More musicians are taking aim at the rates paid by Spotify and Pandora, and warning whole genres are in danger

It’s not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

It's not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

David Byrne, Thom Yorke (Credit: Reuters/Hugo Correia/AP/Chris Pizzello/Photo collage by Salon)

After years in which tech-company hype has drowned out most other voices, the frustration of musicians with the digital music world has begun to get a hearing. We know now that many rockers don’t like it. Less discussed so far is the trouble jazz and classical musicians — and their fans — have with music streaming, which is being hailed as the “savior” of the music business.

But between low royalties, opaque payout rates, declining record sales and suspicion that the major labels have cut deals with the streamers that leave musicians out of the equation, anger from the music business’s artier edges is slowing growing. It’s further proof of the lie of the “long tail.” The shift to digital is also helping to isolate these already marginalized genres: It has a decisive effect on what listeners can find, and on whether or not an artist can earn a living from his work. (Music streaming, in all genres, is up 42 percent for the first half of this year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, against the first half of 2013. Over the same period, CD sales fell 19.6 percent, and downloads, the industry’s previous savior, were down 11.6 percent.)

Only a very few classical artists have been outspoken on the issue so far: San-Francisco-based Zoe Keating — a tech-savvy, DIY, Amanda Palmer of the cello — has blown the whistle on the tiny amounts the streaming services pay musicians. Though she’s exactly the kind of artist who should be cashing in on streaming, since she releases her own music, tours relentlessly, and has developed a strong following since her days with rock band Rasputina, only 8 percent of  her last year’s earnings from recorded music came from streaming. The iTunes store, which pays out in small amounts since most purchases are for 99 cent songs, paid her about six times what she earned from streaming. (More than 400,000 Spotify streams earned her $1,764; almost 2 million YouTube views generated $1,248.)

For jazz and classical players without Keating’s entrepreneurial energy or larger cult following, the numbers are even bleaker. “It feels awful,” says Christina Courtin, a Julliard-trained violinist who plays in classical groups and has put out albums on the Nonesuch and Hundred Pockets labels. “I don’t count on that as a way to make money — I don’t see how it makes sense for a musician. It’s pretty dark — no one’s selling as much as they were even five years ago.”



Some artists remember a very different world. “I used to sell CDs of my music,” says Richard Danielpour, a celebrated American composer who has written an opera with Toni Morrison and once had an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical. “And now we get nothing.”

It’s not just streaming, but the larger digital era that’s burying record stores, radio and recordings – and it’s hitting jazz and classical musicians especially hard. For some young musicians launching their careers, the “exposure” they get on Pandora or YouTube brings them employment or a fan base somewhere down the line. But many wait in vain. And like their counterparts in the pop world, musicians typically cannot opt out of streaming and the rest of the new world.

“One of the big reasons musicians kept control of their publishing was for the possibility that at least we would be paid when those songs were played in media outlets,” says jazz pianist Jason Moran, currently the jazz advisor for the Kennedy Center. “Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

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In some ways, the trouble in these genres resembles the problems experienced by any non-superstar musicians. Royalties on steaming services, for instance, are notoriously low. “All of my colleagues — composers and arrangers — are seeing huge cuts in their earnings,” says Paul Chihara, a veteran composer who until recently headed UCLA’s film-music program. “In effect, we’re not getting royalties. It’s almost amusing some of the royalty checks I get.” One of the last checks he got was for $29. “And it bounced.”

The pain is especially acute for indie musicians. While some jazz and classical labels are owned by one of the three majors — Blue Note and Deutsche Grammophon, for example, are now part of the Universal Music Group — the vast majority of musicians record for independent labels. And the indies have been largely left out of the sweet deals struck with the streamers. Most of those deals are opaque; the informed speculation says that these arrangement are not good for musicians, especially those not on the few remaining majors.

“Musicians in niche categories need to be fearful of the agreements that labels are signing with streaming services,” says music historian Ted Gioia, who has also recorded as a jazz pianist. Some of these deals, he suspects, allow the steamers to pay nothing at all to some artists, including most who record jazz and classical music. “The record labels could make a case that they don’t need to share royalties with artists whose sales don’t cross a certain threshold. If you’re Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, you have no problem. But otherwise, you would get no royalties. The nature of these deals are that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Labels that own substantial back catalog — old Pink Floyd and Eagles albums, and earlier music that no longer require royalty payments to musicians — have likely cut much better deals than labels that primarily put out new music, especially those in non-pop genres. Says Gioia: “I suspect we’d find agreements where the labels say, [to the streamers], ‘You can have our whole catalog for $5 million, plus you pay us a fraction of a penny for any song that streams more than a million times.’” You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think this way: The major labels have a number of weaselly little tricks like this one, sometimes called a “digital breakage,” in which musicians get nothing.

Moran compares the appearance of Spotify on the scene to the arrival of Wal-Mart to an American small-town: The new model undercuts the existing ones, and helps put smaller, independent stores out of business.

Indie labels are equally vulnerable. Pi Recordings is a jazz label that puts out recordings by the cream of the avant-garde, including Henry Threadgill, Marc Ribot and Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s been described as one of the rare success stories in a dark time. But Yulun Wang, who co-runs the label, is not sure how they can stand up against the streaming onslaught.

“You have the guy who buys 20 jazz records a year — $300 a year,” Wang says. “He might buy one or two of our albums. If I convert that guy to Spotify – he’s now getting all-you-can-eat for $120. And the proportion that comes to me is literally pennies. That’s when it over. That’s will force labels like ours to either change the way we do things significantly.”

The digital enthusiasts say that labels need to “adjust” to the new world – by taking a piece of musicians’ touring, or cutting “360 deals” in which they get part of every strand of an artist’s revenue stream. But for jazz artists, touring outside New York and a few other cities does not yield much. “If I take 15 percent of someone making $30,000, it’s just less money in their pocket.” At a certain point, the artist can no longer pay the rent. “That’s when it’s game over.”

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But it’s not just a problem of scale. There are distinctive qualities to jazz and classical music that make it a difficult fit to the digital world as it now exists, and that punish musicians and curious fans alike. To Jean Cook, a new-music violinist, onetime Mekon, and director of programs for the Future Musical Coalition, it further marginalizes these already peripheral styles, creating what she calls “invisible genres.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, or Beats Music, she says. “Any music service that’s serving pop and classical music will not serve classical music well.” The problem is the nature of classical music, and jazz as well, and the way they differ from pop music. They all make different use of metadata – a term most people associate with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, but which have a profound importance to streaming services. Put most simply: Classical music and jazz are such a mismatch for existing streaming services, it’s almost impossible to find stuff. Cook realized this when she got a recommendation from a music lover, and found herself falling down an online labyrinth trying to find it.

Here’s a good place to start: Say you’re looking for a bedrock recording, the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with titan Maurizio Pollini on piano. Who is the “artist” for this one? Is it the Berlin Philharmonic, or Claudio Abbado, who conducts them? Is it Pollini? Or is it Beethoven himself? If you can see the entire record jacket, you can see who the recording includes. Otherwise, you could find yourself guessing.

Or, if you want music written the Russian late romantic, do you want Rachmaninoff, or Rachmaninoff? Chances are, your service will have one but not the other. And what do you call the movements of a symphony or chamber piece? By their Roman numeral? Or by names like andante or scherzo?

“These services are built to serve the largest segments of the marketplace — pop, country and hip hop,” says Cook. None of these have this kind of complicated structure.

Jazz offers similar difficulties, she says. Say you want to find recordings by pianist Bill Evans. You can find a bunch of them — but nothing linking him to “Kind of Blue,” perhaps the most important (and, in vinyl and CD form, certainly the bestselling) recording he was ever a part of. Evans shaped that album profoundly. You won’t find John Coltrane — another key voice on that session — there either, since it’s a Miles Davis record.

“Listing sidemen is something that is just not built into the architecture,” says Cook. It’s not a small problem. “I can’t think of a single example of a jazz musician who was not a sideman at one point in their career. We’re talking about a significant portion of jazz history that can’t get out.” It also makes you wonder — what are the chances that sidemen, or their heirs, get paid when things are streamed? And what do potential music consumers do when they can’t find what they’re looking for?

There used to be a solution to this. “Go back to the days of record stores,” says Gioia, “and customers could learn a lot from browsing the racks, or asking the serious music fans who worked there.” (Classical record stores, then and now, tended to have their recordings organized by composer rather than group.) The algorithms for specialized genres — classical, reggae, acoustic blues, Brazilian music —are hopeless, he says.

“These days, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. If you want something by Beyonce or Miley Cyrus, it’s not hard. If you’re interested in niche music, you can be in the position of not knowing what’s out there. I still find myself missing important releases by musicians I care about. Streaming provides access to millions of hours of music, but it’s easy to get lost in it.”

If dedicated fans like Cook and Gioia have these problems, what will happen to the casual or new fans that every genre needs in order to stay alive? They’ll simply drift away to the stuff that’s being beamed at them by advertisers around the clock.

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Even some of those frightened and demoralized by the digital transition think things can be improved for jazz and classical music.

So far, Wang’s solution has been to drop out. It’s nearly impossible for artists to withdraw, but as a label head, he can pull all of Pi’s music off Spotify. After three or four months on the service, two years back, he received a royalty statement of about $25 for all of it, and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

“What we found when we got out of Spotify — after these dire warnings — was that our sales went up; they absolutely jumped.”

He’s very familiar with the pressure to give art away. “We were always told you need to get as many audiences as possible … With the exposure argument, you’re told, ‘You could become the next Lady Gaga!’ It’s like playing Lotto — buy dollar tickets, and you could hit it big. In jazz, keep buying dollar tickets so you can win a dollar fifty.”

Cook sees the poor fit of these genres to streaming services as part of a larger phenomenon: Their radio playlists don’t show up in Billboard, their ticket receipts and album sales are often not reported to SoundScan and PollStar, and their awards on the Grammys are rarely televised. “This affects the visibility of jazz and classical music, and the way they are viewed by the rest of the industry.”

Part of a solution involves getting the data straight. “There is no database that tells you who played on what recording, and who wrote each song. ASCAP has one piece of the puzzle; iTunes has another. If you’ve got a music service, you need this, because you need to know who to pay. You need to tell listeners who they’re listening too. And if it’s not consistent, it’s not searchable.”

She wonders how it happens, though, even with open-source software that makes it easier. “The classical community needs to say, ‘This is a good index, instead of the crap the record labels are sending you. It requires a coordinated effort by a lot of different parties.”

Composer Danielpour says that classical people should not give up on recording work and trying to get on the radio. “Even though radio is a mid-20th century medium, for classical music it’s still a powerful source of revenue,” especially in Europe, where royalties are typically better. He recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. “For European and Russian audiences, classical music is religion. For us in America, it’s entertainment.”

Gioia, a former businessman, is pragmatic and forward looking. “My view is that the only solution for this, that is equitable for everyone, is for the music labels, in partnership with the artists, to control their own streaming,” says Gioia. “They need to bypass Silicon Valley.

“They need to work together with a new model, to control distribution and not rely on Apple, Amazon and everyone else. The music industry has always hated technology — they hated radio when it came out — and have always dragged their feet. They need to embrace technology and do it better.”

 

Scott Timberg, a longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, runs the blog Culture Crash. His book, “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class” comes out in January. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMisreadCity

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/20/its_not_just_david_byrne_and_radiohead_spotify_pandora_and_how_streaming_music_kills_jazz_and_classical/?source=newsletter

Chomsky: The System We Have Now Is Radically Anti-Democratic


A fascinating, wide-ranging interview on major issues facing the public.

Noam Chomsky
Photo Credit: The Real News Network

CHRIS HEDGES, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Let’s begin with a classic paradigm which is throughout the Industrial Revolution, which has been cited by theorists from Marx to Kropotkin to Proudhon and to yourself, that you build a consciousness among workers within the manufacturing class, and eventually you lead to a kind of autonomous position where workers can control their own production.We now live in a system, a globalized system, where most of the working class in industrial countries like the United States are service workers. We have reverted to a Dickensian system where those who actually produced live in conditions that begin to replicate almost slave labor–and, I think, as you have written, in places like southern China in fact are slave [labor]. What’s the new paradigm for resistance? You know, how do we learn from the old and confront the new?

NOAM CHOMSKY, LINGUIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think we can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution. It was, of course, earlier in England, but let’s take here in the United States. The Industrial Revolution took off right around here, eastern Massachusetts, mid 19th century. This was a period when independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system–men and women, incidentally, women from the farms, so-called factory girls–and they bitterly resented it. It was a period of a very free press, the most in the history of the country. There was a wide variety of journals, ethnic, labor, or others. And when you read them, they’re pretty fascinating.

The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings who were being forced into what they called wage slavery, which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery. In fact, this was such a popular view that it was actually a slogan of the Republican Party, that the only difference between working for a wage and being a slave is that working for a wage is supposedly temporary–pretty soon you’ll be free. Other than that, they’re not different.

And they bitterly resented the fact that the industrial system was even taking away their rich cultural life. And the cultural life was rich. You know, there are by now studies of the British working class and the American working class, and they were part of high culture of the day. Actually, I remembered this as late as the 1930s with my own family, you know, sort of unemployed working-class, and they said, this is being taken away from us, we’re being forced to be something like slaves. They argued that if you’re, say, a journeyman, a craftsman, and you sell your product, you’re selling what you produced. If you’re a wage earner, you’re selling yourself, which is deeply offensive. They condemned what they called the new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but self. Sounds familiar.

