Street art in Warsaw, Poland,
by artist DALeast.
Photo by SAiPoland.
When I started my PhD in 2011 there was a strong feeling that radical politics was changing. On the one hand, there was more of it. The Arab Spring, theindignados, Occupy: they all made it seem like direct action and direct democracy, were moving out of the ghettos of what remained of the alter-globalization movement. With mass assemblies and a radical DIY (or even DIO: Do It Ourselves) politics, something was changing across the world. In the face of austerity and totalitarianism, an actual alternative was being prefigured.
At the same time, the tools of these protests and uprisings came into the spotlight. Not only the democratic mechanisms of decision-making but also the digital infrastructures that, many argued, were facilitating what was so promising in these movements.
Social media was increasingly seen as an essential element in how large groups were able to organize without centralized leadership. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were allowing people to mobilize not as hierarchical structures like trade unions and political parties but as horizontal networks. Individual activists and sub-groups enjoyed a tactical autonomy while remaining part of a larger whole.
Almost four years have passed, and now at the end of my PhD the gloss to this narrative has to a large extent worn off. Some elements of the 2011 uprisings have been consumed by the tragedy of civil war and renewed dictatorships, while others have dispersed.
But of course, four years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, and the examples of Podemos and Syriza suggest that perhaps these movements are in fact evolving and developing new strategies. While the story of mass mobilization and radical social movements is by no means over, what has been disputed perhaps more than anything else in the last four years is the promise that lay in the tools of the 2011 uprisings.
Social media, once held up by some as the very essence of contemporary radical politics, is now seen in a harsher, less forgiving light. A number of experiences have underlined the implicit hierarchies and inequalities that were reinforced by social media.
Others have pointed towards the ways in which social media exploit, for profit, our online behavior. The Edward Snowden saga has shown how vulnerable our online organizing is, as has the repression of social media-based activism seen inTurkey and elsewhere.
But among these critiques of social media, is there something that can be salvaged? Can platforms like Facebook and Twitter be useful in radical politics, and if so how? Perhaps we don’t need to abandon social media just yet. Perhaps it can, in one form or another, still facilitate the kind of organization that was so promising in 2011 and that continues, in many ways, to define radical left politics.
Social media platforms are often discussed as means of communication, self-expression and forming public discourse. As well as this, however, social media platforms — and communication practices more generally — also act as infrastructures that support the actions we take. They allow us to share information and resources, and to make decisions that can then be enacted.
In this way, communication practices can also be understood as information management systems. This is a concept borrowed from the world of business and management and refers to any system, normally electronic and increasingly digital, that facilitates organization. Work email and intranets are of this sort. They don’t just let people talk to one another but also contribute to getting tasks completed.
What social media might offer when viewed as information management systems, as platforms that facilitate certain forms of action, is a way to make radical and anarchist forms of organization more like the participatory and democratic structures that characterized the 2011 uprisings and radical left politics since at least the Zapatista rebellion, the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and, even earlier, the radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.
Social media can provide the infrastructure for both democratic decision-making and autonomous action, with activists given access to resources and information that may enable them to act in ways that more hierarchical communication structures reduce to command and control processes.
While there are significant critiques of social media from activists and scholars alike (focusing on privacy and surveillance, corporate and state control, the political economy of free labor and the psychology and behavior that is encouraged by the architecture of mainstream platforms), I want to suggest that there is still a potential inherent in social media owing to the nature of the communication practices it supports.
These practices can be described as many-to-many communication. They are potentially built on conversations with multiple actors that reflect some of the necessary foundations of the participatory democracy of radical Left politics. Social media can, therefore, be seen as systems that facilitate radically democratic forms of organization and that can support the kinds of autonomy and horizontality that have in part been seen in the 2011 uprisings.
This is the promise of social media. And it is a promise that may yet be fulfilled. If social media present opportunities for horizontal, conversational communication, and these types of communication are consistent with the ways in which we try to imagine non-hierarchical social relationships and decision-making structures, then social media can be considered as having at least the potential to be a part of a radical left politics.
As part of my PhD research I interviewed a number of activists involved in the Dutch radical left and anarchist scene. The pictures they provided of the communication practices of the groups they were involved in can be used to work through some of the ideas around many-to-many communication, its relationship to radical politics and the promise of social media.
Internally, the radical left groups in question all more or less conform to the many-to-many communication model. Much of this communication is done through face-to-face meetings at which members aim to reach consensus on the topics being discussed and the decisions that need to be made.
In terms of social networking technologies, however, activists spoke of the email listservs and online forums that have been common to radical left politics at least since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the beginnings of the alter-globalization movement.
While none of the groups used newer, mainstream platforms like Facebook in their internal communication practices, one of the groups did use the alternative social networking site Crabgrass as a core part of their discussion and decision-making infrastructure. Crabgrass was developed by people connected to the RiseUp collective that provides secure email addresses for activists. It aims to facilitate social networking and group collaboration with a specifically radical, left-wing bent.
Externally, many-to-many communication practices became much rarer. While most of the groups use Facebook and Twitter, they use them primarily as extensions of their websites, which in turn act mainly as extensions of their printed newspapers.
The three exceptions to this highlight the abilities of both mainstream and alternative social media platforms to play this role. One group, involved in community organizing, was active on Facebook not only in sharing articles and announcements but also in responding to comments and engaging in discussions with other users.
Another made use of crowd-sourced mapping in a way that reflects the scope of many-to-many communication to support autonomous action. The third example of using social media in line with this participatory ethos came from one group that printed comments and responses from Facebook and Twitter in their newspaper, facilitating some level of conversation between the group and those outside it.
The many-to-many communication social media facilitates, insofar as it allows for conversation rather than merely the broadcast of information (or even orders), is intimately connected to a radical left and anarchist vision of organization. If prefiguration, the realization of the goals of politics in the here and now, is taken as one of the core concerns of radical social movements, then a commitment to many-to-many communication might need to be seen as just as important as the commitment to democracy and equality.
It has the potential to empower activists to take autonomous action and the bedrock of participatory democracy. In this way, social media platforms can contribute towards freeing activism from the top-down structures of political parties and trade unions.
But is there another way of looking at these types of organization and of the structures suggested by social media and many-to-many communication? I mentioned at the start of this article that social media and the examples of the 2011 uprisings have lost some of what made them so attractive at the time. Activists are, it seems, increasingly (and perhaps rightly given the limitations) wary of both networked organization and networked communications. In the last year or so, however, radical politics has shifted somewhat.
In place of social movements that are completely opposed to, and autonomous from political parties, the rise of Podemos and Syriza, and indeed the surge of support for the Greens in England and Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, might point to a return of the mass party as an element of radical left social movement strategy.
Podemos and Syriza, by many accounts, have become the institutional articulations of mass social movements. They haven’t replaced them and are clear that they aim to act as parliamentary wings subservient to those movements (although the current tensions in Syriza suggest that this is much more problematic that some might make out).
