As Washington “Pivots” to Asia, China Does the Eurasian Pirouette

Go West, Young Han

trans-eurasian-corridor-300x150
 
By Pepe Escobar

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9th.

Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train.  At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain.

You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods — from clothes to toys — possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road,” conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Go west, young Han. One day, if everything happens according to plan (and according to the dreams of China’s leaders), all this will be yours — via high-speed rail, no less.  The trip from China to Europe will be a two-day affair, not the 21 days of the present moment. In fact, as that freight train left Yiwu, the D8602 bullet train was leaving Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, heading for Hami in China’s far west. That’s the first high-speed railway built in Xinjiang, and more like it will be coming soon across China at what is likely to prove dizzying speed.

Today, 90% of the global container trade still travels by ocean, and that’s what Beijing plans to change.  Its embryonic, still relatively slow New Silk Road represents its first breakthrough in what is bound to be an overland trans-continental container trade revolution.

And with it will go a basket of future “win-win” deals, including lower transportation costs, the expansion of Chinese construction companies ever further into the Central Asian “stans,” as well as into Europe, an easier and faster way to move uranium and rare metals from Central Asia elsewhere, and the opening of myriad new markets harboring hundreds of millions of people.

So if Washington is intent on “pivoting to Asia,” China has its own plan in mind.  Think of it as a pirouette to Europe across Eurasia.

Defecting to the East?

The speed with which all of this is happening is staggering. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt in Astana, Kazakhstan, in September 2013. One month later, while in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, he announced a twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road. Beijing defines the overall concept behind its planning as “one road and one belt,” when what it’s actually thinking about is a boggling maze of prospective roads, rail lines, sea lanes, and belts.

We’re talking about a national strategy that aims to draw on the historical aura of the ancient Silk Road, which bridged and connected civilizations, east and west, while creating the basis for a vast set of interlocked pan-Eurasian economic cooperation zones.  Already the Chinese leadership has green-lighted a $40 billion infrastructure fund, overseen by the China Development Bank, to build roads, high-speed rail lines, and energy pipelines in assorted Chinese provinces. The fund will sooner or later expand to cover projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. But Central Asia is the key immediate target.

Chinese companies will be investing in, and bidding for contracts in, dozens of countries along those planned silk roads. After three decades of development while sucking up foreign investment at breakneck speed, China’s strategy is now to let its own capital flow to its neighbors. It’s already clinched $30 billion in contracts with Kazakhstan and $15 billion with Uzbekistan. It has provided Turkmenistan with $8 billion in loans and a billion more has gone to Tajikistan.

In 2013, relations with Kyrgyzstan were upgraded to what the Chinese term “strategic level.” China is already the largest trading partner for all of them except Uzbekistan and, though the former Central Asian socialist republics of the Soviet Union are still tied to Russia’s network of energy pipelines, China is at work there, too, creating its own version of Pipelineistan, including anew gas pipeline to Turkmenistan, with more to come.

The competition among Chinese provinces for much of this business and the infrastructure that goes with it will be fierce. Xinjiang is already being reconfigured by Beijing as a key hub in its new Eurasian network. In early November 2014, Guangdong — the “factory of the world” — hosted the first international expo for the country’s Maritime Silk Road and representatives of no less than 42 countries attended the party.

President Xi himself is now enthusiastically selling his home province, Shaanxi, which once harbored the start of the historic Silk Road in Xian, as a twenty-first-century transportation hub. He’s made his New Silk Road pitch for it to, among others, Tajikistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Afghanistan.

Just like the historic Silk Road, the new one has to be thought of in the plural.  Imagine it as a future branching maze of roads, rail lines, and pipelines. A key stretch is going to run through Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, with Istanbul as a crossroads site. Iran and Central Asia are alreadyactively promoting their own connections to it. Another key stretch will follow the Trans-Siberian Railway with Moscow as a key node. Once that trans-Siberian high-speed rail remix is completed, travel time between Beijing and Moscow will plunge from the current six and a half days to only 33 hours. In the end, Rotterdam, Duisburg, and Berlin could all be nodes on this future “highway” and German business execs are enthusiastic about the prospect.

The Maritime Silk Road will start in Guangdong province en route to the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, ending essentially in Venice, which would be poetic justice indeed.  Think of it as Marco Polo in reverse.

All of this is slated to be completed by 2025, providing China with the kind of future “soft power” that it now sorely lacks. When President Xi hails the push to “break the connectivity bottleneck” across Asia, he’s also promising Chinese credit to a wide range of countries.

Now, mix the Silk Road strategy with heightened cooperation among the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), with accelerated cooperation among the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with a more influential Chinese role over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) — no wonder there’s the perception across the Global South that, while the U.S. remains embroiled in its endless wars, the world is defecting to the East.

New Banks and New Dreams

The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing was certainly a Chinese success story, but the bigger APEC story went virtually unreported in the United States.  Twenty-two Asian countries approved the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) only one year after Xi initially proposed it. This is to be yet another bank, like the BRICS Development Bank, that will help finance projects in energy, telecommunications, and transportation.  Its initial capital will be $50 billion and China and India will be its main shareholders.

Consider its establishment a Sino-Indian response to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), founded in 1966 under the aegis of the World Bank and considered by most of the world as a stalking horse for the Washington consensus. When China and India insist that the new bank’s loans will be made on the basis of “justice, equity, and transparency,” they mean that to be in stark contrast to the ADB (which remains a U.S.-Japan affair with those two countries contributing 31% of its capital and holding 25% of its voting power) — and a sign of a coming new order in Asia.  In addition, at a purely practical level, the ADB won’t finance the real needs of the Asian infrastructure push that the Chinese leadership is dreaming about, which is why the AIIB is going to come in so handy.

Keep in mind that China is already the top trading partner for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  It’s in second place when it comes to Sri Lanka and Nepal.  It’s number one again when it comes to virtually all the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite China’s recent well-publicized conflicts over who controls waters rich in energy deposits in the region. We’re talking here about the compelling dream of a convergence of 600 million people in Southeast Asia, 1.3 billion in China, and 1.5 billion on the Indian subcontinent.

Only three APEC members — apart from the U.S. — did not vote to approve the new bank: Japan, South Korea, and Australia, all under immense pressure from the Obama administration. (Indonesia signed on a few days late.) And Australia is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the lure of what, these days, is being called “yuan diplomacy.”

In fact, whatever the overwhelming majority of Asian nations may think about China’s self-described “peaceful rise,” most are already shying away from or turning their backs on a Washington-and-NATO-dominated trade and commercial world and the set of pacts — from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for Europe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for Asia — that would go with it.

When Dragon Embraces Bear

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a fabulous APEC. After his country and China clinched a massive $400 billion natural gas deal in May — around the Power of Siberia pipeline, whose construction began this year — they added a second agreement worth $325 billion around the Altai pipeline originating in western Siberia.

These two mega-energy deals don’t mean that Beijing will become Moscow-dependent when it comes to energy, though it’s estimated that they will provide 17% of China’s natural gas needs by 2020. (Gas, however, makes up only 10% per cent of China’s energy mix at present.)  But these deals signal where the wind is blowing in the heart of Eurasia. Though Chinese banks can’t replace those affected by Washington and EU sanctions against Russia, they are offering a Moscow battered by recent plummeting oil prices some relief in the form of access to Chinese credit.

On the military front, Russia and China are now committed to large-scale joint military exercises, while Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense missile system will soon enough be heading for Beijing.  In addition, for the first time in the post-Cold War era, Putin recently raised the old Soviet-era doctrine of “collective security” in Asia as a possible pillar for a new Sino-Russian strategic partnership.