And it was extremely radical. It was combined with the most radical democratic movement in American history, the early populist movement–radical farmers. It began in Texas, spread into the Midwest–enormous movement of farmers who wanted to free themselves from the domination by the Northeastern bankers and capitalists, guys that ran the markets, you know, sort of forced them to sell what they produced on credit and squeeze them with credit and so on. They went on to develop their own banks, their own cooperatives. They started to link up with the Knights of Labor–major labor movement which held that, as they put it, those who work in the mills ought to own them, that it should be a free, democratic society.

These were very powerful movements. By the 1890s, you know, workers were taking over towns and running them in Western Pennsylvania. Homestead was a famous case. Well, they were crushed by force. It took some time. Sort of the final blow was Woodrow Wilson’s red scare right after the First World War, which virtually crushed the labor movement.

At the same time, in the early 19th century, the business world recognized, both in England and the United States, that sufficient freedom had been won so that they could no longer control people just by violence. They had to turn to new means of control. The obvious ones were control of opinions and attitudes. That’s the origins of the massive public relations industry, which is explicitly dedicated to controlling minds and attitudes.

The first–it partly was government. The first government commission was the British Ministry of Information. This is long before Orwell–he didn’t have to invent it. So the Ministry of Information had as its goal to control the minds of the people of the world, but particularly the minds of American intellectuals, for a very good reason: they knew that if they can delude American intellectuals into supporting British policy, they could be very effective in imposing that on the population of the United States. The British, of course, were desperate to get the Americans into the war with a pacifist population. Woodrow Wilson won the 1916 election with the slogan “Peace without Victory”. And they had to drive a pacifist population into a population that bitterly hated all things German, wanted to tear the Germans apart. The Boston Symphony Orchestra couldn’t play Beethoven. You know. And they succeeded.

Wilson set up a counterpart to the Ministry of Information called the Committee on Public Information. You know, again, you can guess what it was. And they’ve at least felt, probably correctly, that they had succeeded in carrying out this massive change of opinion on the part of the population and driving the pacifist population into, you know, warmongering fanatics.

And the people on the commission learned a lesson. One of them was Edward Bernays, who went on to found–the main guru of the public relations industry. Another one was Walter Lippman, who was the leading progressive intellectual of the 20th century. And they both drew the same lessons, and said so.

The lessons were that we have what Lippmann called a “new art” in democracy, “manufacturing consent”. That’s where Ed Herman and I took the phrase from. For Bernays it was “engineering of consent”. The conception was that the intelligent minority, who of course is us, have to make sure that we can run the affairs of public affairs, affairs of state, the economy, and so on. We’re the only ones capable of doing it, of course. And we have to be–I’m quoting–”free of the trampling and the roar of the bewildered herd”, the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders”–the general public. They have a role. Their role is to be “spectators”, not participants. And every couple of years they’re permitted to choose among one of the “responsible men”, us.

And the John Dewey circle took the same view. Dewey changed his mind a couple of years later, to his credit, but at that time, Dewey and his circle were writing that–speaking of the First World War, that this was the first war in history that was not organized and manipulated by the military and the political figures and so on, but rather it was carefully planned by rational calculation of “the intelligent men of the community”, namely us, and we thought it through carefully and decided that this is the reasonable thing to do, for all kind of benevolent reasons.

And they were very proud of themselves.

There were people who disagreed. Like, Randolph Bourne disagreed. He was kicked out. He couldn’t write in the Deweyite journals. He wasn’t killed, you know, but he was just excluded.

And if you take a look around the world, it was pretty much the same. The intellectuals on all sides were passionately dedicated to the national cause–all sides, Germans, British, everywhere.

There were a few, a fringe of dissenters, like Bertrand Russell, who was in jail; Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, in jail; Randolph Bourne, marginalized; Eugene Debs, in jail for daring to question the magnificence of the war. In fact, Wilson hated him with such passion that when he finally declared an amnesty, Debs was left out, you know, had to wait for Warren Harding to release him. And he was the leading labor figure in the country. He was a candidate for president, Socialist Party, and so on.

But the lesson that came out is we believe you can and of course ought to control the public, and if we can’t do it by force, we’ll do it by manufacturing consent, by engineering of consent. Out of that comes the huge public relations industry, massive industry dedicated to this.

Incidentally, it’s also dedicated to undermining markets, a fact that’s rarely noticed but is quite obvious. Business hates markets. They don’t want to–and you can see it very clearly. Markets, if you take an economics course, are based on rational, informed consumers making rational choices. Turn on the television set and look at the first ad you see. It’s trying to create uninformed consumers making irrational choices. That’s the whole point of the huge advertising industry. But also to try to control and manipulate thought. And it takes various forms in different institutions. The media do it one way, the academic institutions do it another way, and the educational system is a crucial part of it.

This is not a new observation. There’s actually an interesting essay by–Orwell’s, which is not very well known because it wasn’t published. It’s the introduction to Animal Farm. In the introduction, he addresses himself to the people of England and he says, you shouldn’t feel too self-righteous reading this satire of the totalitarian enemy, because in free England, ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. And he doesn’t say much about it. He actually has two sentences. He says one reason is the press “is owned by wealthy men” who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed.

But the second reason, and the more important one in my view, is a good education, so that if you’ve gone to all the good schools, you know, Oxford, Cambridge, and so on, you have instilled into you the understanding that there are certain things it wouldn’t do to say–and I don’t think he went far enough: wouldn’t do to think. And that’s very broad among the educated classes. That’s why overwhelmingly they tend to support state power and state violence, and maybe with some qualifications, like, say, Obama is regarded as a critic of the invasion of Iraq. Why? Because he thought it was a strategic blunder. That puts him on the same moral level as some Nazi general who thought that the second front was a strategic blunder–you should knock off England first. That’s called criticism.

And sometimes it’s kind of outlandish. For example, there was just a review in The New York Times Book Review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book by Michael Kinsley, and which bitterly condemned him as–mostly character assassination. Didn’t say anything substantive. But Kinsley did say that it’s ridiculous to think that there’s any repression in the media in the United States, ’cause we can write quite clearly and criticize anything. And he can, but then you have to look at what he says, and it’s quite interesting.

In the 1980s, when the major local news story was the massive U.S. atrocities in Central America–they were horrendous; I mean, it wasn’t presented that way, but that’s what was happening–Kinsley was the voice of the left on television. And there were interesting incidents. At one point, the U.S. Southern Command, which ran–you know, it was the overseer of these actions–gave instructions to the terrorist force that they were running in Nicaragua, called the Contras–and they were a terrorist force–they gave them orders to–they said “not to (…) duke it out with the Sandinistas”, meaning avoid the Nicaraguan army, and attack undefended targets like agricultural cooperatives and, you know, health clinics and so on. And they could do it, because they were the first guerrillas in history to have high-level communications equipment, you know, computers and so on. The U.S., the CIA, just controlled the air totally, so they could send instructions to the terrorist forces telling them how to avoid the Nicaraguan army detachments and attack undefended civilian targets.

Well, this was mentioned; you know, it wasn’t publicized, but it was mentioned. And Americas Watch, which later became part of Human Rights Watch, made some protests. And Michael Kinsley responded. He condemned Americas Watch for their emotionalism. He said, we have to recognize that we have to accept a pragmatic criterion. We have to ask–something like this–he said, we have to compare the amount of blood and misery poured in with the success of the outcome in producing democracy–what we’ll call democracy. And if it meets the pragmatic criterion, then terrorist attacks against civilian targets are perfectly legitimate–which is not a surprising view in his case. He’s the editor of The New Republic. The New Republic, supposedly a liberal journal, was arguing that we should support Latin American fascists because there are more important things than human rights in El Salvador, where they were murdering tens of thousands of people.

That’s the liberals. And, yeah, they can get in the media no problem. And they’re praised for it, regarded with praise. All of this is part of the massive system of–you know, it’s not that anybody sits at the top and plans at all; it’s just exactly as Orwell said: it’s instilled into you. It’s part of a deep indoctrination system which leads to a certain way of looking at the world and looking at authority, which says, yes, we have to be subordinate to authority, we have to believe we’re very independent and free and proud of it. As long as we keep within the limits, we are. Try to go beyond those limits, you’re out.

HEDGES: But that system, of course, is constant. But what’s changed is that we don’t produce anything anymore. So what we define as our working class is a service sector class working in places like Walmart. And the effective forms of resistance–the sitdown strikes, you know, going back even further in the middle of the 19th century with the women in Lowell–I think that was–the Wobblies were behind those textile strikes. What are the mechanisms now? And I know you have written, as many anarchists have done, about the importance of the working class controlling the means of production, taking control, and you have a great quote about how, you know, Lenin and the Bolsheviks are right-wing deviants, I think, was the–which is, of course, exactly right, because it was centralized control, destroying the Soviets. Given the fact that production has moved to places like Bangladesh or southern China, what is going to be the paradigm now? And given, as you point out, the powerful forces of propaganda–and you touched upon now the security and surveillance state. We are the most monitored, watched, photographed, eavesdropped population in human history. And you cannot even use the world liberty when you eviscerate privacy. That’s what totalitarian is. What is the road we take now, given the paradigm that we have, which is somewhat different from, you know, what this country was, certainly, in the first half of the 20th century?

NOAM CHOMSKY, LINGUIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it’s pretty much the same, frankly. The idea still should be that of the Knights of Labor: those who work in the mills should own them. And there’s plenty of manufacturing going on in the country, and probably there will be more, for unpleasant reasons. One thing that’s happening right now which is quite interesting is that energy prices are going down in the United States because of the massive exploitation of fossil fuels, which is going to destroy our grandchildren, but under the, you know, capitalist morality, the calculus is that profits tomorrow outweigh the existence of your grandchildren. It’s institutionally-based, so, yes, we’re getting lower energy prices. And if you look at the business press, they’re, you know, very enthusiastic about the fact that we can undercut manufacturing in Europe because we’ll have lower energy prices, and therefore manufacturing will come back here, and we can even undermine European efforts at developing sustainable energy because we’ll have this advantage.

Britain is saying the same thing. I was just in England recently. As I left the airport, I read The Daily Telegraph, you know, I mean, newspaper. Big headline: England is going to begin fracking all of the country, even fracking under people’s homes without their permission. And that’ll allow us to destroy the environment even more quickly and will bring manufacturing back here.

The same is true with Asia. Manufacturing is moving back, to an extent, to Mexico, and even here, as wages increase in China, partly because of labor struggles. There’s massive labor struggles in China, huge, all over the place, and since we’re integrated with them, we can be supportive of them.

But manufacturing is coming back here. And both manufacturing and the service industries can move towards having those who do the work take over the management and ownership and control. In fact, it’s happening. In the old Rust Belt–you know, Indiana, Ohio, and so on–there’s a significant–not huge, but significant growth of worker-owned enterprises. They’re not huge, but they’re substantial around Cleveland and other places.

The background is interesting. In 1977, U.S. Steel, the, you know, multinational, decided to close down their mills in Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown is a steel town, sort of built by the steelworkers, one of the main steel-producing areas. Well, the union tried to buy the plants from U.S. Steel. They objected–in my view, mostly on class lines. They might have even profited from it. But the idea of worker-owned industry doesn’t have much appeal to corporate leaders, which means bankers and so on. It went to the courts. Finally, the union lost in the courts. But with enough popular support, they could have won.

Well, the working class and the community did not give up. They couldn’t get the steel mills, but they began to develop small worker-owned enterprises. They’ve now spread throughout the region. They’re substantial. And it can happen more and more.

And the same thing happened in Walmarts. I mean, there’s massive efforts right now, significant ones, to organize the service workers–what they call associates–in the service industries. And these industries, remember, depend very heavily on taxpayer largess in all kinds of ways. I mean, for example, let’s take, say, Walmarts. They import goods produced in China, which are brought here on container ships which were designed and developed by the U.S. Navy. And point after point where you look, you find that the way the system–the system that we now have is one which is radically anticapitalist, radically so.

I mean, I mentioned one thing, the powerful effort to try to undermine markets for consumers, but there’s something much more striking. I mean, in a capitalist system, the basic principle is that, say, if you invest in something and, say, it’s a risky investment, so you put money into it for a long time, maybe decades, and finally after a long time something comes out that’s marketable for a profit, it’s supposed to go back to you. That’s not the way it works here. Take, say, computers, internet, lasers, microelectronics, containers, GPS, in fact the whole IT revolution. There was taxpayer investment in that for decades, literally decades, doing all the hard, creative, risky work. Does the taxpayer get any of the profit? None, because that’s not the way our system works. It’s radically anti-capitalist, just as it’s radically anti-democratic, opposed to markets, in favor of concentrating wealth and power.

But that doesn’t have to be accepted by the population. These are–all kinds of forms of resistance to this can be developed if people become aware of it.