In the case of Podemos, this has meant a continuation of the radical, direct democracy of the 15-M movement and the party has relied on social media and many-to-many communication not in getting its message across to voters but in defining the very content of that message and of its policies.
Social media might continue to have a role in radical left politics after all. The many-to-many communication practices it supports can be, at their best, prefigurative of the goals of radical politics, of democratic and participatory decision-making. As information management systems, facilitating concrete action, the examples of the radical left groups involved in my PhD research point towards this conclusion.
Both mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and alternative platforms, such as Crabgrass and n-1, can be an important part of radical left politics, whether in the form of mass social movement mobilizations or the articulation of those movements in more democratic political parties.
Thomas Swann is a PhD student in the University of Leicester School of Management and member of the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. His research focuses on radical left organization, social media and organizational cybernetics. Follow him on Twittter via @ThomasSwann1.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare, the national health insurance program for Americans 65 years of age and older, into law on July 30, 1965. Medicare and the accompanying Medicaid health program for the poor were the last major social reforms enacted in the US and came at a time of intense crisis for American capitalism.
The mid-1960s saw a nation gripped by the civil rights movement and militant struggles by workers for higher wages and improved social conditions. Two weeks before Johnson signed the Medicare bill, a riot broke out in Harlem, New York following the shooting of a black teenager, one of the earliest of the numerous urban rebellions that would erupt over the next three years.
In the US pursuit of global domination, on March 8, 1965, 3,500 US Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam, marking the beginning of the US ground war in Southeast Asia. Only two days before signing Medicare into law, Johnson announced the doubling of draft quotas and the dispatch of another 50,000 troops to Vietnam. The war would end in a humiliating defeat for US imperialism a decade later, after the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese.
As with the Social Security Act under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and the establishment of industrial unions, Medicare was not granted out of the kindness of the hearts of the ruling class. It came as a concession to mass struggles carried out by the working class.
However, by today’s standards, passages from the Democratic Party platform on which Johnson ran in 1964 sound radical. In a section titled “The Individual,” the platform reads: “The health of the people is important to the strength and purpose of our country and is a proper part of our common concern. In a nation that lacks neither compassion nor resources, the needless suffering of people who cannot afford adequate medical care is intolerable.”
From the start, Medicare fell far short of providing free and comprehensive medical care for all seniors. As originally enacted, the program provided for inpatient hospital care (Part A) as well as certain outpatient services (Part B), including preventive services, ambulance transport, mental health and other medical services. Part B has always required a premium payment.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed legislation expanding coverage for those under age 65 with long-term disabilities and end-stage renal disease. Since 1997, enrollees had the option to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C), managed care programs administered by private companies. It was not until 2002 that optional prescription drug benefits (Part D), exclusively provided through private plans, were added under George W. Bush.
It is important to note that all components of Medicare, except for Part A in certain instances, carry premiums and deductibles. Despite these shortcomings, Medicare represented an important, albeit limited, advance in health care for seniors that was denounced as “socialism” in many ruling class circles.
The Medicare legislation faced significant opposition in both big business parties. The Democratic vote in favor of the bill was 57-7 in the Senate and 237-48 in the House. The Republicans opposed the bill 13-17 in the Senate and narrowly approved it in the House, 70-68.
Hostility to the legislation among leading Republicans was vociferous. Senator Barry Goldwater commented in 1964: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?”
In 1964, future president George H.W. Bush denounced the impending Medicare bill as “socialized medicine.” While it was nothing of the sort, it was seen by many supporters as a first step toward the establishment of universal health care.
Despite its limitations, it is undisputable that the program has had an immense impact on the health and social wellbeing of the elderly population.
Largely as a result of Medicare and improved medical technologies, life expectancy at age 60 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 19.3 years in 2012. Prior to Medicare, about half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance, more than one in four elderly went without medical care due to cost, and one in three seniors lived in poverty.
Some 53 million elderly are currently enrolled in Medicare. Today, virtually all seniors have access to health care and only about 14 percent live below the poverty line. Despite a relentless attack on Medicare services in recent years, Medicare is extremely popular—with 77 percent of Americans viewing it as a “very important” program that needs to be defended, according to a recentpoll.
The program has been under assault from sections of the political establishment and corporate America since its inception. In 1995, under the leadership of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republicans proposed cutting 14 percent from projected Medicare spending and forcing millions of elderly recipients into managed health programs. The aim, in Gingrich’s words, was to ensure that Medicare was “going to wither on the vine.”
In the most open threat to privatize Medicare, in the spring of 2014, Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, released a “Path to Prosperity” budget plan that slashed $5.1 trillion over 10 years. Key to his blueprint was the institution of “premium support” in health care for seniors, essentially a voucher plan under which seniors could purchase either private insurance or Medicare coverage.
Fast-forward to the current presidential campaign. Republican candidate Jeb Bush, speaking at an event last week in New Hampshire sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers, said of Medicare: “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program … and move to a new system that allows them [those over 65] to have something—because they’re not going to have anything.”
Bush and others justify their proposals to privatize or outright abolish Medicare with claims that the program will be bankrupt in the near future. But a recent report shows that projected Medicare spending will account for 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2090, down from earlier projections that it would make up 13 percent of GDP in 2080.
This is hardly an unreasonable amount to spend on the health of the nation’s elderly population. This spending is also not a gift from the government, but is funded through deductions from the paychecks of workers all their working lives. However, the policy decisions of politicians in Washington are not driven by preserving the health and welfare of America’s older citizens, but by the defense of the capitalist profit system.
While President Obama and the Democrats seek to distance themselves from proposals to privatize Medicare, Ryan and Bush only openly express what many Democrats are thinking. The Obama administration, with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) leading the charge, is working to gut Medicare and transform it into a poverty program with barebones coverage for the majority of working class and middle class seniors.
In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the ACA would reduce Medicare spending by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022. Under the first four years of the ACA, home health care under Medicare is being cut by 14 percent, including $60 million in 2015 and $350 million in 2016. While doing nothing to rein in the outrageous charges by pharmaceutical companies for cancer and other life-saving drugs, the Obama administration’s proposed 2016 budget includes $126 billion in cuts from what Medicare will pay for these drugs.
In what constitutes a historic attack on the program, Obama hailed as a “bipartisan achievement” passage of a bill in April that expands means testing for Medicare and establishes a new payment system in which doctors will be rewarded for cutting costs, while being punished for the volume and frequency of the health care services they provide.
It is telling that an article in the right-wing National Review, headlined “A Medicare Bill Conservatives Need to Embrace,” hailed the legislation and said the effects of its structural reforms would be “permanent and cumulative.”
The bipartisan backing for the Medicare bill is based on common agreement that Medicare spending must be slashed and a radical shift instituted away from the “lavish” fee-for-service system, in which supposed “unnecessary” tests and procedures are performed on Medicare patients, needlessly treating disease and extending their lives.
The president has claimed that the enactment of the program commonly known as Obamacare is the most sweeping social reform since Medicare was signed into law. This is a cynical lie. The ACA is, in fact, a social counter-reform that was aimed from the start at cutting costs for the government and corporations and reducing and rationing health care for the majority of Americans.
