Wall Street buybacks: Another expression of parasitism

A man carries an umbrella in the rain as he passes the New York Stock Exchange October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

29 May 2015

In the biological world, a parasite lives at the expense of the host, sucking out its nutrients and life forces, and sometimes killing it. Analogies of course have their limits, but nonetheless they can be suggestive. And this is certainly so in the case of the rampant financial parasitism that has become the dominant feature of the American economy and, by extension, the world economy as a whole.

An article published in the Wall Street Journal this week details some of the impact of hedge funds on the operations of major US corporations, and the way in which their insatiable drive for profit through financial manipulations is sucking the lifeblood out of the economy and contributing to its deepening breakdown.

The article is based on a study conducted for the newspaper by S&P Capital IQ. It found that companies in the S&P 500 index had “sharply increased their spending on dividends and [share] buybacks to a median 36 percent of operating cash flow in 2013, from 18 percent in 2003.” The doubling of this rate was accompanied by a fall in spending by those companies on plant and equipment, from 33 percent to 29 percent over the same period.

The study found that in companies targeted by so-called “activist investors”—that is, hedge funds that hold hundreds of millions and sometimes billions of dollars on behalf of their wealthy investors—the figures were even higher. Targeted companies reduced capital spending from 42 per cent to 29 percent of operating cash flow and increased spending on dividends and share buybacks to 37 percent of operating cash flow from 22 percent.

One of the main factors facilitating these operations has been the provision of ultra-cheap money by the US Federal Reserve, which has kept official interest rates at almost zero, leading to historically low interest rates in financial markets. Hedge funds are able to use borrowed money to acquire major share holdings in corporations and then push for share buybacks and the payment of increased dividends. The buybacks, in turn, can be financed through borrowed funds at low interest rates.

The aim is to produce a rise in the share price of the company or generate an increased dividend flow returning large profits for the “activists,” often accompanied by job cuts or the outright closure of parts of the targeted company deemed not to be making a sufficient contribution to “shareholders’ funds.” At the end of the process, vast profits have been pocketed, without a single atom of new wealth being created, while productive capacity has been curtailed.

The consequences of these vampire-like operations are most prominent in major industries. The US energy giants, which have splurged billions on buybacks, dividends and mergers, have refused for decades to invest in infrastructure, leading to a situation where workers are subjected to 16-hour days and increasingly unsafe working conditions. Likewise, the auto industry firms and telecoms are notorious for their resistance to wage increases, while engaging in the same financial manipulation.

The deeper the economic crisis, the more frenzied the speculation. The article noted that since 2010 the number of activist campaigns directed at securing buybacks and increased dividends had risen by 60 percent. Last year there were 348 such campaigns, the most since 2008, and a further 108 in the first quarter of this year. Hedge funds now control $130 billion in assets, more than double the amount they held in 2011. This means that once they leverage these funds through borrowing at ultra-low rates, they can target virtually any corporation.

Would-be reformers of the capitalist economy will no doubt argue that these dangers can be overcome through the development of mechanisms or increased regulations to promote the “good” side of corporate activity—research and development and real investment—while taking action to control the “bad” side—parasitism. But the question remains: Why has it emerged now?

Underlying tendencies at the very center of the capitalist economy are at work. The long-term downward pressure on the rate of profit, which has led to the continuous restructuring of the American and global capitalist economy over the past four decades, is the driving force behind the rise of speculation and parasitism.

Well-known voracious hedge-fund investor Carl Icahn, cited in the Wall Street Journal article, pointed to these trends saying the economy was “being dragged down by too many mediocre CEOs, and it’s dangerous if profitability is going down despite interest rates being at zero.”

However, his resort to a “bad man” theory of economics does not pass even a preliminary examination. The same tendencies are also clearly visible in Europe and throughout the world’s major capitalist economies where, despite ultra-low interest rates, investment remains at historically depressed levels, reflecting a lack of profitable outlets.

Furthermore, any attempt to separate out the “good” and the “bad’ sides of corporations runs up against the fact, as Marx explained at the time of the emergence of joint stock companies in the middle of the 19th century, that the origin of parasitism is lodged in their very structure. The formation of such companies, he wrote, “reproduces a new financial aristocracy, a new kind of parasite in the guise of company promoters, speculators and merely nominal directors: an entire system of swindling and cheating with respect to the promotion of companies, issuing of shares and share dealing.”

For a whole period of capitalist development, notwithstanding swindling and cheating, the corporation or joint-stock company facilitated the development of the productive forces through the aggregation of capital to finance large-scale developments, which sustained the living standards of the mass of the population. Those days have long gone.

The elevation of parasitism to the basic mechanism of profit accumulation is bound up with the objective crisis of capitalism and, connected to this, the absolute stranglehold of the financial aristocracy over every aspect of economic and political life. Swindling, cheating and the destruction of the productive forces—above all through the impoverishment of the most important productive force of all, the working class—is a symptom of the rot and decay of the entire socioeconomic order.