HEDGES: Well, you could argue that in the election of 2008, Obama wasn’t accepted by the population. But what we see repeatedly is that once elected officials achieve power through, of course, corporate financing, the consent of the governed is a kind of cruel joke. It doesn’t, poll after poll. I mean, I sued Obama over the National Defense Authorization Act, in which you were coplaintiff, and the polling was 97 percent against this section of the NDAA. And yet the courts, which have become wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state, the elected officials, the executive branch, and the press, which largely ignored it–the only organ that responsibly covered the case was, ironically, The New York Times. We don’t have–it doesn’t matter what we want. It doesn’t–I mean, and I think, you know, that’s the question: how do we effect change when we have reached a point where we can no longer appeal to the traditional liberal institutions that, as Karl Popper said once, made incremental or piecemeal reform possible, to adjust the system–of course, to save capitalism? But now it can’t even adjust the system. You know, we see cutting welfare.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. I mean, it’s perfectly true that the population is mostly disenfranchised. In fact, that’s a leading theme even of academic political science. You take a look at the mainstream political science, so, for example, a recent paper that was just published out of Princeton by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, two of the leading analysts of these topics, what they point out is they went through a couple of thousand policy decisions and found what has long been known, that there was almost no–that the public attitudes had almost no effect. Public organizations that are–nonprofit organizations that are publicly based, no effect. The outcomes were determined by concentrated private power.

There’s a long record of that going way back. Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist near here, has shown very convincingly that something as simple as campaign spending is a very good predictor of policy. That goes back into the late 19th century, right through the New Deal, you know, right up till the present. And that’s only one element of it. And you take a look at the literature, about 70 percent of the population, what they believe has no effect on policy at all. You get a little more influence as you go up. When you get to the top, which is probably, like, a tenth of one percent, they basically write the legislation.

I mean, you see this all over. I mean, take these huge so-called trade agreements that are being negotiated, Trans-Pacific and Transatlantic–enormous agreements, kind of NAFTA-style agreements. They’re secret–almost. They’re not secret from the hundreds of corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing them. They know about it, which means that their bosses know about it. And the Obama administration and the press says, look, this has to be secret, otherwise we can’t defend our interests. Yeah, our interests means the interests of the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the legislation. Take the few pieces that have been leaked and you see that’s exactly what it is. Same with the others.

But it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And there have been changes. So take, say–in the 1920s, the labor movement had been practically destroyed. There’s a famous book. One of the leading labor historians, David Montgomery, has a major book called something like The Fall of the House of Labor. He’s talking about the 1920s. It was done. There had been a very militant labor movement, very effective, farmers movement as well. Crushed in the 1920s. Almost nothing left. Well, in the 1930s it changed, and it changed because of popular activism.

HEDGES: But it also changed because of the breakdown of capitalism.

CHOMSKY: There was a circumstance that led to the opportunity to do something, but we’re living with that constantly. I mean, take the last 30 years. For the majority of the population it’s been stagnation or worse. That’s–it’s not exactly the deep Depression, but it’s kind of a permanent semi-depression for most of the population. That’s–there’s plenty of kindling out there which can be lighted.

And what happened in the ’30s is primarily CIO organizing, the militant actions like sit-down strikes. A sit-down strike’s very frightening. It’s a step before taking over the institution and saying, we don’t need the bosses. And that–there was a cooperative administration, Roosevelt administration, so there was some interaction. And significant legislation was passed–not radical, but significant, underestimated. And it happened again in the ’60s. It can happen again today. So I don’t think that one should abandon hope in chipping away at the more oppressive aspects of the society within the electoral system. But it’s only going to happen if there’s massive popular organization, which doesn’t have to stop at that. It can also be building the institutions of the future within the present society.

HEDGES: Would you say that the–you spoke about propaganda earlier and the Creel Commission and the rise of the public relations industry. The capacity to disseminate propaganda is something that now you virtually can’t escape it. I mean, it’s there in some electronic form, even in a hand-held device. Does that make that propaganda more effective?

CHOMSKY: Well, and it’s kind of an interesting question. Like a lot of people, I’ve written a lot about media and intellectual propaganda, but there’s another question which isn’t studied much: how effective is it? And that’s–when you brought up the polls, it’s a striking illustration. The propaganda is–you can see from the poll results that the propaganda has only limited effectiveness. I mean, it can drive a population into terror and fear and war hysteria, like before the Iraq invasion or 1917 and so on, but over time, public attitudes remain quite different. In fact, studies even of what’s called the right-wing, you know, people who say, get the government off my back, that kind of sector, they turn out to be kind of social democratic. They want more spending on health, more spending on education, more spending on, say, women with dependent children, but not welfare, no spending on welfare, because Reagan, who was an extreme racist, succeeded in demonizing the notion of welfare. So in people’s minds welfare means a rich black woman driving in her limousine to the welfare office to steal your money. Well, nobody wants that. But they want what welfare does.

Foreign aid is an interesting case. There’s an enormous propaganda against foreign aid, ’cause we’re giving everything to the undeserving people out there. You take a look at public attitudes. A lot of opposition to foreign aid. Very high. On the other hand, when you ask people, how much do we give in foreign aid? Way beyond what we give. When you ask what we should give in foreign aid, far above what we give.

And this runs across the board. Take, say taxes. There’ve been studies of attitudes towards taxes for 40 years. Overwhelmingly the population says taxes are much too low for the rich and the corporate sector. You’ve got to raise it. What happens? Well, the opposite.

It’s just exactly as Orwell said: it’s instilled into you. It’s part of a deep indoctrination system which leads to a certain way of looking at the world and looking at authority, which says, yes, we have to be subordinate to authority, we have to believe we’re very independent and free and proud of it. As long as we keep within the limits, we are. Try to go beyond those limits, you’re out.

HEDGES: Well, what was fascinating about–I mean, the point, just to buttress this point: when you took the major issues of the Occupy movement, they were a majoritarian movement. When you look back on the Occupy movement, what do you think its failings were, its importance were?

CHOMSKY: Well, I think it’s a little misleading to call it a movement. Occupy was a tactic, in fact a brilliant tactic. I mean, if I’d been asked a couple of months earlier whether they should take over public places, I would have said it’s crazy. But it worked extremely well, and it lit a spark which went all over the place. Hundreds and hundreds of places in the country, there were Occupy events. It was all over the world. I mean, I gave talks in Sydney, Australia, to the Occupy movement there. But it was a tactic, a very effective tactic. Changed public discourse, not policy. It brought issues to the forefront.

I think my own feeling is its most important contribution was just to break through the atomization of the society. I mean, it’s a very atomized society. There’s all sorts of efforts to separate people from one another, as if the ideal social unit is, you know, you and your TV set.

HEDGES: You know, Hannah Arendt raises atomization as one of the key components of totalitarianism.

CHOMSKY: Exactly. And the Occupy actions broke that down for a large part of the population. People could recognize that we can get together and do things for ourselves, we can have a common kitchen, we can have a place for public discourse, we can form our ideas and do something. Now, that’s an important attack on the core of the means by which the public is controlled. So you’re not just an individual trying to maximize your consumption, but there are other concerns in life, and you can do something about them. If those attitudes and associations and bonds can be sustained and move in other directions, that’ll be important.

But going back to Occupy, it’s a tactic. Tactics have a kind of a half-life. You can’t keep doing them, and certainly you can’t keep occupying public places for very long. And was very successful, but it was not in itself a movement. The question is: what happens to the people who were involved in it? Do they go on and develop, do they move into communities, pick up community issues? Do they organize?

Take, say, this business of, say, worker-owned industry. Right here in Massachusetts, not far from here, there was something similar. One of the multinationals decided to close down a fairly profitable small plant, which was producing aerospace equipment. High-skilled workers and so on, but it wasn’t profitable enough, so they were going to close it down. The union wanted to buy it. Company refused–usual class reasons, I think. If the Occupy efforts had been available at the time, they could have provided the public support for it.

This happened when Obama virtually nationalized the auto industry. There were choices. One choice was what he took, of course, was to rescue it, return it to essentially the same owners–different faces, but the same class basis–and send them back to doing what they had been doing in the past–producing automobiles. There were other choices, and if something like the Occupy movement had been around and sufficient, it could have driven the government into other choices, like, for example, turning the auto plants over to the working class and have them produce what the country needs.

I mean, we don’t need more cars. We need mass public transportation. The United States is an absolute scandal in this regard. I just came back from Europe–so you can see it dramatically. You get on a European train, you can go where you want to go in no time. Well, the train from Boston to New York, it may be, I don’t know, 20 minutes faster than when I took it 60 years ago. You go along the Connecticut Turnpike and the trucks are going faster than the train. Recently Japan offered the United States a low-interest loan to build high-speed rail from Washington to New York. It was turned down, of course. But what they were offering was to build the kind of train that I took in Japan 50 years ago. And this was a scandal all over the country.

Well, you know, a reconstituted auto industry could have turned in that direction under worker and community control. I don’t think these things are out of sight. And, incidentally, they even have so-called conservative support, because they’re within a broader what’s called capitalist framework (it’s not really capitalist). And those are directions that should be pressed.

Right now, for example, the Steelworkers union is trying to establish some kind of relations with Mondragon, the huge worker-owned conglomerate in the Basque country in Spain, which is very successful, in fact, and includes industry, manufacturing, banks, hospitals, living quarters. It’s very broad. It’s not impossible that that can be brought here, and it’s potentially radical. It’s creating the basis for quite a different society.

And I think with things like, say, Occupy, the timing wasn’t quite right. But if the timing had been a little better (and this goes on all the time, so it’s always possible), it could have provided a kind of an impetus to move significant parts of the socioeconomic system in a different direction. And once those things begin to take off and people can see the advantages of them, it can become quite significant.

There are kind of islands like that around the country. So take Chattanooga, Tennessee. It happens to have a publicly organized internet system. It’s by far the best in the country. Rapid internet access for broad parts of the population. I suspect the roots of it probably go back to the TVA and the New Deal initiatives. Well, if that can spread throughout the country (why not? it’s very efficient, very cheap, works very well), it could undermine the telecommunications industry and its oligopoly, which would be a very good thing. There are lots of possibilities like this.

HEDGES: I want to ask just two last questions. First, the fact that we have become a militarized society, something all of the predictions of the Anti-Imperialist League at the end of the 19th century, including Carnegie and Jane Addams–hard to think of them both in the same room. But you go back and read what they wrote, and they were right how militarized society has deformed us economically–Seymour Melman wrote about this quite well–and politically. And that is a hurdle that as we attempt to reform or reconfigure our society we have to cope with. And I wondered if you could address this military monstrosity that you have written about quite a bit.

CHOMSKY: Well, for one thing, the public doesn’t like it. What’s called isolationism or one or another bad word, as, you know, pacifism was, is just the public recognition that there’s something deeply wrong with our dedication to military force all over the world.

Now, of course, at the same time, the public is frightened into believing that we have to defend ourselves. And it’s not entirely false. Part of the military system is generating forces which will be harmful to us, say, Obama’s terrorist campaign, drone campaign, the biggest terrorist campaign in history. It’s generating potential terrorists faster than it’s killing suspects.

You can see it. It’s very striking what’s happening right now in Iraq. And the truth of the matter is very evident. Go back to the Nuremberg judgments. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but in Nuremberg aggression was defined as “the supreme international crime,” differing from other war crimes in that it includes, it encompasses all of the evil that follows. Well, the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq is a textbook case of aggression. By the standards of Nuremberg, they’d all be hanged. And one of the things it did, one of the crimes was to ignite a Sunni-Shiite conflict which hadn’t been going on. I mean, there was, you know, various kinds of tensions, but Iraqis didn’t believe there could ever be a conflict. They were intermarried, they lived in the same places, and so on. But the invasion set it off. Took off on its own. By now it’s inflaming the whole region. Now we’re at the point where Sunni jihadi forces are actually marching on Baghdad.

HEDGES: And the Iraqi army is collapsing.

CHOMSKY: The Iraqi army’s just giving away their arms. There obviously is a lot of collaboration going on.

And all of this is a U.S. crime if we believe in the validity of the judgments against the Nazis.

And it’s kind of interesting. Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor, a U.S. justice, at the tribunal, addressed the tribunal, and he pointed out, as he put it, that we’re giving these defendants a “poisoned chalice”, and if we ever sip from it, we have to be treated the same way, or else the whole thing is a farce and we should recognize this as just victor’s justice.

HEDGES: But it’s not accidental that our security and surveillance apparatus is militarized. And you’re right, of course, that there is no broad popular support for this expanding military adventurism. And yet the question is if there is a serious effort to curtail their power and their budgets. They have mechanisms. And we even heard Nancy Pelosi echo this in terms of how they play dirty. I mean, they are monitoring all the elected officials as well.

CHOMSKY: Monitoring. But despite everything, it’s still a pretty free society, and the recognition by U.S. and British business back 100 years ago that they can no longer control the population by violence is correct. And control of attitude and opinion is pretty fragile, as is surveillance. It’s very different than sending in the storm troopers. You know, so there’s a lot of latitude, for people of relative privilege, at least, to do all sorts of things. I mean, it’s different if you’re a black kid in the ghetto. Yeah, then you’re subjected to state violence. But for a large part of the population, there’s plenty of opportunities which have not been available in the past.

HEDGES: But those people are essentially passive, virtually.

CHOMSKY: But they don’t have to be.

HEDGES: They don’t have to be, but Hannah Arendt, when she writes about the omnipotent policing were directed against the stateless, including ourself and France, said the problem of building omnipotent policing, which we have done in our marginal neighborhoods in targeting people of color–we can have their doors kicked in and stopped at random and thrown in jail for decades for crimes they didn’t commit–is that when you have a societal upheaval, you already have both a legal and a physical mechanism by which that omnipotent policing can be quickly inflicted.