The ACA is designed to encourage employers to slash or end their employee insurance plans, forcing workers to individually purchase plans from private companies on government-run exchanges. The result will be the dismantling of the employer-provided health insurance system that has existed since the early 1950s, a vast increase in workers’ out-of-pocket costs, and a decrease in the care they receive.
Medicare, one of the last vestiges of social reform from a previous era, along with Social Security, is being undermined. The social right to health care—along with the right to a livable income, education, housing, and a secure retirement—is incompatible with a society subordinated to capitalist forces.
True reform of the health care system requires that it be reorganized based on a socialist program that proceeds from the fulfillment of human needs, not the enrichment of a parasitic elite.
JULY 30, 2015
Palmers’ bloodlust is just the latest exercise in expensive animal sadism to hit the news. Last year a woman posing with a lion she killed provoked internet outrage. In 2012 the King of Spain enjoyed killing an elephant (to the horror of his subject) and the year before CEO of Godaddy.com Bob Parsons videotaped his murder of an elephant. Nice.
In 2006, Country and Western musician Troy Lee Gentry killed a penned pet bear named Cubby on videotape to appear the tough guy. Music critic Peter Grumbine asked if Cubby had “rolled on his back expecting his usual belly rub that followed his afternoon nap” before the
killing. Others called Gentry a “sad pantywaist” who “shoots caged animals.”
Some try to defend trophy hunting, canned hunting and killing exotic animals as producing money that goes to the conservation of other animals–but most (including hunters who eat what they kill) think it is sick, sick, sick.
There are some laws against the warped acts of big game hunters like Palmer, but groups like Safari Club International (SCI) still flourish. And some of the world’s top leaders are members.
Few realize that President George H.W. Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle and the late Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. were proud members of SCI and pleaded with the Botswana government to keep trophy lion hunts available, for trophy hunters like them. There were reports of lions that Bush and Quayle personally killed in Africa but they remain unconfirmed.
Safari Club International offers a “Bears of the World” award, a kind of National Geographic for the bloodthirsty, in which hunters have to kill four of the world’s eight bear species which include imperiled polar bears. In 2006, SCI defeated an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House of Representatives that would have banned the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada.
In an attempt to humanize its image, SCI has run programs like Sportsmen Against Hunger and Sportsmen Against Cancer hoping someone will eat the meat the “hunters” don’t want.
Safari Club International also has Disabled Hunter, Sensory Safari and Safari Wish programs to extend the fun of killing to the disadvantaged. On it web site, SCI showed how the Safari Wish program enabled a spina bifida patient to kill a young doe from his wheelchair at a Florida hunt club. The young man missed two hogs eating at the feeder but succeeded in shooting a greyhound-sized doe because “the Hunt Club suspended the deer harvest rules for his hunt” SCI wrote breathlessly. Did someone hold the deer for him while he shot it as is done with blind “sportsmen”?
At the risk of stating the obvious, such “sport” or “hunting” is a mental illness.
The events in Greece over the past several months constitute a major strategic experience of the Greek working class and youth that is having a significant impact on political consciousness around the world.
The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” (Syriza)—despite its use of radical-sounding phraseology and its nominal opposition to austerity—has capitulated entirely to the European banks and institutions. The Syriza government is now implementing policies that will dramatically increase social inequality and turn Greece into a virtual colony of German and European imperialism.
These developments are a striking confirmation of the analysis made by the WSWS over several years, going back well before Syriza was elected in January of this year. In a resolution adopted at the Socialist Equality Party (US) Congress in July of 2012, for example, it was noted that “as soon as Syriza was faced with the possibility of coming to power, its leader Alexis Tsipras rushed to Germany to assure the banks that his party had no intention of withdrawing from the euro zone. It has sought nothing more radical than the renegotiation of the European banks’ austerity program.”
Throughout the spring of this year, the WSWS organized a series of meetings in which the nature of Syriza was analyzed and warnings were made of its plans to fully accept the austerity demands of the European banks.
In the aftermath of Syriza’s final capitulation, many readers have asked how it is that the WSWS was able to predict so precisely the course of events. This experience is a vindication of the Marxist method, which analyzes political tendencies not on the basis of what they call themselves, but on the basis of their history and program and the social interests they represent.
Over the past several years, the WSWS has developed the conception of an international political tendency that we have described as “pseudo-left,” of which Syriza is only one example.
We would like to call our readers’ attention to the analysis made by WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North in the Foreword of his newly-released book, The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique. North includes a concise and more detailed “working definition” of the “pseudo-left” that will help provide an orientation in the struggle against the influence of these reactionary movements. He writes:
* The pseudo-left denotes political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class. Examples of such parties and tendencies include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, and numerous offshoots of ex-Trotskyist (i.e., Pabloite) and state capitalist organizations such as the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France, the NSSP in Sri Lanka and the International Socialist Organization in the United States. This list could include the remnants and descendants of the “Occupy” movements influenced by anarchist and post-anarchist tendencies. Given the wide variety of petty-bourgeois pseudo-left organizations throughout the world, this is by no means a comprehensive list.
* The pseudo-left is anti-Marxist. It rejects historical materialism, embracing instead various forms of subjective idealism and philosophical irrationalism associated with existentialism, the Frankfurt School and contemporary postmodernism.
* The pseudo-left is anti-socialist, opposes class struggle, and denies the central role of the working class and the necessity of revolution in the progressive transformation of society. It counterposes supra-class populism to the independent political organization and mass mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system. The economic program of the pseudo-left is, in its essentials, pro-capitalist and nationalistic.
* The pseudo-left promotes “identity politics,” fixating on issues related to nationality, ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality in order to acquire greater influence in corporations, the colleges and universities, the higher-paying professions, the trade unions and in government and state institutions, to effect a more favorable distribution of wealth among the richest 10 percent of the population. The pseudo-left seeks greater access to, rather than the destruction of, social privilege.
* In the imperialist centers of North America, Western Europe and Australasia, the pseudo-left is generally pro-imperialist, and utilizes the slogans of “human rights” to legitimize, and even directly support, neo-colonialist military operations.
North concludes the Foreword to his new book by noting, “The analysis and exposure of the class basis, retrograde theoretical conceptions and reactionary politics of the pseudo-left are especially critical tasks confronting the Trotskyist movement in its struggle to educate the working class, free it from the influence of the petty-bourgeois movements, and establish its political independence as the central progressive and revolutionary force within modern capitalist society.”
The publication of the Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique marks a significant step toward this goal, and the volume will serve as a valuable aid in the coming struggles of the working class.
The WSWS Editorial Board
JULY 29, 2015
The bombing provided Obama with the cover he needed to throw the Kurds under the bus, cave in to Turkey’s demands, and look the other way while Turkish bombers and tanks pounded Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. The media has characterized this shocking reversal of US policy as a “game-changer” that will improve US prospects for victory over ISIS. But what the about-face really shows is Washington’s inability to conduct a principled foreign policy as well as Obama’s eagerness to betray a trusted friend and ally if he sees some advantage in doing so.
