Europe never existed. It was a story made up to deal with the legacies of war  

Has Europe lost its hold on our collective imagination?

Is European unity an unsustainable myth?
Is European unity an unsustainable myth? Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

When I was a teenager in Dublin in the early 1970s, the phrase “We’re into Europe!” gained a peculiar currency. It was half-jokey but not really sardonic. You used it for good things that promised even better things – when a girl you fancied smiled at you or your team scored the first goal.

It came from what was (in retrospect quite amazingly) a popular TV show calledInto Europe that the state broadcaster put on to educate the populace of a peripheral nation that was going to join the European Economic Community in 1973. I remember documentaries about farm consolidation in Denmark or students sitting around some castle in Germany discussing “What does it mean to be European?” It seemed terribly exciting that we, too, would soon be able to discuss that question with the same earnest enthusiasm. We were into Europe.

But what did “Europe” mean in this sense? It was not a physical place. Ireland had, after all, always been part of Europe. And the EEC was not, in any case, Europe – it was a small fraction of the continent. But it wasn’t a mere set of trading and institutional arrangements either. It was a story, an imaginative fiction of the kind that Yuval Noah Harari evokes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He makes the point that the capacity to believe in fictional constructs is a defining element of what makes us human, because without it we cannot co-operate with people we do not know: “At the heart of our mass co-operation networks, you will always find fictional stories that exist only in people’s collective imagination… There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.”

One of these enabling fictions is “Europe”. It is a story that most of the central and western nations of the continent agreed to tell themselves and each other in order to deal with the legacies of the second world war and the cold war. And like all stories, it sustained itself, if not exactly with belief, then at least with a willing suspension of disbelief. The question now is whether it still exists at all, whether “Europe” has lost its hold on our collective imagination. All the evidence suggests that it has.

In a remarkable outburst reported last week by the Observer, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, denounced the failure of his fellow EU leaders to agree on more than a voluntary plan to deal with the thousands of refugees and migrants landing on his country’s shores: “If this is your idea of Europe, keep it for yourself… you do not deserve to call yourself Europe. Either we have solidarity or we waste our time!”

In recent weeks, too, the appeals by leaders of Syriza in Greece to “our shared European values” have come to seem not just desperate but naive. It is as if the Greeks were appealing to medieval codes of chivalry or expecting Premier League footballers to respect 19th-century Corinthian values. “Europe” and “European values” seem, even as rhetorical gestures, entirely hollow. They are evoked now only to underline their absence.

One by one, the elements of the Europe story have fallen away. Democracy? European leaders, especially the Germans, have been openly canvassing the idea of “regime change” in Athens. The free movement of people? Hungary is planning to build a fence along its border with Serbia and David Cameron is hoping to build a metaphorical fence around Britain. The welfare state? The recent elections in both Finland and Denmark suggest that even in its Nordic heartland, it is no longer seen as a European value but as a national, even an ethnic, possession, to be kept for “our people” alone.

Solidarity? Who now believes that the average person in Frankfurt or Helsinki sees the pensioner rummaging in a bin in Thessaloniki as a fellow citizen? Thresholds of decency? Formulaic expressions of sympathy aside, there is little sense that the European Union as a whole finds it intolerable that hundreds of thousands of Greeks are living without electricity or that millions have no access to public health care.

The “ever closer union” envisaged by the EU’s founders has been replaced in effect by a deeply incoherent mixture of one-size-fits-all thinking and double standards. On the one hand, there is the absolute insistence that there can be no challenge to the technocratic formula for solving the eurozone crisis: austerity plus massive bank bailouts plus privatisation and the dismantling of social and labour protections.

On the other, there is a sharp moral and political divide between the creditor states and the debtor states, with a supposedly virtuous, prudent and righteous core beset by a feckless, reckless periphery. Or, if viewed from that periphery, between victimised citizens and a European political elite bent on punishing them for sins they did not commit on their own.

There is no “collective imagination” of the crisis – in one Europe, it is respectable, hard-working people being exploited by chaotic layabouts from the hot south; in the other, it is hard-pressed and equally hard-working people being sucked dry to feed foreign banks. The stories Europeans are telling themselves about what’s going on around them are not just different but mutually exclusive and mutually antagonistic.

Nor is this collapse of the collective imagination just a product of the eurozone crisis. It has deeper roots. The idea of “Europe” that animated the EU depended on the conflicts that gave it birth. The Second World War, fascism and the Holocaust created a deep appreciation of the fragility of peace, democracy and human rights. The Cold War made it imperative for western democracies to compete with communism on its own terms by showing that market economies could deliver, not just prosperity, but social justice, equality and security.

But the Cold War ended, the rivalry with communism ceased, and the generation of leaders with memories of the Second World War – the likes of Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterand and Jacques Delors – passed on. With them has gone the urgency of imagining a European story, not as an abstract fable, but as a necessary alternative to the other European stories of Hitler and Stalin.

Their benign fiction also had a powerful subtext – the need to contain Germany. It is not accidental that it was Schmidt, who was 14 when Hitler came to power, who issued what he called “a serious and carefully considered warning” to his compatriots three years ago: “If we Germans allow ourselves to be seduced into claiming a political leading role in Europe or at least playing first among equals, based on our economic strength, an increasing majority of our neighbours will effectively resist this. The concern of the periphery about an all too powerful European centre would soon come racing back. The possible consequences of such a development would be crippling.”