CHOMSKY: I don’t think that’s true here. I think the time has passed when that can be done for increasing parts of the population, those who have almost any degree of privilege. The state may want to do it, but they don’t have the power to do it. They can carry out extensive surveillance, monitoring, they can be violent against parts of the population that can’t defend themselves–undocumented immigrants, black kids in the ghetto, and so on–but even that can be undercut. For example, one of the major scandals in the United States since Reagan is the huge incarceration program, which is a weapon against–it’s a race war. But it’s based on drugs. And there is finally cutting away at the source of this and the criminalization and the radical distortion of the way criminalization of drug use has worked. That can have an effect.

I mean, I think–look, there’s no doubt that the population is passive. There are lots of ways of keeping them passive. There’s lots of ways of marginalizing and atomizing them. But that’s different from storm troopers. It’s quite different. And it can be overcome, has been overcome in the past. And I think there are lots of initiatives, some of them being undertaken, others developing, which can be used to break down this system. I think it’s a very fragile system, including the militarism.

HEDGES: Let’s just close with climate change. Like, I read climate change reports, which–.

CHOMSKY: Well, unfortunately, that’s–may doom us all, and not in the long-distance future. That just overwhelms everything. It is the first time in human history when we not only–we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for a decent survival. And it’s already happening. I mean, just take a look at species destruction. Species destruction now is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth and ended the period of the dinosaurs, wiped out huge numbers of species. Same level today, and we’re the asteroid. And you take a look at what’s happening in the world, I mean, anybody looking at this from outer space would be astonished.

I mean, there are sectors of the global population that are trying to impede the catastrophe. There are other sectors that are trying to accelerate it. And you take a look at who they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward: indigenous populations, the First Nations in Canada, you know, aboriginals from Australia, the tribal people in India, you know, all over the world, are trying to impede it. Who’s accelerating it? The most privileged, advanced–so-called advanced–educated populations in the world, U.S. and Canada right in the lead. And we know why.

There are also–. Here’s an interesting case of manufacture of consent and does it work? You take a look at international polls on global warming, Americans, who are the most propagandized on this–I mean, there’s huge propaganda efforts to make it believe it’s not happening–they’re a little below the norm, so there’s some effect of the propaganda. It’s stratified. If you take a look at Republicans, they’re way below the norm. But what’s happening in the Republican Party all across the spectrum is a very striking. So, for example, about two-thirds of Republicans believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and all sorts of other things. You know. So it’s stratified. But there’s some impact of the propaganda, but not overwhelming. Most of the population still regards it as a serious problem.

There’s actually an interesting article about this in the Columbia Journalism Review which just appeared, current issue, the lead critical review of journalism. They attribute this to what they call the doctrine of fairness in the media. Doctrine of fairness says that if you have an opinion piece by 95, 97 percent of the scientists, you have to pair it with an opinion piece by the energy corporations, ’cause that’d be fair and balanced. There isn’t any such doctrine. Like, if you have an opinion piece denouncing Putin as the new Hitler for annexing Crimea, you don’t have to balance it with an opinion piece saying that 100 years ago the United States took over southeastern Cuba at the point of a gun and is still holding it, though it has absolutely no justification other than to try to undermine Cuban development, whereas in contrast, whatever you think of Putin, there’s reasons. You don’t have to have that. And you have to have fair and balanced when it affects the concerns of private power, period. But try to get an article in the Columbia Journalism Review pointing that out, although it’s transparent.

So all those things are there, but they can be overcome, and they’d better be. This isn’t–you know, unless there’s a sharp reversal in policy, unless we here in the so-called advanced societies can gain the consciousness of the indigenous people of the world, we’re in deep trouble. Our grandchildren are going to suffer from it.

HEDGES: And I think you would agree that’s not going to come from the power elite.

CHOMSKY: It’s certainly not.

HEDGES: It’s up to us.

CHOMSKY: Absolutely. And it’s urgent.

HEDGES: It is. Thank you very much.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, writes a regular column for Truthdig every Monday. Hedges’ most recent book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”

http://www.alternet.org/media/noam-chomsky-tells-chris-hedges-how-our-ruling-elite-leading-america-catastrophe?akid=12034.265072.WHH2Dd&rd=1&src=newsletter1011911&t=13&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

Netroots meeting in Detroit: “Progressive” cover for right-wing Democrats

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By Patrick Martin
17 July 2014

The ninth annual meeting of Netroots Nation, a four-day conference financed by a dozen unions and giant corporations like Google and Facebook, is an attempt to give a “progressive” gloss to the right-wing policies of the Obama administration and mobilize support for Democratic candidates in the 2014 elections.

The Netroots Nation web site describes attendees as “thousands of bloggers, newsmakers, social justice advocates, labor and organizational leaders, grassroots organizers and online activists.” Despite posturing as a venue for grassroots organizing and anti-establishment protest, the conference is nothing more than a junior varsity edition of the Democratic National Convention. The same web site proudly quotes the New York Times describing the annual Netroots conference as “becoming as much a part of the Democratic political circuit as the Iowa State Fair.”

Vice President Joseph Biden gives the keynote speech on Thursday, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speaks on Friday, along with a slew of other Senate and House Democrats. Joining them will be virtually every prominent Democratic Party officeholder and candidate from Michigan, including Senator Debbie Stabenow, congressman and Senate candidate Gary Peters, congressmen John Conyers and Dan Kildee, and former congressman and 2014 candidate for governor Mark Schauer.

Holding the conference in Detroit is a calculated political act. Netroots announced the selection in June 2013, after the imposition of an Emergency Manager on the city and one month before the city filed for bankruptcy. Since then, big business politicians of both parties, Democrats and Republicans alike, have collaborated to slash wages, jobs, pensions and basic services like water.

On Friday, participants in the Netroots conference and a section of the trade union officialdom, joined by members of pseudo-left organizations like the Workers World Party and By Any Means Necessary, will take part in a demonstration against water shutoffs in Detroit, in front of the Water Board headquarters on Randolph Street downtown.

This protest is a fraud on multiple levels. First of all, it will do nothing to stop the shutoffs, Secondly, and more importantly, it is a deliberate cover-up of the responsibility of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration for the devastating conditions being imposed on the population of Detroit through the bankruptcy process.

While apologists for Obama and the Democrats like John Nichols of the Nation magazine write that the water shutoffs are “thanks to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder,” a Republican, the appointment of an Emergency Manager to run Detroit and impose savage cutbacks in services was completely bipartisan. The Obama administration has fully supported the bankruptcy, and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Mayor Michael Duggan, and other local officials carrying out the attacks are all Democrats.

Detroit is a model for the policies being carried out by Democratic and Republican politicians in Washington and every city and state: brutal austerity measures against the working class, while the interests of the banks and billionaires are given the highest priority. Obama imposed the poverty level wages on new auto workers during the 2009 restructuring of GM and Chrysler; the city has been “ground zero” for his administration’s corporate-backed school “reform;” and the bankruptcy will set a precedent for gutting the health care and pensions of public sector workers around the country.

More than five years of the Obama administration have produced widespread popular disillusionment and anger with the Democratic Party—reflected in opinion polls showing Obama’s popularity at a record low, and dismal prospects for the Democrats in the congressional and gubernatorial elections that take place in less than four months.

The Netroots conference is part of the effort by pro-Democratic Party groups, including the trade unions, Move-on.org, Daily Kos (which initiated the Netroots meetings), the Nation magazine, and sections of the corporate elite, to bolster the credibility of the Democrats and revive their electoral fortunes. Hence the two main characteristics of the meeting: no criticism of the policies of the Obama administration, at home and abroad; and no serious assessment of the actual conditions of life for tens of millions of working people.

Biden’s appearance is his first at a Netroots conference. His previous campaigns for national office involved appealing to more overtly right-wing sections of the Democratic Party, while the “progressive” factions gave their support to figures like Howard Dean in 2004 and Obama in 2008. His appearance in Detroit is a signal that in a forthcoming race against Hillary Clinton for the 2016 nomination, however, Biden sees the need to curry favor with the party’s “left.” (Clinton, while booed at a 2007 Netroots conference for her support to the war in Iraq, nevertheless kept her lines of communication open, with a “Ready for Hillary” bus parked outside the Cobo Hall convention center during this year’s conference).

In a media interview last week, Netroots board chairman Adam Bonin said that Clinton would have considerable support in the 2016 campaign from Netroots participants. “I have to say, even with ideological misgivings, there is going to be a faction of people with progressive credentials who recognize the historical nature of her candidacy,” he said, alluding to her gender. In addition, he said, “There is no Iraq war to help her rival position on her left.”

This remarkable declaration should be translated as follows: Clinton lost support among Netroots activists for supporting the war launched by Republican President George W. Bush. No such price will be paid for supporting the many wars, civil wars, and other slaughters instigated by Democratic President Barack Obama—Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq again—or his continuation of the war in Afghanistan.

The complete alignment of Netroots with the bloodstained foreign policy of the Obama administration is demonstrated in the list of 120 panel discussions and training sessions announced in advance of the conference.

Exactly one, the “National Security Caucus,” deals with events outside the borders of the United States. It offers the opportunity to “share views on how the U.S. should best deal with global terrorist threats without being on a continual war footing, continue to move toward closing Guantánamo, successfully reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, and avoid any unwise military action in Iraq.” The name “Obama” does not appear, nor the word “drones.” There is no reference to Libya, Ukraine, Syria or any of the countless other foreign interventions by American imperialism.

Similarly, there is a single panel discussion on “NSA Surveillance Reform: Pitfalls and Opportunities.” The description of the panel makes no reference to Edward Snowden, whose exposure of massive, illegal and unconstitutional spying by the NSA prompted the Obama administration and supporters of government spying in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to offer a preemptive “reform” bill that legalizes everything the NSA is now doing.

The bulk of the sessions deal with the continuing obsession with identity politics, as there are caucuses of every conceivable group defined by gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, as well as discussions of such topics as “The Rise of Janet Yellen: Why the Fed Matters, and How Progressives Fought for the First Female Chair of the Federal Reserve.” That Yellen is slavishly devoted to the interests of Wall Street and the superrich is apparently of less significance than her possession of two X chromosomes.

The political perspective of Netroots Nation is also demonstrated in its list of sponsors, including the Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook, two of the main collaborators in the US government surveillance of the Internet and telecommunications.

Joining them are the considerably less well-financed businesses that still call themselves trade unions, among them AFSCME, SEIU, CWA, UFCW, USWA, ATU and the Laborers International Union. It would take several dozen pages simply to list the number of occasions in the past two decades that these organizations have blocked, sold out or directly sabotaged efforts by workers to fight back against the attacks on their jobs, living standards and working conditions, while preserving and defending the perks and six-figure salaries of the union executives.

Discredited by their collusion in the corporate-government attacks on workers, the union executives have joined this effort to refurbish the image of the Democratic Party out of fear of the emergence of a genuine political opposition of the working class against both big business parties and the capitalist system they defend.

Brazil, Defeat and the High Cost of Hosting the World Cup

Bidding for Trouble

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by ANDREW KENNIS

Rio de Janeiro. 

While smoking his tobacco pipe in front of his small cinder block home toward the top of his native Vidigal, a sprawlingfavela  overlooking some of Rio de Janeiro’s most luxurious neighborhoods, Jamil Jorge offered his thoughts on Brazil hosting the World Cup in the midst of the tournament: “The World Cup only benefits people and institutions with money, not people like me.”

Jamil had just finished meditating during a breezy ocean-side night at one of the many stunning lookouts that Vidigal offers. The public viewpoint lies at the foot of one of the many homes of none other than David Beckham–reflective of the uneven and volatile development Brazil has undergone over the last decade alone. Recent years have brought tens of millions into the middle class but left plenty of others behind, as suggested by a low 85th ranking in the United Nations Human Development index.

When asked about the FIFA (International Federation of Football Association, in English) and its motives in relation to the Cup, Jorge grinned and then made the universal gesture for money with his hands. “Someone is profiting from this World Cup, but it isn’t me … or our favela.”

Seven years ago when Brazil was announced as FIFA’s selected host country for this year’s World Cup, Brazilians celebrated in the streets. The country’s then forward-looking President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was in the midst of an economic boon that had catapulted the Brazilian economy into seventh place among the world’s largest economies. During the same time FIFA officials were greeted by what they proudly described to the media as “spontaneous celebrations” by Brazilians, polls revealed nearly eighty-percent support for the hosting of the Cup.

The subsequent announcement in 2009 that the Olympics would also be held in Brazil two years after the 2014 World Cup only compounded the excitement. By all accounts, Brazil was abuzz with anticipation.

In this election year, however, support for both hosting the Cup and the incumbent President Rousseff, who hails from the same Worker’s Party (PT) as her popular predecessor, have plummeted to low levels. Contrary to nearly anyone’s expectations, polls have demonstrated that most people in the very country that has enjoyed more World Cup victories than any other no longer wanted to host the tournament whose final match played out July 13.
Why the drastic change in public opinion, over a game Brazilians clearly adore?

Collapsing Promises

“It was like an earthquake. The ground shook violently,” Daniel Magalhaes told reporters huddling around the scene of an accident. “I heard a deafening sound. I looked and saw the collapsed overpass.”