Turkish President Erdogan has launched a war against the Kurds; that is what’s really happening in Syria at present. The media’s view of events–that Turkey has joined the fight against ISIS–is mostly spin and propaganda. The fact that the Kurds had been gaining ground against ISIS in areas along the Turkish border, worried political leaders in Ankara that an independent Kurdish state could be emerging. Determined to stop that possibility, they decided to use the bombing in Suruc as an excuse to round up more than 1,000 of Erdogans political enemies (only a small percentage of who are connected to ISIS) while bombing the holy hell out of Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. All the while, the media has been portraying this ruthless assault on a de facto US ally, as a war on ISIS. It is not a war on ISIS. It is the manipulation of a terrorist attack to advance the belligerent geopolitical agenda of Turkish and US elites. Just take a look at these two tweets from CNN Turkey on Saturday and you’ll see what’s going on under the radar:
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night Turkish jets made 159 sorties against #PKK camps in N.Iraq&hit 400 targetspic.twitter.com/oGVJmKsGbs
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night there was no air strike against #ISIS, targets were hit by tank fire near #Kilis.
(The tweets first appeared at Moon of Alabama)
Repeat: 159 air attacks on Kurdish positions and ZERO on ISIS targets. And the media wants us to believe that Turkey has joined Obama’s war on ISIS?
The Turks know who they’re bombing. They are bombing their 30-year long enemy, the Kurds. Here’s more on the topic from Telesur:
“A decades-old conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish PKK has been reignited. Turkey vowed Saturday to continue attacks against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), along with strikes against the Islamic State group.
“The operations will continue for as long as threats against Turkey continue,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.
Ankara also confirmed it carried out airstrikes against PKK sites in Iraq. While Davutoglu said any organizations that “threaten” Turkey would be targeted in a crackdown on militants, on Friday President Tayyip Erdogan said the PKK would be the main focus of attacks.” (“Turkey Says More Anti-PKK Strikes to Come“, Telesur)
Repeat: “Erdogan said the PKK would be the main focus of attacks.”
For Washington, it’s all a question of priorities. While the Kurds have been good friends and steadfast allies, they don’t have a spanking-new air base for launching attacks on Syria. Turkey, on the other hand, has a great base (Incirlik ) that’s much closer to the frontlines and just perfect for launching multiple sorties, drone attacks or routine surveillance fly-overs. The only glitch, of course, is that Washington will have to bite its tongue while a former ally is beaten to a pulp. That’s a price that Obama is more than willing to pay provided he can use the airfield to prosecute his war.
It’s worth noting, that Turkey’s relationship with jihadi groups in Syria is a matter of great concern, mainly because Turkey appears to be the terrorists biggest benefactor. Check this out from Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News:
“Naturally, one has to ask who fathered, breastfed and nourished these Islamist terrorists in hopes and aspirations of creating a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood Khalifat state? Even when Kobane and many Turkish cities were on fire, did not the Turkish prime minister talk in his interview with CNN about his readiness to order land troops into the Syrian quagmire if Washington agreed to also target al-Assad?
This is a dirty game….” (Editorial, “Kobane and Turkey are Burning“, Hurriyet Daily News)
And here’s more from author Nafeez Ahmed:
“With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, other reports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.” (“How the West Created the Islamic State“, Nafeez Ahmed, CounterPunch)
Then there’s this from USA Today:
“Militants have funneled weapons and fighters through Turkey into Syria. The Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, have networks in Turkey….
Turkish security and intelligence services may have ties to Islamic State militants. The group released 46 Turkish diplomats it had abducted the day before the United States launched airstrikes against it. Turkey, a NATO member, may have known the airstrikes were about to begin and pressured its contacts in the Islamic State to release its diplomats.
“This implies Turkey has more influence or stronger ties to ISIS than people would think,” Tanir said.” (“5 reasons Turkey isn’t attacking Islamic State in Syria”, USA Today)
The media would like people to believe that the bombing in Suruc changed everything; that Erdogan and his fellows suddenly saw the light and decided that, well, maybe we shouldn’t be supporting these ISIS thugs after all. But that’s just baloney. The only one who’s changed his mind about anything is Obama who seems to have realized that his takfiri proxy-warriors aren’t ruthless enough to remove Assad, so he’s decided to team up with Sultan Erdogan instead. That means Erdogan gets a green light to butcher as many Kurds as he wants in exchange for boots on the ground to topple Assad. That’s the deal, although, at present, the politicians are denying it. Now check out this blurb from Foreign Policy “Situation Report”:
“The nominee to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, didn’t really get off to a great start in his relationship with Senate Armed Services Committee chief Sen. John McCain. The general drew the ire of the Arizona lawmaker by telling the panel on Thursday that the Islamic State is essentially fighting to a draw in Iraq and Syria. McCain took the opportunity and ran with it, telling the Iraq vet that “I’m very disappointed in a number of your answers,” on the Islamic State, promising to send along more questions to push the general on his views. It was an unexpected ending to what had been a hum-drum confirmation hearing, and if McCain wants to press the issue, it could hold up a vote on Neller’s confirmation until after the August congressional recess.” (Situation Report“, ForeignPolicy.com)
The point is, the Big Brass is telling US policymakers that ISIS is notgoing to win the war, which means that Assad is going to stay in power. That’s why Obama has moved on to Plan B and thrown his lot with Erdogan, because the Pentagon bigshots finally realize they’re going to need boots on the ground if they want regime change in Syria. But “whose boots”, that’s the question?
Not U.S. boots, that’s for sure. Americans have had it up to here with war and are not likely to support another bloody fiasco in the Middle East. That’s where Erdogan comes into the picture. Washington wants Turkey to do the heavy lifting while the US provides logistical support and air cover. That’s the basic gameplan. Naturally, the media can’t explain what’s really going on or it would blow Obama’s cover. But who doesn’t know that this whole campaign is aimed at removing Assad? You’d have to be living in a cave for the last three years not to know that.
The bottom line is that Erdogan has three demands. He wants a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to protect Turkey from ISIS and Kurdish attacks. He wants a no-fly zone over all or parts of Syria. And he wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power. That’s what he wants and that’s what Obama has agreed to (as part of the Incirlik deal ) although the media is refuting the claim. To help explain what’s going on, take a look at this article in Reuters that was written back in October, 2014. Here’s an excerpt:
“Turkey will fight against Islamic State and other “terrorist” groups in the region but will stick to its aim of seeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday…
“We will (also) continue to prioritise our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all (of its) citizens.”…
But it (Turkey) fears that U.S.-led air strikes, if not accompanied by a broader political strategy, could strengthen Assad and bolster Kurdish militants allied to Kurds in Turkey who have fought for three decades for greater autonomy.
“Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger,” Erdogan said…..
We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism. However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it.” (“Turkey will fight Islamic State, wants Assad gone: President Erdogan“, Reuters)
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Either the US helps Turkey get rid of Assad or there’s no deal. The Turkish president’s right-hand man, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, said the same thing in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in February, 2015. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Turkey would be willing to put its troops on the ground in Syria “if others do their part,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Monday.
