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  Paul Street pulls few punches as he describes the US Democrats using Sheldon Wolin’s terminology as ‘the inauthentic opposition’.   It must be hard for the Democrats to be in opposition to the republicans when you represent the same set of business interests…

 

“Wolin called it. A nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Barack Obama (as under his Democratic presidential predecessor Bill Clinton) was the standard “elite” neoliberal manipulation of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the reigning big-money bankrollers and their global empire. Wall Street’s control of Washington and the related imperial agenda of the Pentagon System were advanced more effectively by the nation’s first Black president than they could have been by stiff and wealthy white Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney. The reigning U.S. system of corporate and imperial “inverted totalitarianism” (Wolin) was given a deadly, fake-democratic re-branding.  The underlying “drift rightwards” sharpened, fed by a widespread and easily Republican-exploited sense of popular abandonment and betrayal, as the hypocritical and inauthentic dollar Democrats depressed and demobilized their own purported popular base.

Hillary Clinton did nothing to correct that problem in 2016.  Quite the opposite. With a colossal campaign finance war-chest fed not just by the usual Wall Street and Silicon Valley suspects but also by many traditionally Republican big money donors who were repelled by Trump’s faux “populism,” the transparently corporate establishmentarian candidate Clinton could barely deign to pretend to be a progressive.  She ran almost completely on the argument that Trump was too terrible and unqualified to be president. Making candidate character and qualities her sole selling point was a critical and historic mistake given the angry and anti-establishment mood of the electorate and her own epic unpopularity. So was calling Trump’s flyover county supporters a “basket of” racist and sexist “deplorables” in a sneering comment (one that accurately reflected her aristocratic “progressive”-neoliberal world view) to rich Manhattan campaign donors.

The Democrats would have won the 2016 election and overcome some of their authenticity problem by running Bernie Sanders, “the one guy that didn’t run to Wall Street for money” (Hersh). In something of a tantalizing anomaly for professor Stanley’s rule, Sanders “raise[d] huge sums” but did so from working- and middle-class small-donors (see the remarkable work of Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues on this) and didn’t “represent the interests of…large donors” or “pretend that the bests interests of the multinational corporations” were “also the common interest.” Quite the opposite.

Sanders would have authentically tapped authentic popular anger from the center-left, advancing a policy agenda and anti-plutocratic sentiments consistent with longstanding majority-progressive public opinion in the U.S.

It would have been a winning formula in an anti-establishment election. But so what? The Democratic nomination process was rigged against Sanders for some very good ruling-class reasons. As William Kaufman told Barbara Ehrenreich on Facebook two years ago, “The Democrats aren’t feckless, inept, or stupid, unable to ‘learn’ what it takes to win. They are corrupt. They do not want to win with an authentically progressive program because it would threaten the economic interests of their main corporate donor base… The Democrats know exactly what they’re doing.  They have a business model: sub-serving the interests of the corporate elite.”

The reigning corporate Democrats would rather lose to the right, even to a proto-fascistic white nationalist and eco-exterminist right, than lose to the left, even to a mildly progressive social democratic and environmentalist left within their own party.

How else explain their insistence on promoting the ridiculous, right-wing arch-corporatist, imperialist, and dementia-plagued right-wing gaffe machine Joke Biden in the long march to the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries? Again and again, the Democrats’ main cable news networks CNN and MSDNC falsely and insidiously describe Sanders’ highly popular, majority-backed Single Payer health insurance policy plank as an authoritarian big government assault on people’s existing coverage instead of a great democratic human rights demand. The “liberal” media perversely portrays the fiscally viable and existentially necessary Green New Deal as a far-out and dreamy radical scheme from another galaxy. When they’re not just completely ignoring him and his large rallies (probably the main way they undermine Sanders), the corporate media even stoops to painting out Sanders as another version of Trump: old, authoritarian, stubborn, male, and boorish.

But this is timeworn standard operating procedure in the Democratic Party and its allied media, leading agents in what the prolific leading left scholar Henry Giroux calls “neoliberal fascism.” It’s a richly bipartisan disease. In Giroux’s book American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018), one sees none of Stanley’s hesitation or reluctance when it comes to forthrightly acknowledging and exposing the central roles of the Democrats and the capitalist order in the creation of the neofascist menace that haunts the United States today.”

Voting is just a small part of the answer.  Active, conscious political engagement is the only solution to this political problem.  We in Canada share a similar trajectory.

The CBC’s reporting on Hong Kong:

“The anti-government protests present one of the biggest challenges facing Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. And with the ruling Communist Party preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on Oct 1, the crisis in Hong Kong has come at a sensitive time.

Beijing has struck an increasingly strident tone over the protests, accusing foreign countries including the United States of fomenting unrest.

