This announcement in the New York Times today may excite some people, but if you have any grasp of the perfidy that subsumes our banking and financial system, you will need to throw notions of meaningful, structural reform out the window with this candidate. Mr. Bloomberg, is, no doubt, a dedicated public servant and a self-made man, starting his company with $10 million received in a settlement after the acquisition of Salomon Brothers in the early 80's. He has created a large and successful, profitable, privately held company. Some would say, he made his money the old-fashioned way, played by the rules and delivered a valuable set of technologies and services to a rapidly growing financial sector in need of innovation. He has also done some very important philanthropy work domestically and internationally and is a man of serious talent and political acumen.
However, there is a school of thought which posits that our financial system is a virtuous dynamo that despite its flaws, serves mankind well. Quixotic storytelling and analogies abound to offer justification....we just need to tweak it and we'll get it right. A deeper study, in my view, reveals that this is errant rationalization for a broken and irrational system, which actually serves a few well and is unable, due to its inherent logic, to manage the problem of scarcity, one that plagues mankind more seriously every day. Historical cycles of debt bubbles with privatization of profits and socialization of debt, a trend of dropping wages and soaring profits with the finance sector enabling the export of jobs and the creation of profitable debt instruments (like the current student debt bubble on the back of the mortgage bubble) are commonplace. This is not simply the result of poor management, rather it is an inherent characteristic of our economic system. Public Radio devotes hours of publicly paid air time to shows like Market Place, combining hipster-millenial cool-speak with news of financial markets, when in fact the large mass of the citizens who pay for public radio have no meaningful participation in it. This can be seen on public television as well, where the Koch Brothers and other billionaires have become patrons, narrowing the range of perspective that can be offered to the public. You will find no challenge or critical analysis, (save the occasional Front Line piece after a crisis), on our publicly owned airwaves.
The notion of "free markets" and the "natural" process of capital flows are anything but their namesakes, yet these disguised notions are so ingrained in our minds that we skip over the deep contradictions of our economic system; one that is largely based on corporate socialism. If socialism is to be used as a pejorative in the public square, let's first be clear about definitions and study the nature of it in its massive corporate form: guaranteed corporate subsidies, protectionist trade-renamed "free," grotesque tax loopholes, war profiteering, deregulation of the banking system with the public burden of paying down private debt falling on the backs of taxpayers during the bust end of a business cycle. All the while the profits, taxed at very low rates and sometimes not at all, go into private pockets during the booms. The European Union embraced our "magic" and the results speak for themselves. On the other hand, as long as the US commands reserve currency status around the world, the political system is unlikely to feel the pressure that should arise from the long suffering of a debt-laden population, working their asses off just to stay above water while scratching their heads at more wars and huge profits as corporate our media continues to sell fear with the defense sector that pervades almost all congressional districts doing their part to drive the juggernaut.
The choices we have in national politics are of grave concern to many, and it is easy to see a "moderate" entering the race as a breath of fresh air, but let us be careful about what the word moderate really means during these times and what more status quo in the financial sector is likely to bring, or not bring. Could Mr. Bloomberg defy conventional wisdom and bite the hand that has fed him over three decades? Anything is possible, but we need to look deeper before placing our bets.
The notion that Mr. Bloomberg is prepared to take on a program of restructuring our banking system seems a leap of fancy. We have arrived at a peculiar place in history, where history itself may offer no guide. The questions that come to mind for this writer are those posed in Plato's Republic, where we attempt to extol the virtues of the trusted philosopher king in leading a great republic. It is possible that we have reached a point where we are simply too big to govern (California alone is the 7th largest economy in the world). Having a self-financed billionaire win the presidency is certainly not a trend toward greater democratization of our idealized republic.
Americans are given, from time to time, an
inside look at what kind of thinking dominates the inner circles of our foreign
policy establishment. The locus of this esteemed discourse can often be found
at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank whose policy positions are
often conflated by corporate media with those of the US State Department. Anyone
who has followed the COFR will realize that the conflation is not necessarily
inaccurate. Richard Haas, the Council's president for more than a decade; a
former State Department official and advisor to Colin Powell, can be seen on
Sunday TV talk shows where Washington insiders give their thoughtful views on
the foreign policy crises of the day. While modest criticism of official US
policy may be found in these exchanges, Haas will never deviate very far from
the positions taken by the State Department.
Haas's thinking has been consistent for years
and is underpinned by the policy theory of neoliberalism as articulated by
Joseph Nye, political scientist, distinguished professor and author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World
several other works, which articulate what Nye understands to be the
necessities of American leadership in the world. Nye has also served as a board
member of the COFR.