“We are ready to do everything if there is a clear strategy that after ISIS, we can be sure that our border will be protected. We don’t want the regime anymore on our border pushing people against — towards Turkey. We don’t want other terrorist organizations to be active there.”…
He said that American airstrikes in Syria were necessary but not enough for a victory.
“If ISIS goes, another radical organization may come in,” he said. “So our approach should be comprehensive, inclusive, strategic and combined … to eliminate all brutal crimes against humanity committed by the regime.”
“We want to have a no-fly zone. We want to have a safe haven on our border. Otherwise, all these burdens will continue to go on the shoulder of Turkey and other neighboring countries.”…
Turkey is trying to dispel the idea that the United States can become involved in Syria by going after ISIS but not al-Assad.” (“Turkey willing to put troops in Syria ‘if others do their part,’ Prime Minister says“, CNN)
Repeat: “Turkey would be willing to put its troops on the ground in Syria”, but Assad’s got to go. That’s the trade-off. Davutoglu has since backed off on this demand, but the basic deal hasn’t changed. Leaders in the US and Turkey have just decided to be more discreet about what they tell the press. But the plan is moving forward. For example, officials from the Obama administration have denied that they will provide a no-fly zone over Syria. According to the New York Times, however, the US has agreed to create an “Islamic State-free zone” or “safe zone… controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents.” (“Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS“, New York Times)
So the question is: Will the US provide air cover over this “Islamic State-free zone”?
Yes, it will.
Will Assad send his warplanes into this zone?
No, he won’t. He’d be crazy to do so.
Okay. Then what the US has created is a no-fly zone, right? And this actually applies to all of Syria as well, now that US warplanes and drones are less than 500 miles from Damascus. The Incirlik deal means that the US will control the skies over Syria. Period. Here’s more from the Times trying to occlude the obvious details:
“American officials say that this plan is not directed against Mr. Assad. They also say that while a de facto safe zone could indeed be a byproduct of the plan, a formal no-fly zone is not part of the deal. They said it was not included in the surprise agreement reached last week to let American warplanes take off from Turkish air bases to attack Islamic State fighters in Syria, even though Turkey had long said it would give that permission only in exchange for a no-fly zone…..” (“Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS”, New York Times)
What does this gibberish mean in English? It means that, yes, the US has created a no-fly zone over Syria, but, no, the administration’s public relations doesn’t want to talk about it because then they’d have to admit that Obama caved in to Turkish demands. Got that?
And just to show that the NYT hasn’t lost its sense of humor, here’s more in the same vein:
“American officials in recent months have argued to Turkish counterparts that a formal no-fly zone is not necessary, noting that during hundreds of American-led strike missions against Islamic State in Syria, forces loyal to Mr. Assad have steered clear of areas under concerted allied attack….” (NYT)
In other words, “American officials” are telling Erdogan that ‘We don’t need to call this a no-fly zone, because once the F-16s start circling the skies over Damascus, Assad will get the message pretty quick.’
Can you believe that they would publish such circular palavering in the nation’s top newspaper?
And the same is true with the massive expropriation of Syrian sovereign territory, which the US and Turkey breezily refer to as an “Islamic State-free zone”. This just proves that Obama caved in to another one of Erdogan’s three demands, the demand for a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border. Not surprisingly, this blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty hasn’t even raised an eyebrow at the United Nations where delegates have gotten so used to Washington’s erratic behavior that they don’t even pay attention anymore.
By the way, this issue of setting up buffer zones, shouldn’t be taken lightly. As State Department spokesman Mark Toner opined just weeks ago, “We’d essentially be opening the door to the dissolution of the Syrian nation-state.”
Indeed, isn’t that the point? Aside from the fact, that these “protected areas” will be used as launching grounds for attacks on the central government, they’ll also become autonomous regions consistent with the US strategy to redraw the map of the Middle East by breaking Iraq and Syria into smaller, tribal-governed cantons incapable of challenging regional hegemon, Israel, or global superpower, the US. Author Thomas Gaist provides a little background on this phenom in a post at the World Socialist Web Site:
“In a brief published Tuesday, “Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war,” the Brookings Institution detailed the application of this neocolonial strategy in Syria….The Brookings report argued that a “comprehensive, national-level solution” is no longer possible, and called for the carving out of “autonomous zones.”
“The only realistic path forward may be a plan that in effect deconstructs Syria,” the report argued. The US and its allies should seek “to create pockets with more viable security and governance within Syria.”
This “confederal Syria” would be composed of “highly autonomous zones,” the report said, and would be supported militarily by the deployment of US-NATO forces into the newly carved-out occupation areas, including deployment of “multilateral support teams, grounded in special forces detachments and air-defense capabilities.”
“Past collaboration with extremist elements of the insurgency would not itself be viewed as a scarlet letter,” the Brookings report argued, making clear the extremist militant groups which have served as US proxy forces against the Assad government will not be excluded from the new partition of Syria.” (“Turkey, Jordan discuss moves to seize territory in Syria“, Thomas Gaist, World Socialist Web Site)
Isn’t this precisely the strategy that is unfolding in Syria and Iraq today?
Of course, it is. Everything you’ve been reading about “Islamic State-free zones”, “safety zones”, or “no-fly zones” is lies. I won’t even dignify it by calling it propaganda. It’s not. It’s 100 percent, unalloyed bullshit. Just like the idea that this new buffer zone (carved out of Syrian territory) is going to be administered by “relatively moderate Syrian insurgents”. (which is the NYT’s new innocuous-sounding sobriquet for al-Qaida terrorists.) That’s another lie that’s intended to divert attention from the real plan, which is the Turkish occupation of Syrian territory consistent with Erdogan’s and Davutoglu’s commitment to put boots on the ground if the US agrees to their demands. Which Obama has, although the media denies it.
The US is not going to entrust this captured territory to “relatively moderate Syrian insurgents”, because as Gen. Robert Neller already admitted to McCain, the jihadis aren’t winning. In other words, the jihadi plan is a flop. That’s what this whole Turkey-US alliance-thing is all about. It is a major shift in the fundamental policy. There’s going to be a ground invasion, and the Turks are going to supply the troops. It’s only a matter of time. Here’s how analyst Gaist sums it up:
“Having failed to remove Assad using proxy militia forces alone, Washington is now contemplating the direct invasion of Syria by outside military forces for the purpose of carving out a large area of the country to be subsequently occupied by US and NATO troops. Plans for a new imperialist division of Syria and the broader Middle East have been brewing within the US ruling elite for decades.” (“Turkey, Jordan discuss moves to seize territory in Syria“, Thomas Gaist, World Socialist Web Site)
Naturally, Obama’s not going to tell the media what he’s up to. But that’s the plan.
We’re pleased to publish another interview with Professor Noam Chomsky. In this recent conversation with Dan Falcone, a Washington DC–based high school history teacher, Chomsky builds on our last interview, discussing everything from Scott Walker to the Monroe Doctrine, from Citizens United to for-profit colleges. We hope you’ll share it widely.