Chinese President Xi has taken to calling all this the “evergreen tree of Chinese-Russian friendship” — or you could think of it as Putin’s strategic “pivot” to China.  In either case, Washington is not exactly thrilled to see Russia and China beginning to mesh their strengths: Russian excellence in aerospace, defense technology, and heavy equipment manufacturing matching Chinese excellence in agriculture, light industry, and information technology.

It’s also been clear for years that, across Eurasia, Russian, not Western, pipelines are likely to prevail. The latest spectacular Pipelineistan opera — Gazprom’s cancellation of the prospective South Stream pipeline that was to bring yet more Russian natural gas to Europe — will, in the end, only guarantee an even greater energy integration of both Turkey and Russia into the new Eurasia.

So Long to the Unipolar Moment 

All these interlocked developments suggest a geopolitical tectonic shift in Eurasia that the American media simply hasn’t begun to grasp. Which doesn’t mean that no one notices anything.  You can smell the incipient panic in the air in the Washington establishment.  The Council on Foreign Relations is already publishing laments about the possibility that the former sole superpower’s exceptionalist moment is “unraveling.” The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission can only blame the Chinese leadership for being “disloyal,” adverse to “reform,” and an enemy of the “liberalization” of their own economy.

The usual suspects carp that upstart China is upsetting the “international order,” will doom “peace and prosperity” in Asia for all eternity, and may becreating a “new kind of Cold War” in the region. From Washington’s perspective, a rising China, of course, remains the major “threat” in Asia, if not the world, even as the Pentagon spends gigantic sums to keep its sprawling global empire of bases intact. Those Washington-based stories about the new China threat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, however, never mention that China remains encircled by U.S. bases, while lacking a base of its own outside its territory.

Of course, China does face titanic problems, including the pressures being applied by the globe’s “sole superpower.” Among other things, Beijing fears threats to the security of its sea-borne energy supply from abroad, which helps explain its massive investment in helping create a welcoming Eurasian Pipelineistan from Central Asia to Siberia. Fears for its energy future also explain its urge to “escape from Malacca” by reaching for energy supplies in Africa and South America, and its much-discussed offensive to claim energy-rich areas of the East and South China seas, which Beijing is betting could become a “second Persian Gulf,” ultimately yielding 130 billion barrels of oil.

On the internal front, President Xi has outlined in detail his vision of a “results-oriented” path for his country over the next decade. As road maps go, China’s “must-do” list of reforms is nothing short of impressive. And worrying about keeping China’s economy, already the world’s number oneby size, rolling along at a feverish pitch, Xi is also turbo-charging the fight against corruption, graft, and waste, especially within the Communist Party itself.

Economic efficiency is another crucial problem. Chinese state-owned enterprises are now investing a staggering $2.3 trillion a year — 43% of the country’s total investment — in infrastructure. Yet studies at Tsinghua University’s School of Management have shown that an array of investments in facilities ranging from steel mills to cement factories have only added to overcapacity and so actually undercut China’s productivity.

Xiaolu Wang and Yixiao Zhou, authors of the academic paper “Deepening Reform for China’s Long-term Growth and Development,” contend that it will be difficult for China to jump from middle-income to high-income status — a key requirement for a truly global power. For this, an avalanche of extra government funds would have to go into areas like social security/unemployment benefits and healthcare, which take up at present 9.8% and 15.1% of the 2014 budget — high for some Western countries but not high enough for China’s needs.

Still, anyone who has closely followed what China has accomplished over these past three decades knows that, whatever its problems, whatever the threats, it won’t fall apart. As a measure of the country’s ambitions for economically reconfiguring the commercial and power maps of the world, China’s leaders are also thinking about how, in the near future, relations with Europe, too, could be reshaped in ways that would be historic.

What About That “Harmonious Community”?

At the same moment that China is proposing a new Eurasian integration, Washington has opted for an “empire of chaos,” a dysfunctional global system now breeding mayhem and blowback across the Greater Middle East into Africa and even to the peripheries of Europe.

In this context, a “new Cold War” paranoia is on the rise in the U.S., Europe, and Russia.  Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who knows a thing or two about Cold Wars (having ended one), couldn’t be more alarmed. Washington’s agenda of “isolating” and arguably crippling Russia is ultimately dangerous, even if in the long run it may also be doomed to failure.

At the moment, whatever its weaknesses, Moscow remains the only power capable of negotiating a global strategic balance with Washington and putting some limits on its empire of chaos.  NATO nations still follow meekly in Washington’s wake and China as yet lacks the strategic clout.

Russia, like China, is betting on Eurasian integration.  No one, of course, knows how all this will end.  Only four years ago, Vladimir Putin was proposing “a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” involving a trans-Eurasian free trade agreement. Yet today, with the U.S., NATO, and Russia locked in a Cold War-like battle in the shadows over Ukraine, and with the European Union incapable of disentangling itself from NATO, the most immediate new paradigm seems to be less total integration than war hysteria and fear of future chaos spreading to other parts of Eurasia.

Don’t rule out a change in the dynamics of the situation, however.  In the long run, it seems to be in the cards.  One day, Germany may lead parts of Europe away from NATO’s “logic,” since German business leaders and industrialists have an eye on their potentially lucrative commercial future in a new Eurasia. Strange as it might seem amid today’s war of words over Ukraine, the endgame could still prove to involve a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing alliance.

At present, the choice between the two available models on the planet seems stark indeed: Eurasian integration or a spreading empire of chaos. China and Russia know what they want, and so, it seems, does Washington.  The question is: What will the other moving parts of Eurasia choose to do?

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos (Nimble Books). Follow him on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Pepe Escobar

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175935/tomgram%3A_pepe_escobar%2C_eurasian_integration_vs._the_empire_of_chaos/

The 6-Step Process to Dispose of the Poor Half of America

America’s wealth-takers are all too ready to abandon people when they aren’t useful.

Photo Credit: Jeff Wasserman/Shutterstock.com

One of the themes of the superb writing of Henry Giroux is that more and more Americans are becoming “disposable,” recognized as either commodities or criminals by the more fortunate members of society. There seems to be a method to the madness of winner-take-all capitalism. The following steps, whether due to greed or indifference or disdain, are the means by which America’s wealth-takers dispose of the people they don’t need.

1. Deplete Their Wealth 

Recent analysis has determined that half of America is in or near poverty. This is confirmed by researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who point out: “The bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net. Hence, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families – what can be described as the middle class.”

The United States has one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world. It’s much worse since the recession, especially for blacks and Hispanics.

From 2008 to 2013 the stock market, which is largely owned by just 10% of Americans, gained 18% per year. Well-to-do stockholders get capital gains tax breaks, including a carried interest subsidy thatRobert Reich calls “a pure scam.”

The bottom half of America, relying on regular bank accounts, earn about one percent on their savings.

2. Strip Away Their Income 

Earnings due to workers for their years of productivity have been withheld by people in power. Based on inflation, the minimum wage should be nearly three times its current level. An investor report from J.P. Morgan noted a direct correlation between record profits and cutbacks in wages.

We hear occasional news about job growth, but low-wage jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour), which made up just 1/5 of the jobs lost to the recession, accounted for nearly 3/5 of the jobs regained during the recovery. And it’s getting worse. Nine out of ten of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree, including food service, health care, housekeeping, and retail sales.

Among rich countries, according to OECD data, the U.S. is near the bottom in both union participationand employee protection laws.

3. Take Away Their Homes 

study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded that an average American renter would need to earn $18.92 per hour — well over twice the minimum wage — to afford a two-bedroom apartment. “In no state,” their report says, “can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.” Over one-eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.

Little wonder that so many people are homeless: over 600,000 on any January night in the U.S., tens of thousands of children, tens of thousands of veterans, and one of every five suffering from mental illness.