Schmidt was right – and he was also ignored. No one watching the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in recent weeks can have picked up the slightest hint of anxiety about being “first among equals”. There is only the absolute certainty that, whatever the evidence to the contrary, Greece can and must be beaten until it learns to become more German.

In the technocratic mindset that has filled the vacuum where “Europe” used to be, the old story is just a sentimental romance. But there’s always a story – the old fable of democracy, solidarity and decency hasn’t been replaced by simple dull reality. What has taken its place is a narrative that poses as hard-headed realism but that is actually much more fantastical than the one that was constructed by the postwar generation. It has a wildly improbable plot in which years of austerity magically produce economic growth; mountains of public debt are paid off by shrinking economies; unaccountable experts know more about other countries than their own elected governments; and everyone lives happily ever after. The good are rewarded. The bad are punished but they repent in the end and return to the fold. There’s certainly a lot of imagination in this story. But its ability to sustain a collective enterprise among 28 stubbornly individual nations is negligible.

It is not entirely true, of course, that no one at all believes the old story of Europe. The last true believers are on rickety boats in the Mediterranean, trying to make their way to an imagined continent of compassion, solidarity and security. If they ever get to shore, they will find at best a grudging welcome. But those who purport to share their belief in what Europe means badly need some of their desperate optimism.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/05/europe-fictional-construct-legacies-of-war?CMP=fb_gu

 

Rumbles of military coup as Greek workers demand end to EU austerity

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On eve of referendum

4 July 2015

Just 24 hours before anti-austerity demonstrators flooded the streets of central Athens on Friday, a number of retired Greek military officers publicly called for a “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum on the European Union’s demands, defying Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s call for a “no” vote.

The contrast between masses of workers denouncing EU austerity and the pronouncements of prominent military figures could not have been starker. Retired General Fragkoulis Fragkos, a former defense minister and one-time head of the Greek army general staff, called for a “loud yes on Sunday.” In 2011, Fragkos was cashiered by then-Prime Minister George Papandreou amid rumors of a coup.

Clearly referring to Tsipras, Fragkos said that “the moral values and principles that have always defined us Greeks are not under negotiation with any clueless and historically ignorant [politician] who is advancing his own party interest.”

A group of 65 retired high-ranking officers issued a statement citing their “oath to the Fatherland and the Flag” and warning, “By choosing isolation, we place the Fatherland and its future in danger.”

The statement continued: “The strength of our country is the most important thing we have, and this is being put in jeopardy. Our exit from Europe will make our country weaker. We will lose allies that have stood by our side. We will lose the strength we gain from associations and groupings to which we belong historically and culturally.”

These declarations constitute an enormous act of political intimidation. Just over 40 years since the CIA-backed colonels’ junta collapsed, well-connected officers are casting aside any pretense of neutrality and announcing their support for the positions of the EU and Washington in opposition to large sections of the population and the current government.

To grasp the significance of the Greek officers’ statements, one must recall the 1967 coup, which, in the midst of a political crisis, brought to power the brutal junta that ruled until 1974. Its goal was to suppress working-class protest and preempt any attempt to shift Greece’s foreign policy toward neutrality between NATO and the Soviet Union. The coup was led by Colonel George Papadopoulos, a top CIA liaison officer, who oversaw the roundup of at least 10,000 political opponents, many of whom were tortured or killed.

This week, senior German officials said that they intended to secure a “yes” vote in the Greek referendum so as to bring down the government led by Tsipras’s Syriza party. Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a warning shot Tsipras’s way by inviting bloodstained Egyptian dictator General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Berlin as Cairo held joint military exercises with the Greek armed forces. Berlin subsequently arrested Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour on trumped-up charges issued by Sisi’s regime.

The statements coming from the Greek military vindicate the warning made by the WSWS after Mansour’s arrest. The WSWS wrote: “It is a calculated signal sent by Berlin that it is ready to publicly collaborate with repressive measures by military dictatorships… One of the intended recipients of this message is doubtless the Greek premier, Alexis Tsipras.”

The EU is emerging ever more openly as a ruthless dictatorship of finance capital. There can be no doubt that the Greek officers intervened in the referendum with the support of Berlin and Brussels. They see the events in Greece as part of a war on the entire European working class, to be waged by means of state violence and repression if necessary. They are out to demonstrate in Greece that they will brook no challenge anywhere to the dictates of the banks and finance houses.

The policy of Berlin and the EU confirms the assessment of Lenin. “Finance capital strives for domination, not freedom,” he observed, adding, “Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism.”

Imperialism seeks support within the reactionary classes of the targeted countries. So it is with the bourgeoisie and its allies in the upper echelons of the middle class in Greece. The events of the past few days—masses of workers and youth calling for a struggle against austerity and the EU on the one side, wealthy businessmen and professionals, joined by the military, backing the EU onslaught on the other—have laid bare the stark and irrevocable class divide in Greece.

These events expose the bankruptcy of the Tsipras government. Its entire policy has been based on the self-deluded notion that it is possible to reach a compromise with the EU, and that some respite from vicious cuts in jobs, wages, pensions and social services can be secured without a struggle against the social base of support for such policies within Greece itself.

Not only has Syriza refused to take any measures to challenge the economic interests of Greek capital, it has not taken a single step to protect the people against the conspiracies of the state. On the contrary, it has placed far-right forces such as the Independent Greeks (Anel) in key positions of power.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, an Anel leader, all but admitted yesterday that the government is preparing to use the army to crack down on domestic dissent and impose the army’s preferred foreign policy. “The country’s armed forces guarantee stability internally, the defense of national sovereignty, and the country’s territorial integrity and stability in relation to the country’s alliances,” he said during a joint visit with Tsipras to army units.

