Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Link to the KGNU show on the Greek democratic uprising: further implications

Go to listings on the KGNU website here, hit Thursday, June 23, go to the show ”It’s the economy” at 6 pm and click the far speaker/horn symbol on the left. The interview with Thomas Ferguson occurs from 6:05 to around 6:20, the rest of the show is the interview and questions – often very interesting ones – with me.

In the questioning, one excellent point raised by Claudia was the danger, given the revolutionary situation in Greece, but little likelihood of an actual revolution, of fascism. Revolutions need leadership and there is no organization with mass support intent on that at the moment (the leftist groups want new elections; the mass movement is far beyond them in mounting nonviolent resistance to the government's auterity policies). Still, these are new circumstances and substantial reforms may come about in such a situation rather than a military coup. Consider the aftermath of May 68 in France, no revolution, but no fascism either {gradually, some educational and other reforms and greater inclusiveness of women and gays in politics). R Palme Dutt’s Fascism and Social Revolution (1934) was resonant on the European situation following the Russian Revolution – mass uprisings which do not overthrow the elite lead to fascism in Italy, Germany, Spain and illuminates Chile in 1973 and perhaps Greece (the post-World War II civil war, the 1967 military coup, though no intense uprising from below in the 60s). Dutt mirrored Marx's 18the Brumaire of Louis Napoleon after the suppression of the June uprising in 1848 and a democratic-socialist (Montagnard) peasant insurrection in 1851 (see my Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens, ch 10). But in different international circumstances, there is no single path, no "inevitability" of fascism...

As I emphasized in the interview, a fascist movement against immigrants in the streets of Athens (fascists wrecking a store owned by a Pakistani, see here and here) and considerable racism toward outsiders endangers Greece. (The Greeks have suffered racism from the Ottoman empire, and even their celebrated status in the origins of Europe, as is also, though perhaps less obviously the case with Spain, does not prevent a certain Germanic disdain for them; those who display racism toward others reveal their bad feelings about themselves, their inability to grasp and deal with their own disregard by more powerful others). Militarism, however, is much less a factor in Greece than in the 1960s, Greece less dependent than in the Cold War or American military “protection," bases and arm sales (not that the US is not still pushing weapons on Greece). So an authoritarian alternative does not loom in Greece.

But the reverse of the medal, which I didn’t speak to, is striking. America became a police state, in many respects, under the Bush-Cheney administration, and Obama has now adopted and/or strengthened many aspects of authoritarian rule, for instance, the not constitutionally declared and now Congressionally rejected war on Libya – see Greenwald here; Obama’s claimed authority to murder an American citizen not on the field of battle and without a trial (the Awlaki case); increasing secrecy about and persecution of whistleblowers (fortunately, Wikileaks did great and perhaps permanent damage to the American empire, helping to spark Arab spring in Egypt…). Initially, Obama commendably moved away from torture – but now General Petraeus, head of the CIA, testified Friday that perhaps torture is useful. See below. This merging of the military and intelligence under Petraeus’ leadership further undermines already weakened civilian rule (the military often gets its way – the escalation of the extended Afghanistan occupation being a prize example of their murderous and futile influence – except in the rare case of torture where it initially stood up for decency against tyrannical civilian leadership and lost). Petraeus now aims, perhaps in 2016, to become the tyrant…

That the US now has a budget of some $704 billion (the 2009 figure) for the Pentagon and $60 billion for the State Department, roughly 12 times as much, is a sign of how militaristic, in Martin Luther King’s terms, the United States is. Petraeus' shaping of the CIA in a possible Obama second term is a useful step (removed from the disaster he has presided over in Afghanistan) in his becoming a Presidential candidate in 2016. While not lording it over Congress so obviously as Bush, Obama has also, in important respects, extended the American movement toward a police state. What Cheney did was to bend the stick far in the direction of tyranny (Bush is a murderous but weak and pathetic man, Cheney smart in bureaucratic terms, really crazy and determined for 30 years to install anti-Constitutional, anti-democratic, unchecked executive power…). Whether America can be returned to the rule of law was one great question of the Obama administration.

The answer seems to be negative and more pronouncedly so, as time goes on.

In this context, the democratic revolt in Madison, and learning from Arab spring in Egypt and Tunisia, as I emphasize in the interview, is crucial if America, a great power in its decadence and decline, is not to destroy the world (throgh global warming and the poisoning of vast territories through unending war, gradally extinguishing the conditions for human life on the planet).

The second issue stems from Ferguson’s interview. A contradiction in his position is his too narrow insistence that money rules politics and one could thus tell that Obama was no good because of the money invested in him by powerful corporations and banks. There is some truth in this assertion obviously; the appointment of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and reliance on Goldman Sachs is clear in many of Obama’s policies, as is health reform – Affordable Care – without a public option that would make it affordable...Universal health care is a third of the cost in Canada and France and Cuba and with better outcomes in healing than privatized American health care.

