Fifty years on: Medicare under assault

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31 July 2015

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare, the national health insurance program for Americans 65 years of age and older, into law on July 30, 1965. Medicare and the accompanying Medicaid health program for the poor were the last major social reforms enacted in the US and came at a time of intense crisis for American capitalism.

The mid-1960s saw a nation gripped by the civil rights movement and militant struggles by workers for higher wages and improved social conditions. Two weeks before Johnson signed the Medicare bill, a riot broke out in Harlem, New York following the shooting of a black teenager, one of the earliest of the numerous urban rebellions that would erupt over the next three years.

In the US pursuit of global domination, on March 8, 1965, 3,500 US Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam, marking the beginning of the US ground war in Southeast Asia. Only two days before signing Medicare into law, Johnson announced the doubling of draft quotas and the dispatch of another 50,000 troops to Vietnam. The war would end in a humiliating defeat for US imperialism a decade later, after the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese.

As with the Social Security Act under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and the establishment of industrial unions, Medicare was not granted out of the kindness of the hearts of the ruling class. It came as a concession to mass struggles carried out by the working class.

However, by today’s standards, passages from the Democratic Party platform on which Johnson ran in 1964 sound radical. In a section titled “The Individual,” the platform reads: “The health of the people is important to the strength and purpose of our country and is a proper part of our common concern. In a nation that lacks neither compassion nor resources, the needless suffering of people who cannot afford adequate medical care is intolerable.”

From the start, Medicare fell far short of providing free and comprehensive medical care for all seniors. As originally enacted, the program provided for inpatient hospital care (Part A) as well as certain outpatient services (Part B), including preventive services, ambulance transport, mental health and other medical services. Part B has always required a premium payment.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed legislation expanding coverage for those under age 65 with long-term disabilities and end-stage renal disease. Since 1997, enrollees had the option to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C), managed care programs administered by private companies. It was not until 2002 that optional prescription drug benefits (Part D), exclusively provided through private plans, were added under George W. Bush.

It is important to note that all components of Medicare, except for Part A in certain instances, carry premiums and deductibles. Despite these shortcomings, Medicare represented an important, albeit limited, advance in health care for seniors that was denounced as “socialism” in many ruling class circles.

The Medicare legislation faced significant opposition in both big business parties. The Democratic vote in favor of the bill was 57-7 in the Senate and 237-48 in the House. The Republicans opposed the bill 13-17 in the Senate and narrowly approved it in the House, 70-68.

Hostility to the legislation among leading Republicans was vociferous. Senator Barry Goldwater commented in 1964: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?”

In 1964, future president George H.W. Bush denounced the impending Medicare bill as “socialized medicine.” While it was nothing of the sort, it was seen by many supporters as a first step toward the establishment of universal health care.

Despite its limitations, it is undisputable that the program has had an immense impact on the health and social wellbeing of the elderly population.

Largely as a result of Medicare and improved medical technologies, life expectancy at age 60 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 19.3 years in 2012. Prior to Medicare, about half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance, more than one in four elderly went without medical care due to cost, and one in three seniors lived in poverty.

Some 53 million elderly are currently enrolled in Medicare. Today, virtually all seniors have access to health care and only about 14 percent live below the poverty line. Despite a relentless attack on Medicare services in recent years, Medicare is extremely popular—with 77 percent of Americans viewing it as a “very important” program that needs to be defended, according to a recentpoll.

The program has been under assault from sections of the political establishment and corporate America since its inception. In 1995, under the leadership of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republicans proposed cutting 14 percent from projected Medicare spending and forcing millions of elderly recipients into managed health programs. The aim, in Gingrich’s words, was to ensure that Medicare was “going to wither on the vine.”

In the most open threat to privatize Medicare, in the spring of 2014, Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, released a “Path to Prosperity” budget plan that slashed $5.1 trillion over 10 years. Key to his blueprint was the institution of “premium support” in health care for seniors, essentially a voucher plan under which seniors could purchase either private insurance or Medicare coverage.

Fast-forward to the current presidential campaign. Republican candidate Jeb Bush, speaking at an event last week in New Hampshire sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers, said of Medicare: “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program … and move to a new system that allows them [those over 65] to have something—because they’re not going to have anything.”

Bush and others justify their proposals to privatize or outright abolish Medicare with claims that the program will be bankrupt in the near future. But a recent report shows that projected Medicare spending will account for 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2090, down from earlier projections that it would make up 13 percent of GDP in 2080.

This is hardly an unreasonable amount to spend on the health of the nation’s elderly population. This spending is also not a gift from the government, but is funded through deductions from the paychecks of workers all their working lives. However, the policy decisions of politicians in Washington are not driven by preserving the health and welfare of America’s older citizens, but by the defense of the capitalist profit system.

While President Obama and the Democrats seek to distance themselves from proposals to privatize Medicare, Ryan and Bush only openly express what many Democrats are thinking. The Obama administration, with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) leading the charge, is working to gut Medicare and transform it into a poverty program with barebones coverage for the majority of working class and middle class seniors.

In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the ACA would reduce Medicare spending by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022. Under the first four years of the ACA, home health care under Medicare is being cut by 14 percent, including $60 million in 2015 and $350 million in 2016. While doing nothing to rein in the outrageous charges by pharmaceutical companies for cancer and other life-saving drugs, the Obama administration’s proposed 2016 budget includes $126 billion in cuts from what Medicare will pay for these drugs.

In what constitutes a historic attack on the program, Obama hailed as a “bipartisan achievement” passage of a bill in April that expands means testing for Medicare and establishes a new payment system in which doctors will be rewarded for cutting costs, while being punished for the volume and frequency of the health care services they provide.

It is telling that an article in the right-wing National Review, headlined “A Medicare Bill Conservatives Need to Embrace,” hailed the legislation and said the effects of its structural reforms would be “permanent and cumulative.”

The bipartisan backing for the Medicare bill is based on common agreement that Medicare spending must be slashed and a radical shift instituted away from the “lavish” fee-for-service system, in which supposed “unnecessary” tests and procedures are performed on Medicare patients, needlessly treating disease and extending their lives.

The president has claimed that the enactment of the program commonly known as Obamacare is the most sweeping social reform since Medicare was signed into law. This is a cynical lie. The ACA is, in fact, a social counter-reform that was aimed from the start at cutting costs for the government and corporations and reducing and rationing health care for the majority of Americans.

The ACA is designed to encourage employers to slash or end their employee insurance plans, forcing workers to individually purchase plans from private companies on government-run exchanges. The result will be the dismantling of the employer-provided health insurance system that has existed since the early 1950s, a vast increase in workers’ out-of-pocket costs, and a decrease in the care they receive.