The Tsipras government doubtless conceived of its referendum as a means of providing political cover for its own retreat and accommodation to both the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie. A “yes” vote would be used to justify total capitulation, while a “no” vote, as Tsipras declared this week, would serve as a pretext to return to the negotiating table in yet another fruitless attempt to obtain a deal for slightly modified austerity measures.

As yesterday’s mass protests showed, however, the referendum call has produced an enormous radicalization of public opinion. Masses of workers who have come onto the street to call for a “no” vote see such a vote as the beginning of a struggle to end austerity policies and break the stranglehold of the EU.

The working class cannot be bound by the policies of Syriza, whose aim is to secure at most token modifications of the austerity program, the better to uphold the EU bankers’ dictatorship and Greek capitalism. It fears nothing so much as a mass movement of the working class, against which it is prepared to unleash the police and military.

What is required is a broad appeal for the active support of the European and international working class in opposition to the EU, combined with the most determined measures within Greece itself to break the power of the local allies of international finance capital.

It is necessary to carry out revolutionary measures in defense of the Greek masses: the nationalization of the banking system and major industries under the control of the working class, the repudiation of the national debt, the dismantling of the military, the arrest of officers involved in military conspiracies against the people, and the establishment of a workers’ government.

Alex Lantier

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/04/pers-j04.html

Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communality

By Jerome Roos On July 4, 2015

Post image for Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communalityWhatever the outcome of the referendum, tough times are ahead. To survive, Greek society will need to reinvigorate the commons and communal solidarity.

Image: A solidarity kitchen in Greece. The poster in the back reads “Free Food for All” (by Marko Djurika).

As the Greek debt crisis enters its dramatic apotheosis — with an unprecedented default on the IMF last Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity protesters taking to the streets on Friday, and a historic referendum scheduled for Sunday — concerns are growing over the state of the Greek economy.

The decision by the European creditors and the European Central Bank to basically cut off Greece’s banking system from continued emergency support has forced the government to close all private banks and impose far-reaching capital controls. As a result, Greek companies can no longer pay foreign suppliers and are already starting to run short on food, pharmaceuticals and other key imports. Some pensioners are struggling to obtain their much-needed cash.

Sunday’s referendum, for all its flaws and limitations, marks a triumph for democracy. Still, it won’t bring an immediate end to the turmoil. Whatever the outcome, tough times are ahead. After nearly six years of brutal austerity, the Greek economy is devastated while the “welfare state” remains anemic and dysfunctional. Unemployment and misery are rife. Needless to say, none of this will change overnight. Indeed, as the creditors intensify their vicious campaign of financial asphyxiation, things are likely to get significantly worse.

A rupture with endless austerity, debt servitude and the straitjacket of the single currency would certainly restore a degree of autonomy and improve Greece’s economic prospects in the long run. But it would also come at a very high immediate cost. Both the government and Greek society would need to be highly organized and well-prepared to weather the stormy transition it would entail.

It should therefore be emphasized that the referendum is not a panacea. A friend of a friend described it as a choice between “poverty with servitude” and “poverty with freedom.” Moreover, this choice has to be made under the intense pressure of the creditors’ financial blackmail and the media’s campaign of fear andoutright lies. It is hard to imagine more adverse circumstances for the NO camp.

The problems are further compounded by the lack of clarity about the consequences of either choice. What will happen in case YES wins? Will the government resign? Will we see a return to an unelected technocracy? And what in case of a NO vote? Will Tsipras really continue negotiating in good faith with the creditors? Will the creditors even trust him to reach an agreement and carry out further reforms? Or will they force Greece out of the euro? These are all monumental questions — none of which have been properly answered.

All we know is this: over the past couple of years, the debate within Syriza on how to resolve the crisis has essentially revolved around two poles: the government’s original plan A — to end austerity within the eurozone — and the more radical alternative originally proposed by the party’s left faction, whose Plan B envisions a unilateral default and Grexit as a way out of the misery. We also know that the latter plan has gained more and more support from Syriza cadres (even those close to Tsipras) as the negotiations with creditors stalled.

The two plans always appeared to be diametrically opposed to one another. In truth, the strong dichotomy between them obscures a shared premise. Ultimately, both Plan A and Plan B revolve around the belief that, if only the government can succeed in executing its chosen top-down program, recovery will be swift and things will quickly go back to the way they were before.

This is a dangerous illusion. With or without Grexit, for the majority of Greeks (as for the majority of Europeans and Americans) there will be no going back to the halcyon days of credit-fueled consumerism. Both Plan A and Plan B — however successful either may be — will still be accompanied by future hardship and deprivation. Plan A would result in endless austerity, forever, while Plan B would produce an extremely painful short-term shock to the economy.

In the medium-term, debt cancellation and currency devaluation would likely have a positive effect on economic recovery and social well-being. Still, neither Greece’s dysfunctional state apparatus nor its uncompetitive economy will be able to fully restore the status quo ante, or even meet the needs and desires of the millions of workers, pensioners and unemployed youth who have been dispossessed and immiserated over the course of the crisis. Besides facing a structural crisis of its own, Greek capitalism will always be inserted into the European and world economy under highly disadvantageous terms.