In contradiction, however, Ferguson also notes that the US elite has to do something about climate change. What he means by this is that the ruling class, the investors, cannot sink money into ignoring this without, very likely, destroying human life on the planet and by the way, conditions for their profit-making. Thus, Al Gore has spent his public career crusading on this - see his "Climate of Denial" in Rolling Stone here (h/t Chris Tranchetti) - and many in the elite, including Obama. realize the danger.

The ruling class is divided. The war complex is not its only source of income, and even it is not always unified or without conflict. Thus, the other big question for the Obama Presidency is whether a new New Deal is possible in America. Instead of a financial casino, industries related to the military (yet even the manufacturing of weapons-parts in mostly done elsewhere), education and health, perhaps America could resume manufacturing and industry. Perhaps it could pioneer green energy. Competition to be a great power will pivot around this issue in the 21st century. Those who work on this (China and Germany, for example) are likely to flourish.

In The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones has eloquently depicted the link between racism, growing inequality and industrial stagnancy. In its place, he envisions green productivity and Obama was listening to him. But when Glenn Beck went after Jones, Obama promptly gave him up. Obama seeks mainly to be President – a better President than recent ones – and not a transformative one. He does occasionally look toward history as the Times has underlined recently about his moves finally to support gay rights (the Times rightly editorializes yesterday that Obama needs to advocate gay marriage). But Obama realizes that extension of basic liberties and opposition to persecution marks what is decent in America.

Except for the stimulus (no money spent on the Pentagon, a lot for green projects), however, Obama has not articulated and fought for this new direction in the economy. But Keysianism and financing of research applied to making America green is as promising future for the American elite as the New Deal (preventing revolution from below) and opposition to Hitler once were.

A green economy is not socialism or communism. It will not save the world from further American wars, though as Obama's somewhat tepid turn in Afghanistan indicates, it could - amplified by a movement from below - be connected to a less aggressive, less murderous of civilians and less militarist policy in the United States. Sadly, even in that case, drones are a low cost in terms of troops, far away, "video game" method of murdering civilians which Obama has advanced far beyond the Bush stage…. Yet even now, American auto manufacturers, as with the Chevy Volt, are turning toward better hybrid or electrical cars… The difference over the green economy, in the elite, points to a productive, decent (saving the planet) comparatively less discriminatory at home, and relatively promising democratic regime as opposed to a police state.

Civil disobedience from below – an American “spring,” extending Madison, to learn from and spark a deeper Arab spring, as well as mirroring the Greek and Spanish indignados – can also push the elite in this direction (destruction of collective bargaining for public employees and the minimum wage are all part of the alternate, police state direction). A green economy, curbing militarism and sustaining and rebuilding unions, are important reforms, ones well short of social revolution and possible here. That this green alternative will win, however, as opposed to moneyed fascism, more wars and occupations, the breaking of unions and the crushing of most Americans, is not obvious.

In the interview, I emphasize two other hopeful developments. In response to my piece on the Greek revolt, Sonia-Skakich Scrima wrote me a very good letter on how elections no longer make a difference in Europe. Illustrated by Papandreou and PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Party in Greece) promising to mitigate austerity in the 2009 campaign and then enforcing even more extreme oppression, the elite bipartisanly pushes impoverishment for the Greek people; the rich contribute nothing. Both parties, the Socialists in the lead, seek to “prevent default” by imposing a new regime in which until age 25, no one can make more than 500 euros a month….

On Thursday, however, Samaras, the leader of the Conservatives and likely next prime minister, announced that he would not go along with the cuts (he said it was better to default). That is entirely a result of democratic pressure from below from Greek workers and students. Syntagma Square in Athens, where the protests of 50,000 and more are now more than three weeks old, and on June 15 beat back for a time the government's policies, should go down with Tahrir Square in Cairo as a symbol of what any demos, including the American, sparked by Madison, might do…

If the Greek democracy stops the elite – and Samaras’s sudden and fearful shift indicates the possibility – real change in the direction of decency is possible.

Similarly in America, the imperial, police state reactionaries, led by Mccain, are baying for more wars. But suddenly, the followers of Ron and Rand Paul, libertarians who believe in Ayn Rand (sociopaths) domestically and hate any government compassion for the poor (Scrooges and in Rand Paul’s case, even an opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights act) are troubled about the costs of unending war, the emergence of anti-Constitutonal executive tyranny, and oppose Libya (one might say sarcastically: it is only the very rare war which had a decent moral beginning which the Republicans finally oppose – see here – but the emergence of their opposition (that Ron Paul now has a following about this), coupled with anti-War democrats like Dennis Kucinich and the Progressive Caucus in the House circumvented Obama from legalizing the Libyan "intervention" last Friday. This is a hopeful possibility.