Medicare, one of the last vestiges of social reform from a previous era, along with Social Security, is being undermined. The social right to health care—along with the right to a livable income, education, housing, and a secure retirement—is incompatible with a society subordinated to capitalist forces.

True reform of the health care system requires that it be reorganized based on a socialist program that proceeds from the fulfillment of human needs, not the enrichment of a parasitic elite.

Kate Randall

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/31/pers-j31.html

What is the pseudo-left?

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30 July 2015

The events in Greece over the past several months constitute a major strategic experience of the Greek working class and youth that is having a significant impact on political consciousness around the world.

The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” (Syriza)—despite its use of radical-sounding phraseology and its nominal opposition to austerity—has capitulated entirely to the European banks and institutions. The Syriza government is now implementing policies that will dramatically increase social inequality and turn Greece into a virtual colony of German and European imperialism.

These developments are a striking confirmation of the analysis made by the WSWS over several years, going back well before Syriza was elected in January of this year. In a resolution adopted at the Socialist Equality Party (US) Congress in July of 2012, for example, it was noted that “as soon as Syriza was faced with the possibility of coming to power, its leader Alexis Tsipras rushed to Germany to assure the banks that his party had no intention of withdrawing from the euro zone. It has sought nothing more radical than the renegotiation of the European banks’ austerity program.”

Throughout the spring of this year, the WSWS organized a series of meetings in which the nature of Syriza was analyzed and warnings were made of its plans to fully accept the austerity demands of the European banks.

In the aftermath of Syriza’s final capitulation, many readers have asked how it is that the WSWS was able to predict so precisely the course of events. This experience is a vindication of the Marxist method, which analyzes political tendencies not on the basis of what they call themselves, but on the basis of their history and program and the social interests they represent.

Over the past several years, the WSWS has developed the conception of an international political tendency that we have described as “pseudo-left,” of which Syriza is only one example.

We would like to call our readers’ attention to the analysis made by WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North in the Foreword of his newly-released book, The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique. North includes a concise and more detailed “working definition” of the “pseudo-left” that will help provide an orientation in the struggle against the influence of these reactionary movements. He writes:

* The pseudo-left denotes political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class. Examples of such parties and tendencies include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, and numerous offshoots of ex-Trotskyist (i.e., Pabloite) and state capitalist organizations such as the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France, the NSSP in Sri Lanka and the International Socialist Organization in the United States. This list could include the remnants and descendants of the “Occupy” movements influenced by anarchist and post-anarchist tendencies. Given the wide variety of petty-bourgeois pseudo-left organizations throughout the world, this is by no means a comprehensive list.

* The pseudo-left is anti-Marxist. It rejects historical materialism, embracing instead various forms of subjective idealism and philosophical irrationalism associated with existentialism, the Frankfurt School and contemporary postmodernism.

* The pseudo-left is anti-socialist, opposes class struggle, and denies the central role of the working class and the necessity of revolution in the progressive transformation of society. It counterposes supra-class populism to the independent political organization and mass mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system. The economic program of the pseudo-left is, in its essentials, pro-capitalist and nationalistic.

* The pseudo-left promotes “identity politics,” fixating on issues related to nationality, ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality in order to acquire greater influence in corporations, the colleges and universities, the higher-paying professions, the trade unions and in government and state institutions, to effect a more favorable distribution of wealth among the richest 10 percent of the population. The pseudo-left seeks greater access to, rather than the destruction of, social privilege.

* In the imperialist centers of North America, Western Europe and Australasia, the pseudo-left is generally pro-imperialist, and utilizes the slogans of “human rights” to legitimize, and even directly support, neo-colonialist military operations.

North concludes the Foreword to his new book by noting, “The analysis and exposure of the class basis, retrograde theoretical conceptions and reactionary politics of the pseudo-left are especially critical tasks confronting the Trotskyist movement in its struggle to educate the working class, free it from the influence of the petty-bourgeois movements, and establish its political independence as the central progressive and revolutionary force within modern capitalist society.”

The publication of the Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique marks a significant step toward this goal, and the volume will serve as a valuable aid in the coming struggles of the working class.

The WSWS Editorial Board

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/30/pers-j30.html

Noam Chomsky: The United States is totally isolated

The iconic philosopher on America’s broken education system and the lasting influence of the Monroe Doctrine

Noam Chomsky: The United States is totally isolated
Noam Chomsky (Credit: AP/Nader Daoud)
This article originally appeared on Jacobin.

JacobinWe’re pleased to publish another interview with Professor Noam Chomsky. In this recent conversation with Dan Falcone, a Washington DC–based high school history teacher, Chomsky builds on our last interview, discussing everything from Scott Walker to the Monroe Doctrine, from Citizens United to for-profit colleges. We hope you’ll share it widely.


I wanted to stay on the topic of education and ask you about language, terminology, and definitions in the social sciences. So for example, I’ve noticed in my curriculum that there’s a tendency to have terms with a real definition and then a code definition. Terms like foreign aid, independence movements, partition, and democracy.

Two terms that I know are of particular interest to you are anarchism and libertarianism. Could you discuss the varying definitions of those two terms, anarchism and libertarianism? Maybe the American definition versus the European, and why that’s important for education to sort out?
There’s hardly a term in social science, political discourse, academic professions, and the scholarly professions where there’s anything remotely like clear definitions. If you want a clear definition, you have to go to mathematics or parts of physics.

Definitions are basically parts of theoretical structures. A definition doesn’t mean anything unless it’s embedded in some theory of some explanatory scope. And in these areas, there really are no such theories. So the terms are in fact used very loosely. They have a strong ideological component.

Take, say, democracy. The United States, I’m sure in your school, they teach as the world’s leading democracy. It’s also a country in which about 70 percent of the population, the lower 70 percent on the income scale, are completely disenfranchised.

Their opinions have no detectable influence on the decisions of their own representatives. Which is a good reason to believe, a large reason, why a huge number of people don’t bother voting. They know that it’s a waste of time. So is that a democracy? No, not really.

And you could say the same about almost any other term. Sometimes it’s almost laughable. So for example, in 1947, the US government changed the name of the War Department. They changed it to the Defense Department — any person with a brain functioning knew that we’re not going to be involved in defense anymore. We’re going to be involved in aggression. They didn’t have to read Orwell to know that. And in fact, religiously, every time you read about the war budget, it’s called the defense budget. And defense now means war, very much as in Orwell. And pretty much across the board.

Anarchism is used for a very wide range of actions, tendencies, beliefs, and so on. There’s no settled definition of it. Those who use the term should be indicating clearly, as clearly as you can, what element in this range you’re talking about. I’ve tried to do that. Others do it. You know, anarcho-syndicalism, communitarian anarchism, anarchy in the sense of let’s get rid of everything, the old kind of primitive anarchism, many different types. And you’re not going to find a definition.