Clearly, if the government and society were well-prepared, Plan B would be superior to Plan A. But merely advocating a rupture is far from enough. In fact, it would be particularly irresponsible if done without the proper preparations — and right now it doesn’t really look like Syriza is properly prepared. Where, then, should we be looking for further options and alternatives?

Undoubtedly, grassroots movements and solidarity initiatives will have a critical role to play as both the crisis and the struggle intensify. Without a fresh upsurge in self-organized popular mobilization in the streets, workplaces and communities, the prospects of positive change will remain grim.

In this respect, it is remarkable how rapidly the radical horizon has shrunk in recent years. During the mass mobilizations of 2010-’12, especially theMovement of the Squares in 2011, the political imagination was still brimming over with original ideas, practices and organizational forms — many of them centered on an anti-capitalist conception of the commons, defined by Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis as:

… autonomous spaces from which to reclaim control over our life and the conditions of our reproduction, and to provide resources on the basis of sharing and equal access; but also bases from which to counter the processes of enclosure and increasingly disentangle our lives from the market and the state.

While we have since seen a remarkable proliferation of such commons — think of solidarity kitchens, social clinics, self-managed workplaces, mutual aid networks, alternative currencies, and so on — the urgency of the negotiations and the preoccupation with the “high politics” of Grexit and debt relief has largely overshadowed the deeper questions raised in these grassroots initiatives: What about the day after? What kind of country do we really want to build together? Can capitalism still fulfill our needs and desires?

These are the questions that would be addressed by an anti-capitalist Plan C: a reinvigorated project of the commons and communal solidarity. In contrast to both Plan A and Plan B, Plan C would be a bottom-up project organized by local communities that would situate itself directly on the terrain of everyday life. Its main contributions would be threefold. First, through solidarity networks and communal support systems, it would enhance popular resilience by securing the means of social reproduction under conditions of extreme precarity.

Second, by creating new and strengthening existing organs of popular power, the commons would collectively act as bases for continued grassroots resistance to further austerity and dispossession. History has shown that, without powerful grassroots movements exerting pressure from below, even left governments are easily led astray by the siren call of domestic and international capital. To prevent this, the still relatively small and dispersed movement of commoners will have to become an organized force of political opposition.

Third, a project of the commons has revolutionary potential insofar as its protagonists manage to reclaim the means of production and reproduction; democratize workplaces, communities and existing political institutions; and contribute to a fundamental transformation of social relations from below. All of this is clearly still a far way off, but Plan C is precisely about cultivating this sense of perspective and direction — taking the struggle far beyond the stale dichotomies of state and market, euro and drachma.

Needless to say, Sunday’s referendum will mark a historic moment for Greece and for Europe. Only a proud and dignified NO can begin to liberate Greek society from the endless suffocation, blackmail and humiliation at the hands of the country’s creditors. But whatever the outcome of the plebiscite may be, the left should not limit its political imagination to the terms of a new bailout agreement or the denomination of the national currency.

Deal or no deal, euro or no euro, one thing is clear: a long fight still lies ahead. As the creditors’ assault intensifies, only a reinvigoration of the struggle from below can save beleaguered Greece — and turn it, once again, into a proud beacon of democracy and solidarity for the rest of the world.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. He tweets about the Greek crisis at @JeromeRoos.

A slightly different version of this article (in Greek) appeared in this month’s issue of Unfollow Magazine. Credit for the original idea and inspiration behind the piece goes to Bue Rübner Hansen in Barcelona.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/greece-plan-c-commons-solidarity/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The U.S. faces a major superpower conundrum

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America’s Got the #1 Military in the World — and It’s Increasingly Useless

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries. It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet.  So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up. Is the U.S. or isn’t it? Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train — that is, any train — anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline. The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail? Really? And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable.  What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation — bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like — is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble? That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively? I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished.  How improbable is that? And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists? And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure? Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlessly thankour troops (as would the citizenry) for…well…never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens’ army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. Today, its repetitive presence marks the moment of doubt. Are we really so “exceptional”? Is this country truly “indispensible” to the rest of the planet and if so, in what way exactly? Are those troops genuinely our heroes and if so, just what was it they did that we’re so darn proud of?

Return my amazed parents to their graves, put all of this together, and you have the beginnings of a description of a uniquely great power in decline. It’s a classic vision, but one with a problem.

A God-Like Power to Destroy

Who today recalls the ads from my 1950s childhood for, if I remember correctly, drawing lessons, which always had a tagline that went something like: What’s wrong with this picture? (You were supposed to notice the five-legged cows floating through the clouds.) So what’s wrong with this picture of the obvious signs of decline: the greatest power in history, with hundreds of garrisons scattered across the planet, can’t seem to apply its power effectively no matter where it sends its military or bring countries like Iran or a weakened post-Soviet Russia to heel by a full range of threats, sanctions, and the like, or suppress a modestly armed terror-movement-cum-state in the Middle East?

For one thing, look around and tell me that the United States doesn’t still seem like a unipolar power. I mean, where exactly are its rivals? Since the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, when the first wooden ships mounted with cannons broke out of their European backwater and began to gobble up the globe, there have always been rival great powers — three, four, five, or more. And what of today? The other three candidates of the moment would assumedly be the European Union (EU), Russia, and China.