At the heart of Nye's
thinking is the notion that the expansion and liberalization of world markets will
bring democratization to underdeveloped areas of the world, thereby spreading
normative behaviors that comport with the rules of a colossal US-centered
economic and political system, provided that such participation is seen as
attractive to potential new comers. At the center of this system is the US
dollar as reserve currency, with Wall Street and the City of London acting as
financial recycling mechanisms and the IMF serving as the enforcer of doctrinal
standards for new entrants and financially struggling mendicant countries who
have entered the club but for various reasons struggle to stay in, often at the
cost of their own sovereignty (Greece is a recent example).
Part and parcel to the
continued expansion of this world order is the control
and regulation of oil and gas markets with both economic and military
power. The necessity of this last formulation has been largely unwritten but
has been clearly embedded in absolute terms within US foreign policy for
decades. The Iraq war, which Haas supported, has been its magnum opus.
To his great credit, Nye in
2004 offered a clear picture of the limitations of US power with regard to
abating the tide of Wahhabi terrorism through military means. In Soft
Power he makes a comparison of Britain's failure to extend it's
political and moral influence to US supporters of the IRA during The Troubles:
funds continued to flow to the IRA from the US and Britain failed in its war
against it. He offered a prescient view of this problem in the Middle East:
"This is similar to the problem the U.S.
now faces with Saudi support and financing of Wahhabi clerics who preach
intolerance and hatred for the West and for other Muslim sects, and who now
evangelize their noxious creed throughout the Muslim world. The War on Terror
is to a significant extent a war against this Wahhabi creed - although it
increasingly involves many Muslims who are not of that sect. It is a war that
the U.S. can powerfully influence, but it is a civil war within the Muslim
world. Moderate Muslims are the only ones who can defeat this Wahhabi creed and
the various other Muslim militants." (Soft
Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, 2004).
What is missing from Nye's
cogent analysis is a frame of reference that allows us to look critically at US
state-directed economic policy toward energy extraction that places access to
oil above human rights and actual democratization. The US is not alone in
managing the dangerous contradictions embedded in such an imperative: China has
learned to master the art well and Russia, through state control, has helped
drive the trend forward by aggressively attempting to co opt a larger portion
of the supply side of the equation in emerging markets.
One might be forgiven for
failing to address the contradiction that the "free market" requires
massive state interventions in order to maintain energy supplies without regard
to human rights and democratic development, when ideology is based on the
foundation of neoliberalism. But we must look beyond these inadequate
formulations. The implementation of neoliberal economic policies as
determined by the IMF has been met with resistance in many parts of the world
and most recently in the United States with the leaking of chapters from the
secretly negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP is emblematic
of the "normative behavior" that is required to spread neoliberal
policies: avoiding plebiscite while developing extralegal contracts between
trade representatives (countries) and multi-national corporations without parliamentary procedure, congressional
input or debate. In short, normative behavior means acting on major
policy decisions that affect civil society at large, but without
its involvement and without transparency. This is nowhere more clear than in US
policy toward oil extraction in the middle east. It is not a simple matter of
the US needing oil for its domestic economy: domestic oil drilling and gas
extraction has changed this equation, with the US becoming significantly less
reliant on Saudi oil. Rather, it is that the continued flow of oil from
the Middle East is necessary for Europe and other parts of the world, where
major world economies purchase oil in petrodollars. These dollars need to
be invested in secure instruments and at scale, for several reasons. Wall
Street, with the City of London as surrogate, keeps its dollar funnel open to
the world, creating a financial dynamo that has driven financial market
expansion to dizzying heights.
While some see the US Empire in decline, the
fact is that the US maintains the reserve currency of the world and the Fed and
US Treasury are adept at maintaining this financial hegemony through monetary
policy. Panitch and Gindin, in The
Making of Global Capitalism, (Verso Books, 2012) have superbly documented
this long and successful history.
A problem with
such purportedly liberalizing policies is that they not only
disregard popular will and democratic process, but also undermine
national sovereignty. Who managed the 2008 financial crisis? It was not
the president and it was not the US Congress: it was unelected officials at the
Fed and the Treasury. Who manages trade policy? TPP makes it clear:
Multinational corporations and trade representatives determine national
economic and trade policy that directly affects the lives of millions of
unsuspecting and unrepresented people. This is quite the opposite of democracy
and in practice represents the kind of soft fascism that Ralph Nader
has described in his more recent work. Nye and Haas are not the creators
of this extralegal superstructure, which has existed in some form since
the establishment of Bretton Woods in 1944, but they are its current
intellectual water boys.