Headlines around the world were instantly posted in the news media on July 3 when a bridge located in the host city of Belo Horizonte and near the Mineirao Stadium where World Cup matches were held collapsed on top of a bus and passenger cars in a gruesome scene captured by video. Hanna Cristiana Santos, a bus driver, and Charlys do Nascimento, aged 24 and 25 respectively, were instantly killed. Almost two dozen more people were injured. The construction company, the city announced, would pay for the funeral arrangements for the two families.

The Belo bridge collapse was not the only thing that collapsed. The very next day, Colombia’s defender Juan Camilo Zúñiga recklessly jumped into the air for a loose ball and came crashing directly down on none other than Neymar Jr., Brazil’s great hope for the World Cup. Neymar told his teammate, “I cannot feel my legs,” after suffering Zúñiga’s blow.

For many Brazilians, their hopes of Brazil winning the World Cup were significantly dented if not dashed altogether with Neymar’s and Silva’s exit. As it turned out, theseleção wound up suffering a historic defeat in the World Cup’s most lopsided knockout round loss ever. The Germans, who ultimately won took home the Cup trophy, mercilessly pounded against a brittle Brazilian defense and won 7-1. Adding to the cruel irony was that the defeat occurred in Belo Horizonte–the same place where the bridge collapsed.

The subsequent third place match added to the pain, as Brazil was humiliated again 3-0 at the hands of Holland. The match was played in Brasilia, a city that doesn’t even have a first division Brazilian soccer team and rarely can attract attendance to second division matches of more than a thousand people. Now the capital will have to struggle to find a use for the FIFA-standard stadium.

Many observers before the World Cup agreed that one of the few ways that FIFA and the Brazilian government could salvage a losing public relations front when it came to hosting the event, was for Brazil to win the Cup on its home turf and in the same stadium where it suffered its most stinging historic defeat. Brazil lost to Uruguay in the 1950 final (known as the “maracanaço” to Brazilians, a reference to Rio’s Maracanã stadium, which then had a capacity to hold almost two hundred thousand people). But alas, there would be no final in Rio. Instead, Brazilians rioted in the city’s streets, where mass robberies were reported especially in the famous Copacabana beach district.

While no Brazilian expected the trouncing the team suffered against Germany, probably few Brazilians were surprised that one of the unfinished infrastructure projects promised for completion by the World Cup’s start wound up literally killing several of its own people. Fewer than 10 of the 56 infrastructure projects racking up billions of dollars in public expenses were completed on time for the tournament.

“Nearly nothing about hosting this World Cup surprises me anymore,” says Leonardo Silva, a 59 year-old cab driver who has long been working in Natal, a tourist-driven beach city that hosted the Me xico and United States matches.

On FIFA’s Terms
Before the World Cup started, the atmosphere in many cities in Brazil was noticeably dialed down from what one would have expected in 2007. One after another, local press accounts described the pre-tourney atmosphere as “lackluster” and “way less supportive than in previous World Cups hosted abroad.”

Widespread protests, attracting millions of angry people raging into the streets in cities across Brazil, surged a full year before the World Cup even began. International press coverage largely focused on a bus fare hike as what sparked the protests. Gil Castello Branco, the director and founder of Open Accounts, a Brasilia-based NGO that serves as a budgetary watchdog group over the Brazilian government, pointed out that the issues ran deeper than the bus fare hike and included the World Cup.

“You saw the protests last year, right, Andrew?” asked an impassioned Castello the day after the bridge collapsed. “The Brazilian people were demanding to get public benefits out of the event. They said they wanted FIFA-standard schools to be built for Brazilian children, just like the stadiums.”

The nation’s youth, who showed up in droves to protests last year and at the start of the tournament, continue to be a glaring developmental hole for Brazil. While close to 40 million Brazilians have left poverty during Brazil’s rapid developmental climb since the turn of the century, the youth are often left out of this picture when it comes to long-term and stable employment. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, close to 42% of young people have to depend on the precarious informal economy for a livelihood.

“Promising 12 stadiums in 12 cities to FIFA was too much to offer. These stadiums, especially in Manaus, Brasilia, Cuiaba and Natal, won’t ever be used to their capacity,” said Castello.

Other experts, such as Claudio Weber Abramo, the Executive Director of Transparency Brazil, echoed Castello’s sentiments. “FIFA makes its demands and then they arranged to have twelve different places to hold games. This was simply too much. In some of these cities, like Manaus, there was no professional football there whatsoever. It is ridiculous.”

Apparently, Brazilian officials did not pay heed to the words of one of Brazil’s most famous icons–singer, song-writer and poet Chico Buarque–who warned, “You cannot place your faith in a football stadium – that’s the lesson that sunk in after 1950.” He was referring to the belief that a shiny new stadium filled with Brazilian fans would lead the team to victory. His statement could be applied to the politics of hosting mega-sports events as well.

As early as the Confederations Cup, the World Cup warm-up tournament held in the host country the year before the big event, the press began reporting on worker fatalities and construction delays with cost overruns in the billions of dollars. Millions of Brazilians seemed to remember Buarque’s words when they took to the streets. Neymar, who rarely voices any political sentiments, announced on Facebook that, “From now on, I will enter the field inspired by this movement,” explaining further that he desired to see a, “Brazil that is more just, safer, healthier and more honest, which is the obligation of the government.”

Even the face of Brazilian football, the legendary Pelé, expressed sympathy with the protests and criticized the way public funds have been spent. “Money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals,” Pelé told the press this past May. “Brazil needs it. That’s clear. On that point, I agree with the protests,”

Plans to erect a 300-kilogram statue of Pelé before the start of the World Cup in front of the Maracanã stadium also stalled. The frustrated artist commissioned to finish the piece explained to the Times of India that the project was “politically abandoned” a few days after Pelé’s remarks.

As the tournament got underway, the rap sheet of World Cup-related problems was already lengthy. Neil de Mause, co-author of Field of Schemes and a specialist in public spending utilized for private sports stadiums published an article online shortly after the World Cup began that highlighted the worst social and political problems caused by the World Cup:

• Spending on World Cup preparations ballooned to $15 billion, swallowing entire regions’ development budgets and helping spark widespread strikes over low wages.

• An estimated 200,000 people were evicted from their homes, either to make way for World Cup construction projects or because their neighborhoods were designated “high-risk” areas.

• Eight workers were killed in construction accidents during the rush to have new stadiums ready in time for the cup — despite which the stadiums were still decidedly not ready.

• Planned new schools, hospitals and other public projects that were initially promised fell off the construction agenda once the budget ran dry.

• The government spent an additional $900 million on police technology, including surveillance drones, to ensure that anyone upset about all this didn’t cause too much of a ruckus.

De Mause explained that these problems were part and parcel of a “sports model designed to socialize all of your costs so that you can privatize all of your profits. It is a lot easier to make a whole lot of money if someone else is paying your costs. That’s something you see whether it is the New York Yankees or the World Cup.”

Should these problems have been anticipated? Chris Gaffney’s answer is an adamant “yes.” Gaffney, a visiting Professor at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, has been living in Brazil for a half a decade and studies the way mega-events, such as the World Cup, are run and managed.

“Public officials could have demanded FIFA to ask for more from their corporate patrons,” Gaffney explained. “But this isn’t about wise use in public money. It’s an extractive business model in which FIFA articulated its business interests and found willing partners among Brazilian governmental and economic elites.”

The picture of an “extractive” business model that Gaffney paints is similar to how Professor Bent Flyvbjerg, another specialist on mega-events, from the Oxford School of Business, describes in his research findings. Particularly when it comes to Olympic and World Cup spending, Flyvgjerg said that, “costs wind up being significantly higher than what was initially estimated… while on the benefits size, we found the opposite. We found that the actual benefits are lower. So you get this double whammy with higher costs and lower benefits, which any businessman would say is not a good situation.”

Flyvgjerg added, “We find in general that politicians like to build flashy monuments and certainly something like expensive FIFA-inspired World Cup stadiums are an example of that. Unfortunately, we find that it is very difficult for officials to find a sensible use for these stadiums after the World Cup is over.”

Not a good situation for the public, in particular, added Weber. FIFA “says I want this and that. That is their role. And they get what they ask for, at the cost of the public.”

The bidding and negotiating process behind what is offered, asked for and agreed-upon remains clouded in mystery and secrecy. Weber noted, “Everything is confidential. FIFA and the Brazilian organizing committee can and did hide whatever they wanted.”

That is the reason why, as Gaffney explained, “The bid book for Brazil hosting the World Cup has never seen the light of day. The bid was given by disgraced former FIFA Vice President, Ricardo Texeira, to FIFA chief Sepp Blatter in 2007 and the document never surfaced publicly.

What has surfaced since FIFA awarded Brazil the bid and the government began the preparations has been FIFA-related public spending and projects.

In 2007, Lula made lofty promises and voiced high expectations of public-private partnerships in the aftermath of Brazil being chosen as a host country. He promised, “Stadiums will be completely built with private money. Not one cent of public money will be spent.” During the same time, excited officials from the Brazilian Football Federation echoed Lula’s claim. However, because of the failure of public-private plans to ever come to fruition, public spending exploded and a significant paper trail followed, one that Weber and Castello have been closely following.

In the case of the country’s capital, Brasilia, a municipal auditor’s court released a 140-page report detailing over $275 million in over-spending for a $900 million stadium-building project for the World Cup host city. The stadium is the world’s second most expensive among soccer venues,standing in sharp contrast to the lack of a professional team to fill the seats there after the Cup ends.

For Weber, even with the revelations of the scathing Brasilia audit report, there are still sharp limits to what is known thus far. “The actual totals on over-spending on stadiums and corruption related to it is already bad and it will be much worse than what people know and think right now.

Carol Campos, a 22 year-old Brazilian woman who attended many of the protests against the Cup, railed against another lavish stadium built for the Cup up in Natal. She asserts that the expensive arena will have no clear use after the Cup.

“It really is a beautiful stadium, if you see it from the sky, it looks like a sand dune, which are typical here in Natal. But the thing is, it’s a crazy situation. They built a whole stadium for four games. Four games!”

Bidding for Trouble?

The bid for the 2014 World Cup, which by FIFA rules had to be held in Latin America this year, had one entrant: Brazil.

Some experts speculate that the reason why Brazil had no competition on the bid for the Latin America-designated FIFA rotation is that there’s a political cost for politicians wanting to build flashy monuments bearing their name, in addition to the economic costs. In political terms alone, and certainly in Brazil’s case, hosting mega-events has proven to be risky and unpredictable. The way matters are shaping up for President Rousseff as of late is a strong case in point.

Brazil’s close association with FIFA and its slowing economy have not won political points for President Dilma Rousseff. During the current World Cup, FIFA has stirred controversy. After being booed in a Confederation Cup appearance with President Rousseff, its president NAME decided not to even participate in the opening ceremony CHECK. Scandals regarding reports on bribery being a factor in Qatar’s successful attempt to win the 2022 World Cup bid. The awarding to Qatar raised the eyebrows of football observers the world over, in no small part because of the scorching desert-like temperatures in Qatar during the summer months the Cup is held. Other scandals included one where a FIFA official was implicated in a Brazil-based ticket-scalping ring that reaped millions of dollars in resale profits, and an alleged match-fixing scandal, implicating players and possibly officials from the Cameroon squad.

In Brazilian politics, an Associated Press investigation published last month revealed that companies receiving publicly funded and FIFA-related construction projects turned around and raised their election campaign donations to the same public officials who awarded those contracts. In some cases, donations leaped by over 500% higher than their previous donations.

President Rousseff’s approval rating fell to a paltry 38% in April 2014 and at the start of the World Cup, was hovering around 34%. Nevertheless, Rousseff’s closest challenger for the October presidential election is still many percentage points behind her in terms of how they are polling.

While President Rousseff may be able to weather her lowered popularity in the face of a disastrous World Cup, governments – particularly those of newly developing or under-developed economies – may now think twice about hosting the World Cup.

Such second thoughts may be particularly weighty if the people in the host nation have any political decision-making power over the decision.

Andrew Kennis writes for America’s Program, where this story originally appeared.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/15/brazil-defeat-and-the-high-cost-of-hosting-the-world-cup/

 

Marinaleda: the village where people come before profit

by Jen Wilton on July 15, 2014

Post image for Marinaleda: the village where people come before profit

The thriving Spanish town of Marinaleda runs on the principles of mutual aid and direct action. In a country paralyzed by debt, is this an alternative?

By Liam Barrington-Bush and Jen Wilton

In the south of Spain, the street is the collective living room. Vibrant sidewalk cafes are interspersed between configurations of two to five lawn chairs where neighbors come together to chat over the day’s events late into the night. In mid-June the weather peaks well over 40 degrees Celsius and the smells of fresh seafood waft from kitchens and restaurants as the seasonably-late dining hour begins to approach. The scene is archetypally Spanish, particularly for the Andalusian region to the country’s south, where life is lived more in public than in private, when given half a chance.

Specifically, this imagery above describes Marinaleda. Initially indistinguishable from several of its local counterparts in the Sierra Sur southern mountain range, were it not for a few tell-tale signs. Maybe it’s the street names (Ernesto Che Guevara, Solidarity and Salvador Allende Plaza, to name a few); maybe it’s the graffiti (hand drawn hammers-and-sickles sit happily alongside encircled A’s, oblivious to the differences the two ideologies have shared, even in the country’s recent past); maybe it’s the two-story Che head which emblazons the outer wall of the local sports stadium.