4. Hit Them with Fines, Fees, and Fleecings 

The poor half of America is victimized by the banking industry, which takes an average of $2,412 each year from underserved households for interest and fees on alternative financial services; byrental centers that charge effective annual interest rates over 100 percent; by payday lenders whocharge effective annual interest rates of over 1,000 percent; and by the burgeoning prison industry, which charges prisoners for food and health care and phone calls and probation monitoring and anything else they can think of.

On top of all this, bubbly TV personalities rave about all the lottery money just waiting to be taken home. Poor families account for most of the lottery sales.

5. Criminalize Them 

Matt Taibbi’s recently published book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gapcontrasts the targeting of the poor for trivial offenses with a tolerance for the architects of billion-dollar financial crimes.

The U.S. court system is flooded with cases for minor infractions, including loitering charges reminiscent of the infamous Black Codes of post-slavery years. The buildup of arrests has added one out of every three U.S. adults to the FBI’s criminal database.

The poor are criminalized for lying down or sleeping in public; for sharing food; for simply havingnowhere to go.

6. Most Insidious: Let Their Children Suffer 

The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. Almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty. Nearly half of all food stamp participants are children. The number of homeless children has risen by 50 percent in less than ten years.

Early education is certainly part of the solution, for numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But even though the U.S. ranks near the bottom of developed countries in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Meanwhile, public schools in the inner-city are being closed to satisfy the profit urges of the privatizers, who view our children as commodities. Said community organizer Jitu Brown after 50 schools were shut down in Chicago: “It has ripped black communities apart.”

Americans seek reasons for all the violence in our city streets. With so many “disposable” citizens deprived of living-wage jobs and a meaningful education and equal treatment by our system of justice, rebellion in the form of violence is not hard to understand. The privileged members of society would lash out, too, if they were stripped of everything they own and tossed into the streets.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org)

 

http://www.alternet.org/economy/6-step-process-dispose-poor-half-america?akid=12576.265072.Hp1XRb&rd=1&src=newsletter1028681&t=10&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

US budget resolution funds war and repression

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By Patrick Martin
13 December 2014

The omnibus spending resolution adopted by the US House of Representatives just before midnight Thursday, and which is now before the Senate, is a detailed public statement of the priorities of the American ruling elite. The bulk of the more than $1.1 trillion in funding goes to the military and other repressive functions of the federal government, such as spying, prisons and the police.

President Obama hailed the measure as a “bipartisan effort to include full-year appropriations legislation for most government functions that allows for planning and provides certainty, while making progress toward appropriately investing in economic growth and opportunity, and adequately funding national security requirements.” In other words, the bill makes it possible for the administration to continue waging war around the world and building up the apparatus for a police state at home.

Attached to the funding bill are hundreds of policy measures, many of them added at the last minute with no public discussion and, in many cases, without most congressmen or senators even being aware of what was being proposed before they rubber-stamped the bill. These include, most notoriously, the repeal of a major section of the Dodd-Frank legislation that sought to place some restrictions on the speculative activities of the banks following the 2008 financial crash.

The language in this section, permitting banks to use federally insured deposits to gamble in the swaps and derivative markets, was literally drafted by the banks. According to an analysis by the New York Times, 70 of the 85 lines in that section of the bill come directly from Citibank, which spearheaded the lobbying by Wall Street on this issue.

The four largest Wall Street banks conduct 93 percent of all US derivatives trading, so the measure is a brazen demonstration of the subservience of Congress to the big banks. According to the Washington Post, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, another of the big four banks, personally telephoned individual congressmen to urge them to vote for the amendment to Dodd-Frank.

The House of Representatives passed the funding bill late Thursday by a vote of 219 to 206 after a delay of seven hours. The delay was to allow the Obama administration to pressure a sufficient number of Democratic congressmen to support the Republican-drafted bill and offset defections among ultra-right Republicans who wanted the legislation to block Obama’s executive order on immigration.

The final vote saw 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 136 Democrats and 70 Republicans opposed it. As always, just enough Democratic votes were found to assure that the reactionary measure passed, the government agencies were funded, and the financial markets were reassured.

Some liberal Democrats, most notably the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, made speeches posturing as opponents of the legislation. Pelosi even declared, in a comment that was widely publicized, that she was “enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with this.”

But in remarks to a meeting of the Democratic caucus, Pelosi gave the game away, refusing to seek a party-line vote and instead telling members, “I’m giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do.” The second-ranking and third-ranking Democratic leaders, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Deputy Whip James Clyburn, broke with Pelosi and sided with the White House on the bill, openly recruiting the votes required for passage.

Along with the $1.1 trillion bill that will fund most federal agencies through September 30, the House passed by voice vote a resolution funding the whole government through Saturday midnight, to give the Senate time to act on the main measure. The Senate approved this stopgap as well, and Obama signed it at the White House on Friday morning.

The House met again Friday afternoon and passed another extension, this time for five days, giving the Senate until midnight Wednesday to complete action on the funding legislation. Ultimate Senate passage is not in doubt. Outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid has given his public backing, saying Thursday, “I’m upset with certain things in the bill. It’s not perfect. But a longer-term funding is much better for our economy than a short-term one.”

Most press coverage of the funding bill gives the following breakdown of the spending: $521 billion for the military, $492 billion for nonmilitary items, and $73 billion in emergency spending, most of it military-related. This is highly misleading, since much of the “nonmilitary” spending is demonstrably in support of US military operations or domestic police and security operations directed against the American population.

The $492 billion of “nonmilitary” spending includes the following, according to the official summary posted on the web site of Congress. (Click here and then page down to the section titled “Omnibus summaries,” which contains live links to department-by-department spending).

· $11.4 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the unit of the Department of Energy that assembles US nuclear weapons.

· $40.6 billion for Department of Energy, NASA, NSF and other scientific research, much of it related to nuclear energy, cybersecurity and missile technology.

· $65 billion for the Veterans Administration, which provides medical care and other services for those shattered in body and mind by their service as cannon fodder in American wars.

· $26.7 billion for the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, DEA and BATF ($10.7 billion), federal prisons ($6.9 billion), and aid to local police ($2.3 billion).

· $25 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only through February 27, 2015 because of its role in enforcing immigration policy (the full-year amount would be more than $60 billion).

· $7 billion from the health budget for biodefense and bioterrorism research.

· An undisclosed figure, believed to be in the range of $60 billion, for intelligence operations, including the CIA and 17 other federal agencies.

At a minimum, these figures suggest that $236 billion, or nearly half, of the supposedly “nonmilitary” spending is actually directed to sustaining the military-intelligence capabilities of American imperialism.

Adding that to the explicitly military and overseas contingency funding, the real dimensions of the US military-intelligence-police-prison complex begin to come into view: a staggering $830 billion, more than 80 cents out of every dollar in the funding bill, is devoted to killing, spying on, imprisoning or otherwise oppressing the people of the world, including the American people.

Further details of the massive legislation, weighing in at more than 1,600 pages, will undoubtedly emerge over the coming days. Among the provisions worth taking note of:

· The bill provides $3.1 billion in aid to Israel, mostly financial subsidies, and $1.45 billion in aid to Egypt, most of it military, as well as $1 billion in aid to Jordan, another US client state in the region.

· The bill eliminates the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, used for six years to promote private charter schools and attacks on teachers in public schools. Republicans attacked the program as an effort to impose federal standards in education.

· The bill bans enforcement of a series of environmental and labor regulations, ensuring that air and water will be more polluted and workers will be more brutally exploited.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/13/budg-d13.html

These Are Lies The New York Times Wants You to Believe About Russia

  WORLD  
Our sanctions caused Russia’s downturn. They protect Big Oil and make the world more dangerous.
Vladimir Putin 

You can look at the Russian economy two ways now and you should. So let’s: It is an important moment in the destruction of something and the construction of something else, and we had better be clear just what in both cases. The world we live in changes shape as we speak.