Scenes of Chinese paramilitary troops training at a stadium in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, gave a clear warning that mainland intervention by force is possible.”

These protests are not going to end well.

China is a world power and has the political and economic clout to do whatever the hell it pleases in Hong Kong.

I foresee an abrupt media black out coinciding with the military going into Hong Kong and reestablishing the correct type of order for the area.  It will be bloody and ruthless, but necessary from the government of China’s point of view.  Real democracy is a threat to the status quo and is intolerable state of being for the elite classes.

The protesters must be prepared for this eventuality and decide whether they are willing to pay the price in blood for their freedom.  There is no other way to purchase liberty.

“Yes, it makes for a more violent society. It makes gun crime, including the mass shootings, vastly more prevalent that it is in the UK and other European countries. But that is a choice that Americans have made. They may tweak their laws a little at the edges in response to the latest atrocity. They may require a medical certificate here, or a licence there, or curbs on the open sale of the most murderous automatic weapons. But they will not legislate, still less amend their Constitution, to deny people the right to bear arms.

To blame the US gun lobby for this, in the shape of the National Rifle Association, is to see things the wrong way around. The NRA is a force and has money because gun-ownership enjoys public support, and no amount of mass shootings or appeals from shocked Europeans is going to change this. Americans have accepted a trade-off, between permissive gun laws and the high incidence of death by shooting. It is a trade-off that regards El Paso and Dayton, and Columbine, Stoneham Douglas and the rest, as a high, but largely tolerable, price for what is seen as the ultimate in personal freedom. This view will persist well after Donald Trump has left the White House, and probably for a long time after that.”

The price is bit to high for me.  I’m quite okay with not have the degree of freedom that American’s possess in exchange for the reasonable expectation that I will not be gunned down as I teach class, or while I’m watching or movie, or really doing anything in public.

 

The fact that the US is still entangled in Afghanistan has all but left the news media in the United States.  I certainly hope that powers involved here can keep their agenda focus and actually produce some results.  The status quo quagmire needs to end.

From the Asia Times

“The Afghan state minister for peace affairs, Abdul Salam Rahimi, announced on Saturday that the Afghan government was preparing for direct talks with the Taliban. “The government will be represented by a 15-member delegation. We are working will all sides and hope that in the next two weeks the first meeting will take place in a European country,” Rahimi said.

Oslo has been mentioned as the venue for the crucial meeting. The Taliban have not yet budged from their longstanding demand that a deal must be forged with the US first. Possibly, a deal will be announced after the ninth round of US-Taliban talks in Doha in the coming week.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani inspects a guard of honor during the first day of the Loya Jirga in Kabul on April 29. Photo: Rahmat Gul / AFP

Indeed, we are witnessing an utterly fascinating spectacle of diplomatic pirouette being played out between and among five main protagonists – Trump, who is demanding an expeditious US withdrawal from Afghanistan, assuming Imran Khan will deliver on his promises; Khan, in turn, going through the motions of persuading the Taliban to be reasonable while expecting generous US reciprocal moves to accommodate Pakistani interests; Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, seeing the writing on the wall that US withdrawal is unstoppable, while still hoping to secure a second term in office; Khalilzad pushing the reluctant Afghan government to fall in line with a Taliban deal, while also negotiating with the Taliban for an orderly US withdrawal, albeit with a weak hand; and the Taliban on a roll, sensing victory.

There are caveats galore. But the compass has been set.

   The US foreign policy regarding Iran is foolish.  Noam Chomsky analyzes the situation:

 

“The most dangerous immediate foreign policy crisis is the conflict with Iran, which has been deemed the official source of all evil. Iran must end its “aggression” and become a “normal country” — like Saudi Arabia, which is making rapid progress in Trump’s fantasy world, even “a great job in Saudi Arabia from the standpoint of women,” he explained at G20.

The charges against Iran resonate through the media echo chamber with little effort to assess the validity of the accusations — which hardly withstand analysis. Whatever one thinks of Iranian international behavior, by the miserable standards of U.S. allies in the region — not to speak of the U.S. itself — it is not much of a competitor in the rogue state derby.

In the real world, the U.S. unilaterally decided to destroy the well-functioning nuclear agreement (JCPOA), with ludicrous charges accepted by virtually no one with the slightest credibility, and to impose extremely harsh sanctions designed to punish the Iranian people and undermine the economy. The [U.S. government] also uses its enormous economic power, including virtual control of the international financial system, to compel others to obey Washington’s dictates. None of this has even minimal legitimacy; the same is true of Cuba and other cases. The world may protest — last November, the UN General Assembly once again condemned the U.S. embargo on Cuba, 189-2 (only the U.S. and Israel voted against the resolution). But in vain. The weird idea of the founders that one might have “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” has long vanished, and the pained bleatings of the world pass in silence. On Iran as well.