Marinaleda has been called Spain’s ‘communist utopia,’ though the local variation bears little resemblance to the Soviet model most associate with the phrase. Classifications aside, this is a town whose social fabric has been woven from very different economic threads to the rest of the country since the fall of the Franco dictatorship in the mid 1970s. A cooperatively-owned olive oil factory, houses built by and for the community, and a famous looting of a large-scale supermarket, led by the town’s charismatic mayor, in which proceeds were donated to food banks, are amongst the steps that have helped position Marinaleda as a beacon of hope.

The currency of direct action

As the Spanish economy continues its post-2008 nosedive, unemployment sits at 26 percent nationally, while over half of young people can’t find work. Meanwhile, Marinaleda boasts a modest but steady local employment picture in which most people have at least some work and those that don’t have a strong safety net to fall back on.

But more than its cash economy, Marinaleda has a currency rarely found beyond small-scale activist groups or indigenous communities fighting destructive development projects: the currency of direct action. Rather than rely exclusively on cash to get things done, Marinaleños have put their collective blood, sweat and tears into creating a range of alternative systems in their corner of the world.

When money hasn’t been readily available — probably the only consistent feature since the community set out on this path — Marinaleños have turned to one another to do what needs doing. At times that has meant collectively occupying land owned by the Andalusian aristocracy and putting it to work for the town, at others it has simply meant sharing the burden of litter collection.

While still operating with some degree of central authority, the local council has devolved power into the hands of those it serves. General assemblies are convened on a regular basis so that townspeople can be involved in decisions that affect their lives. The assemblies also create spaces where people can come together to organize what the community needs through collective action.

“The best thing they have here in Marinaleda, and you can’t find this in other places, is the [general] assembly,” says long-term civil servant for the Marinaleda council, Manuel Gutierrez Daneri. He continues: “Assembly is a place for people to discuss problems and to find the solutions,” pointing out that even minor crimes are collectively addressed via the assembly, as the town has no police or judicial system since the last local cop retired.

In his time as mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo has managed to leverage considerable financial support from the state government, a feat which Gutierrez Daneri attributes to the town’s collective track record for direct action. “If you go ahead with all of the people behind you, that is very powerful,” he says.

As a result, the small town boasts extensive sports facilities and a beautifully-maintained botanical garden, as well as a range of more basic necessities. “For a little village like this, with no more than 2,700 people, we have a lot of facilities,” says Gutierrez Daneri.

British ex-pat Chris Burke has lived in Marinaleda for several years, and he explains that access to the public swimming pool only costs €3 for the entire summer. Burke recounts Mayor Sánchez Gordillo saying to him, “The whole idea of the place being somewhere good to live is that anyone can afford to enjoy themselves.” Burke adds pragmatically, “You can’t have a utopia without some loss-making facilities.”

From occupation to cooperation

In 1979, Sánchez Gordillo was first elected as the town’s mayor. He led an extensive campaign to change Marinaleda’s course, which began with hunger strikes and occupying underutilized land.

Manuel Martin Fernandez has been involved in la lucha (the fight) since the beginning. He explains how through the general assembly process the community decided something had to be done to stem the flow of migration from the town. They began a weeks-long occupation of a nearby reservoir to convince the regional government to allocate them enough water to irrigate a tract of land.

After this proved successful, they then went on to occupy 1,200 hectares of the newly irrigated land, which at that time was owned by an aristocratic family. In 1991, the plot of land was officially expropriated and turned over for local use. “It took 12 years to obtain the land,” Martin Fernandez explains, calling their victory “a conquest.”

Today, extensive fields of olives, artichokes, beans and peppers form the backbone of the local cash economy. The land is collectively managed by the cooperative El Humoso and a canning facility has been set up on the edge of town. “Our aim was not to create profits, but jobs,” Sánchez Gordillo told British author Dan Hancox, explaining why the town chose to prioritize labor-intensive crops to create more employment for local people.

Like most agricultural employment, whether in the fields or the factory, work in Marinaleda is both seasonal and varied from year to year. But unlike many small agricultural towns, Marinaleda shares the work amongst those who need it.

Dolores Valderrama Martin has lived in Marinaleda her entire life and she has worked at the Humoso canning factory for the past 14 years. From the upstairs office she explains that if 200 people are looking for work, but they only need 40 workers, they will bring everyone together. “We gather all of these people who are directly affected,” she says. “We make groups of 30 to 40 people and each group works for two days.”

While the cooperative is formed of nine separate entities, Valderrama Martin says they collectively decide on important issues like the allocation of work. They may even take the issue to a general assembly for wider input from the town. But she cautions, “When there is no work they are unemployed, like anywhere else.”

Most of the town decries the relative lack of work, but the wider social security net built on the principles of direct action and mutual aid have meant that unlike other parts of the country, two months’ wages can go a long way to keep you afloat for the year. At the core of this is the town’s approach to housing, which offers one of the clearest examples of how collective effort can fill the void left by a stagnant cash economy.

The houses that community built

When many young people think about making their first foray into the housing market, money is inevitably the biggest obstacle. State of the economy aside, a down payment is always a sizable sum, even in relatively tame markets, and is increasingly unattainable for what has been described as ‘the jilted generation.’

But high on the list of maverick decisions spearheaded by Mayor Sánchez Gordillo, using a combination of state housing subsidy for building materials, free labor for construction and land given by the town, housing has been partly removed from the free market in Marinaleda. Instead, community members come together with architectural plans provided by the council to build a block of houses, with no sense in advance which home will belong to which family.

The houses — some 350 units in total, with twenty new builds underway at the time of our visit — become part of a housing cooperative. Needless to say, when citizens are only left paying €15 per month for mortgages, this has a massive knock-on impact on work requirements.

The direct action economy

While capitalism frames our relationships as a series of self-interested economic transactions, Marinaleda relies on a model of mutual aid, as locals work together to meet shared needs, with far less money circulating. While it can be easy to forget, money is simply a way of facilitating action, which creates an incentive for people to do tasks that they otherwise may not have any interest in doing.

Direct action, on the other hand, is rooted in common interests and explores the practicalities of what needs doing, based on who is there to do it. Direct action eliminates the consumer-provider divide, making cash an unnecessary intermediary in getting things done, as those who want something done, and those doing it become one-in-the-same.

While Marinaleda has its flaws, it reminds us that alternative economic models are not only possible, they already exist. A striking piece of graffiti on Marinaleda’s main road depicts a dream-catcher, super-imposed with a hammer and sickle. The accompanying message implores us, “Catch your dreams — utopia is possible.”

This article was originally published at Contributoria.

Liam Barrington-Bush is an activist, facilitator, and author of Anarchists in the Boardroom. He tweets as @hackofalltrades, blogs at morelikepeople.org and posts stuff on the more like people Facebook page.

Jen Wilton is a freelance journalist, researcher and photographer based in London, UK. Her interests include social movements, sustainable energy, alternative economies and Latin America. She tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at Revolution Is Eternal

Thinking of Trying to Make Money Off Airbnb or Uber? Read This First


The so-called ‘sharing economy’ is becoming a booming industry for middlemen, but for you, it’s complicated.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Joining the sharing economy as a provider of services – accommodation, transportation or whatever else the market calls for – gives you a chance to make money while being part of a “movement”. It sounds tremendously appealing, doesn’t it?

The companies being built around this new zeitgeist have different enough business models for it to be worth discussing them as if they do, indeed, fall into a different category from more traditional bastions of capitalism. To some, the appeal is the ability to feel like part of a community by pooling their resources: helping a neighbor or network member to cut the cost of everything from a pricey textbook to a baby stroller, or a ride from San Francisco to LA and an overnight stay in someone’s spare room. It’s a far cry from shopping on Amazon, and checking for plane fares on JetBlue and shopping around for hotel bargains on Priceline – somehow morepersonal.

But make no mistake: it’s a business. And you forget that at your peril, regardless of how you’re participating in the sharing economy.

Here’s the bottom line: none of the businesses that have sprung up to serve the sharing economy are 501c3 non-profit entities. Rather, they are corporations whose goal is to make a profit out of a much less formal sharing economy that already existed. Long before Airbnb was launched in 2008, a friend of mind traveled across Europe using a couch-surfing style network called Servus. I’ve formed some lasting friendships with people with a free Airbnb-style network, Hospitality Club, that offers hosts and guests the chance to review each other, Airbnb style. Airbnb has just formalized those arrangements, while ride-sharing companies like BlaBla Car have done the same with those old-fashioned ride share boards on walls or online – and build in a profit for the middleman.

But you don’t get to become one of the most valuable venture capital-based businesses in the world, as Airbnb has done, and to be worth an estimated $10bn (more than some hotel chains) if all you are is part of a “movement”. Nope, you have to have found a way to make being the middleman pay off very handsomely indeed – and that’s capitalism 101, not a movement.

All of which means that if you’re doing business with Airbnb – or Uber, or Parking Panda, or Liquid, or any of the other sharing economy enterprises springing up – you need to think of it in those terms, too.

First of all, while you may think of this as just generating a bit of extra income on the side – a way to pay off your student loans, to make your summer vacation pay for itself, to fund your weekends out with friends or to help save up to pay for a wedding or a downpayment for your house or car – the IRS won’t see it that way.

And if you think the IRS won’t ever know, well, let me disabuse you of that right now. You’ll fill out tax forms – and come January, you’ll get a 1099 form. Depending on the figure on it, you may end up kissing your expected refund goodbye, or facing an unexpected tax liability. If that 1099 form doesn’t show up? Don’t heave a sigh of relief and fail to report that income. If you think an unexpected tax liability is bad, getting on the wrong side of the IRS is exponentially worse.

The best idea of all is to talk to your accountant and ask for their input. At what point does sharing economy income change your tax picture by putting you in a higher tax bracket? Are there any additional writeoffs you should be aware of? Sure, this might cost you an hour of her time – but it could save you a lot of money down the road. And remember, you’re thinking of this as a business – just like the Airbnbs, Ubers and others who are quite happy to scoop up a percentage of what you collect.

Before you delve into the sharing economy, consider the regulations governing the micro-business that you’re choosing to enter and how they might affect you. In New York, for instance, it’s illegal to rent out a room in your apartment unless you’re there during the guest’s stay; generally, apartment rentals of under 30 days are illegal. (Depending on who you ask, this is an attempt either to make sure housing stock remains available to people who want to live in it, or a result of fierce lobbying by the hotel industry.) That doesn’t stop people from publicly violating both the law and the terms of their own leases – but Airbnb has made it crystal clear that they are on their own when it comes to sorting out those problems. So if you’ve got a landlord – or neighbors – who you know are just itching to bid you farewell for whatever reason, handing them an ironclad reason to do so might be foolhardy.

(Meanwhile, Airbnb is confronting some of these issues itself: this past week Barcelona slapped a fine on the company for violating laws that require rooms rented to tourists be registered with government authorities.)

What does set this new breed of business apart from its peers and predecessors is the emphasis on collaboration: hence, the alternative moniker of “collaborative consumption”. That’s a reason to assume that it’s less businesslike in nature (just as the Internet startups of yore were no less focused on making millions just because their founders wore khakis instead of suits). What it means for those of us hoping to make a much smaller amount of money alongside the capitalist creators of these businesses is that marketing may matter much more than before. Expectations are pretty low for customer “service” from traditional businesses; they’re higher from your peers in the sharing economy community who will be rating things like the cleanliness of your home and the promptness with which you respond to queries.

The “sharing economy” isn’t going anywhere, and the temptation to become a micro-entrepreneur is only going to grow. But if you’re on the verge of succumbing to temptation, ask yourself whether you’re ready to view this as a business. If not, you’re probably not ready to deal with the risks you’ll be taking onboard along with the much more widely touted rewards.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/thinking-trying-make-money-airbnb-or-uber-read-first?akid=12016.265072.GVVEly&rd=1&src=newsletter1011288&t=13&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Why does Argentina not simply default again?

by Jerome Roos on July 13, 2014

Post image for Why does Argentina not simply default again?

Constructing authentic economic sovereignty will require a number of sacrifices that Argentina’s government does not appear to be willing or able to make.

On December 20, 2001, amidst a devastating three-year-old financial crisis and following 48 hours of unprecedented mass protests and a wave of police repression that left more than thirty people dead, Argentina’s embattled President Fernando De la Rúa was forced to resign and escape the Casa Rosada by helicopter. His successor’s first act in office was to declare an immediate suspension of payments on the country’s enormous debt — constituting the largest sovereign default in world history. On Christmas Eve, with beautiful Buenos Aires still smouldering from the insurrection, Interim President Rodríquez Saá addressed Congress and declared that “the gravest thing that has happened here is that priority has been given to the foreign debt while the state has an internal obligation with its own people.”

Fast-forward to mid-2014 and the fall-out of that decision — to honor Argentina’s internal obligation with its people — still haunts the country. Argentina is currently engaged in a protracted legal battle with a number of US-based “vulture funds”, which specialize in buying up the debt of distressed sovereigns at greatly discounted prices and then suing the government for full value. Back in 2005 and 2010, these vultures rejected the terms of Argentina’s negotiated debt restructuring with private creditors. The deal had brought the country’s default episode to a successful close, with 93% of creditors accepting crisp new bonds worth 30 cents on the dollar. The claims of the remaining 7% of so-called “hold-out” creditors were formally repudiated by the government. In recent years, however, these hold-outs creditors — led by Elliot Management, owned by multi-billionaire hedge fund tycoon Peter Singer — have been pursuing aggressive legal action to get Argentina to repay them in full anyway.