Truth No. 1: Russians are besieged. Sanctions the West has insisted on prosecuting in response to the Ukraine crisis — Washington in the lead, the Europeans reluctant followers — are hitting hard, let there be no question. Oil prices are at astonishing lows, probably if not yet provably manipulated by top operatives in the diplomatic and political spheres.

Truth No. 2: Russians are hot. With an energetic activism just as astonishing as the oil prices, Russian officials, President Putin in the very visible lead but with platoons of technocrats behind him, are forging an extensive network of South-South relationships — East-East, if you prefer — that are something very new under the sun. Some of us were banging on about South-South trade and diplomatic unity as far back as the 1970s; I have anticipated the arriving reality since the early years of this century. But I would never have predicted the pace of events as we have them before us. Stunning.

Holiday surprise: There is a Truth No. 3 and it is this: Truth No. 1, the siege of the Russian economy, is proving a significant catalyst in the advance of Truth No. 2, the creative response of a nation under ever-mounting pressure.

Timothy Snyder, the Yale professor whose nitwittery on the Ukraine crisis is simply nonpareil (and praise heaven he has gone quiet), exclaimed some months ago that Putin is threatening to undermine the entire postwar order. I replied in this space the following week, Gee, if only it were so.

Already it seems to be. But miss this not: Russia is advancing this world-historical turn with a considerable assist from its adversaries in the West, not alone. For all the pseuds who pretend to know Schumpeter but know only one thing, the creative destruction bit, how is this as a prime example of the phenom?

Details in a sec, but this thought first: We are all bound to pay close attention to these events because they matter to everyone, whether this is yet obvious or not. Probably in our lifetimes — and I had it further out until recently — we will begin to inhabit a different planet.

And it stands to be a better one, if you accept that equilibrium, interdependence, cooperation and all those other notions Washington is frightened to death of will make for a more secure world than our lopsided primacy, incessant confrontations, drone murders, waterboarding, nuclear arsenals and the National Endowment for Democracy’s subversions will ever deliver for us.

How much more capable, equally, will be a human community that addresses its problems with the wisdom not of one civilization, which happened by historical circumstance to modernize in the material sphere before others, but with the smarts and imaginations and perspectives of many?

Those details come in flurries now and fall into two files, destruction and construction. To the former first.

The economics ministry in Moscow has just forecast a swoon in its outlook for 2015. On a dime, it shifts from a prediction of 1.2 percent growth to 0.8 percent contraction. The math is easy: This is a rip of 2 percentage points right out of Russia’s middle. No sentient American should have any difficulty understanding what these numbers will mean to many millions of ordinary Russians.

The ministry’s report is the first to anticipate the consequences of the several rounds of sanctions imposed this year, the 34 percent drop in the ruble’s value this year and the collapse in oil prices. The last are now far below what Russia needs — about $105 a barrel — if the petroleum sector is to contribute to national revenues. As detailed in this space a few weeks ago, there are ample grounds to question whether price patterns in global oil markets are the consequence of American manipulations.

As to the ruble, we saw this coming months ago as reports of “silent sanctions,” as financial services people call them, began to come through. Off-the-books sanctions is the better term. A few at a time — HSBC, Lloyd’s — banks began denying credit to Russian enterprises; as documented, these decisions were at the  Treasury Department’s informal urging.

Reflecting the creep of interdependence in the global economy, financing from Western banks is vital to Russian corporations of all sizes. At this point, my sources in the markets tell me, the spigot is off: Credit and all customary loan rollovers are virtually unavailable across the board.

This is the anatomy of much suffering that is about to get done. Is the course wise? Is there a point? Is it other than ridiculous to posit some “net-positive” justification for this?

I see nothing good in this whatsoever. I see recklessness.

Think of it this way, as an old friend from Asia days suggests. Currency speculators abandoned the Thai baht en masse in 1997 and before we knew it Thailand had dragged all of East Asia into prolonged crisis. Remember? Now consider the size of the Thai economy — tiny in the scheme of things, and heavily agricultural still.

Now consider the size of the Russian economy. It is the world’s No. 2 producer of natural gas and No. 3 producer of oil. In terms of nominal gross domestic product — standard measure — Russia’s economy, at $2.1 trillion, is slightly larger than Italy’s. Another measure, purchasing power parity, values Russia’s economy at $3.5 trillion, but never mind: Even by nominal GDP, Russia is the world’s No. 8 economic power.

Comfortable now with the sanctions regime, are we?

The cliques in Washington are because the U.S. trades very little with Russia and they have no grasp of limits of any kind. This is cynicism made flesh when you consider Europe’s vulnerabilities. The contagious economic and social crisis is already spreading to nations near Russia’s borders.

As Germans and other Europeans understand, take down this beast and the blood will spatter everywhere. Now you can see, maybe, why one consequence of the Ukraine crisis is a serious deterioration of relations between America and those known as “the allies,” a term that has masked many complications since the Cold War’s onset.

As to the point of it all, it gets bitterer the more we learn of Ukraine and its arriving future.

Long ago, an English diplomat in Tokyo wrote to his Foreign Office in London, “The Japanese can neither love the Americans nor endure being loved by them.” It is dead on the fate of Ukrainians so far as one can make out. All signs are they are in for the suffocating embrace. Here comes the neoliberal order. It will be very weird to watch.

My jaw hit the corner of my desk when I read last week that Ukraine’s new finance minister, one Natalie Jaresko, is 1) an American citizen, granted a Ukraine passport simultaneously with her cabinet appointment, 2) a former State Department officer, 3) recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in that $5 billion Victoria Nuland famously bragged of spending in State’s effort to yank Ukraine westward and 4) a participant in apparently extensive insider dealing via the investment management company she co-founded after leaving State.

Get this:

Jaresko served as president and chief executive officer of Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development with $150 million to spur business activity in Ukraine. She also was co-founder and managing partner of Horizon Capital, which managed WNISEF’s investments at a rate of 2 percent to 2.5 percent of committed capital, fees exceeding $1 million in recent years, according to WNISEF’s 2012 annual report.

Her title at Horizon Capital must be CCIO, chief conflict of interest officer.

Full credit, given with gusto: The above passage is from the long exposé of this sordid business by Robert Parry, whose work on Ukraine is invaluable. Read this piece here: a riveting read covering a tangled web. Parry, in turn, cites John Hellmer, a former Moscow correspondent who recently explored Jaresko’s story as State Department official (and diplomat in post-Soviet Kiev) turned recipient of USAID funds.

Surely this is the right person to regulate Ukraine’s financial markets, counter corruption with archangelic purpose and negotiate with Washington, the Europeans and the IMF in behalf of Ukrainians’ interests. No wonder the parliament in Kiev erupted when Jaresko’s appointment was announced.

Footnote here: That $150 million fund State handed Jaresko has lost more than a third of its value since the Ukrainian economy tanked. As she steps into office, Kiev’s foreign reserves are down to $10 billion and shrinking, while inflation roars at 22 percent.

My jaw has been bruised, to be honest, since, as the Ukraine crisis got hot, Vice President Biden’s son, R. Hunter, was named to the board of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s No. 1 producer of natural gas. I cannot make out who is the chief conflict of interest officer here, Joe or the boy.

News comes of our Hunter, it turns out. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that he was bounced from the U.S. Navy Reserve earlier this year after a positive drug test. If the 44-year-old were Ukrainian (or any other nationality) and had been so charged, he would not be allowed into this country. This is the kind of person America is now happy to send abroad.