This is not the place to pursue the matter, but there is a good deal more to say about the U.S. specialty of resorting to sanctions (with extraterritorial reach) to punish populations — a form of “American exceptionalism” that finds its place within what Nick Turse calls “the American system of suffering” in his harrowing expose of the U.S. assault on the civilian population of South Vietnam. The right to engage in this malicious practice is accepted as normal in the U.S. doctrinal system, with little effort to analyze the actual motives in individual cases, the legitimacy of such policies, or in fact even their legality. Matters of no slight significance.

With regard to Iran, within the government-media doctrinal system, the only question that arises is whether the victim will respond in some way, maybe by “violating” the agreement that the U.S. has demolished, maybe by some other act. And if it does, it obviously will be deemed to deserve brutal punishment.

In commentary made by U.S. officials and media, Iran “violates” agreements. The U.S. merely “withdraws” from them. The stance is reminiscent of a comment by the great anarchist writer and Wobbly activist T-Bone Slim: “Only the poor break laws — the rich evade them.”

In a uncanny sort of way the slow motion failure of the US war effort in Afghanistan is a testament to the fiercely stubborn nature of our species. The US has total control of the air, real-time satellite imagery, and soldiers equipped with the best (and most expensive) military equipment known to our species. And yet, they continue to fail. The war in Afghanistan is almost two decades old now, and an favourable end for the West is unlikely.

The US, despite its world leadership, seems to learn little from it mistakes.  Vietnam remains a powerful lesson and reminder that ‘big guns, best tech’ military option is not a guarantee of victory.  The cost of resisting the US war machine is appalling, some two million(plus) dead, but Vietnam illustrated it is possible to resist.  Afghanistan is on a similar course.

This is what happens when a country decides to wage an unpopular war.  A disconnect grows between the citizens of the country and the political class that is waging the war.  A professional military bears the causalities with little coverage at home, so the war in question can fade out of the public consciousness.  Coupled with a lapdog media that should be exposing the tragedy of errors that is the Afghan war, little is said, and the boondoggle can continue.

Alfred McCoy reviews a small slice of the American failure in Afghanistan, focusing on the drug trade, that happens to fuel the Taliban and provide roughly 85% of the world’s heroin.  You’d think the biggest guns and the brightest minds could plot victory over a dirt poor nation and peasant farmers…

 

“Not only did this problematic drug war fail to curtail the traffic, but it also alienated the rural residents the government so desperately needed to win over. Worse yet, in the end it actually encouraged illicit opium production — a frequent outcome in Washington’s worldwide drug war that I once called “the stimulus of prohibition.”

Using sophisticated satellite imagery, Sopko’s team, for example, found a troubling disconnect between areas that received development aid from Washington or its allies and those that were subjected to opium eradication programs. In strategic Helmand and Nangarhar provinces, for instance, satellite photographs clearly reveal that the various drug eradication projects ripped through remote areas where “the population was highly dependent on opium poppy for its livelihoods,” rendering poor farmers destitute. The development aid was, however, lavished on more accessible, largely drug-free districts near major cities elsewhere in Afghanistan, leaving countless thousands of farmers in critical rural areas angry at the government and susceptible to Taliban recruitment.

Even liberal development alternatives to those rip-up-the-poppies programs, claims Sopko, only served to stimulate opium production in surprising ways. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for instance, spent $36 million on irrigation for a showcase Food Zone project, meant to promote the growing of legal crops in southern Kandahar Province. As it happened, though, this important infrastructure program actually turned out to contribute “to rising levels of opium poppy cultivation” — an unintended outcome that could be seen in similar “irrigation projects in provinces like Nangarhar, Badakhshan, and Kunar.”

Next door to Kandahar in central Helmand Province, another Food Zone program initially helped reduce the opium crop by 60%. But as British agronomist David Mansfield reports, by the spring of 2017 an “unprecedented” proliferation of poppies covered up to 40% of the farmland targeted by that project; guerrillas were back in force; and farmers felt, as one put it, that “the Taliban is better than the government; they don’t ban poppy, they just ask for tax.” By now, of course, given all the years of bungled anti-drug programs, Mansfield concludes that the Kabul government has little hope of wresting “back control of central Helmand.”

USAID programs that emphasized increased wheat production proved similarly counterproductive. “With higher-yielding varieties and improved agricultural technologies,” writes Sopko, “households in the well-irrigated central valleys of rural Afghanistan would be able to meet their family wheat requirements with a smaller part of their land,” allowing “a larger area… to be allocated to [the] high-value… opium poppy.”