I wanted to stay on the topic of education and ask you about language, terminology, and definitions in the social sciences. So for example, I’ve noticed in my curriculum that there’s a tendency to have terms with a real definition and then a code definition. Terms like foreign aid, independence movements, partition, and democracy.
Two terms that I know are of particular interest to you are anarchism and libertarianism. Could you discuss the varying definitions of those two terms, anarchism and libertarianism? Maybe the American definition versus the European, and why that’s important for education to sort out?
There’s hardly a term in social science, political discourse, academic professions, and the scholarly professions where there’s anything remotely like clear definitions. If you want a clear definition, you have to go to mathematics or parts of physics.
Definitions are basically parts of theoretical structures. A definition doesn’t mean anything unless it’s embedded in some theory of some explanatory scope. And in these areas, there really are no such theories. So the terms are in fact used very loosely. They have a strong ideological component.
Take, say, democracy. The United States, I’m sure in your school, they teach as the world’s leading democracy. It’s also a country in which about 70 percent of the population, the lower 70 percent on the income scale, are completely disenfranchised.
Their opinions have no detectable influence on the decisions of their own representatives. Which is a good reason to believe, a large reason, why a huge number of people don’t bother voting. They know that it’s a waste of time. So is that a democracy? No, not really.
And you could say the same about almost any other term. Sometimes it’s almost laughable. So for example, in 1947, the US government changed the name of the War Department. They changed it to the Defense Department — any person with a brain functioning knew that we’re not going to be involved in defense anymore. We’re going to be involved in aggression. They didn’t have to read Orwell to know that. And in fact, religiously, every time you read about the war budget, it’s called the defense budget. And defense now means war, very much as in Orwell. And pretty much across the board.
Anarchism is used for a very wide range of actions, tendencies, beliefs, and so on. There’s no settled definition of it. Those who use the term should be indicating clearly, as clearly as you can, what element in this range you’re talking about. I’ve tried to do that. Others do it. You know, anarcho-syndicalism, communitarian anarchism, anarchy in the sense of let’s get rid of everything, the old kind of primitive anarchism, many different types. And you’re not going to find a definition.
Libertarianism has a special meaning predominantly in the United States. In the United States, it means dedication to extreme forms of tyranny. They don’t call it that, but it’s basically corporate tyranny, meaning tyranny by unaccountable private concentrations of power, the worst kind of tyranny you can imagine.
It picks up from the libertarian tradition one element, namely opposition to state power. But it leaves open all other forms of — and in fact favors — other forms of coercion and domination. So it’s radically opposed to the libertarian tradition, which was opposed to the master servant relation.
Giving orders, taking orders — that’s a core of traditional anarchism, going back to classical liberalism. So it’s a special, pretty much uniquely American development and related to the unusual character of the United States in many respects.
America is to quite an unusual extent a business-run society. That’s why we have a very violent labor history. Much more so than comparable countries, and attacks on labor here were far more extreme. There are accurate libertarian elements in the United States, like protection of freedom of speech, which is probably of a standard higher than other countries. But libertarianism is designed in the United States to satisfy the needs of private power.
Actually, it’s an interesting case in connection with the media. The United States is one of the few countries that basically doesn’t have public media. I mean, theoretically, there’s NPR, but it’s a highly marginal thing and is corporate funded anyway. So there’s nothing like the BBC here. Most countries have something or other. And that was a battleground, especially when radio and television came along.
The Founding Fathers actually were in favor of different conceptions of freedom of speech. There’s a narrow conception which interprets it as being a negative right, meaning you should be free of external interference. There’s a broader conception which regards it as a positive right: you should have a right to impart and access information, hence the positive interpretation. The United Nations accepts the positive interpretation, and theoretically, the US does too.
If you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I think Article 19 says that every person must have the right to express themselves without constraint and to impart and receive information over the widest possible range. That’s the positive right.
That was a battleground in the 1930s and 1940s. Particularly right after the Second World War, there were high level commissions taking both sides. And the position that won out is what was called corporate libertarianism, meaning corporations have the right to do anything they want without any interference.
But people don’t have any rights. Like you and I don’t have the right to receive information. Technically, we can impart information if we can buy a newspaper, but the idea that you should be a public voice that people, to the extent that this society’s democratic and participatory, was eliminated in the United States. And that’s called libertarianism. Meaning mega-corporations can do what they like without interference.
The Citizens United decision should be considered in the context of a series of decisions, starting with Buckley v. Valeo back in the ’70s, that determined that money is a form of speech. You and I can speak in the same roughly equal loudness, but you and Bill Gates can’t speak in the same loudness in regards to money. So that was a big deal, that there can’t be any interference with the use of money, for example — funding.
Now there were restrictions in the laws on campaign funding, but they’ve been slowly eroded. Citizens United pretty much dispensed with them. There’s still some limitations but not much. So exactly what its impact was is pretty hard to judge. But it’s part of a series of decisions which have led to a situation in which, if you want to run for president, you have to have several billion dollars. And there’s only certain sources for several billion dollars. If you want to run for Congress, pretty much the same. House of Representatives, you have to have a huge campaign funded.
Technically, you could decide, “I’m going to run for president.” That’s a meaningless freedom. It doesn’t mean anything. And the effect is pretty striking. The impact of money on politics goes way back — you know, Tom Ferguson’s Golden Rule? It’s the best work on this topic; he’s a very good political scientist, and has done work, very good work, on the impact of campaign funding on both electability, but also more significantly on political decisions. And he traces it back to the nineteenth century. And the impact is quite substantial — it goes right through the New Deal and on to the present.
But now it’s in the stratosphere. That’s why 70 percent of the public is totally disenfranchised. They don’t contribute to campaign funding, so they’re out. And if you sort of go up the income/wealth scale, you can detect greater levels of influence, but it’s not really significant until you get to the very top, maybe a fraction of 1 percent or something, where decisions are basically made.
It’s not 100 percent, so you find some deviation. There are times when public opinion is powerful enough so that it does matter, but these are overwhelming tendencies. The effect on education, of course, is obvious. It means that the concentrated power of the business classes will determine educational as well as other policies. That’s why you’re getting charter schools, cutting back of funding for state colleges, the corporatization of the universities. I mean, it’s across the board.
Universities, for example, are increasingly going to a business model in which what matters is not educational attainment, but the bottom line. So if you can get temporary, cheap, dispensable labor, like adjuncts and grad students, that’s preferable to tenured faculty. And of course by other measures, it’s not that preferable, but this is a business model.
At the college level, there’s a huge growth of these private colleges, most of which are total scams. They’re not private, they get maybe 80–90 percent of their funding from the federal government through Pell Grants and other things. And they’re very profitable. So during the recession, they stayed extremely profitable. All their corporate profits went down, but their stock stayed high.