More substantively, Burisma announced last month that it will now commence drilling near Slavyansk, where Ukrainian troops have been dodging bullets while installing the company’s hydraulic fracturing equipment. Slavyansk, alert readers will recall, was the object of three months’ sustained bombing and artillery shelling prior to this announcement.

Overseeing all this is Jaresko and — second of three foreigners named to a new cabinet — Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian and a partner in an asset-management firm called East Capital. He will be the incoming economy minister, such as there is an economy.

Why these foreigners? In my read, Biden is a straight-out emissary sent to shepherd American corporations into the resource game via joint ventures or what have you, we will have to see, and the others are roughly the equivalent of compradors — in effect, bought-off locals.

Here is a tableau worth a moment’s consideration: Over here, Vicky Nuland stands before a Chevron plaque as she explains to business executives how well the $5 billion was spent. Here we have Hunter Biden doing Burisma’s legal work. Over here we have a small-town mayor in Romania who is run out of town for selling Chevron a fracking lease. (This you can read of in the Times.) And over there, also in the Times report, we have the Lithuanians forcing Chevron to abandon a shale-drilling project after widespread demonstrations opposing it.

You want to know why I hold the neoliberal agenda and those who advance it in contempt? This is why. We watch a corporate shark-feed. It has nothing to do with democracy. There is nothing in this for Ukrainians. They are about to hear their first lectures on the virtues of “austerity.”

I have three remarks.

One, the greed at the cost of human life and society is so brazen here it causes me to stop typing to reread the sentences. Can market-consciousness have brought us this low?

Two, please count the number of times you have read the words “Chevron,” “Burisma” or “shale-gas interests” in any account of Ukraine by correspondents covering it. I can find no mention of any from those in the field. This is “the power of leaving out,” as I often put it, in spades. I rest the case (for now).

Three, there is a deeper tragedy. Ukrainians live between East and West. This is not only a matter of geography: There is among them a mix of Eastern consciousness and Western consciousness. Accordingly, they had a chance to stand as the very best the new century offers us, a planet whose old divisions could be erased in favor of a more fulsome idea of the successful society and its potential.

This chance is now all but lost — destroyed by those who resisted it.

What I find remarkable now is that Moscow does not seem to be taking Ukraine’s misfortune and the West’s aggressions against Russia itself passively — or even negatively, for that matter. So we pass from the destructive file to the constructive.

Neil MacFarquhar, a standout in the New York Times’ Moscow bureau for his full-frontal prejudices, gave as negative an account as he could when he covered Putin’s year-end address. I had another read. This guy is bloodied, O.K., but he is not bowed, and I would advise against waiting for it.

I did like the Times’ head, parenthetically: “Putin, Amid Stark Challenges, Says Russia’s Destiny Is at Hand.” Without going histrionic, that is likely to prove precisely what is at hand. My favorite MacFarquhar sentence: “Mr. Putin enjoyed ever-greater support from March to August, but in the months since, as sanctions began to bite with inflation, support began to erode — though his approval ratings remain in the 80s.”

You have to love a paper that will publish this. Somehow.

Look at Putin’s foreign agenda this past year: Latin America just as the sanctions came in — an intentional finger in Washington’s eye, as I read it — then China, China again recently, Turkey more recently, India just now. He has not been to Iran, but there, as in all these other places, he has forged or reiterated promising relations. The deals cut are too numerous to list.

A couple are worth mentioning. The twin gas deals with China, worth nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars, are historic all by themselves. In six years’ time China will be buying more gas from Russia than the latter now sells to Europe. And do not miss this: My sources tell me that this gas can be priced such as to crowd the U.S. at least partially out of the Asian market.

Other side of the world: Putin has just canceled a planned pipeline to southeastern Europe, the South Stream. This is the defeat Western media put it over as, surely: Russia loses some customers. But two points: One, it was soon enough clear that the Europeans, having used South Stream as leverage in the sanctions game, probably overplayed their hand. The day following the announcement they were struggling for composure so far as I can make out.

Two, Putin stunned everyone with his decision from Ankara, where he stood with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to announce that South Stream would be rerouted to serve the Turkish market. Think about this: It is more than a new deal; there are significant political and diplomatic implications in this, given Turkey’s traditional alliances, its EU aspirations and so on.

This is the way the world changes shape, the way new worlds get built. Think of these new ties in terms of the old trade routes. Many things other than goods traveled along them. As then, the traffic will run in both directions, making our latest globalization the two-way street it should have been from the first.

One could say it is not the West’s world any longer, and I called it “post-Western” in a book several years ago. This is not quite so. It is ours, but only to the extent that it is destined to be everybody’s, if I read history rightly. As an American, my biggest regret on this score — apart from all the suffering caused in our names — is  that my country seems bent on doing almost everything it can to lose out on a great deal of what would be its share in the arriving era; this in the name of prolonging a time that is no longer.

 

Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications.

 

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DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Attorneys In Apple Antitrust Lawsuit

Must Find New Plaintiff By Tuesday

 

Justice      After slogging through years of legal tussles, the antitrust class action lawsuit against Apple Inc. encountered another hiccup this week when the presiding judge removed the last remaining “named plaintiff” from the suit. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers scolded Marianna Rosen and her attorneys on Monday (Dec. 8) for not providing more complete information about the iPods Rosen had purchased. That move came after Apple lawyers successfully argued that the devices Rosen bought were not among those affected by the lawsuit.

Judge Rogers also quickly rejected Apple’s argument that the case should be dismissed because it’s too late to name a new plaintiff. She ordered the attorneys suing Apple to identify a new lead plaintiff by Tuesday (Dec. 16).

As reported by Billboard, a class-action suit must identify at least one person as a “named plaintiff” who suffered the losses or injuries alleged in the case. Rosen had previously said she purchased several iPods that qualified, but Apple attorneys produced evidence that those devices either had the wrong software or were purchased outside the time frame of the lawsuit. Rosen and her attorneys said she had purchased two other iPods in 2008, but Apple lawyers were able to produce records that showed they were purchased with a credit card issued to her husband’s law firm. Apple attorney William Isaacson argued that meant she was not legally the purchaser. A series of pretrial rulings had narrowed the case to covering just 19 months between September 2006 and March 2009.

Both sides estimate 8 million people bought iPods that were potentially covered by the lawsuit. The plaintiffs claim Apple used restrictive software that prevented iPods from playing music purchased from competitors of Apple’s iTunes store, and maintain that amounted to unfair competition. Apple was able to sell iPods at inflated prices because the software froze makers of competing devices out of the market, plaintiffs’ attorneys argue. They also say Apple is liable for $350 million, an amount that would be tripled if a jury finds the company violated federal antitrust rules. 

Lawyers: Apple Secretly Deleted

Competitors’ Downloads From iPods

 

     Before the antitrust suit against Apple was delayed while attorneys search for a new lead plaintiff (see story, above), lawyers presented evidence that the company deleted music that some iPod owners had downloaded from competing music services without telling them. According to the Wall Street Journal, when a user who had downloaded music from a rival service in the period between 2007 and 2009 tried to sync an iPod to the user’s iTunes library, Apple would display an error message and instruct the user to restore the factory settings. Attorney Patrick Coughlin said that, when the user restored the settings, the music from rival services would disappear.

“You guys decided to give them the worst possible experience and blow up” a user’s music library, Coughlin said in U.S. District Court in Oakland.

Apple insists the moves were legitimate security measures, and Apple security director Augustin Farrugia testified the company did not offer a more detailed explanation because, “We don’t need to give users too much information. We don’t want to confuse users.” Farrugia told the court that hackers with names like “DVD Jon” and “Requiem” made Apple “very paranoid” about protecting iTunes. Updates that deleted non-Apple music files were intended to protect consumers from those system break-ins, he said, explaining, “The system was totally hacked.”