Economically, the EU is indeed a powerhouse, but in any other way it’s a second-rate conglomeration of states that still slavishly follow the U.S. and an entity threatening to come apart at the seams. Russia looms ever larger in Washington these days, but remains a rickety power in search of greatness in its former imperial borderlands.  It’s a country almost as dependent on its energy industry as Saudi Arabia and nothing like a potential future superpower. As for China, it’s obviously the rising power of the moment and now officially has the number one economy on Planet Earth.  Still, it remains in many ways a poor country whose leaders fear any kind of future economic implosion (which could happen). Like the Russians, like any aspiring great power, it wants to make its weight felt in its neighborhood — at the moment the East and South China Seas. And like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Chinese leadership is indeedupgrading its military. But the urge in both cases is to emerge as a regional power to contend with, not a superpower or a genuine rival of the U.S.

Whatever may be happening to American power, there really are no potential rivals to shoulder the blame. Yet, uniquely unrivaled, the U.S. has proven curiously incapable of translating its unipolar power and a military that, on paper, trumps every other one on the planet into its desires. This was not the normal experience of past reigning great powers. Or put another way, whether or not the U.S. is in decline, the rise-and-fall narrative seems, half-a-millennium later, to have reached some kind of largely uncommented upon and unexamined dead end.

In looking for an explanation, consider a related narrative involving military power. Why, in this new century, does the U.S. seem so incapable of achieving victory or transforming crucial regions into places that can at least be controlled?  Military power is by definition destructive, but in the past such force often cleared the ground for the building of local, regional, or even global structures, however grim or oppressive they might have been. If force always was meant to break things, it sometimes achieved other ends as well. Now, it seems as if breaking is all it can do, or how to explain the fact that, in this century, the planet’s sole superpower has specialized — see Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — in fracturing, not building nations.

Empires may have risen and fallen in those 500 years, but weaponry only rose. Over those centuries in which so many rivals engaged each other, carved out their imperial domains, fought their wars, and sooner or later fell, the destructive power of the weaponry they were wielding only ratcheted up exponentially: from the crossbow to the musket, the cannon, the Colt revolver, the repeating rifle, the Gatling gun, the machine gun, the dreadnaught, modern artillery, the tank, poison gas, the zeppelin, the plane, the bomb, the aircraft carrier, the missile, and at the end of the line, the “victory weapon” of World War II, the nuclear bomb that would turn the rulers of the greatest powers, and later even lesser powers, into the equivalent of gods.

For the first time, representatives of humanity had in their hands the power to destroy anything on the planet in a fashion once imagined possible only by some deity or set of deities. It was now possible to create our own end times. And yet here was the odd thing: the weaponry that brought the power of the gods down to Earth somehow offered no practical power at all to national leaders.  In the post-Hiroshima-Nagasaki world, those nuclear weapons would prove unusable.  Once they were loosed on the planet, there would be no more rises, no more falls. (Today, we know that even a limited nuclear exchange among lesser powers could, thanks to the nuclear-winter effect, devastate the planet.)

Weapons Development in an Era of Limited War

In a sense, World War II could be considered the ultimate moment for both the narratives of empire and the weapon. It would be the last “great” war in which major powers could bring all the weaponry available to them to bear in search of ultimate victory and the ultimate shaping of the globe. It resulted in unprecedented destruction across vast swathes of the planet, the killing of tens of millions, the turning of great cities into rubble and of countless people into refugees, the creation of an industrial structure for genocide, and finally the building of those weapons of ultimate destruction and of the first missiles that would someday be their crucial delivery systems.  And out of that war came the final rivals of the modern age — and then there were two — the “superpowers.”

That very word, superpower, had much of the end of the story embedded in it. Think of it as a marker for a new age, for the fact that the world of the “great powers” had been left for something almost inexpressible. Everyone sensed it. We were now in the realm of “great” squared or force raised in some exponential fashion, of “super” (as in, say, “superhuman”) power. What made those powers truly super was obvious enough: the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union — their potential ability, that is, to destroy in a fashion that had no precedent and from which there might be no coming back.  It wasn’t a happenstance that the scientists creating the H-bomb sometimes referred to it in awestruck terms as a “super bomb,” or simply “the super.”

The unimaginable had happened. It turned out that there was such a thing as too much power. What in World War II came to be called “total war,” the full application of the power of a great state to the destruction of others, was no longer conceivable. The Cold War gained its name for a reason. A hot war between the U.S. and the USSR could not be fought, nor could another global war, a reality driven home by the Cuban missile crisis.  Their power could only be expressed “in the shadows” or in localized conflicts on the “peripheries.”  Power now found itself unexpectedly bound hand and foot.

This would soon be reflected in the terminology of American warfare. In the wake of the frustrating stalemate that was Korea (1950-1953), a war in which the U.S. found itself unable to use its greatest weapon, Washington took a new language into Vietnam. The conflict there was to be a “limited war.” And that meant one thing: Nuclear power would be taken off the table.

For the first time, it seemed, the world was facing some kind of power glut. It’s at least reasonable to assume that, in the years after the Cold War standoff ended, that reality somehow seeped from the nuclear arena into the rest of warfare.  In the process, great power war would be limited in new ways, while somehow being reduced only to its destructive aspect and nothing more. It suddenly seemed to hold no other possibilities within it — or so the evidence of the sole superpower in these years suggests.

War and conflict are hardly at an end in the twenty-first century, but something has removed war’s normal efficacy. Weapons development has hardly ceased either, but the newest highest-tech weapons of our age are proving strangely ineffective as well. In this context, the urge in our time to produce “precision weaponry” — no longer the carpet-bombing of the B-52, but the “surgical” strike capacity of a joint direct attack munition, or JDAM — should be thought of as the arrival of “limited war” in the world of weapons development.