The vultures have been aided in their financial arm-twisting by a series of sympathetic court rulings back home. Last month, the US Supreme Court effectively upheld a decision by Judge Thomas Griesa of the US District Court for Southern New York, who had earlier ruled that Argentina is legally obliged to repay the hold-out creditors in full. In the past, Argentina cared little for such rulings, as US courts do not have jurisdiction in Argentina and private creditors, despite trying, consistently failed to attach the country’s foreign assets — including its embassies, warships and presidential airplane — because they enjoy sovereign immunity. This time, however, the US District Court’s decision was not just a paper tiger. To add teeth to his ruling, Griesa prohibited all US-based financial intermediaries from processing Argentina’s payments to its other creditors if it does not first settle with the vulture funds. The result has been to put a gun to the government’s head: either it repays the vultures, or it will fall into its second sovereign default in 12 years.

The threat became particularly acute when, on June 30, a bond fell due that Argentina — as a result of Griesa’s ruling — was unable to pay, even though it deposited the money with a New York clearing house to be transferred to its creditors. The government now has a 30-day grace period to avoid falling into formal default. This means that, before July 30, it will have to arrive at a settlement with the vultures over an acceptable rate and schedule of repayment. One major obstacle is that, as a result of a law passed during the 2005 restructuring, Argentina’s government is legally prohibited from offering the hold-outs a better deal than those who participated in the restructuring. Another obstacle is the political capital that President Fernández and her late husband, ex-President Kirchner, have invested in opposing and railing against the vultures. Now the government needs to weigh what laws and what audience weigh more heavily: Argentine laws and citizens, or US laws and investors?

When put in this perspective, one may wonder why Argentina does not simply reject Griesa’s ruling altogether. Why violate your own laws and your internal obligation with your own people? Why not just default again?

The problem is that default is costly — especially when you depend on good relations with foreign investors to reanimate a moribund economy. Argentina is currently mired in recession and high inflation, and over the past year its currency reserves have dwindled to $30 billion. Widespread capital flight continues to put pressure on the ever-unstable peso, and the black market for dollars is thriving as middle-class Argentinians seek to insure themselves against external financial shocks and unpredictable government behavior by saving up dollars. This, combined with a gloomy external environment — including a Chinese growth slowdown, the roll-back of the Federal Reserve’s monetary stimulus program in the US, and the generalized slump in commodity prices — renders Argentina increasingly dependent on foreign capital to maintain key economic indicators like growth, employment and price stability.

Moreover, the costs of default are not equally spread out across society. While the alternative of default (full repayment, or at least some kind of settlement with the hold-outs) would be costly for those social classes that depend more heavily on state expenditure for their own livelihoods, default itself is usually particularly costly for the domestic elite, which tends to be invested in its government’s bonds and which derives much greater economic advantage from deep integration into global financial markets. Despite the national-populist discourse of the Kirchner/Fernández governments, these elites still hold a disproportionate share of the decision-making power in Argentina today — it is just that under the neo-Peronist policy regime of the past decade the center of gravity has shifted back towards the national bourgeoisie at the expense of the deeply integrated financial establishment, or patria financiera, which thrived under the neoliberal governments of Menem and De la Rúa in the 1990s.

And so it is not necessarily the US court ruling itself that now binds Argentina’s hands behind its back. As Ezequiel Adamovsky pointed out in his TeleSUR column last week, the rulings of Judge Griesa are pronounced against a political economic background of asymmetric and peripheral integration into world trade and the global financial system. Argentina has always been a commodity exporter, dependent on world demand for meat, grain and minerals for its own economic development. The past ten years of neo-developmentalism under the left-Peronist governments of the Kirchners have done little to alter this dependent economic structure. While the country’s main export industries have since shifted to minerals and soy, the fundamental pattern of extractivism remains the same. And now that the long commodity boom of the past decade is finally coming to an end, Argentina’s financial dependence on foreign capital — which goes back to its creation as an independent state with close links to British Empire and the City of London — is accentuated anew.

As a result, Argentina currently finds itself in an increasingly precarious fiscal and financial situation. Earlier in January this year, the government received a taste of what may yet lie ahead when the peso suddenly lost 16% of its value on a single trading day, raising fears of another decennial financial collapse being in-the-making. This is why the Kirchner government has recently been pushing for a normalization of the country’s relationship with its foreign creditors, starting with the Paris Club of bilateral lenders, with whom it sealed a landmark deal in May to clear some $9.7 billion of arrears. It is also why Economy Minister Axel Kicillof is now reported to be negotiating a settlement with the hold-outs, despite the government’s decade-old game of chicken with foreign creditors and its rhetorical denunciations of the vultures. Argentina has already been forced back to the negotiating table with a gun to its head, and while it keeps kicking and screaming, the government now slowly appears to be resigning itself to its structural dependence on foreign capital.

*    *    *

What, then, are the lessons we should take away from this experience? In my opinion, there are two crucial points. First, governments do not simply default because they are asked to; they only default when they are forced to. Argentina’s historic 2001 default was a complex phenomenon, one that cannot simply be reduced to a “confrontation with Wall Street” (in fact, it turns out that by December 2001, many Wall Street bankers, IMF officials and even the US government openly supported an Argentine default, for the simple reason that Wall Street had already dumped most of its bonds on unsuspecting European retail investors in a major debt swap earlier that year). Nevertheless, the country’s unilateral default was “won” through the struggle of ordinary Argentinians, through the tireless grassroots work of autonomous social movements, and through the relentless pressure brought to bear on the political establishment by the spontaneous popular insurrection of December 2001. If there is to be another default, President Fernández is not likely to consent to the economic spillover costs voluntarily; her hand will have to be forced somehow.

The second and closely related lesson is perhaps more depressing, and concerns the complicated ways in which the global capitalist power structure — and the financial power structure in particular — manages over time to recode, co-opt and neutralize almost all forms of “state activism” against neoliberal orthodoxy, including progressive and leftist strategies for national self-determination and popular empowerment in Latin America. Argentina’s default of 2001 marked a partial victory for the country’s powerful grassroots movements, but subsequent developments have witnessed the re-emergence of the traditional Peronist elite, the re-entrenchment of the national bourgeoisie, and now the gradual re-integration of the country into global capital markets. As the government increasingly normalizes its relations with its foreign creditors, the disciplinary pressures of global finance will make themselves felt anew — and it is not unlikely that the government will soon find itself re-internalizing the neoliberal orthodoxy that was supposedly thrown out with the 2001 default.

Argentina is far from alone in this respect. A similar pattern is unfolding in Ecuador — the only country to have followed in Argentina’s footsteps by imposing a unilateral moratorium on its foreign private creditors in 2008. After years of railing against the global usurers, President Correa is now seeking to normalize relations with foreign investors and the World Bank, drawing the ire of his former political ally Alberto Acosta — now a prominent opposition figure on the left — who recently remarked that “revolutionary and anti-imperialist discourses rapidly dissipate faced with a proposal to modernize capitalism,” lamenting that “this regressive wave takes on more and more indelible hues, as over-indebtedness — as shown by history — will demand increasing expansion of extractive frontiers at all levels, and overpower the need to end dependency and construct authentic economic sovereignty.”

As the vultures of global finance circle over Argentina once more, the state’s internal obligation to its own people — temporarily reinforced by the 2001 uprising — increasingly begins to fray. In the process, ordinary Argentinians are re-discovering that ending dependency will require much more than railing against the vultures only to subsequently acquiesce to their demands. Constructing authentic economic sovereignty will require a number of sacrifices that — despite a flurry of public statements to the contrary — Argentina’s current government does not appear to be willing or able to make.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine.This article was written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24.

From Lampedusa to Hamburg: time to open the gates!

by Susi Meret on July 10, 2014

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As European countries throw up their walls and clamp down on refugees and migrants, the latter are increasingly responding with peaceful resistance. 

By Susi Meret and Martin Bak Jørgensen

Ideals of liberty and freedom are prominent features in Hamburg’s institutional rhetoric. Carved out in golden letters in a nineteenth century inscription displayed above the main entrance to the Rathaus, the city’s Town Hall, the words in Latin proclaim: ‘Libertatem, quam peperere maiores, digne studeat servare posteritas‘ — may posterity strive worthily to preserve the liberty which our ancestors achieved.

However, the liberty cherished by our ancestors and highly praised by our politicians today does not apply in equal measure to all. There are groups in our societies still largely excluded from what the majority considers basic civil rights. In particular, liberty and freedom often do not hold up for asylum seekers, refugees, ‘irregular’ migrants and other disenfranchised groups who today are denied the right to move freely, to work and to live a decent life.

Like many other European cities experiencing rapid socioeconomic growth, the history of Hamburg documents a fast-developing trade, flourishing business and financial industries, and a dynamic industrial sector. Hamburg’s development dates back to the period of the Hansestadt, when the city was part of the Hanseatic League which granted almost undisturbed expansion to trading activities and autonomy from central government. As a Hamburg maxim goes: ‘Wherever there’s trade, there tread Hamburgers’.

The city lying on the banks of the river Elbe was for more than 800 years one of the major centers of maritime power and today it is still renowned for its industriousness, wealth and prosperity. Over the past centuries Hamburg was ravaged by epidemics (the cholera years), by famine, by fires and flooding, by wars and economic recession; but every time it managed to rise up again. Important economic activities and trade were brought to the city of Hamburg by ‘strangers’, including the Dutch, the French and the English.

As a result, the city has a historical record for teaming up with outsiders. The open and industrious Hanseatic spirit attracted foreigners who were drawn to Hamburg in search of a better life and job opportunities — and occasionally also to find refuge, as with the Sephardi Jews coming from Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth century, or the Dutch Calvinists who sought shelter from the persecution of Philip II’s Catholic armies.

Hamburg today remains one of the major industrial transport hubs in Europe and the second wealthiest city in Germany. Every year at the beginning of May, Hamburgers gather at the Landungsbrücken for the anniversary of their harbor. This event not only celebrates the city’s huge port as the main source of employment and economic activity in the region, but also as a place lending Hamburg its identity as a city of trade.

Again, last May, locals and visitors flocked at the weekend port festival under the official city slogan: ‘Hamburg — gateway to the world’. Welcoming words reiterated by SPD major Olaf Schulz in a public speech, praising Hamburg for being an ‘international’, ‘cosmopolitan’ metropolis, where ‘everyone who decides to stay contributes with their own ideas, personal history, individual talents and skills to the city’.

Unfortunately, the city’s main characteristics of freedom, openness and cosmopolitanism refer exclusively to free trade, business and the movement of goods and raw materials — not the free movement of people. Amidst all the activity and industriousness there are people in Hamburg who continue to live in destitution and whose claims for basic rights and recognition are systematically ignored by the Hamburg Senate and the German state.

Destitution as a weapon

Poverty, marginalization and exclusionary policies are also part of Hamburg’s history, even if they seldom feature in official rhetoric. In the past, as well, authorities used urban planning to displace and disperse the city’s poor, trying to make poverty and destitution ‘invisible’ to the eye of the well-off Hamburgers by moving them into remote districts, further away from the heart of trade, business and finance in the center of town. Business and growth simply required a suitable environment: social peace, work, order and discipline for perpetual growth. Nowadays, the accelerating gentrification process in the city continues to fulfill the same function: a process of displacement and dispossession, which allows for capital investment, surplus value absorption, and accumulation through urban redevelopment and cycles of ‘creative destruction’.

Like in other major municipalities, the way to achieve this in Hamburg has often implied a strengthening of state authority and the enforcement of new practices of discipline, control and surveillance over groups of people considered to be contentious and potentially threatening to the status-quo. Historically, target groups included the working poor, the unemployed and the city indigents. Laws, regulations and control contributed to discipline the poor, to prevent dissent and uprising, and to physically remove unwelcome social groups from the city quarters.

Take, for instance, the so-called Poor Laws developed in the nineteenth century, which exerted forms of physical and moral control and punishment over the deprived and indigent. The enforcement of the Poor Laws penalized the unsettled and those considered not to belong to the community, as well as the “paupers” who did not to comply with the prevalent social values of obedience. These methods of law enforcement also spread the opinion among the population poverty was a condition for which the individual was mainly responsible, as a result of his or her lack of a healthy working moral and personal integrity.

At the same time, these laws reaffirmed state authority, emphasizing the borderline of social acceptability between the ‘worthy’, ‘deserving’ working citizens versus the ‘deviants’, the ‘unsettled’ and non-working. Entitlement to poverty relief was subject to the joint control of state authorities, the church and dominant economic elites, who could prevent the subalterns from initiating autonomous resistance and attaining a political consciousness, which could eventually succeed in unifying their claims and instigating rebellion.

Direct parallels can be traced between these practices of the past and present-day conditions, showing similar mechanisms of control, exclusion, displacement and punishment of the subaltern in society. Destitution is still used as a weapon today: for example in the form of a ban on working and mobility rights (the so-called Residenzpflicht) that often follow the status of asylum seekers and refugees in Germany, thus creating an artificial social dependency that fuels forms of stigmatization and practices of exclusion well portrayed by opinions that asylum seekers and refugees are social and economic parasites living at the expenses of the state and German society.