Apple declined to comment to the Journal outside of the court testimony. 

Time Spent Listening To Pure-Play

Streams Increases While AM/FM Slips

 

     Satisfaction and time-spent with digital streaming of broadcast (AM/FM) radio is slipping and soon could be overtaken by such on-demand pure-play companies as Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes. That’s the word from Bridge Ratings President Dave Van Dyke, who said in a LinkedIn post that time spent with broadcast simulcast online streams five years ago (2009) was 2-1/2 half hours a day, while pure-play time spent was just under 1-1/2 hours. Furthermore, until 2012 broadcast online listening and pure-play listening continued to increase.

That all changed in 2013, Van Dyke says, as time spent per day with online broadcast streaming dropped while pure-play time spent continued to increase. “At Bridge Ratings, our first thought was that this could be an anomaly,” he observes. “The perception was that all internet streaming behavior was increasing. [But] trends do not support this thinking.”

In fact, a new year-end analysis from Bridge Ratings suggests that, since 2012, broadcast radio online daily time spent listening (TSL) has fallen 9.4% (2.65 to 2.40 hours per day) while pure-play online listening has increased 65% (1.7 to 2.35 hours per day). “By this time next year, online pure play time spent will have surpassed broadcast radio’s online simulcast TSL,” Van Dyke says. “And if broadcast radio streaming content remains more or less the same as it is, we project this trend will continue on out to at least 2017 with a large gap favoring pure play internet listening.” 

Grooveshark Offers New Digital

Music App In Plan to “Go Legit”

 

     After suffering a string of legal setbacks over the last few years, Grooveshark has developed a new app designed to set the company on a legitimate path to digital music streaming. As CNET reports, the new Broadcasts app lets users create customized radio stations without running afoul of the record companies. The app, expected to launch next month, lets customers build and access custom radio stations and text fellow users as they listen to music. Designed for iOS and Android users, the app will cost 99 cents a month and be commercial-free. The online stations will be developed directly by users rather than generated by Grooveshark.

One of the primary objectives behind the new app is to create a business model that will keep the company out of the court system. Grooveshark currently offers websites both for PCs and mobile devices in which users can search for and stream an unlimited number of songs produced by major record labels. That system led several record labels to sue the company, arguing Grooveshark lacked the necessary rights to upload the copyrighted songs. Back in September a federal judge in New York ruled that Grooveshark’s co-founders had uploaded almost 6,000 songs for which they had no licenses, and subsequently destroyed evidence of the uploads.

Since then, Grooveshark has created dedicated iOS and Android apps for its streaming service, but both of those apps were taken down following complaints from the record labels. The new Broadcasts app means Grooveshark will pay government-mandated performance fees set by the Copyright Royalty Board rather than negotiate directly with the recorded music companies. 

Pandora Releases New User

Interface For Mobile Listening

 

Pandora Mobile      Pandora this week released a beta version of a refreshed mobile user interface that includes new station personalization features and functionality. According to a company statement, the update currently is available to only 3% of iPhone and Android smartphone users, but will roll out to all mobile and tablet listeners over the coming months.

“For more than a decade, our engineering team has worked to perfect the personalized radio listening experience and unleash the infinite power of music for our listeners,” Pandora Chief Technology Officer Chris Martin said in standard PR-speak. “With our users logging more than 1.65 billion listening hours in September alone, we were extremely mindful in the way we made adjustments to the [user interface] so as to enhance and simplify the experience.”

Major changes include enhanced station personalization capabilities and improved artist discovery. The redesigned interface also is reported to be simpler to use and clearer to the ear. “Listeners are given a different sense of place and navigation with the new transitions from the ‘station list’ to the ‘now playing’ screen, and can view comprehensive thumb history and adjust thumb feedback for old tracks listened to,” the company said. [Read more: Company statement]

 

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

Podemos: the political upstart taking Spain by force

by Carlos Delclós on December 9, 2014

Post image for Podemos: the political upstart taking Spain by forceSome frequent questions about the political singularity that now leads the polls in Spain. Just who are Podemos? And could they be a force for change?

In April of 2013, the far-right Spanish television channel Intereconomía invited an unlikely guest to their primetime debate show: a young, Jesus-haired college professor with an unequivocally leftist background named Pablo Iglesias, just like the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. Their goal was to corner him and hold him up as an example of an antiquated and defeated leftist past. Yet Iglesias responded to their rhetoric in a simultaneously polite but firmly antagonistic tone that appealed to both the younger generations who became politicized through the indignados movement and the older generations who did so during Spain’s transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy.

Over the following months, Iglesias and the team of academics and activists behind him were able to use this window of opportunity to catapult the message of the social movements and, most importantly, the people left behind by years of austerity and neoliberalism, into the mainstream media. Shortly after gaining access to the media, they formed the political party Podemos (“We Can”), initiating what polls are showing to be an authentic dispute for control of the Spanish government. How they were able to accomplish this in such a short amount of time will be studied in the political and social sciences for years to come.

Because it is a process that I have followed very closely for a number of years, I have often been asked by independent media-makers, academics and activists about how all of this came to be and what the implications are for movement politics. In this piece, I try to address some of the main questions I get from people who are actively engaged in the struggle for a real democracy.

Who are Podemos? Who are its leaders? Is this just another typical leftist party?

Podemos is a new political party that emerged at the beginning of 2014, initially as an alliance between the trotskyist Izquierda Anticapitalista and a group of academic “outsiders” with an activist background who had built a vibrant community through a public access television debate show called La Tuerka (“The Screw”). When I refer to this second group as outsiders, it is not to suggest that their academic output is eccentric or of a low quality. Rather, they are the types of academics who do not fit the mold favored by the so-called Bologna reforms of higher education in Europe, with its emphasis on highly specialized technical “experts” and empirical research, and its hostility towards a broader, theoretical and more discursive approach. These academics are currently the party’s most recognizable faces due to their formidable skills as communicators and their access to the mainstream media.

Recently, Podemos held elections for their Citizens’ Council, which is effectively the party’s leadership. Over 100.000 people participated in those elections through online voting. The team selected by Pablo Iglesias won by an overwhelming majority. It includes an interesting mix of academics, activists and some former politicians. For instance, Juan Carlos Monedero worked as an adviser to Hugo Chávez between 2005 and 2010, and he also advised Gaspar Llamazares of the Spanish United Left party. Íñigo Errejón is a very young and highly promising political scientist who carried out research in Bolivia and Venezuela, though prior to that he was one of the founders of Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth Without a Future), who had a major role in spearheading the indignados movement. Other activists from Juventud Sin Futuro include Rita Maestre and Sarah Bienzobas. Rafa Mayoral and Jaume Asens worked as lawyers for the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the highly successful civil disobedience movement for decent housing. And Raimundo Viejo and Jorge Moruno are prominent intellectuals associated with the autonomist left.

Whether or not Podemos can be considered a typical leftist party will depend on its evolution. What is clear is that they do not adopt the rhetorical and aesthetic baggage of the marginal leftist and green parties that currently decorate European parliaments. Also, in contrast to SYRIZA, Podemos did not exist prior to the 2011 wave of protests; they emerged based on a diagnosis of the movements’ discourse and demands. Much of what has made Podemos so effective in the post-2011 political arena has been their ability to listen to the social movements, while the pre-existing Spanish political parties were busy lecturing them. Yet, as time progresses and support for the party grows, Podemos is finding itself increasingly tempted to assume the structures that are best adapted to Spain’s formal institutions. Unsurprisingly, these structures are those that currently exist. Whether or not this institutional inertia can be overcome depends on the degree to which the party’s constituents are capable of maintaining tension with its leadership structure and guaranteeing their accountability.