The drone, one of those precision weapons, is a striking example. Despite itspenchant for producing “collateral damage,” it is not a World War II-style weapon of indiscriminate slaughter. It has, in fact, been used relatively effectively to play whack-a-mole with the leadership of terrorist groups, killing off one leader or lieutenant after another.  And yet all of the movements it has been directed against have only proliferated, gaining strength (and brutality) in these same years. It has, in other words, proven an effective weapon of bloodlust and revenge, but not of policy.  If war is, in fact, politics by other means (as Carl von Clausewitz claimed), revenge is not. No one should then be surprised that the drone has produced not an effective war on terror, but a war that seems to promote terror.

One other factor should be added in here: that global power glut has grown exponentially in another fashion as well. In these years, the destructive power of the gods has descended on humanity a second time as well — via the seemingly most peaceable of activities, the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change now promises a slow-motion version of nuclear Armageddon, increasing both the pressure on and the fragmentation of societies, while introducing a new form of destruction to our lives.

Can I make sense of all this? Hardly. I’m just doing my best to report on the obvious: that military power no longer seems to act as it once did on Planet Earth.  Under distinctly apocalyptic pressures, something seems to be breaking down, something seems to be fragmenting, and with that the familiar stories, familiar frameworks, for thinking about how our world works are losing their efficacy.

Decline may be in the American future, but on a planet pushed to extremes, don’t count on it taking place within the usual tale of the rise and fall of great powers or even superpowers. Something else is happening on Planet Earth. Be prepared.

The Wolfpack, Dope: American experiences, oddities

The Wolfpack, Dope: American experiences, oddities

By Joanne Laurier
3 July 2015

The Wolfpack, directed by Crystal Moselle; Dope, written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa

The Wolfpack

At the center of Crystal Moselle’s debut film, The Wolfpack, winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, are seven young people who have been locked away for most of their lives in a New York City public housing apartment. Their father’s social fearfulness lies at the heart of this peculiarity.

Six boys and a mentally disabled sister lived with their parents in the Seward Park Extension projects, which house some 800 residents on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Homeschooled by their mother, the children were forbidden by their father, Oscar Angulo, to leave their 16th-floor, four-bedroom apartment.

The Wolfpack

Confined to one thousand square feet of space, the boys became absorbed in watching films, of which there were some five thousand in the apartment. Making props and costumes and reenacting scenes from their favorite movies became their mode of existence. In Moselle’s film, the boys come across as endearing, articulate and emotionally vulnerable. Their long black hair—which their father forbid them to cut—only adds to the mystique. Their overall appearance and the peculiarity of their circumstances, however, tend to distract the viewer from considering what must be serious psychic scars.

Only in the barest outlines does the filmmaker trace out why the Angulo children were confined. Susanne, their mother, briefly explains that she and her husband Oscar were afraid of their offspring being “socialized” by a bad and hazardous world. The Wall Street Journal cites Moselle’s comment: “It’s not like they were chained. … They were just not socializing with the outside world. They didn’t leave the house because they were scared.” She documents the family’s odd and fascinating—mostly by virtue of its oddity—story, but seems generally unconcerned with probing the larger questions at work.

The movie’s production notes provide a sketch of the family’s background: Peruvian-born Oscar aspired to be a musician. He met and married Susanne, a hippie from the American Midwest, in 1989 and became a Hare Krishna devotee. In 1994, after the birth of five children—Visnu, Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana and Mukunda—the family traveled around the country looking for opportunities for Oscar to become a rock star, during which time one of the children was birthed in their van. In 1996, the family moved to the Manhattan housing project. There, the last two children—Krsna and Jagadisa—were born.

In The Wolfpack, the boys explain that Oscar believes that having a job makes one a social slave and robot. Susanne gets money from the state for homeschooling. Clearly protective of their shy, somewhat bewildered mother, they discuss Oscar’s abusive, domineering nature, made worse by his drinking. Only toward the movie’s conclusion does a dejected Oscar appear on screen. Earlier, he makes a brief comment regarding the family’s shabby living quarters.

In January 2010 Mukunda finally escaped the apartment, wandering the streets wearing a Michael Meyers mask. (Meyers is the psychotic killer in theHalloween horror movie series.) He was arrested and spent some time in a hospital psych ward. In April 2010, the brothers started regularly leaving the apartment as a pack, a bizarre vision of dark hair, black suits and sunglasses.

The Wolfpack

It was at that time that Moselle met the boys. She states in the film’s production notes that it “was serendipitous that I met these boys the first week they started going out into the world. It almost felt as if I had discovered a long lost tribe, except it was not from the edges of the world but from the streets of Manhattan. I was moved by their openness, resilience and sense of humor, and I formed a trust with them that could never be duplicated.”

Explaining that it was Oscar who introduced his sons to both classic and cult films, Moselle states that the boys “liked the violent, horrific, morally complicated films the best.” Thus began their obsession with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino [hence the Reservoir Dogs look]. “It opened their eyes to film outside the realms of the standard Hollywood films they were used to watching. Since films were their world, they started to interpret these looks into their wardrobe.”

At one point, the boys explain that their apartment was raided by a police SWAT team looking for a cache of weapons, but finding instead an array of home-made props. Although everyone in the family was handcuffed—a frightening ordeal—the Angulo boys speak about the incident very casually.

