to the recommendation of the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell.

The most tangible effect of the troop withdrawal suspension will be the retention of American forces at two key bases in the east and south of the country, where the armed insurgency has dealt some of the heaviest blows against Afghan security forces. Attack helicopters and fighter jets operate out of the bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad, providing air cover without which the Afghan National Army faces being routed.

US military commanders have described the level of casualties and desertions experienced by the Afghan security forces as “unsustainable.” While the paper strength of the Afghan forces is 352,000, US officials admit that the real number at present is probably less than 330,000 because of such losses. Civilian casualties, meanwhile, soared by 22 percent last year.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Obama and Ghani engaged in banter about having both obtained degrees from Columbia University and about Ghani pursuing the same field as Obama’s mother, anthropology. US officials have described the new president as more “cooperative” than his predecessor, Karzai, who occasionally denounced US night raids and air strikes that killed Afghan civilians and refused to sign a bilateral security agreement allowing US troops to remain in the country.

Ghani, who spent a quarter of a century out of Afghanistan—including as an official at the World Bank—before being brought back with the US occupation force in 2001, signed the agreement on his first day in office.

US officials have touted Ghani as a technocrat and head of a new government dedicated to carrying out reform and combating corruption. Reality, however, does not rise to the level of this rhetoric.

Nearly six months after taking office, Ghani and Abdullah Abullah have managed to fill only one third of the seats on the Afghan cabinet, and many other senior posts also remain vacant. The paralysis of the regime is the outcome of bitter disputes over positions between the opposing camps that backed the two candidates, including rival Afghan warlords.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction reported that as much as half of all recent revenues from the Afghan customs service has been stolen. The customs service accounts for over one third of all Afghan government income.

Sources close to the US military and security apparatus have in recent weeks directly contradicted Obama’s glowing predictions of a successful “security transition.”

Last month, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, delivered the faintest praise for the Afghan security forces, allowing that they “will probably maintain control of most major population centers” for the rest of this year, while warning that without sustained US funding they “will probably not remain a cohesive or viable force.”

Similarly, retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, a former senior commander in Afghanistan, warned in an interview with Bloomberg News, “Within six months of [the US withdrawal], it could be game over for the Afghans, especially if the American money doesn’t stay there, too.”

Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and adviser to the US military, issued a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on March 20 warning that the US transition in Afghanistan “may well repeat key previous US failures in Vietnam and Iraq.”