Why did Podemos explode onto the scene in the way they did?

Podemos burst onto the political scene because they understood the climate in the aftermath of the 2011 protests better than any other political actor. For example, the role of the social networks in connecting those movements was extremely important, but a lot of people and political organizations misinterpreted that fact as support for a techno-political, decentralized peer-to-peer ideology. In contrast, I think Podemos saw the social networks as a discursive laboratory through which to build and strengthen a common narrative that they would then take to the public arena in order to maximize its impact. To put it bluntly, they were not content with memes and likes and long comment threads. They wanted to take that discussion to the bars, the cafés and the unemployment lines.

In a sense, the key to Podemos’s emancipatory potential can be summed up in a phrase popularized by Raimundo Viejo and later put into a song by Los Chikos del Maiz, a Marxist rap group that has been very close to the party’s emergence: “El miedo va a cambiar de bando,” which translates to, “Fear is going to change sides.” Currently, they are accompanying that phrase with another, saying that the smiles are also starting to change sides. Using this approach, what they have managed to do is take the insecurity and fears produced by precariousness, unemployment or poverty and, in contrast to projecting it on immigrants (which is what Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and, to a lesser extent, Beppe Grillo have done), they project it onto what they call “la casta” (the caste), which is basically the ruling class. And they have done this while, at the same time, “occupying” feelings like hope and joy.

Who supports Podemos? What segment of the population would consider voting for them?

In most of the reports I have seen or read in English, Podemos is described as a sort of outgrowth of the indignados movement, in something of a linear progression. I think this is wrong. While their message resonated far beyond their class composition, the indignados movement was largely composed of a relatively young, college-educated precariat. Their emphasis on direct action and slow, horizontal deliberation introduced something of a selection mechanism into actual participation in the movement, whereby people who were less versed in the culture of radical politics, had less time to spend in general assemblies, were not entirely comfortable with public speaking, were not particularly interested in learning new internet tools and were not willing to take the risks associated with civil disobedience were filtered out over time.

In contrast, Podemos’s access to television guaranteed contact with an older audience, which is extremely important in a country such as Spain, with its older population structure and decades of low fertility. And the types of participation that Podemos enabled (namely, ballot boxes and smart phone apps) have a low learning curve, require less time and involve fewer risks than the more autonomous politics of the indignados. Because of this, Podemos attracts a crowd that includes a much larger component of underprivileged, working class and older people, in addition to a very strong, college-educated youth demographic.

The ideological composition of the people who support Podemos is also interesting. While the bulk of the support they draw comes from people who used to vote for the center-left “socialist” party, nearly a third of the people who currently support them had previously abstained from voting, turned in spoiled ballots or even voted for the right-wing Popular Party. Furthermore, while Podemos openly rejects the standard “left-right” division that has characterised Western politics for years, surveys are showing that their voters mostly view themselves as leftists, that is, neither center-left nor far left. Taken together, this might suggest that Podemos are drawing on something of an untapped leftist imaginary, or that they may very well be redefining what it means for people to consider themselves “leftists” in Spain.

What is Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements?

Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements is a tricky question to tackle. In addition to the establishment parties and the mainstream media, some people who are active in the grassroots and social movements have been quite critical of Podemos. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I think it is an issue that requires much more reflection than what I can offer here, which is entirely my opinion at the moment. But at its heart, Podemos is part of a growing exasperation with an institutional “glass ceiling” that the social movements keep bumping up against and have not been able to shatter. This exasperation is visible not only in the rise of Podemos but also in the emergence of municipal platforms intended to join outsider parties, community organizations and activists in radically democratic candidacies. In this context, people from the social movements are generally split between those who favor that type of participation and those who prefer a radicalization of non-institutional action.

The main criticism I see coming from the second group is that Podemos started “from the top and not from the bottom.” I think this is wrong. A comically low-budget local TV show and a Facebook page are not what I would consider “high” in a neoliberal chain of command. What Podemos have done is rise very quickly from there, and as they have done so, they have had to deal with questions related to institutional inertia and the autonomy of their own organization. And that is where I think critical voices coming from the social movements are right to be nervous.

While Podemos initially drew its legitimacy, structure (the Círculos they started in various cities were basically conceived as local, self-managed assemblies) and demands (a citizen-led restructuring of the debt, universal basic income, affordable public housing, an end to austerity policies, etc.) from the social movements, their intention was always to draw people from beyond the social movements. They have succeed wildly in doing so, and it turns out that the world outside of the social movements is huge. And despite the fact that they agree with the demands of the social movements, that world appears to be less interested in the social movements’ methodology than the social movements would like. This is enormously frustrating, because it confronts us with our own marginality. It is also unsurprising, because if people who are not activists loved our methodology as much as our message, there would probably be a lot more activists.

The main example of this tension is the internal elections. So far, Iglesias’s lists have consistently won with close to 90% support, and many people who have been influential in shaping the discourse of the social movements (and even that of Podemos itself) are increasingly being left out of decision-making because they are not on those lists. Once out, they discover how little influence the social networks and the Círculos actually have not only relative to that of the members who appear on TV, but also on the people who are not actively involved in the Círculos, yet still identify with Podemos enough to vote in their elections. So far, this has led to some internal accusations of authoritarianism, which I find misguided and think are kind of missing the point. I think the real problem is that we are finding that, in the present climate, people are generally happier to delegate responsibility than we suspected, at least until they can vote on specific issues that affect their daily lives.

At the same time, this propensity to delegate depends a lot on the legitimacy and trust people have in Podemos, which to a large extent was built through their relationship with the streets. So I think the influence the social movements have on Podemos is going to depend on their ability to engage in street politics in such a way that they are able to meet dispossessed people’s needs, on the one hand, and shape the public conversation in a way that forces Podemos to position itself. An example would be the PAH. Podemos cannot stray too much from their demands for decent housing because everybody knows and agrees with them. If Podemos were to stray too far from their demands, the PAH could mobilize against them or simply put out a harsh press statement, undermining their legitimacy considerably.

Where do you see this going? Could Podemos actually win the elections?

I think this is going to change Spain and Europe as we know them, no matter what. Polls are showing that Podemos have a real shot at being the most voted party in the country. Some show that they are already the most supported, and Pablo Iglesias is by far the most popular politician in Spain. If Podemos were to win, in all likelihood the Popular Party and the “socialists” would try to form a national government centered on guaranteeing order, making a few cosmetic changes to the constitution and sabotaging any chance for Podemos to ever beat them. They would also probably try to destroy any chance at something like Podemos rising again. As it stands, the establishment is doing everything in its power to discredit them: associating them with terrorist organizations, accusing their spokespeople of misconduct based on nothing, fabricating news stories. Fear really has changed sides, and it is clearly the establishment that is frightened.

In this sense, I think it’s very important for movements, and for Podemos themselves, to think of what is happening as a kind of political singularity. This is not Obama putting the Democrats in the White House. It is a group of people who have been actively engaged in the struggle against neoliberalism that have managed to turn a populist moment during a period of economic crisis into a hope for a better democracy and an end to neoliberal austerity. At least in Spain, to blow this chance could be a major step backwards for emancipatory politics, towards another long journey through the desert.

Carlos Delclos is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. Currently he collaborates with the Health Inequalities Research Group at Pompeu Fabra University and the Barcelona Institute of Metropolitan and Regional Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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Democrats vs. the New Deal: The party is now firmly anti-New Deal

Who really runs the party — and why it might surprise you

Democrats vs. the New Deal: Who <em>really</em> runs the party -- and why it might surprise you

In the aftermath of the shellacking they took in the midterm congressional and state elections, many Democrats are calling for their party to return to its New Deal roots.