Particularly in times of crisis, conventional discourses describe asylum seekers and refugees as ‘scroungers’, stealing welfare resources, housing and eventually native people’s jobs. Their existence is made invisible by authorities, which usually confine them in remote and prison-like environments, where people cease to have a normal life and their existence does not disturb the rest of society. Asylum seekers’ and refugees’ claims for rights have been systematically ignored and purposely obstructed by institutional powers and dominant elites, whose involvement facilitates non-coercive forms of consent and silent submission to rules and regulations, when state authorities have difficulties to act directly on subjects.

When the subaltern raises her voice

It is when subalterns react and rebel against the rules of hegemonic groups that the system responds more powerfully. It happened recently with the ‘Lampedusa in Hamburg’ movement, which was formed in March 2013 as a direct response of a group of refugees from the Libyan war to a number of German and European laws. About 300 refugees coming from Italy openly challenged the limits to free movement imposed by the Dublin Regulations that prevent them to move to, stay and work in another European country than the one they first arrived in.

In Hamburg, the group came together and began to organize a protest movement. The group has since engaged into a fundamental and vital struggle for their own right to stay and, indeed, for the rights of all asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to freely decide where to move, live and work. Their slogan — ‘We are here to stay!’ — directly challenges the still widespread idea that asylum seekers and refugees are only here on a temporary basis. ‘Lampedusa in Hamburg’ became the principal driving force behind numerous public demonstrations, solidarity initiatives and social and political events organized with the support of local movements and advocacy groups and sustained by broad segments of civil society.

Opposing procedures and laws limiting their right to dissent and make their voice heard, the group organized a sit-in in front of the Town Hall last June 5, pleading local authorities — and in particular Mayor Olaf Scholz — to accept their demands for a working permit and for the right to stay in Germany. Their peaceful demonstration was met with police violence; several of the refugees and supporters were beaten and pepper-sprayed, while some were arrested, detained for a day and deprived of their Italian refugee documents. After that, some of the mainstream media and established political parties reconstructed the facts by framing the protest as a clear sign of ‘radicalization’ within the Lampedusa group, supposedly instigated by Hamburg’s ‘extremist’ left-wing milieu.

Meanwhile, local politicians forged dubious explanations maintaining that Hamburg’s refugee system has reached dramatic economic and social conditions and that the municipality ‘no longer has room’ to accommodate all refugees, nor the resources to find or create further space. This explanation was difficult to understand considering the countless empty state-owned buildings and the pace of gentrification in the city.

But local authorities in Hamburg and elsewhere in Germany have chosen to be hardliners; as the recent case of the police crackdown on the occupied “refugee school” in Berlin exemplifies, whenever asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants refuse to comply with individual pseudo-solutions, they are systematically threatened with ultimatums, evictions, detention and deportation.

For many, the ‘Lampedusa in Hamburg’ protest epitomizes recent developments in the mobilization, self-organization and social struggle of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany and Europe more generally. What we are witnessing is a phenomenon of rising self-empowerment and self-organization among subaltern groups that are acutely aware of their common experience of racial discrimination and social exclusion, and that want to achieve political recognition and concrete collective agency at the local, national and European levels.

Besides Hamburg, new asylum seekers’ and refugees’ movements have established in several major cities in the past year, including Berlin, Hannover, Frankfurt/Hanau, Nürnberg and Munich. The composition, practices and strategies of these struggles vary, differently influenced as they are by opportunity structures at local level and by the nature of political support from local advocacy groups, activist networks and civil society organizations. However, besides the obvious local differences, what is common among these mobilizations is the attempts to work together, to learn from each others’ actions and practices, from misplaced alliances and mistakes in order to further entrench solidarity and understanding from European society. This effort needs to be further strengthened and supported in the future in order to avoid fragmentation of the movements.

The March 4 Freedom

The March 4 Freedom action that ended with an Action Week in Brussels, coinciding with the European Council Summit that took place on June 26 and 27, aptly illustrates how transnational linkages and cooperation can be put to work in this way. The March 4 Freedom originated in different European countries and was underway for a full month.

Those involved camped at Parc Maximilien in Brussels, where debates, demonstrations, hearings and movie screenings were organized. Over 450 people occupied the park. The decision-making processes were organized collectively by various groups including the ‘Lampedusa in Hamburg’ collective, as well as activists and organizers from Berlin, Hanau, the national coalition of Sans-Papiers (CISPM), and collectives from Italy, France and Belgium.

As ‘Lampedusa in Hamburg’ pointed out and exposed the paradoxes between Hamburg’s liberal history and its contemporary asylum and immigration policies, March 4 Freedom did the same at the European level. Europe’s history is a history of colonialism — and today’s problems cannot be understood without acknowledging this past.

The Action Week, which culminated on June 26 in a main demonstration against Europe’s inhumane laws and policies on asylum and migration, also shows how the struggles have expanded. The slogans in Brussels emphasized the struggle as being one of increasing precarity, not only in terms of the right to stay and move freely, but also of the right to work and decent living conditions for all. Viewed from this angle, there is a possibility — a necessity even — to place the struggle of migrants and refugees in the broader context of the struggle of the “precariat”; of all those, migrants and locals alike, whose life is marked by constant insecurity and unpredictability.

This common perspective stresses the need to unite different, individual struggles across sectional divides. After all, as was shouted from a rooftop in Berlin last week: ‘you can’t evict a movement’ — and this movement might just grow bigger than any of us could have predicted.

Susi Meret and Martin Bak Jørgensen are assistant and associate professor, respectively, at the department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University. They are both affiliated with the COMID (Centre for the Studies of Migration and Diversity) research group. 

Did Bin Laden Win?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

http://media3.s-nbcnews.com/i/newscms/2014_09/211786/140226-binladen-spread-930a_78cfcc8e5d500911b3f1f4b998b3ac38.jpg

by ERIC WALBERG

Osama Bin Laden’s goal in 9/11 was to suck the US into Afghanistan and Iraq, sparking a regional conflagration that would sweep away the imperial legacy and establish a new caliphate. Over a decade later, this plan is still on track. As he led his jihadists triumphantly into Mosul and declared an emirate on Iraq-Syrian territory, ISIS ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that the 1916 secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain, France and imperial Russia was at last being dismantled.

The US and Saudis now face an intractable dilemma.

  • For the US, allowing the local al-Qaeda rebels to consolidate their hold on Sunni Iraq and northern Syria means the complete failure of their post-9/11 strategy of creating a new Middle East under their hegemony.
  • For the Saudis, it means risking the very existence of the Saudi state itself.

Sykes-Picot and Saudi Arabia

All of the Middle East states, including Saudi Arabia, were founded as a result of the disintegration of the Ottoman Caliphate at the end of WWI and the Sykes-Picot Agreement that effectively abolished the Ottoman caliphate (Turkey’s new secular leader formalized this in 1924), dividing it into British-French “mandates” and eventually nation states. The prickly Saudis did not suffer the humiliation of direct occupation, but they followed the imperial agenda.

Saudi control of the Arabian peninsula was not what the British had in mind. The British had hoped that the Hashemites could consolidate power over the holy cities Mecca and Medina. They nominally ruled Mecca at the time—Hussein as Emir of Mecca (1908–1917) and his son Abdullah, as deputy for Mecca from 1909–1914 in the Ottoman legislature. In 1917 Hussein was internationally recognized as king of the Kingdom of Hejaz.

Against all odds, the Saud tribe, followers of the ultraconservative Wahhab, defied the British and occupied Mecca in 1924, using an elite corps of jihadists—the Ikhwan—which Saud leader Abdul Aziz organized in 1912 for this purpose (not to be confused with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood founded in 1928). The British had no choice but to accede to this fait accompli, and abandoned their original plan involving the more westernized Hashemites.

However, the Ikhwan jihadists were then betrayed by Abdul Aziz and his new patrons—yes, the very same British—in 1929. The Ikhwan were not happy with Sykes-Picot, which the Saud leader accepted, as it allowed him to establish a tribal monarchy (under imperialist hegemony) to govern the Muslim world.

The Sauds and even more so the Ikhwan were the ISIS of the day—ruthless fighters who slaughter their enemies as ‘unbelievers’, determined to impose their Wahhab-inspired austere Islam on all Muslims. The Sauds were known for their thorough plundering and merciless killings, their raids being “deadlier than traditional Bedouin raids, which usually avoided killing for fear of triggering a blood feud,” according to historian Vernon Egger.

For almost a century now, the Sauds have been able to square the circle, reconciling their role within the empire with their primitive Wahhabism. But they have had their day. Al-Qaeda and now ISIS find their inspiration not with the compromised Saudis but the Ikhwan rebels (followers of Wahhab, but with his militancy restored, and as such dubbed “neo-Wahhabis”).

Just as the first Saudi King Abdul Aziz, supported by the Ikhwan, swept away the more complacent Hashemites and Ottomans/ British, Bin Laden/ ISIS would sweep away the now complacent Saudi royal family, grown fat on its oil wealth, and its US sponsors. Saudi control of the holy cities provides a poor echo of the once powerful Islamic civilization, and the “neo-Wahhabis” know it.

A rump caliphate

The yearning for a revival of the caliphate is predominantly a Sunni one. Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT, Party of Liberation) was founded by Palestinians and Jordanians in 1953, advocating the revival of the Ottoman Caliphate. It was/is supported by Saudi Arabia (though it does not openly operate in Saudi Arabia).

The whole nineteenth century reform thrust in Islam appeared to be Sunni, though reformer Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was himself Shia and his Sunni Egyptian ally Muhammad Abduh was nonsectarian, campaigning for an end to the Sunni-Shia animosity. After the Caliphate was abolished in 1924 and replaced by colonialism, Shia and Sunnis cooperated in the revivalist Khilafat Movement. Iraqi Shia ulama supported the Sunni rebellion against the British, and Persian religious scholars went to the Caliphate Conference in Jerusalem in 1931.

Sunni extremists like ISIS accuse Shia of being American agents, supporting the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is hardly fair. Shia parties opposed these invasions but really had no alternative, and accepted the occupations as faits accomplis, naturally attempting to improve their lot under the circumstances. The charge of being agents of imperialism is belied by the fact that Iran is the only outspoken Islamic critic of imperialism and is the subject of unrelenting subversion for its trouble.

However, the imperial strategy of divide and conquer has worked, and Sunni-Shia sectarianism has been consolidated to the extent that to achieve their goal of a new caliphate, ISIS is collaborating with their secular foes of yesteryear, Baathists and former military personnel, who operate as the Iraqi Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

Such a strategy will achieve at best a truncated caliphate—roughly ISIS’s current territory—surrounded by hostile Sunni and Shia states, which will soon be the scene of further conflict as the ex-Baathists struggle for control. Their tactical alliance with ISIS can’t last. At that point, ISIS will be forced to look to their Saudi foes for support, but this again is not a stable alliance, as the Saudi betrayal of the Ikhwan in the 1920s reminds us.

This caliphate revival, the goal of Bin Laden, of HuT, and stretching back to the Ikhwan in the 1920s and Afghani in the nineteenth century, should have ended with the US invasions following 9/11, which aimed at destroying al-Qaeda and consolidating US hegemony in the region. However, the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be a boon to these “neo-Wahhabis”, and all Obama’s horse and all of his men now look quite helpless.

By backing the Syrian insurgency, the US gave at least free rein (if not actual support) to ISIS, who presumably were only supposed to be spoilers, weaken Assad, possibly split up Syria and Iraq, but certainly not to gain power and keep it. With that now a possibility, the US is panicking, as well it should. So far, the Saudis aren’t panicking, presumably counting on using their oil wealth and anti-Shia sectarianism to let them co-opt leaders of some future Sunni Iraqi-Syrian state.

Perhaps they count on the US to drone ISIS out of existence and replace them with pro-US Sunnis. But this no longer looks like an option either. ISIS types are prepared to die in their jihad, like the Ikhwan insurgents a century ago, and it is unlikely that ISIS will be seduced by either the empire or a bankrupt monarchy.

Acceding to a rump caliphate would be the equivalent of the British making peace in the 1920s with the Ikhwan, an impossibility in terms of empire strategy. Now, as then, Saudi hegemony must be preserved. Now, as then, Saudi collapse would mean an end to imperial control over the vital region.

A new regional alignment

ISIS’s sectarian success is prompting calls for a nonsectarian alliance between governments in Syria, Iraq, Iran and possibly Turkey opposed to this scenario. Turkish support for the insurgency in Syria is already being seen as a mistake, encouraging Kurdish separatism, and Turkey’s Islamists have no truck with ISIS. A proposal by Diako Hosseini of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Institute for Political and International Studies is the establishment of a rapid deployment force by the neighboring countries of Iraq, centered on Iran and Turkey, which would act on the request of the Iraqi government.

What role can the US play here? Not much, as its support is the kiss of death to Iraqis seeking to extricate themselves from a decade of US occupation, and the return of its forces would be a blow to the regional powers, who should be the actors responsible for solving the region’s problems.

Such a regional alliance would stabilize the US-installed regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, though no longer under US hegemony. The rapprochement between Sunni and Shia that it implies would bring Muslims together in a way that ISIS and its sectarian caliphate cannot do. Neither the Saudi Wahhabis nor the ISIS neo-Wahhabis are capable of making this ‘leap of faith’.

Eric Walberg writes about the Middle East. He can be reached through his website.

A shorter version of this appeared at Middle East Eye

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/10/did-bin-laden-win/