Libertarianism has a special meaning predominantly in the United States. In the United States, it means dedication to extreme forms of tyranny. They don’t call it that, but it’s basically corporate tyranny, meaning tyranny by unaccountable private concentrations of power, the worst kind of tyranny you can imagine.

It picks up from the libertarian tradition one element, namely opposition to state power. But it leaves open all other forms of — and in fact favors — other forms of coercion and domination. So it’s radically opposed to the libertarian tradition, which was opposed to the master servant relation.

Giving orders, taking orders — that’s a core of traditional anarchism, going back to classical liberalism. So it’s a special, pretty much uniquely American development and related to the unusual character of the United States in many respects.

America is to quite an unusual extent a business-run society. That’s why we have a very violent labor history. Much more so than comparable countries, and attacks on labor here were far more extreme. There are accurate libertarian elements in the United States, like protection of freedom of speech, which is probably of a standard higher than other countries. But libertarianism is designed in the United States to satisfy the needs of private power.

Actually, it’s an interesting case in connection with the media. The United States is one of the few countries that basically doesn’t have public media. I mean, theoretically, there’s NPR, but it’s a highly marginal thing and is corporate funded anyway. So there’s nothing like the BBC here. Most countries have something or other. And that was a battleground, especially when radio and television came along.

The Founding Fathers actually were in favor of different conceptions of freedom of speech. There’s a narrow conception which interprets it as being a negative right, meaning you should be free of external interference. There’s a broader conception which regards it as a positive right: you should have a right to impart and access information, hence the positive interpretation. The United Nations accepts the positive interpretation, and theoretically, the US does too.

If you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I think Article 19 says that every person must have the right to express themselves without constraint and to impart and receive information over the widest possible range. That’s the positive right.

That was a battleground in the 1930s and 1940s. Particularly right after the Second World War, there were high level commissions taking both sides. And the position that won out is what was called corporate libertarianism, meaning corporations have the right to do anything they want without any interference.

But people don’t have any rights. Like you and I don’t have the right to receive information. Technically, we can impart information if we can buy a newspaper, but the idea that you should be a public voice that people, to the extent that this society’s democratic and participatory, was eliminated in the United States. And that’s called libertarianism. Meaning mega-corporations can do what they like without interference.

IN THE EVER-GROWING FIELD OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IS WISCONSIN GOV. SCOTT WALKER. HE’S ADVOCATING LOCAL CONTROL OF SCHOOLS IN AN EFFORT TO UNDERMINE PUBLIC EDUCATION. WITH HIS ANNOUNCEMENT TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT, I’M REMINDED OF THE RECALL IN WISCONSIN A FEW YEARS AGO AND ITS RELATION TO THE CITIZENS UNITED CASE. CAN YOU DISCUSS THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE CITIZENS UNITED CASE AND THE IMPACT ON TEACHERS AND EDUCATION, AND THE OVERALL MEANING OF THAT DECISION ON THE SOCIETY?

The Citizens United decision should be considered in the context of a series of decisions, starting with Buckley v. Valeo back in the ’70s, that determined that money is a form of speech. You and I can speak in the same roughly equal loudness, but you and Bill Gates can’t speak in the same loudness in regards to money. So that was a big deal, that there can’t be any interference with the use of money, for example — funding.

Now there were restrictions in the laws on campaign funding, but they’ve been slowly eroded. Citizens United pretty much dispensed with them. There’s still some limitations but not much. So exactly what its impact was is pretty hard to judge. But it’s part of a series of decisions which have led to a situation in which, if you want to run for president, you have to have several billion dollars. And there’s only certain sources for several billion dollars. If you want to run for Congress, pretty much the same. House of Representatives, you have to have a huge campaign funded.

Technically, you could decide, “I’m going to run for president.” That’s a meaningless freedom. It doesn’t mean anything. And the effect is pretty striking. The impact of money on politics goes way back — you know, Tom Ferguson’s Golden Rule? It’s the best work on this topic; he’s a very good political scientist, and has done work, very good work, on the impact of campaign funding on both electability, but also more significantly on political decisions. And he traces it back to the nineteenth century. And the impact is quite substantial — it goes right through the New Deal and on to the present.

But now it’s in the stratosphere. That’s why 70 percent of the public is totally disenfranchised. They don’t contribute to campaign funding, so they’re out. And if you sort of go up the income/wealth scale, you can detect greater levels of influence, but it’s not really significant until you get to the very top, maybe a fraction of 1 percent or something, where decisions are basically made.

It’s not 100 percent, so you find some deviation. There are times when public opinion is powerful enough so that it does matter, but these are overwhelming tendencies. The effect on education, of course, is obvious. It means that the concentrated power of the business classes will determine educational as well as other policies. That’s why you’re getting charter schools, cutting back of funding for state colleges, the corporatization of the universities. I mean, it’s across the board.

Universities, for example, are increasingly going to a business model in which what matters is not educational attainment, but the bottom line. So if you can get temporary, cheap, dispensable labor, like adjuncts and grad students, that’s preferable to tenured faculty. And of course by other measures, it’s not that preferable, but this is a business model.

At the college level, there’s a huge growth of these private colleges, most of which are total scams. They’re not private, they get maybe 80–90 percent of their funding from the federal government through Pell Grants and other things. And they’re very profitable. So during the recession, they stayed extremely profitable. All their corporate profits went down, but their stock stayed high.

They have a huge drop-out rate, enormous. Corinthian Colleges, one of the biggest for-profits, just had a big scandal. They made promises that they’d recruit deprived populations. So they’ll heavily recruit in, say, black areas, with all kind of inducements to what you can become if you take on a huge debt and go here. Kids end up with an enormous debt and very few of them even graduate. It’s just a major scam. And meanwhile, the community colleges, which can serve these communities, they’re being cut back.

And that’s very natural in a business-run society. After all, business is interested in profit and power; not a big surprise. And so therefore why have public education, when you can use it as a way to profit? It’s very much like the health care system. Why is the United States about the only country without any national health — without any meaningful national health care? Well, it’s the same thing. It’s extremely inefficient, very costly, and very bad for the patient, about twice the per capita costs of comparable countries, with some of the worst outcomes.

I don’t know if you’ve tried to get health insurance, but it’s an unbelievable process. My wife just did it, and we spent days trying to get on the computer networks, which don’t work, and then you call the office and then you wait for an hour and finally you get somebody that doesn’t know what you’re talking about and if you do it, it fails. And we finally had to end up after days of this, going to an office, a physical office out in the suburbs, a small office, where you can actually talk to a human being, and then figure it out in five minutes.