This is inadvertently comical.  The present-day Democratic Party has next to nothing to do with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  Today’s Democratic Party is a completely different party, which coalesced between 1968 and 1980.  And this half-century-old party has been anti-New Deal from the very beginning.

Now that I have your attention, allow me to explain.

While there have been two parties called “the Democrats” and “the Republicans” since the mid-19th century, these enduring labels mask the fact that party coalitions change every generation or two.  Franklin Roosevelt created a new party under the old name of “the Democrats” by welding ex-Republican Progressives in the North together with the old Jacksonian Farmer-Labor coalition.  The contentious issue of civil rights nearly destroyed the Roosevelt Democrats in 1948 — and finally wrecked it in 1968, when George Wallace’s third party campaign proved to be a way-station for many working-class whites en route from the Democrats to the Republicans.

Today’s Democratic Party, in contrast, took shape between 1968 and 1980.  Although George McGovern lost the 1972 presidential race to Richard Nixon in a landslide, the McGovernites of the “New Politics” movement wrested control of the Democratic Party from the old state politicians and urban bosses of the Roosevelt-to-Johnson New Deal coalition.  Robert Kennedy’s aide Fred Dutton, one of the architects of the disempowerment of the old New Deal elite, called for a new coalition of young people, college-educated suburbanites and minorities in his 1971 book “Changing Sources of Power: Politics in the 1970s.”  Sound familiar?  That’s because, nearly half a century later, the same groups are the core constituents of today’s Democrats.

Jimmy Carter was the first New Politics president (or New Democrat or neoliberal, as they were later called).  He was a center-right Southern governor who ran against big government and touted his credentials as a rich businessman.  He did not get along with organized labor, one of the key constituencies of the Roosevelt Democrats.  His major domestic policy achievement was dismantling New Deal regulation of transportation like trucking and air travel.  He appointed a Federal Reserve chairman from Wall Street, Paul Volcker, who created an artificial recession, the worst between the Great Depression and the Great Recession, to cripple American unions, whose wage demands were blamed for inflation.



Even before Carter’s election, the Democratic “class of ’74” in Congress wrested power from the old largely Southern politicians of the New Deal era. The  northern Irish Catholic-Southern alliance, symbolized by House Speakers Tip O’Neill and Jim Wright, gave way among congressional Democrats to a new Northeastern-West Coast domination, beginning with Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley, of the state of Washington.  Many of these younger Democrats were deficit hawks, like Bill Bradley of New York and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.  Democrats like these supported the 1983 Social Security “reform,” which cut Social Security benefits by raising the formal retirement age from 65 to 67.  In his 1984 presidential campaign, Carter’s former vice-president, Fritz Mondale, made deficit reduction his central issue.

Bill Clinton had worked for McGovern’s campaign in 1972.  A center-right Southern governor like Carter, he too combined moderate economic conservatism with social liberalism.  Like Carter, Clinton attacked a major New Deal program, teaming up with the Republicans in Congress to abolish a New Deal entitlement, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and replacing it with what conservatives wanted: federal grants to state-based programs.  Clinton made deficit reduction rather than public investment central to his presidency. Clinton also supported the dismantling of New Deal regulations of the financial sector, completing the dismantling of the New Deal in the economy that Carter had begun.  In the 1994 midterms, many of the remaining Southern “blue dog” Democrats were replaced by Republicans, shifting the regional base of the party even more to the former liberal Republican states of the Northeast and West Coast.

Barack Obama is the third New Politics Democrat in the White House, following Carter and Clinton.  His base is the Fred Dutton constituency — young people, some college-educated whites, and blacks and Latinos.  Like Carter and Clinton, he went after a major New Deal program — the most iconic of them all, Social Security.  Obama proposed cutting Social Security by means of inflation adjustments or “chained CPI” as part of a “grand  bargain” with Republican conservatives.  He backed off only after a rebellion from what remains of the Democratic left.  Those who call him an “Eisenhower Democrat” recognize that he is closer in outlook to penny-pinching, dovish mid-20th century liberal Republicanism than to “guns and butter” Rooseveltian liberalism.

The New Politics Democrats, in class terms, are an “hourglass party,” uniting the disproportionately nonwhite working poor with affluent whites who are drawn to the Democrats by non-economic issues like environmentalism and feminism and gay rights, not the bread-and-butter issues of the older Rooseveltian New Dealers.  While the New Dealers preferred universal jobs programs and universal social programs like Social Security and Medicare to means-tested “welfare,” all of the social insurance programs pushed by the New Politics Democrats since the 1970s — SCHIP, the earned income tax credit, Obamacare — have been means-tested welfare programs targeted at the working poor, not at the better-paid but still struggling working class or middle class.

The policies of the New Politics Democrats are frequently the exact opposite of those of the old New Deal Democrats.  Here are a few examples:

Foreign policy.  The New Deal Democrats were more hawkish than mid-century Republicans. New Politics Democrats, from McGovern to the present, have been more dovish than post-Reagan Republicans.  Even the hawks in the Democratic Party in the 1980s and 1990s distanced themselves from the greatest New Deal presidents — FDR and his protégé LBJ.  Instead, they tried to rehabilitate Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman.  Because of Vietnam, the erasure of LBJ by embittered antiwar baby boomers is understandable.  But didn’t FDR win World War II, while Truman’s Korean policy was a bloody debacle?  It is bizarre that partisan Democrats created the Truman National Security Project instead of a Roosevelt National Security Project.

Civil rights.  The liberal rather than radical proponents of desegregation in the mid-20th century, like Bayard Rustin and Hubert Humphrey, favored race-neutral remedies, instead of race-based affirmative action (Martin Luther King Jr. was ambiguous).  Today any Democrat who questioned race-based affirmative action — including preferential policies for Latinos who arrived following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — would be ostracized.

Immigration.  To protect the working class from wage-lowering immigrant competition, the New Deal Democrats abolished the Bracero program (a Mexican guest-worker program).  The Hesburgh and Jordan commissions, appointed by President Carter and President Clinton, respectively, reflected this older pro-labor emphasis by calling for reductions in low-wage immigration.  Today’s orthodox Democratic position favors not only an amnesty for undocumented immigrants already here, but also more legal immigration and fewer penalties for “illegal” immigration.  This was, and still is, the position of Republican business elites, who want to use immigration policy to create a buyer’s market in labor.

The white working class.  The loss of the white working class to the Democrats is hardly a new development. It goes back to George Wallace in 1968. Every decade since then there has been a debate in the New Politics party about whether to try to get the white working class back.

You get the point. Today’s Democrats have no more in common with Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson than today’s Republicans have in common with Abraham Lincoln or Dwight Eisenhower.  From its origins in the 1970s to the present, the contemporary Democratic Party has had deficit reduction, cutbacks of New Deal-era entitlements and regulations and identity politics in its DNA. This is a party that is not only post-New Deal but in many ways anti-New Deal. It was born that way.

If I am right, the New Politics party, as the most recent party to use the Democratic label, is between 40 and 50 years old.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the steam had pretty much gone out of the New Deal Democrats, many of whose young idealists had aged into corrupt hacks. Today it is the New Politics Democrats who are running on fumes.  The neoliberal combination of center-right economics, deficit reduction at the expense of middle-class entitlements, and means-tested small-bore welfare programs for the working poor is tired and uninspiring.

For their part, the Republicans can’t go on for much longer trying to revive the imagined glories of the Reagan presidency in the 1980s.

Real change may not come in 2016, or even in 2020.  But no party system lasts forever. The Great Recession failed to shake up the New Politics-Movement Conservative dichotomy that has held since the 1980s. But maybe at some point sheer boredom will succeed.