Enmity (the US government's use of drones and the callousness of war, the butchery of innocents – see John Tirman, The Death of Others: the fate of civilians in America’s wars) makes new enemies for ordinary Americans daily, and is linked to depression here. That is what these Republicans, Ron Paul in the lead, recognize. This wakening anti-war setiment among conservatives (returning to conservativism rather than imperial authoritarianism a la Strauss and the neo-cons) is a genuine threat to the war complex, which depends on a unified political component (executive aggression and tyranny, however, still have the Democratic and Republican House leadership behind it). With pressure from below, as is also evident in Afghanistan where 2/3 of Americans want the troops out now, this crack, as Arab spring and Greece have revealed , may over time unleash a flood…

Andrew Sullivan 24 Jun 2011 02:44 PM

"More Than Normal Techniques"

Petraeus resurrected the ticking time-bomb scenario while giving testimony:
Petraeus said "there should be discussion ... by policymakers and by Congress" about something "more than the normal techniques." Petraeus... described an example of a detainee who knows how to disarm a nuclear device set to explode under the Empire State Building.

Ackerman fears the general has re-opened the door to torture:

Petraeus hardly reversed course and endorsed torture. But there are many Republicans in Congress who thought Obama made a big mistake by banning it. If Congress revisits the interrogation debate at Petraeus’ behest, torture might very well return to U.S. interrogations.

Greg Sargent extends Petraeus's logic:

By endorsing torture in this “special circumstance,” Petraeus has implicitly conceded two things—that torture is so effective that it might be of use in an extraordinary circumstance, and that it’s morally defensible. Neither of those things happens to be true—and previously, Petraeus had made that clear.


Matt Daloisio of Witness against Torture sent the following report of activists standing up and speaking out in the gallery of the House of Representatives:

"While the US House of Representatives chamber filled for a vote today at 4:40pm, Representatives' eyes and ears turned toward the Chamber's gallery as a group of activists interrupted proceedings to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison and denounce provisions in the Defense Appropriations Bill concerning detention policy.

Fifteen people from the group Witness Against Torture stood in the gallery to read the following statement:

'Today the House of Representative is in the process of contemplating not the passage of a bill but the commission of a crime. Provisions in the proposed Defense Appropriations Bill grant the United States powers over the lives of detained men fitting of a totalitarian state that uses the law itself as an instrument of tyranny. The law would make the prison at Guantanamo permanent by denying funds for the transfer of men to the United States, even for prosecution in civilian courts.

Abandoning the civilian courts, the bill would be the ultimate concession that the rule of law and cherished American values cannot survive the fear and hatred that have consumed this country. The proposed bill makes restrictions on the transfer of detainees even to foreign countries so severe that no one — whether cleared for release by our own government or acquitted in trials — could be expected to leave Guantanamo. It therefore mandates the indefinite detention even of innocent human beings, which is the very essence of tyranny. Congress has an obligation to uphold the US Constitution. All Americans have the obligation to defend human rights. The proposed bill makes America a callous and reckless jailer, unworthy of the name of democracy. It must be defeated.

Guantanamo must close. Those unjustly bound must be freed. Justice must rule.'

The activists were removed from the gallery by the police and placed under arrest. They will likely appear for arraignment in District of Columbia Superior Court on Friday.

Earlier today, before entering the House chamber, members of Witness Against Torture, the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC), Amnesty International and other groups embarked on a March of Shame, walking between the institutions in Washington DC that continue to be responsible for unjust, illegal, and immoral American policies and conduct.

Beginning at the White House at 11am, the anti-torture activists, dressed in the orange jumpsuits and black hoods that are now emblematic of the policies of torture and abuse that the Obama administration inherited from President George W. Bush and has further entrenched, solemnly proceeded to the Department of Justice, the Supreme Court, and the Capitol.

The demonstrators called on all branches of government to close Guantanamo, end indefinite detention, repudiate the Military Commissions, and resist any effort to reauthorize torture in the form of “enhanced interrogations.” The procession took place as the House of Representatives is dealing with a version of the 2012 defense appropriations bill that undermines US Federal Courts, keeps Guantanamo open, and attempts to expand indefinite detention.

Witness Against Torture vigiled at the Department of Justice on Friday (6/24) from noon to 2pm. These demonstrations were part of a week of activities organized by the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International, culminating in a vigil in front of the White House on Saturday, June 25th from 7am to 7pm.

Witness Against Torture demands:

Close the prison at Guantánamo Bay;

Free all prisoners who have been cleared for release, ensuring their safe resettlement and providing asylum in the U.S. for those unable to go elsewhere;

Produce charges against all other prisoners and prosecute them in U.S. courts;

Open all detention centers to outside scrutiny. That includes accepting the oversight of the International Committee of the Red Cross of all facilities; and

Conduct a comprehensive criminal inquiry against all those who designed and carried out torture policies under the Bush administration.

Witness Against Torture

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