It is in this context that we should understand
the recent communiqués coming from the COFR, which is now publicly weighing in
on the current crisis that is on most people's minds: Paris and the recent
terrorist attacks carried out by members or affiliates of ISIS, the composite
terror organization that was given birth by the extended and disastrous Iraq
In her November 20th column in Foreign Policy,
Rosa Brooks, the distinguished law professor at Georgetown University, offers
her input to the prestigious journal in an article that uses the internet
pop-up ad format of "10 things you didn't know about..." to give the
public a dose of reality on the limits of US power with regard to ending
international terrorism. To uncover the narrowness within which current policy
thinking is apparently being made, it is necessary to follow and deconstruct the
answer-by-number bullets that Ms. Brooks offers in Reader's Digest format:
1. No one can keep the bad guys out. This statement has little
value and seems to serve as a way to obscure questioning of the underlying
causes of conflict, as if to say "get used to it, there is nothing we can
do to stop it." Tactically speaking, the US, in fact, has very strong
border screening processes: but what about the massive increase
in numbers of very young, uneducated "bad guys" that are swelling the
ranks of ISIS?
2. The threat is already inside. True for the EU.
France has its own problematic legacy with the Maghreb and dispossession
and lack of assimilation of Muslim peoples. The screening processes are also
not as good as we have in the US. Ironically, in the US, the "inside"
threat has come mostly from white, right-winger "Christians" and
though this has been statistically born out, it is ignored by corporate media
and apparently by Ms. Brooks.
3. More surveillance won't rid us of terrorism. It would be odd for this writer
to defend the Surveillance State, but even the most rogue operators of it,
like James Clapper, have never suggested it would end terrorism. To the
extent that it is used to support drone warfare with its insufferable
collateral damage, we can even see how the Surveillance State contributes to
4. Defeating ISIS won't make terrorism go away. This is a veritable
straw man. A germane question regarding the rise of ISIS and its related variants
pertains to how the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq has spread Sunni-Shia civil war
to Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. That ISIS exists now and what to do about it is
another topic that involves the hard work of multilateral and sustained
negotiations, not simply US-led military force. If the Sunnis of Iraq were not
disenfranchised, perhaps the Iraqi people could defeat the ISIS insurgency
within their own borders. Current policy gives no indication that the US
is seriously trying to bring power sharing and democratization about.
5. Terrorism still remains a minor threat,
statistically speaking. Well, not if you consider the bombing and killing of
civilians in Gaza, Yemen, Southern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo,
South Sudan and many other places where the thing categorized as
"war" has created dispossession, suffering and death on a massive
scale. Earlier this year, Boko Haram murdered 2,000 civilians in Baga, northern
Nigeria, but no alarm or coloring of Facebook profiles with the Nigerian flag
was forthcoming. "Terror" is seen from the eyes of the victim and its
asymmetrical form is over determined by these ongoing conflicts. One version
of terror is the bombing and killing of unsuspecting civilians by drone attack.
"A minor threat, statistically speaking."
6. Meanwhile poorly planned Western action could make things
this is redundant, isn't it?
7. Terrorism is a problem to be managed. Here we see a vision
proffered from within the most opaque and narrow blinders. This also
seems to be the view of the COFR at large, whose frame of reference is
calibrated by the assumed necessity of promoting and extending neoliberal
capitalism and IMF policy to every corner of the earth while making the
assumption that its negative effects - terrorism among them - simply need to be
"managed." This is statism at its most arrogant. This viewpoint
precludes its advocates from stepping outside of the neoliberalismo worldview
and offering a critical analysis of the whole paradigm. To wit: since changing
US-centered economic and concomitant military policy is impossible, lets not
even discuss alternative means for bringing an end to the causal forces that
underlie terrorist movements.
9. To do this, however, we need to move beyond the political
posturing that characterizes most public debates about counterterrorism, and
instead speak honestly about the costs and benefits of different approaches. And of course,
this is elaborated with "we need to be hardheaded." The focus is then
put on investing more in counterterrorism research, while avoiding deeper
questions regarding the effects of American foreign policy in the name of
"freedom." This is of course, similar to the Netanyahu world view: we
are morally right and we need to manage the discontent and strife that arises
from our policies by any means necessary, twisting international law to conform
to those means, because our aims are just. This allows no room for deeper
reflection on the underlying contradictions of state-sponsored neoliberal
economic policy and its manifestation in globalization, inequality and terrorism. This kind of selective
exceptionalism is exactly what needs to be challenged and reconsidered.
of unintended consequences has been at work as a countervailing factor in US
foreign policy for decades as was seen in the US-sponsored rise of the Shah and
the subsequent Iranian Revolution; in the Viet Nam War that was followed by the
Khmer Rouge and in the Iraq War, which has unleashed the worst strife in the
Middle East in modern times.