An Uncertain Future

Corroborating Sopko’s pessimism, a recent report by Mujib Mashal of the New York Times depicted the worsening Afghan drug situation as the product, in part, of Washington’s failed policies. Fueled by a booming opium harvest, the Taliban has recently expanded from poppy growing into large-scale heroin production with an estimated 500 labs refining the drug inside Afghanistan — part of a strategy aimed at capturing a greater share of the $60 billion generated globally by the country’s drug exports.

Out of the whole opium eradication project, the National Interdiction Unit, an Afghan outfit trained by U.S. Special Forces, is more or less what’s left when it comes to hopes for reducing the traffic in drugs. Yet their nighttime helicopter interdiction raids on mobile, readily reconstructed heroin labs are proving futile and their chief, reports Mashal, was recently sacked for “probably leaking information to hostile forces.” U.S. military commanders now realize that local Taliban bosses, enriched by the heroin boom, have nothing to gain from further peace negotiations, which remain the only way of ending this endless war.

Meanwhile, the whole question of opium eradication has, according to Mashal, gotten surprisingly “little attention in the Trump administration’s new strategy for the Afghan war.” It seems that U.S. counter-narcotics officials have come to accept a new reality “with a sense of helplessness” — that the country now supplies 85% of the world’s heroin and there’s no end to this in sight.

So why has America’s ambitious $9 billion counter-narcotics program fallen into failure again and again? When such illegality corrupts a society as thoroughly as opium has Afghanistan, then drug trafficking comes to distort everything — giving even good programs bad outcomes and undoubtedly twisting Trump’s headstrong plans for victory into certain defeat.

Think of the never-ending war in Afghanistan as Washington’s drug of choice of these last 16 years.”

Most of you don’t know war.  I certainly do not know what war is.  Nick Turse reports on it, but like reporters, can leave and return to the relative safety of home.  But an Libyan citizen nails down what its like in just a few short sentences:  “I drive by myself. I don’t know where I’m going and don’t have any place to go. My life has stopped. This is the only way to keep moving, but I’m not going anywhere.”

Crushing.  Exhausting.  Existential dread and uncertainty in a decidedly untidy package – all part and parcel of what war is.

 

“One hundred and fifty years after Henry became the first civilian casualty of the Civil War, Libyans began dying in their own civil strife as revolutionaries, backed by U.S. and NATO airpower, ended the 42-year rule of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Before the year was out, that war had already cost an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 lives.  And the killing never ended as the country slid into permanent near-failed-state status. The current conflict, raging on Tripoli’s doorstep since April, has left more than 4,700 people dead or wounded, including at least 176 confirmed civilian casualties (which experts believe to be lower than the actual figure). All told, according to the United Nations, around 1.5 million people — roughly 24% of the country’s population — have been affected by the almost three-month-old conflict. 

“Heavy shelling and airstrikes have become all too common since early April,” said Danielle Hannon-Burt, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s office in Tripoli. “Fierce fighting in parts of Tripoli includes direct or indiscriminate attacks against civilians and their property. It also includes attacks against key electricity, water, and medical infrastructure essential for the survival of the civilian population, potentially putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk.”

In this century, it’s a story that has occurred repeatedly, each time with its own individual horrors, as the American war on terror spread from Afghanistan to Iraq and then on to other countries; as Russia fought in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere; as bloodlettings have bloomed from the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Sudan, from Myanmar to Kashmir. War watchers like me and like those reporters atop the Caravelle decades ago are, of course, the lucky ones. We can sit on the rooftops of hotels and listen to the low rumble of homes being chewed up by artillery. We can make targeted runs into no-go zones to glimpse the destruction. We can visit schools transformed into shelters. We can speak to real estate agents who have morphed into war victims.  Some of us, like Hedrick Smith, Michael Herr, or me, will then write about it — often from a safe distance and with the knowledge that, unlike Salah Isaid and most other civilian victims of such wars, we can always find an even safer place.

War has an all-consuming quality to it, which is at least part of what can make it so addictive for those blessed with the ability to escape it and so devastating to those trapped in it. A month of war had clearly worn Isaid down. He was slowly being crushed by it. 

In the middle of our conversation, he pulled me aside and whispered so his boys couldn’t hear him, “When I go to bed at night, all I can think is ‘What is going on? What does war have to do with me?’” He shook his head disbelievingly. Some days, he told me, he gets into his car and weaves his way through the traffic on the side of the capital untouched by shelling but increasingly affected by the war. “I drive by myself. I don’t know where I’m going and don’t have any place to go. My life has stopped. This is the only way to keep moving, but I’m not going anywhere.”

I kept moving and left, of course. Isaid and his family remain in Tripoli — homeless, their lives upended, their futures uncertain — pinned under the heavy weight of war. “

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