In spite of The Wolfpack ’s somewhat careless construction, it has endearing moments. It is almost heartbreaking, for example, when an emotional Susanne sends the boys off to see their first movie at a cinema (The Fighter), acting as if they were traveling to the other side of the world. Or when for the first time in decades Susanne speaks to her mother in Michigan, thrilled like a kid in a candy store. There is also the amusing sequence of the boys at Coney Island, lathering their bodies with sun block (“We don’t need sun. We are vampires.”)

The film never addresses itself to the reasons why Oscar and Susanne are so overwhelmed by the problems of society and especially why Oscar is such a misanthrope. One would have thought that this was rather central to any serious examination of the family’s circumstances. It is telling that Moselle apparently takes all this for granted.

Indeed, the parents’ disorientation is consistent with that of a substantial social layer, and even a portion of a generation. The Wolfpack never makes what seems an obvious connection between the father’s view of American society as a bottomless pit of sin and iniquity (crime, violence, drugs, gang activity, etc.) to be shunned at all costs and his sons being drawn to Tarantino’s shallow, sordid output and other gloomy films of the last several decades, likeThe Dark Knight, Taxi Driver, Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Don’t these films, in their own way, reflect and even validate precisely the outlook Oscar espoused, that the family needed to be locked away, protected from the dangerous, sinister modern world?

In any event, The Wolfpack still intrigues, largely because of the Angulo boys’ liveliness and tenacity.

Dope

Another form of individual effort at escape is at the center of Rick Famuyiwa’s comedy Dope, which starts with three dictionary definitions of its title—a term for drugs, a term for someone stupid and a term of high praise.

Dope

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior living with his single mom (Kimberly Elise), a bus driver, in the Bottoms, a gang-controlled neighborhood in the city of Inglewood, in southwestern Los Angeles County. He is a self-described “black geek,” a moniker that also applies to his best friends Jib (Tony Revolori, the lobby boy in Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel), who claims he’s 14 percent African, and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), a lesbian whose family tries to “pray away the gay.” Malcolm, who sports an old-fashioned flat-top hairdo and button-down collar, is a straight A student, has aced his SATs, plays in a punk rock band with Jib and Diggy and is determined to get into Harvard.

While the film’s opening sequences are amusing and charming, Dope veers off in a convoluted, scrambled direction involving the unloading of drugs that have fallen into Malcolm’s possession (to prove the point—see Wikipedia’s endless plot description). Implausibly, he sets up a clever and successful online drugstore, wowing an admissions officer who turns out to be a drug kingpin!

Moore is worth watching; Revolori and especially Clemons are also amiable. There is nothing cynical about the lead trio. Through them the movie attempts to break down certain stereotypes about “typical” Inglewood residents. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is drenched in clichés and populated with boilerplate bad boys: sneaker-stealing school bullies, neighborhood drug dealers and teens negotiating typical “hood traps.”

While it is refreshing to see a reasonable facsimile of working class youth on screen, most of the film’s better moments end up by sermonizing, along the lines of platitudes such as “Don’t underestimate yourself” and “Always aim high.”

Famuyiwa (The Wood, 1999, and Brown Sugar, 2002) has a reputation for making films that dare “to show middle-class blacks as ordinary Americans.” This seems a pretty limited and limiting ambition. While individuals like the overachiever Malcolm may well escape the relatively mean streets of Inglewood, Dope seems largely unconcerned with the majority condemned to remain.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/03/wolf-j03.html

Noam Chomsky: Austerity Is Just Class War

The esteemed scholar offers his views crisis over Greece’s debt problems.

As Greece defaults and faces a referendum this Sunday on a new bailout package, watch Noam Chomsky on Europe’s “savage response” to the pushback against austerity demands. He spoke to Democracy Now! in March.

http://www.democracynow.org/embed/blog/2015/7/1/chomsky_greece_s_syriza_spain_s

Click here to watch Monday’s segment, “As Greece Heads for Default, Voters Prepare to Vote in Pivotal Referendum on More Austerity.”

Below is an interview with Chomsky, followed by a transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Syriza in Greece, a movement that started as a grassroots movement. Now they have taken power, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. And then you have Spain right now. We recently spoke to Pablo Iglesias, the secretary general of the group called Podemos, that was founded, what—an anti-austerity party that has rapidly gained popularity. A month after establishing itself last year, they won five seats in the European Parliament, and some polls show they could take the next election, which would mean that Pablo Iglesias, the 36-year-old political science professor and longtime activist, could possibly become the prime minister of Europe’s fifth-largest economy. He came here to New York for just about 72 hours, and I asked him to talk about what austerity measures have meant in Spain.

PABLO IGLESIAS: Austerity means that people is expulsed of their homes. Austerity means that the social services don’t work anymore. Austerity means that public schools have not the elements, the means to develop their activity. Austerity means that the countries have not sovereignty anymore, and we became a colony of the financial powers and a colony of Germany. Austerity probably means the end of democracy. I think if we don’t have democratic control of economy, we don’t have democracy. It’s impossible to separate economy and democracy, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pablo Iglesias, the head of this new anti-austerity group in Spain called Podemos, which means in English “We can.” The significance of these movements?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very significant. But notice the reaction. The reaction to Syriza was extremely savage. They made a little bit of progress in their negotiations, but not much. The Germans came down very hard on them.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean in dealing with the debt.