They have a huge drop-out rate, enormous. Corinthian Colleges, one of the biggest for-profits, just had a big scandal. They made promises that they’d recruit deprived populations. So they’ll heavily recruit in, say, black areas, with all kind of inducements to what you can become if you take on a huge debt and go here. Kids end up with an enormous debt and very few of them even graduate. It’s just a major scam. And meanwhile, the community colleges, which can serve these communities, they’re being cut back.
And that’s very natural in a business-run society. After all, business is interested in profit and power; not a big surprise. And so therefore why have public education, when you can use it as a way to profit? It’s very much like the health care system. Why is the United States about the only country without any national health — without any meaningful national health care? Well, it’s the same thing. It’s extremely inefficient, very costly, and very bad for the patient, about twice the per capita costs of comparable countries, with some of the worst outcomes.
Alright, that saves money for the government and the insurance companies, but it costs money to the consumer. And in fact, that’s not counted, so economists, for ideological reasons, don’t count costs to users. Like if you think there’s an error on your bank statement, say, and you call the bank, you don’t get somebody to talk to. You get a menu, a recorded menu, and then comes a whole routine, and then maybe if you’re patient, minutes later, you get somebody to talk to. Saves the bank a lot of money, so it’s called very efficient, but that’s because they don’t count the cost to you, and the cost to you is multiplied over the number of consumers — so it’s enormous.
If you added those costs, the business would be extremely inefficient. But for ideological reasons you don’t count the cost to people, you just count the cost to business. And even with that, it’s highly inefficient. All of these — it’s not because people want it. People have favored national health care for decades. But it doesn’t matter. What the people want is essentially irrelevant.
Education is simply part of it. So sure, when Scott Walker talks about going down to the local level, it’s put in the framework of, “I’m for the common man.” What he means is that at the local level, businesses can have a lot more power than they can at the state level or at the federal level. They have plenty of power at the higher levels, but if it’s a local school board, the local real-estate people determine what happens. There’s as little resistance as you can possibly get down at the lower levels. It would be different if it was a democratic country where people were organized, but they’re not. You know, they’re atomized.
That’s why the right wing is in favor of what they call states’ rights. It’s a lot easier to take over a state than the federal government. Pretty easy to take over the federal government too, but a lot easier when you get to the state level.
And all of this is veiled in nice, appealing terminology about we’ve got to favor the little guy and send freedom back to the people and take it away from power, but it means exactly the opposite — just like libertarianism.
It’s unbelievable. In fact, what Walker did, or his advisers, was pretty clever. They unionized the teachers, firemen, policemen, and people in the public sector who had benefits. And what they concealed, and what you know, is the fact that the benefits are paid for by the recipients. So you pay for the benefits by lowering your wages. That’s part of the union contract. You defer payment and take a slightly lower wage and get a pension. But that’s suppressed.
So the propaganda which was directed at the workers in the private sector said, “Look at these guys. They’re getting all kinds of benefits and pensions, security, and you’re being thrown out of your job.” Which is true. They were being thrown out of their jobs. And of course the unions had already been beaten down to almost nothing in the private sector. And this propaganda was able to mobilize working people against people in the public sector. It was effective propaganda. I mean, a total scam, but effective.
It’s pretty interesting to see it work in detail. You get a lot of insight. So you remember in 2008, when the whole economy was crashing, we could have gone into a huge depression, mostly because of the banks and their corruption and so on. But there was one huge insurance company, AIG, the biggest international insurance company, which was collapsing. If they would have collapsed, they would have brought down with them Goldman Sachs and a whole bunch of big investment firms, so the government wouldn’t let them collapse.
So they were bailed out, a huge bailout. And it was really malfeasance, if not criminality, on their part that led to all of this, but they were bailed out, and Timothy Geithner had to keep the economy going. Right after that, right at that time, the executives of AIG got huge bonuses. That really didn’t look good, so there was some publicity about it, bad publicity. But Larry Summers, the former secretary of treasury, a big economist, said, you have to honor the contracts. And the contract said that these guys have to get a bonus.
Right at that same time, the state of Illinois was going bankrupt, it claimed. And so they had to stop paying pensions to teachers. Well, you didn’t have to honor that contract. So yeah, for the gangsters at AIG who practically brought the economy down, you got to honor that contract, because they got to get their multimillion dollar stock options. But for the teachers who already paid for the pensions, you don’t have to honor that one.
And that’s the way the country runs. That’s what a business-run society looks like in case after case. And it’s all consistent and perfectly sensible and understandable.
Well, this whole story is quite interesting. The meaning of the Monroe Doctrine, we were taught, was to protect the country from European imperialism. And that’s perfectly defensive. But the actual meaning was stated very clearly by Secretary of State Lansing, Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state. It’s a wonderful example of an accurate description — he presented a memorandum to President Wilson in which he said, here’s the real meaning of the Monroe Doctrine.
He said the Monroe Doctrine was established in our interest. The interests of other countries were an incident, not an end. So it’s entirely for our interest. But Wilson, a great exponent of self-determination, said he thought this argument was “unanswerable,” but it would be impolitic to make it public. That’s the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine. And it is. It’s exactly the way it’s been used.
This is supposed to be our hemisphere. Everybody else stay out. We didn’t have the power to implement it in 1823, but it was understood how it would work. John Quincy Adams, the great grand strategist and the intellectual author of Manifest Destiny, explained in the accredited — I think he probably wrote the Monroe Doctrine when he was secretary of state — he explained it was really directed at Cuba.
Cuba was the first foreign policy objective for the US. We wanted to take over Cuba. And the Monroe Doctrine was supposed to keep the British out. And it was discussed, and they understood that they couldn’t do it because Britain was too powerful.
But Adams explained that over time, Britain would become weaker, and the United States would become more powerful, and over time, he said, “Cuba will fall into our hands by the laws of political gravitation, the way an apple falls from the tree.” Which is exactly what happened through the nineteenth century when relations of power shifted, the United States became more powerful and was able to kick Britain out of one place after another.
In 1898, the United States invaded Cuba. The pretext was to liberate Cuba. In fact it was to conquer Cuba and prevent it from liberating itself from Spain, which it in fact was about to do. And then comes the Platt Amendment, and Guantanamo and all the rest of the story.
That’s the Monroe Doctrine. Why is it changing? It’s changing because Latin America has liberated itself. The United States is practically being kicked out of the hemisphere. That’s extremely important. For the last roughly fifteen years and for the first time in its history, the Latin American countries have begun to integrate slightly to free themselves from imperial control to face internal problems, and if you look at the hemispheric conferences, the United States is increasingly isolated.
At the Santiago conference in 2012, the OAS conference, it never reached any decisions because they have to be reached by consensus, and the US and Canada blocked every decision. The major ones were on Cuba. Everybody wanted it admitted, but the US and Canada refused. And the other was drugs. The other countries want to end this crazy US drug war which is destroying them, and the US and Canada refused.
Well, there was another conference coming up in Panama, just a couple months ago. And Obama recognized‚ or an adviser recognized, that unless he did something, the US would simply be kicked out of the hemisphere. So they moved towards normalization of relationswith Cuba. And here, it’s presented as a wonderful benign gesture, bringing Cuba out of its isolation.