Alright, that saves money for the government and the insurance companies, but it costs money to the consumer. And in fact, that’s not counted, so economists, for ideological reasons, don’t count costs to users. Like if you think there’s an error on your bank statement, say, and you call the bank, you don’t get somebody to talk to. You get a menu, a recorded menu, and then comes a whole routine, and then maybe if you’re patient, minutes later, you get somebody to talk to. Saves the bank a lot of money, so it’s called very efficient, but that’s because they don’t count the cost to you, and the cost to you is multiplied over the number of consumers — so it’s enormous.

If you added those costs, the business would be extremely inefficient. But for ideological reasons you don’t count the cost to people, you just count the cost to business. And even with that, it’s highly inefficient. All of these — it’s not because people want it. People have favored national health care for decades. But it doesn’t matter. What the people want is essentially irrelevant.

Education is simply part of it. So sure, when Scott Walker talks about going down to the local level, it’s put in the framework of, “I’m for the common man.” What he means is that at the local level, businesses can have a lot more power than they can at the state level or at the federal level. They have plenty of power at the higher levels, but if it’s a local school board, the local real-estate people determine what happens. There’s as little resistance as you can possibly get down at the lower levels. It would be different if it was a democratic country where people were organized, but they’re not. You know, they’re atomized.

That’s why the right wing is in favor of what they call states’ rights. It’s a lot easier to take over a state than the federal government. Pretty easy to take over the federal government too, but a lot easier when you get to the state level.

And all of this is veiled in nice, appealing terminology about we’ve got to favor the little guy and send freedom back to the people and take it away from power, but it means exactly the opposite — just like libertarianism.

DO YOU SEE A LOT OF PROPAGANDA EFFORTS IN TERMS OF UNDERMINING TEACHERS, MAYBE IN REGARDS TO PENSIONS OR JOB SECURITY, TO HAVE “NEIGHBOR TURNING AGAINST NEIGHBOR”?

It’s unbelievable. In fact, what Walker did, or his advisers, was pretty clever. They unionized the teachers, firemen, policemen, and people in the public sector who had benefits. And what they concealed, and what you know, is the fact that the benefits are paid for by the recipients. So you pay for the benefits by lowering your wages. That’s part of the union contract. You defer payment and take a slightly lower wage and get a pension. But that’s suppressed.

So the propaganda which was directed at the workers in the private sector said, “Look at these guys. They’re getting all kinds of benefits and pensions, security, and you’re being thrown out of your job.” Which is true. They were being thrown out of their jobs. And of course the unions had already been beaten down to almost nothing in the private sector. And this propaganda was able to mobilize working people against people in the public sector. It was effective propaganda. I mean, a total scam, but effective.

It’s pretty interesting to see it work in detail. You get a lot of insight. So you remember in 2008, when the whole economy was crashing, we could have gone into a huge depression, mostly because of the banks and their corruption and so on. But there was one huge insurance company, AIG, the biggest international insurance company, which was collapsing. If they would have collapsed, they would have brought down with them Goldman Sachs and a whole bunch of big investment firms, so the government wouldn’t let them collapse.

So they were bailed out, a huge bailout. And it was really malfeasance, if not criminality, on their part that led to all of this, but they were bailed out, and Timothy Geithner had to keep the economy going. Right after that, right at that time, the executives of AIG got huge bonuses. That really didn’t look good, so there was some publicity about it, bad publicity. But Larry Summers, the former secretary of treasury, a big economist, said, you have to honor the contracts. And the contract said that these guys have to get a bonus.

Right at that same time, the state of Illinois was going bankrupt, it claimed. And so they had to stop paying pensions to teachers. Well, you didn’t have to honor that contract. So yeah, for the gangsters at AIG who practically brought the economy down, you got to honor that contract, because they got to get their multimillion dollar stock options. But for the teachers who already paid for the pensions, you don’t have to honor that one.

And that’s the way the country runs. That’s what a business-run society looks like in case after case. And it’s all consistent and perfectly sensible and understandable.

SHIFTING TO A FOREIGN POLICY QUESTION, I REMEMBER RECALLING BEING GIVEN THE TRADITIONAL ACCOUNT OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE AS A YOUNG STUDENT OF HISTORY, AND IN MY FORMATIVE YEARS, HEGEMONIC TERMS OR IMPERIALISTIC PHRASEOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM WASN’T COMMON. IT WAS EXCLUDED FROM MY HISTORY INTRODUCTION ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.

ANYWAY, A LITTLE WHILE BACK, SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY ANNOUNCED THAT “THE ERA OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE IS OVER.” IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN JUST RHETORIC, AND RECENTLY VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN ANNOUNCED THAT A $1 BILLION AID PACKAGE WOULD BE DELIVERED TO CENTRAL AMERICA.

THAT PROMPTED SEVERAL SCHOLARS LIKE ADRIENNE PINE, AN ACADEMIC FROM AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, TO EXPRESS CONCERNS — HER AREA OF EXPERTISE IS HONDURAS AND GUATEMALA, AND SHE WAS ARGUING THAT THIS “AID PACKAGING” WOULD GO TO CORRUPT GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN THOSE COUNTRIES AND IT WOULD DO LITTLE TO ENHANCE DEMOCRACY OR HELP PEOPLE.

Well, this whole story is quite interesting. The meaning of the Monroe Doctrine, we were taught, was to protect the country from European imperialism. And that’s perfectly defensive. But the actual meaning was stated very clearly by Secretary of State Lansing, Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state. It’s a wonderful example of an accurate description — he presented a memorandum to President Wilson in which he said, here’s the real meaning of the Monroe Doctrine.

He said the Monroe Doctrine was established in our interest. The interests of other countries were an incident, not an end. So it’s entirely for our interest. But Wilson, a great exponent of self-determination, said he thought this argument was “unanswerable,” but it would be impolitic to make it public. That’s the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine. And it is. It’s exactly the way it’s been used.

This is supposed to be our hemisphere. Everybody else stay out. We didn’t have the power to implement it in 1823, but it was understood how it would work. John Quincy Adams, the great grand strategist and the intellectual author of Manifest Destiny, explained in the accredited — I think he probably wrote the Monroe Doctrine when he was secretary of state — he explained it was really directed at Cuba.

Cuba was the first foreign policy objective for the US. We wanted to take over Cuba. And the Monroe Doctrine was supposed to keep the British out. And it was discussed, and they understood that they couldn’t do it because Britain was too powerful.