American people really need a list of "get used to it" points from
our leading foreign policy think tank?
We can do
Brooks's full column in Foreign Policy, here.
While a number of strident public critics in corporate media and Washington politics have suggested that Pope Francis should stay out of politics and stop criticizing various US policies, it is rather impossible to separate the moral admonitions of
the Pope from politics. Politics determines policy and policy reflects the morality of societies. The pontiff's harshest
criticism seems reserved for capitalism, as it actually exists.He does not favor a political party.We often speak of capitalism as if it exists according
to the romanticized and now distorted images co opted from the writings of Adam
Smith and David Ricardo, men who wrote centuries ago and at a time when
corporations as we know them did not exist and when British and European “trade”
activity was based on mercantilism, artisanal entrepreneurs and tradesmen. When
Smith referred to the coincidentally benevolent “silent hand” effecting mutual
benefit amongst citizens, he was referring to these kinds of individuals and
not large mega corporations, which did not exist in his time except for the
likes of the East India Company of which he was harshly critical for its
monopolistic power and brutal tactics in foreign lands.Many “conservatives” like to quote Adam Smith
but in a way that makes it apparent that they haven’t actually read his work,
or have done so selectively.
What the Pope seems to understand at a fundamental level is
that the thing we call capitalism today is anything but the world envisioned by
Smith, or that the “market” is in any way free and therefore benevolent or benign, by
intent or otherwise.When trade
agreements are negotiated in secret, out of public and even congressional view, how can we justly call this free trade?Free
for whom?When the three largest arms
producers in the world are US companies and virtually all of their profits are
attributable to US taxpayers, how is this free market capitalism?When these arms are sold to brutal regimes,
like the one in Egypt, in power by virtue of coup d’états, or Saudi Arabia, an
extremist fiefdom promoting Wahhabism and genocide against Shia’s, how can this
be seen by the Pope as anything other than government sponsored brutality?
The Catholic Church, despite the story of Galileo, has a rather
decent record on the embrace of science in the modern era and this Pope recognizes
the urgency that overwhelming scientific evidence has brought to bear with
regard to global warming and climate change.When fossil fuel companies dominate energy markets, are given massive
taxpayer subsidies and licenses to drill on public lands, driving ever more CO2 into our only atmosphere, how is this rational
public policy? How does this serve the public trust and how is it remotely based on free market economics?
When the US surrounds Iran, a country with
military technology based on the Shah era, with 14 military bases and supplies
massive arms to its most bitter enemies, the Saudis (and Egypt, Oman, Qatar and
Bahrain), who have promoted Wahhabi and Salafist extremism intent on wiping out
Shia Islam, how is this furthering democracy, peace and brotherhood? How is it rational
and peace-seeking on the part of the US when all of the non-aligned nations of the world and
the P5+1 countries support the Iranian Multilateral Nuclear agreement and
accept the IAEA’s assessments (and the US Intelligence Estimate) and findings,
but the US Congress and influential “hawks” wish to scuttle it, raising the
specter of war?
The Pope is from Latin America and knows its history
well.A question he might ask: why is it
that the US Congress and leading presidential candidates propose building
gargantuan border walls and the undertaking of massive deportations of illegal
immigrants, many of whom were refugees fleeing from Honduras where a
democratically elected government was overthrown by a military coup in
2009?How is it that the Latin American
countries, the European Union and the UN condemned the coup, but the US didn’t
and went even further and embraced the new military dictatorship, which then
undertook a violent campaign of oppression, driving farmers off of working land
and creating a massive refugee crisis, landing thousands at our southern border?
The Pope will know well the effects of the US War on Drugs in
Latin American countries.He sees our
massive demand for drugs and our poverty-generated markets for them and the
criminalization of non-violent, drug-related activities in the poorest neighborhoods
of the US, which has swelled our prisons, creating a new government-driven private,
(but not free) market for prison management, with taxpayers bearing the cost of
building the prisons and paying the tab for private contractors.We now jail 2.5 million people, the largest
number in absolute value terms in the world.The Pope may also question why the US, unilaterally and brutally, has
imposed an embargo on Cuba for over 50 years, while the rest of the world and
all of Latin America has condemned it.On this front, even large capitalist enterprises in the US have for
years called for the lifting of the embargo.