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the dealing with them, and sort of forced them to back off from almost all their proposals. What’s going on with the austerity is really class war. As an economic program, austerity, under recession, makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse. So the Greek debt, relative to GDP, has actually gone up during the period of—which is—well, the policies that are supposed to overcome the debt. In the case of Spain, the debt was not a public debt, it was private debt. It was the actions of the banks. And that means also the German banks. Remember, when a bank makes a dangerous, a risky borrowing, somebody is making a risky lending. And the policies that are designed by the troika, you know, are basically paying off the banks, the perpetrators, much like here. The population is suffering. But one of the things that’s happening is that the—you know, the social democratic policies, so-called welfare state, is being eroded. That’s class war. It’s not an economic policy that makes any sense as to end a serious recession. And there is a reaction to it—Greece, Spain and some in Ireland, growing elsewhere, France. But it’s a very dangerous situation, could lead to a right-wing response, very right-wing. The alternative to Syriza might be Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi party.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now! and the co-author of The Silenced Majority.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/noam-chomsky-austerity-just-class-war?akid=13264.265072.Sa2xi5&rd=1&src=newsletter1038752&t=9

US income inequality continued to soar in 2014

102626504-income-inequality

By Andre Damon
2 July 2015

Income inequality in the United States continued to grow in 2014, according to updated figures released last week by University of California, Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez.

According to Saez’s report, the top one percent of income earners increased their share of total income from 20.1 percent in 2013 to 21.2 in 2014 percent.

The income shares of the highest-earning 10 percent, 1 percent, and 0.1 percent of income earners all grew in 2014. The top ten percent of earners received 49.9 percent of income in 2014, more than any other year besides 2012.

Saez noted that the top 1 percent of earners received 58 percent of income gains during the so-called economic “recovery” between 2009 and 2014. The incomes of the bottom 99 percent grew by just 4.3 percent during that period.

The figures for 2014 mark the first year that real incomes for the bottom 99 percent of earners increased by any significant amount since the 2008 financial crisis. Incomes for the bottom 99 percent grew at a rate of 3.8 percent last year.

Saez wrote that “the incomes of most American families are still far from having recovered from the losses of the Great Recession.” He added that by 2014, the bottom 99 percent of income earners had recovered less than 40 percent of the annual income they had lost during the 2007-2009 recession.

The modest growth in incomes for the bottom 99 percent was dwarfed by the increase in the incomes of the super-rich. The incomes for the top 1 percent of earners grew at a rate of 10.8 percent last year, more than three times faster than the average for the bottom 99 percent.

While the growth of social inequality has dramatically accelerated following the 2008 crash, this is a continuation of a decades-long process. The report notes, “Top 1 percent incomes grew by 80.0% from 1993 to 2014. This implies that top 1 percent incomes captured almost 60% of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family over the period 1993-2014.”

Saez warns that the growth of inequality is not likely to slow down, noting, “Based on the US historical record, falls in income concentration due to economic downturns are temporary unless drastic regulation and tax policy changes are implemented and prevent income concentration from bouncing back. Such policy changes took place after the Great Depression during the New Deal and permanently reduced income concentration until the 1970s.”

He notes, “The policy changes that took place coming out of the Great Recession… are modest relative to the policy changes that took place coming out of the Great Depression. Therefore, it seems unlikely that US income concentration will fall much in the coming years, absent more drastic policy changes.”

In fact, the US government’s response to the 2008 crash has been dedicated to inflating the wealth of the super-rich while driving down incomes for the vast majority of the population. The White House has protected Wall Street executives from legal prosecution, while the Federal Reserve has handed out trillions of dollars in cheap money through “quantitative easing” programs, leading share values to triple on major US exchanges.

Saez notes that a significant contributor to the growth of income inequality has been the growth of the salaries for top earners, particularly top executives. He observes, “The income composition pattern at the very top has changed considerably over the century. The share of wage and salary income has increased sharply from the 1920s to the present, and especially since the 1970s. Therefore, a significant fraction of the surge in top incomes since 1970 is due to an explosion of top wages and salaries.” He adds that, by some estimates, “the share of total wages and salaries earned by the top 1 percent wage income earners has jumped from 5.1 percent in 1970 to 12.4 percent in 2007.”

There are signs that this process is accelerating. The same day that Saez published his report, the Wall Street Journal published a separate survey of executive pay, which found that CEOs at major corporations it surveyed had their pay increase by 13.5 percent in 2014, hitting $13.6 million.

The soaring wealth of the financial elite, driven by surging stock prices and executive pay, is driving demand for luxury goods and housing in major financial centers. Manhattan real estate prices have reached an all time high, with the average home price hitting $1.87 million, according to reports cited by the New York Times Wednesday. The Times noted that real estate developers are scrambling to create enormous multi-million-dollar high-rise apartments, which are being snapped up by members of the financial elite.

Meanwhile, the housing situation for the great majority of the population has only worsened since 2008. Last week a study by Harvard University’s Joint Center For Housing Studies found that the share of the US population that owned a home hit the lowest level in two decades, with the homeownership rate for those aged 35-44 plunging to the lowest level since the 1960s. The report attributed the fall in home ownership to falling incomes for typical US households, noting that median household income in the US remained 8 percent below its level in 2007.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama plans to unveil what he has called a major new policy initiative in a speech in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The proposal entails new federal rules that would make an additional 3 percent of the US population eligible for overtime pay. If adopted, the change would add a mere $1.3 billion to worker’s wages annually. This is a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars that have been transferred to the financial elite since the 2008 financial crisis.

To put things in perspective; Obama’s program would transfer less income to working people each year than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made in a single day last year.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/02/saez-j02.html