But Adams explained that over time, Britain would become weaker, and the United States would become more powerful, and over time, he said, “Cuba will fall into our hands by the laws of political gravitation, the way an apple falls from the tree.” Which is exactly what happened through the nineteenth century when relations of power shifted, the United States became more powerful and was able to kick Britain out of one place after another.

In 1898, the United States invaded Cuba. The pretext was to liberate Cuba. In fact it was to conquer Cuba and prevent it from liberating itself from Spain, which it in fact was about to do. And then comes the Platt Amendment, and Guantanamo and all the rest of the story.

That’s the Monroe Doctrine. Why is it changing? It’s changing because Latin America has liberated itself. The United States is practically being kicked out of the hemisphere. That’s extremely important. For the last roughly fifteen years and for the first time in its history, the Latin American countries have begun to integrate slightly to free themselves from imperial control to face internal problems, and if you look at the hemispheric conferences, the United States is increasingly isolated.

At the Santiago conference in 2012, the OAS conference, it never reached any decisions because they have to be reached by consensus, and the US and Canada blocked every decision. The major ones were on Cuba. Everybody wanted it admitted, but the US and Canada refused. And the other was drugs. The other countries want to end this crazy US drug war which is destroying them, and the US and Canada refused.

Well, there was another conference coming up in Panama, just a couple months ago. And Obama recognized‚ or an adviser recognized, that unless he did something, the US would simply be kicked out of the hemisphere. So they moved towards normalization of relationswith Cuba. And here, it’s presented as a wonderful benign gesture, bringing Cuba out of its isolation.

Fact is, the United States is totally isolated. In the world, it’s completely isolated. The votes in the UN on the embargo are like 180–2, the United States and Israel. And in the hemisphere, it was on the verge of being tossed out. So they make the gestures that are silly — they have to say those sort of things, or end up being thrown out of the hemisphere.

And we can’t intervene at the previous levels — there’s plenty of intervention, but not at the level before. As for giving money toHonduras and Guatemala, it means giving money to murderers ruling governments that were installed by US power. The Honduras government was thrown out by military coup in 2009. This is Obama now. And they were a military government, ran a kind of a fake election, which almost nobody recognized except the United States, and it’s become a horror chamber.

If you take a look at the immigrants coming across the border, you’ll notice most of them are from Honduras. Why? Because Honduras, thanks to Obama, is a horror chamber. They’re giving money to Honduras, this military regime which has probably the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. Guatemala has been a horror story ever since 1954, when the US went in.

So that’s the history, but not the sanitized history.

 

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/07/29/noam_chomsky_the_united_states_is_totally_isolated_partner/?source=newsletter

Is America Undergoing a Major Political Sea Change?

 Inside the Rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

The political spectrum doesn’t want more conventional thinking.

Photo Credit: http://www.facebook.com/PDARunBernieRun/photos

America’s political center, if it ever really existed, appears to be shrinking.

On the left, Bernie Sanders’ issue-oriented presidential campaign of economic justice is drawing the crowds and generating the most passion, eclipsing his more moderate competitors. And on the right, Donald Trump’s loud promises to use his dealmaking moxie to fix the country, with a dose of racist comments thrown in, has pushed him to the top of the polls in 2016’s early states.

There’s no shortage of pundits writing off their surges. Surely, you’ve heard them all, which amount to saying that when the campaign gets serious, they will seriously falter. The latest analyses from this past weekend’s polling noted that both were doing well in two of the whitest states—Iowa and New Hampshire—but not in bigger, more diverse ones. So now these hallowed presidential proving grounds prove nothing?

But there is one explanation you won’t find among the politicos who are parsing the interior numbers in polls—such as the negative approval ratings, or appeal by race and gender. That explanation is that the political spectrum is changing, or stretching toward its blunter extremes, which also accounts for the muted enthusiasm for both party’s leading establishment candidates, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

A shifting electorate is the last thing many pundits want to confront. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, pointing to four recent polls, merely says Hillary should worry about her rising unpopularity. He does not touch the deeper question: is she out of tune with what’s engaging the public now? His colleague, Phillip Bump says she’s lagging among whites in Iowa and New Hampshire, but climbs back up in later states where she appeals to non-whites. Sanders and Trump aren’t doing that, he said.

At Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another go-to site for reporters to get zeitgeist quotes, the reflex is to dismiss both Trumps and Sanders for different reasons, rather than probe how the electorate may be shifting. Trump’s surge, according to associate editor Geoffrey Skelly, is because he’s well-known, loud, in a crowded field, and keeps getting press coverage. Even worse, the GOP idiotically tied participation in its upcoming presidential debate to how candidates are polling, he said, where Trump will be “attacked from all sides.”

One can go very far in political analysis by being cynical. But that does not mean you’ve got your finger on a changing pulse. Politico’s  piece on Trump’s latest rise in New Hampshire and Iowa points to the politics of anger, especially against Washington power-brokers, which includes the GOP’s congressional majority.

“Just 16 percent among all Republicans (15 percent of Republican registered voters… [and] 50 percent of Democrats (51 percent of Democratic registered voters) feel that they are [well] represented in the nation’s capital,” it reported. “Among independents, just 27 percent feel well-represented.”

What are people angry about? Who is giving voice to their problems, or offering solutions? CNN says the top concerns facing voters are the economy (44 percent), health care (20 percent) and terrorism (12 percent). If those numbers are accurate, it is not surprising that Sanders and Trump, on the left and right, have captivated voters because they are speaking outside the safe centrist political box.

Trump’s bragging that most of politics comes down to being the best negotiator has an appeal when the Republican-controlled Congress is bumbling at best. His slaps at immigrants are ugly, but there have always been racists in modern Republican ranks. Today’s GOP is not the party of Lincoln, nor is it Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-corporate reformers. Most of their 2016 candidates have been recycling Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric or predictable policies benefitting the upper classes.

While it remains to be seen what broad new agenda will emerge on the right, it is not surprising that the cliché-ridden remedies spouted by a field of predictable candidates isn’t creating much excitement, even as they try to out-do each other on the far right. Trump’s rise strongly suggests something in the GOP’s base is shifting.

Bernie Sanders’ surge is more easily traced, and also shows shifting voter sensibilities. His messaging has been saturated with specifics, from his speeches to e-mails. On Monday morning, he sent out a long missive seeking $3 donations that listed 12 issue areas and his solutions: jobs, jobs, jobs; raising wages; wealth and income inequality; reforming Wall St.; campaign finance reform; fighting climate change; health care for all; protecting our most vulnerable; expanding opportunity and equality; dismantling structural racism; college for all; war and peace. This is not political fundraising as usual.