Fact is, the United States is totally isolated. In the world, it’s completely isolated. The votes in the UN on the embargo are like 180–2, the United States and Israel. And in the hemisphere, it was on the verge of being tossed out. So they make the gestures that are silly — they have to say those sort of things, or end up being thrown out of the hemisphere.
And we can’t intervene at the previous levels — there’s plenty of intervention, but not at the level before. As for giving money toHonduras and Guatemala, it means giving money to murderers ruling governments that were installed by US power. The Honduras government was thrown out by military coup in 2009. This is Obama now. And they were a military government, ran a kind of a fake election, which almost nobody recognized except the United States, and it’s become a horror chamber.
If you take a look at the immigrants coming across the border, you’ll notice most of them are from Honduras. Why? Because Honduras, thanks to Obama, is a horror chamber. They’re giving money to Honduras, this military regime which has probably the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. Guatemala has been a horror story ever since 1954, when the US went in.
So that’s the history, but not the sanitized history.
America’s political center, if it ever really existed, appears to be shrinking.
On the left, Bernie Sanders’ issue-oriented presidential campaign of economic justice is drawing the crowds and generating the most passion, eclipsing his more moderate competitors. And on the right, Donald Trump’s loud promises to use his dealmaking moxie to fix the country, with a dose of racist comments thrown in, has pushed him to the top of the polls in 2016’s early states.
There’s no shortage of pundits writing off their surges. Surely, you’ve heard them all, which amount to saying that when the campaign gets serious, they will seriously falter. The latest analyses from this past weekend’s polling noted that both were doing well in two of the whitest states—Iowa and New Hampshire—but not in bigger, more diverse ones. So now these hallowed presidential proving grounds prove nothing?
But there is one explanation you won’t find among the politicos who are parsing the interior numbers in polls—such as the negative approval ratings, or appeal by race and gender. That explanation is that the political spectrum is changing, or stretching toward its blunter extremes, which also accounts for the muted enthusiasm for both party’s leading establishment candidates, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
A shifting electorate is the last thing many pundits want to confront. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, pointing to four recent polls, merely says Hillary should worry about her rising unpopularity. He does not touch the deeper question: is she out of tune with what’s engaging the public now? His colleague, Phillip Bump says she’s lagging among whites in Iowa and New Hampshire, but climbs back up in later states where she appeals to non-whites. Sanders and Trump aren’t doing that, he said.
At Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another go-to site for reporters to get zeitgeist quotes, the reflex is to dismiss both Trumps and Sanders for different reasons, rather than probe how the electorate may be shifting. Trump’s surge, according to associate editor Geoffrey Skelly, is because he’s well-known, loud, in a crowded field, and keeps getting press coverage. Even worse, the GOP idiotically tied participation in its upcoming presidential debate to how candidates are polling, he said, where Trump will be “attacked from all sides.”
One can go very far in political analysis by being cynical. But that does not mean you’ve got your finger on a changing pulse. Politico’s piece on Trump’s latest rise in New Hampshire and Iowa points to the politics of anger, especially against Washington power-brokers, which includes the GOP’s congressional majority.
“Just 16 percent among all Republicans (15 percent of Republican registered voters… [and] 50 percent of Democrats (51 percent of Democratic registered voters) feel that they are [well] represented in the nation’s capital,” it reported. “Among independents, just 27 percent feel well-represented.”
What are people angry about? Who is giving voice to their problems, or offering solutions? CNN says the top concerns facing voters are the economy (44 percent), health care (20 percent) and terrorism (12 percent). If those numbers are accurate, it is not surprising that Sanders and Trump, on the left and right, have captivated voters because they are speaking outside the safe centrist political box.
Trump’s bragging that most of politics comes down to being the best negotiator has an appeal when the Republican-controlled Congress is bumbling at best. His slaps at immigrants are ugly, but there have always been racists in modern Republican ranks. Today’s GOP is not the party of Lincoln, nor is it Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-corporate reformers. Most of their 2016 candidates have been recycling Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric or predictable policies benefitting the upper classes.
While it remains to be seen what broad new agenda will emerge on the right, it is not surprising that the cliché-ridden remedies spouted by a field of predictable candidates isn’t creating much excitement, even as they try to out-do each other on the far right. Trump’s rise strongly suggests something in the GOP’s base is shifting.
Bernie Sanders’ surge is more easily traced, and also shows shifting voter sensibilities. His messaging has been saturated with specifics, from his speeches to e-mails. On Monday morning, he sent out a long missive seeking $3 donations that listed 12 issue areas and his solutions: jobs, jobs, jobs; raising wages; wealth and income inequality; reforming Wall St.; campaign finance reform; fighting climate change; health care for all; protecting our most vulnerable; expanding opportunity and equality; dismantling structural racism; college for all; war and peace. This is not political fundraising as usual.
It is easy to say that Sanders, like Elizabeth Warren before him, is pulling the Democrats closer to their progressive heart. But Sanders would not be as successful as he has been if Democrats in the electorate were not embracing his message. As one of Iowa’s leading pro-Democrat bloggers, BleedingHeartland.com, wrote this weekend, “Bernie Sanders continues to draw the largest crowds in Iowa–including roughly 1,200 people in West Des Moines on Friday—and polls indicate that he is cutting into Hillary Clinton’s lead among likely Democratic caucus-goers.”
Clinton still led Sanders by 29 points, 55 percent to 26 percent, with Martin O’Malley at 4 percent and Jim Webb at 2 percent, it reported, citing the latest polls. But “his message is resonating with a sizable part of the Democratic base, as anyone could see on Friday night during his town-hall meeting at West Des Moines Valley High School. I challenge any Democrat to find one substantive point to disagree with in Sanders’ stump speech. Many people who attend his events are already ‘feeling the Bern.’ My impression is that the undecideds who show up walk away giving him their serious consideration. I doubt anyone leaves a Sanders event thinking, ‘I could never caucus for that guy.’”
BleedingHeartland continued, “Listening to Sanders on Friday, I was again struck by the senator’s distinctive way of speaking. He packs a lot of facts and figures into his remarks without sounding wonky. He conveys a lot of passion without raising his voice often. Compared to many candidates, he says very little about his children and grandchildren. Still, his feelings about family come through loud and clear when he contrasts Republican ideas about ‘family values’ (a ‘woman shouldn’t be able to control her own body’) with what family values should mean (for instance, a mom and dad having paid time off from work so they can get to know their new baby). Although the Sanders stump speech is overly long—pushed well past the one-hour mark by many interruptions for applause—he keeps his listeners’ attention. Even my 12-year-old was still engaged….”
Next years’ presidential caucuses are a long way off, and the November election is even further away. It’s easy for pundits to dismiss Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, for different reasons, with respect to their eventual prospects. But doing so can overlook what’s happening now, which is the assumed frames, views and mood of the electorate are shifting, or stretching, or changing, and favoring the blunt and unconventional.