For those who wish to blame the GOP for all of these
tragedies – and they deserve plenty of blame – please do not allow the plank to
rest in your eye and ignore the complicity of the Democrats in all of
this.These are not new problems.They have developed over decades and across
presidential administrations and congresses and the unraveling of them will not
occur on our behalf by those in power whose campaign coffers are filled by
powerful special interest groups.We
are, in the literal sense, living in an empire and this Pope knows it.Private power is feeding at the public trough
and our government policies, unsurprisingly, reflect these interests.
If the Pope accomplishes one thing outside of the Catholic
Church proper, it may be that he opens our eyes to the human and moral
consequences of our government’s policies, its misuse of its citizens money by
spending 54 cents of every tax dollar on the military (that we know of), its
allowance of companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Apple and GE to store
billions of untaxed dollars abroad, the forcing of its citizens to underwrite
the moral hazard of ridiculously large banks and their executive’s bonuses in
the name of “liquidity,” increasing the already staggering wealth of those who make money on capital, but not of working people and the poor, its perpetual militarism, which has destabilized an
entire region of the world, bringing death and suffering to millions of
innocents and the creation of massive refugee crises, all the while having 25%
of the world’s prison population jailed inside of its borders and over a half a
million people living homeless on the streets if its great cities.
It is instructive that the Pope, when addressing today's joint session of Congress, offered these great Americans for thoughtful consideration: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Blessed are the peacemakers. "Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade." - Pope Francis, Address to the joint session of Congress, September 24, 2015
Woodrow Wilson, five months into his presidency and after having
run on an anti-war platform, plunged America into the great catastrophe of
World War I. Different historical narratives exist regarding that decision.
Wilson eventually mustered 4,800,000 US soldiers into service, 2,800,000 of
them by draft, after a nationwide campaign undertaken with a new public
propaganda tool, the Committee on Public Information, created by Wilson with
the help of journalist George Creel.
One effect of the war was a shortage of labor in the
industrial north of the United States. A great migration of southern blacks
took place to the large cities of the north to fill jobs on the railroads and
in factories. At the end of the war, amidst a mass demobilization of US troops
and a reduction in armaments manufacturing, came unemployment. What had been a
shortage of labor was now a surplus. Coincident with these events were the
Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which had taken place in 1917, and new black
civil rights activism in the US in the wake of Marcus Garvey, the 10-year-old
NAACP and other organizations and the new prominence of important black
intellectuals, artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Many politicians and newspapers treated activists as
enemies of the state by conflating the emergent black civil rights movement
with Bolshevism. The New York Times was amongst the worst offenders with a July
28, 1919 headline titled “REDS TRY TO STIR NEGROES TO REVOLT; Widespread
Propaganda on Foot Urging Them to Join I.W.W. and 'Left Wing' Socialists.”
At the end of the war, suspicion of an ascendant Germany was being replaced by
the “red scare.” While politicians, carnival barkers and reckless newspaper
media promoted this hysteria, tensions were breaking out between whites and
blacks as black communities were placed in a state of siege by mob attacks on
the part of jobless whites, Klan members and their sympathizers. From opened
archives we know that Woodrow Wilson in private conversation, stated, “the
American Negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying
bolshevism to America,” a direct reference to men who had just served their
country in the deadliest war of the modern era. (See Cameron McWhirter, Red
It can also be noted that this was the era of the racist, pro-KKK film
"Birth of a Nation" by Wilson's friend and cinematographer, D.W.
Griffith. Wilson invited his cabinet and close friends to the White House for a
private screening of the film.
In the summer of 1919 riots broke out with white mobs
attacking blacks, but unlike past eras, many blacks resisted and fought back.
Even in Washington DC, where President Wilson maintained racially segregated
federal offices, violence erupted after repeated attacks on black homes,
against individuals on streetcars, and in workplaces elsewhere in the city. The
DC Police refused to intervene. The NAACP sent a telegram to President Wilson,
condemning the attacks and urging intervention. As the attacks went unabated,
riots broke out.
Lynching would go on for a number of years. The Red Scare
would continue. Newspapers, the mass media of the day, would continue to carry
water for those promoting hysteria and attacking the labor and civil rights
movements, while brave souls of American history forged new paths.
"She says, You can’t repeat the past. I say, You
can’t? What do you mean, you can’t? Of course you can.'” - Bob Dylan, Summer