It is easy to say that Sanders, like Elizabeth Warren before him, is pulling the Democrats closer to their progressive heart. But Sanders would not be as successful as he has been if Democrats in the electorate were not embracing his message. As one of Iowa’s leading pro-Democrat bloggers, BleedingHeartland.com, wrote this weekend, “Bernie Sanders continues to draw the largest crowds in Iowa–including roughly 1,200 people in West Des Moines on Friday—and polls indicate that he is cutting into Hillary Clinton’s lead among likely Democratic caucus-goers.”

Clinton still led Sanders by 29 points, 55 percent to 26 percent, with Martin O’Malley at 4 percent and Jim Webb at 2 percent, it reported, citing the latest polls. But “his message is resonating with a sizable part of the Democratic base, as anyone could see on Friday night during his town-hall meeting at West Des Moines Valley High School. I challenge any Democrat to find one substantive point to disagree with in Sanders’ stump speech. Many people who attend his events are already ‘feeling the Bern.’ My impression is that the undecideds who show up walk away giving him their serious consideration. I doubt anyone leaves a Sanders event thinking, ‘I could never caucus for that guy.’”

BleedingHeartland continued, “Listening to Sanders on Friday, I was again struck by the senator’s distinctive way of speaking. He packs a lot of facts and figures into his remarks without sounding wonky. He conveys a lot of passion without raising his voice often. Compared to many candidates, he says very little about his children and grandchildren. Still, his feelings about family come through loud and clear when he contrasts Republican ideas about ‘family values’ (a ‘woman shouldn’t be able to control her own body’) with what family values should mean (for instance, a mom and dad having paid time off from work so they can get to know their new baby). Although the Sanders stump speech is overly long—pushed well past the one-hour mark by many interruptions for applause—he keeps his listeners’ attention. Even my 12-year-old was still engaged….”

Next years’ presidential caucuses are a long way off, and the November election is even further away. It’s easy for pundits to dismiss Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, for different reasons, with respect to their eventual prospects. But doing so can overlook what’s happening now, which is the assumed frames, views and mood of the electorate are shifting, or stretching, or changing, and favoring the blunt and unconventional.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/america-undergoing-major-political-sea-change-exploring-shocking-rise-bernie-sanders?akid=13338.265072.UrDWuB&rd=1&src=newsletter1040052&t=1

The dark side of American politics

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29 July 2015

An “Editor’s Note” published on page two of Tuesday’s New York Times confirms that the supposed “newspaper of record” in the United States served as the instrument for a politically-motivated dirty trick directed at the presidential campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Last Thursday’s online edition of the Times, and its Friday print edition, claimed that the inspectors general of the State Department and the intelligence agencies had requested a “criminal investigation” into whether Clinton “mishandled sensitive government information” in the private email account through which she carried out communications during her four years at the State Department.

The front-page report, under a three-column headline, touched off a media firestorm over the weekend, with suggestions that the launching of a criminal probe into Clinton’s email practices could doom her campaign. The issue dominated the Sunday talk shows on all the television networks and was virtually the sole topic of discussion on ultra-right talk radio and Fox News.

In the Tuesday “Editor’s Note,” the Times admitted that its account was false. There was no request for a “criminal investigation,” or for an inquiry into Clinton’s own conduct. Instead, the request was a “security referral” into “whether sensitive government information was mishandled” in a handful of emails that passed through Clinton’s mail server. There was no allegation of potentially criminal conduct and no specific reference to Clinton’s personal role.

However, although the Times maintained that the July 23-July 24 article “was based on multiple high-level government sources,” the newspaper did not report which of these sources supplied the false information about Clinton. This is certainly a relevant and newsworthy issue: either key Obama aides, or top officials of the Justice Department, State Department or intelligence agencies, have leaked a report targeting the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. The two scenarios are not, of course, mutually exclusive, given Obama’s intimate ties with the intelligence apparatus.

If Obama loyalists were the source, that would suggest subterranean divisions within the Democratic Party wing of the political establishment. That this may be the case is reinforced by Obama’s public musing, during his ongoing trip to Africa, that if it were not for the constitutional prohibition, he could run for and win a third term in the White House, a clear suggestion that he finds the current Democratic presidential field lacking.

If Justice, State or CIA/NSA officials were the source of the leak, this would indicate significant opposition within the apparatus of the state itself either to Clinton’s campaign in particular, or to the prospect of any Democrat succeeding Obama in the White House. This would be even more important to report to the American people, since it would constitute a deliberate—and illegal—intervention into the US elections by agencies and officials who are accustomed to manipulating the political process in countries around the world.

The record of the Times over the last two decades reinforces the likelihood of the second scenario, in which Friday’s article was a deliberate provocation emanating from the intelligence agencies. Again and again, from the fabrications of Judith Miller about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to more recent charges of Syrian government gas attacks, Russian missiles shooting down a Malaysian jetliner and Chinese military hackers invading US government computer systems, the Times has been a conduit for entirely unsubstantiated claims, emanating from undisclosed sources, that promote the interests of sections of the military-intelligence apparatus.

The Times gives no accounting of the source of the attack on the Clinton campaign because it is not an independent publication in any genuine sense, but rather the house organ of factions within the US financial and political elite and military/intelligence establishment that use its pages to manipulate public opinion in support of their desired policies.

The bogus report of a Clinton “criminal referral” is only one of a series of incidents that suggest that the 2016 presidential campaign is becoming the focal point for an extraordinary escalation of political tensions within the US ruling elite.

In the past week alone, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, positioning himself as the most right-wing of the Republican presidential hopefuls, publicly denounced Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a liar. One of Cruz’s rivals for the Christian fundamentalist bloc, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, blasted the six-nation nuclear agreement with Iran, claiming that President Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

These statements follow a series of increasingly provocative and bigoted comments by billionaire Donald Trump targeting the 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and many of Trump’s 2016 rivals. Trump currently leads opinion polls of likely Republican primary voters and has held the largest rallies of any of the Republican candidates.

What these episodes suggest is that the underlying social conflicts within the United States are beginning to overload a political system that is rotted through and through. The two officially recognized political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are controlled by corporate interests and increasingly removed from the real concerns of the great mass of the American people.

There is mounting discontent over protracted economic slump, declining living standards and ever-deepening social inequality. Neither capitalist party has anything genuine to offer to working people. Both are seeking to divert and channel the rising social anger, the Democrats through the “left” demagogy of Bernie Sanders, the Republicans through increasingly vitriolic attacks on scapegoats such as immigrant workers.

It is impossible to predict, more than 15 months before Election Day, how the deepening crisis of American imperialism, and of world capitalism as a whole, will be reflected through the medium of the US presidential election campaign. Suffice it to say that there will be twists and turns and sudden political shocks, foreshadowing the entry of the American working class into mass struggles against the capitalist system.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/29/pers-j29.html

With US backing, Turkey prepares to seize buffer zones inside Syria

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By Peter Schwarz
28 July 2015

After agreeing last week to join the US-led war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Turkey is preparing to seize buffer zones within Syria, backed by US warplanes and Syrian opposition militias. This escalation follows weeks of talks with a high-ranking US delegation, and a phone call between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Barack Obama.

“What we are talking about with Turkey is cooperating to support partners on the ground in northern Syria who are countering ISIL,” an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal, referring to one of the ISIS’s alternate acronyms. “The goal is to establish an ISIL-free zone and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey’s border with Syria.”

The US Air Force is now using Turkish airbases at Incirlik and Diyarbakir to attack IS targets in Syria and Iraq. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) wrote, “The authorisation given to the Americans to use the Incirlik airbase for attacks on IS has been linked to the (alleged) Turkish plan to establish a no-fly-zone 90 kilometres long and up to 50 kilometres deep [55 miles by 30 miles] in northern Syria.”

US and Turkish officials told the Journal that planning for the intervention is ongoing. US and Turkish warplanes would provide air support for opposition militias. Planners are apparently concerned that US-backed Syrian opposition militias will fail to hold the zone, however, which could lead to direct Turkish intervention to seize the buffer zone in Syria.

Preparation for a US-Turkish intervention in Syria marks a major escalation in the imperialist-led re-division of the Middle East. While the intervention’s ostensible target is ISIS, it is also aimed at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Kurdish forces in northern Syria and Iraq, bordering Turkey.

Plans for Ankara to seize Syrian territory with US support are a blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty. The US and Turkish governments, who have previously declared they wanted regime change in Syria, “are both expecting this new phase of the campaign to put pressure on Mr. Assad,” the Journalreported.

Details of the US-Turkish plans emerged after Assad admitted in a nationwide televised address this weekend that the Syrian army now faces severe manpower shortages. There is increasing speculation that Iran, Assad’s main Middle Eastern backer, may also cut support to Assad after signing its recent nuclear agreement with Washington.

The agreement between Washington and Ankara is based on a sordid deal. In exchange for Ankara’s participation in the war against ISIS, the US gave the go-ahead for attacks on Kurdish organisations, which, until now, were in the forefront of the fighting against ISIS and were in part supported militarily by the US.

The main target of the Turkish attacks over the weekend was not ISIS, but the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian branch, the PYD/YPG. While the Turkish air force claimed to have fired on ISIS targets without violating Syrian air space, they penetrated deep into northern Iraq to bomb PKK positions. According to reports from the Kurdish YPG militia, confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Turkish tanks attacked their positions in the northern Syrian village of Sor Maghar. Ankara denied targeting the PYD/YPG, however.

Ankara thereby brought an end to its six-year peace process with the PKK, amid growing concerns that the rise of Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria threatened its basic strategic interests. The FAZ cited a recent study by the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara: “Without a military intervention by Turkey (in Syria), it is highly likely that the Kurds will conquer the territory between the (Kurdish-controlled) cities of Afrin and Kobani in Syria.”

“A completely Kurdish-controlled belt from Iraq in the east to Syria in the west,” the FAZ wrote, “would however ‘cut the geographic connection between Turkey and the Arab world’.” Since the danger of “an independent Kurdish state emerging from the breakdown of the Iraqi state” would rise, Ankara wanted to “at least block the emergence of a further contiguous area of Kurdish rule in Syria.”

Ankara is combining attacks in Syria and northern Iraq with repression against domestic opposition within Turkey. Hundreds were detained over the weekend, including PKK supporters, ISIS supporters and political activists.

On Sunday evening, the government banned a peace march in Istanbul by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to commemorate the victims of the Suruç attack. In Suruç, a suicide bomber killed 32 and injured around 100 people who had planned to travel to the Syrian-Kurdish city of Kobani to help with reconstruction. The government seized on the attack to justify war with ISIS.

With the attacks in Syria and domestic repression, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Tayyip Erdogan are responding to a growing political crisis. The AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, lost its absolute majority in parliament in June, when the Kurdish HDP surpassed the 10 percent hurdle for parliamentary representation. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has until August 23 to find a coalition partner, which he has not been able to do thus far. Thereafter, Erdogan can dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.

Many observers believe that by intervening in Syria and attacking the PKK, which is retaliating with attacks in Turkey, Erdogan intends to provoke hysteria over war and terrorism to enable the AKP to secure a parliamentary majority in new elections.

Turkey’s strong economic growth rates, which guaranteed the AKP’s parliamentary majorities, have been hit hard. This year’s growth target of 4 percent will not be met, and next year’s projection is just 3 percent. Regional wars, sanctions against Russia, and falling global prices have slashed Turkey’s export and tourist revenues. In addition, Ankara claims, the influx of 2 million refugees from Syria and Iraq has cost $6 billion so far.

Erdogan and the AKP confront a foreign policy blind alley, however. Their perspective of becoming the leading regional power in the Arab world, in the tradition of the Ottoman Empire, suffered its first major setback two years ago when the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohammed Mursi, with whose Muslim Brotherhood the AKP was allied.

In Syria, Ankara pushed for the overthrow of the Assad regime. Like Washington, it initially supported the opposition, including ISIS, which was allowed to operate virtually unhindered in Turkey. When ISIS moved into Iraq and endangered the Baghdad regime, Washington carried out a U-turn and began bombing ISIS. While holding firm to its goal of overthrowing Assad, it began supporting ISIS’s opponents. Ankara did not join in this policy shift, because it feared the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq and Syria.

Ankara is now embarking on an incendiary attempt to resolve the differences with Washington, provoked by the deepening crisis in the Middle East, through military escalation.

Significantly, this strategy is escalating tensions within NATO. Washington is supporting attacks on the PKK, and the White House issued a statement declaring that Turkey can defend itself against terrorist attacks by Kurds.

This raised sharp differences within Europe, however. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen called on Turkey not to endanger the peace process with the Kurds. Berlin is arming the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militia, and indirectly the Syrian Kurds in the process, and is training their fighters.

A Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) editorial described the differences between America and Europe as “quite major.”

“Washington is apparently ready to pay the price of an escalation of the Kurdish conflict by Turkey to secure more firepower against IS,” wrote Nikolas Busse. “By contrast, the Europeans are more focused on the peace process between Ankara and the Kurds, even though it hasn’t progressed very far recently. … It would be better if this transatlantic disunity was not pushed to the limit.”

A NATO conference is to take place today at Turkey’s initiative to discuss these differences.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/28/turk-j28.html

German economics minister rushes to exploit business opportunities in Iran

Der SPD-Bundesvorsitzende Sigmar Gabriel sitzt am 17.03.2013 auf dem SPD-Landesparteitag in Salem (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) auf dem Podium. Neben den Neuwahlen des Landesvorstands bereiten die 95 Delegierten bei dem zweitägigen Treffen die Bundestagswahl vor. Foto: Jens Büttner/dpa (Qualitäts-Wiederholung) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

By Johannes Stern
27 July 2015

Rarely in recent years have the foreign travels of a leading German politician caused such a stir as the visit earlier this month to Iran by the German Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democratic Party, SPD). With the ink barely dry on the recently-negotiated nuclear program agreement with Iran, Gabriel was already bound for Tehran in the company of a high-level business delegation.

Berlin’s foray into one of the most strategically important and resource-rich countries in the Middle East—Iran has the fourth largest oil and second largest gas reserves in the world—is part of German imperialism’s return to the world stage. Significantly, the visit took place the same week as the federal government enforced a brutal austerity program on Greece and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Cuba with a delegation.

Gabriel’s trip to Iran was so sudden and his related objectives so obvious that even a number of media outlets, which otherwise regularly beat the drum for a more aggressive German participation in world affairs, felt compelled to comment critically on the expedition.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper called it “embarrassing” and warned: “Now the impression has been given that Germany is mainly concerned about its business interests. Arriving late is stupid, but sometimes flying off too early is a lot more stupid.”

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also referred to Gabriel’s trip as “quick off the mark, if not over-hasty.” The paper’s columnist wrote that it might perhaps “help German industry to once again secure a foothold in this market after the long years of sanctions.” It was, however, “an ambiguous signal” in relation to German foreign policy, according to FAZ.

Criticism of Gabriel’s delegation even came from within the government’s own ranks: “I’m worried about the declaration that Iran is one of our friends,” said Roderich Kiesewetter (Christian Democratic Union, CDU), the CDU/Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance representative in the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag (federal parliament). He added that Iran could only be “our friend and a stability factor in the region,” when it “actually recognises Israel’s right to exist.” Former SPD parliamentarian and German-Israeli Society president Reinhold Robbe stated that Gabriel gave the impression “that Germany sets its economic interests above everything else.”

The arrogant bluster of Gabriel certainly helped to confirm this “impression.” Soon after his government plane landed at Mehrabad international airport in Tehran, he told German reporters: “Traditionally we have good relations [with Iran], and many companies want to build on existing contacts. And the chance for this will emerge when the agreement enters into force early next year. It will be the first major step, but there will certainly be many more that will have to be taken.”

The business representatives in his entourage were even less able to restrain their enthusiasm for the new opportunities opening up for the export and commodity-hungry German imperialism. President of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) Eric Schweitzer said, “German industry is highly regarded in Iran,” and continued: “During the reign of the Shah, Iran was Germany’s second most important export market outside Europe. Many want to follow up on that.”

DIHK head of foreign trade Volker Treier proclaimed, “The Iranian economy is geared more towards industry than one might assume. With its 80 million inhabitants and a strong industrial base, the country is predestined to be an export market for German companies.”

The German business press is also enthusiastic about the development. The monthly Manager Magazin gushed that, in addition to “a highly qualified workforce,” there are “a lot of raw materials” available in Iran. The country is seen as “a sleeping giant” that has “substantial pent-up economic demands as a result of sanctions in recent years.”

German imperialism and German capital consider the Iran nuclear agreement, brokered in part through the efforts of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as an opportunity to build on their traditionally close relations with Iran and increase their economic and political influence across the whole region.

Die Welt writes that “the opportunities opening up for German companies in Iran are outstanding.” Relations between businesses from both countries are recognised to have “grown over decades,” and “some German companies have been involved in the heartland of the former Persian empire for more than 100 years.”

According to official sources, some 80 German companies are currently operating directly through branches in Iran, and about 1,000 other enterprises have representatives there. Among the largest German concerns on site are Henkel, Siemens and Bayer. Following the sharp decline in economic relations over recent years, the value of German exports had already increased by almost a third to €2.4 billion (US$2.6 billion) in 2014.

The DIHK now expects a doubling of German exports within the next two years to around €5 billion (US$5.5 billion). The Federation of German Industries (BDI) even assumes that German companies could be exporting goods worth more than €10 billion to Iran in the near future.

Following a joint meeting with Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh on Monday, Gabriel announced that Germany and Iran will resume the operation of a joint economic commission beginning in 2016. Iranian President Hassan Rohani expressed hope that Berlin would play a “positive role” in the development of relations between the two countries and also between Europe and the entire Middle East, “just as it had done in the nuclear program negotiations.”

What Rohani and the Iranian regime describe as “positive” means in fact the complete submission of the country to the plundering of imperialist powers 35 years after the Iranian revolution.

Commenting under the headline “The Great Race,” the Süddeutsche Zeitungsuggested that Germany “is not the only country that wants a careful return to normality.” It pointed out that, although Gabriel was the “first high-ranking western politician in Iran” since the nuclear deal, several other EU foreign ministers had already paid visits to Tehran. France had already sent “a 130-strong business delegation to Iran in February 2014,” in which oil giant Total, plant builder Alstom, the Orange telecommunications group and French automakers were represented.

China is also regarded as an obvious competitor. Anton Börner, head of the BGA foreign trade association, predicts that it will probably be “difficult” for the German business community to “once again become Iran’s largest trading partner.” According to Börner, Chinese companies that have exploited the past years of sanctions “to establish themselves in Iran” would “fight to maintain their position, when the sanctions are withdrawn.”

Commenting on increasing competition from Asian countries, Volker Treier said: “Chinese and Korean companies in Iran have now taken our place in the sun.” He said the Chinese now had “a trade volume of US$50 billion in their business with Iran. We won’t be able to get near such a scale of investment.”

The fact that leading German business representatives are again claiming their right to “a place in the sun” has far-reaching historical implications. When the imperialist forces of the so-called “late emerging German nation” first aspired to achieve “a place in the sun” (words subsequently used in Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow’s address to the German parliament on December 6, 1897), the phrase mainly referred to the possession of colonies in Africa and the Middle East, and the development of a unilateral global policy which twice led to disaster in the 20th century.

As in the past, the renewed grandstanding of German imperialism on the world stage will exacerbate tensions with the US. Although not openly discussed in public, the rush of German businesses to stake claims in Iran is driven by an attempt to forestall potential American competition, which will be excluded from the country prior to the US Congress’s vote on the nuclear program agreement. An Iran dominated by German imperialism or German-led European imperialism would also be a direct geo-strategic challenge to US imperialism, which has concluded the nuclear deal primarily in order to defend its own hegemony in the region.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/27/iran-j27.html