It establishes the unanswerable case for the taking into public ownership of the major corporations, the banks and the entire finance industry as part of the socialist restructuring of economic life. This is the prerequisite for establishing a society where the productive forces, created by the labor of the working class, can be used for social advancement.

Nick Beams

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/29/pers-m29.html

Chris Hedges: America’s Mania for Positive Thinking and Denial of Reality Will Be Our Downfall

The ridiculous positivism, the belief that we are headed toward some glorious future, defies reality.
download

The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.

The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right. It is a mania that obscures reality even as global capitalism disintegrates and the ecosystem unravels, potentially dooming us all.

The 19th century theorist Louis-Auguste Blanqui, unlike nearly all of his contemporaries, dismissed the belief, central to Karl Marx, that human history is a linear progression toward equality and greater morality. He warned that this absurd positivism is the lie perpetrated by oppressors: “All atrocities of the victor, the long series of his attacks are coldly transformed into constant, inevitable evolution, like that of nature. … But the sequence of human things is not inevitable like that of the universe. It can be changed at any moment.” He foresaw that scientific and technological advancement, rather than being a harbinger of progress, could be “a terrible weapon in the hands of Capital against Work and Thought.” And in a day when few others did so, he decried the despoiling of the natural world. “The axe fells, nobody replants. There is no concern for the future’s ill health.”

“Humanity,” Blanqui wrote, “is never stationary. It advances or goes backwards. Its progressive march leads it to equality. Its regressive march goes back through every stage of privilege to human slavery, the final word of the right to property.” Further, he wrote, “I am not amongst those who claim that progress can be taken for granted, that humanity cannot go backwards.”Blanqui understood that history has long periods of cultural barrenness and brutal repression. The fall of the Roman Empire, for example, led to misery throughout Europe during the Dark Ages, roughly from the sixth through the 13th centuries. There was a loss of technical knowledge (one prominent example being how to build and maintain aqueducts), and a cultural and intellectual impoverishment led to a vast historical amnesia that blotted out the greatest thinkers and artists of the classical world. None of this loss was regained until the 14th century when Europe saw the beginning of the Renaissance, a development made possible largely by the cultural flourishing of Islam, which through translating Aristotle into Arabic and other intellectual accomplishments kept alive the knowledge and wisdom of the past. The Dark Ages were marked by arbitrary rule, incessant wars, insecurity, anarchy and terror. And I see nothing to prevent the rise of a new Dark Age if we do not abolish the corporate state. Indeed, the longer the corporate state holds power the more likely a new Dark Age becomes. To trust in some mythical force called progress to save us is to become passive before corporate power. The people alone can defy these forces. And fate and history do not ensure our victory.

Blanqui tasted history’s tragic reverses. He took part in a series of French revolts, including an attempted armed insurrection in May 1839, the 1848 uprising and the Paris Commune—a socialist uprising that controlled France’s capital from March 18 until May 28 in 1871. Workers in cities such as Marseilles and Lyon attempted but failed to organize similar communes before the Paris Commune was militarily crushed.

The blundering history of the human race is always given coherence by power elites and their courtiers in the press and academia who endow it with a meaning and coherence it lacks. They need to manufacture national myths to hide the greed, violence and stupidity that characterize the march of most human societies. For the United States, refusal to confront the crisis of climate change and our endless and costly wars in the Middle East are but two examples of the follies that propel us toward catastrophe.

Wisdom is not knowledge. Knowledge deals with the particular and the actual. Knowledge is the domain of science and technology. Wisdom is about transcendence. Wisdom allows us to see and accept reality, no matter how bleak that reality may be. It is only through wisdom that we are able to cope with the messiness and absurdity of life. Wisdom is about detachment. Once wisdom is achieved, the idea of moral progress is obliterated. Wisdom throughout the ages is a constant. Did Shakespeare supersede Sophocles? Is Homer inferior to Dante? Does the Book of Ecclesiastes not have the same deep powers of observation about life that Samuel Beckett offers? Systems of power fear and seek to silence those who achieve wisdom, which is what the war by corporate forces against the humanities and art is about. Wisdom, because it sees through the facade, is a threat to power. It exposes the lies and ideologies that power uses to maintain its privilege and its warped ideology of progress.

Knowledge does not lead to wisdom. Knowledge is more often a tool for repression. Knowledge, through the careful selection and manipulation of facts, gives a false unity to reality. It creates a fictitious collective memory and narrative. It manufactures abstract concepts of honor, glory, heroism, duty and destiny that buttress the power of the state, feed the disease of nationalism and call for blind obedience in the name of patriotism. It allows human beings to explain the advances and reverses in human achievement and morality, as well as the process of birth and decay in the natural world, as parts of a vast movement forward in time. The collective enthusiasm for manufactured national and personal narratives, which is a form of self-exaltation, blots out reality. The myths we create that foster a fictitious hope and false sense of superiority are celebrations of ourselves. They mock wisdom. And they keep us passive.

Wisdom connects us with forces that cannot be measured empirically and that are outside the confines of the rational world. To be wise is to pay homage to beauty, truth, grief, the brevity of life, our own mortality, love and the absurdity and mystery of existence. It is, in short, to honor the sacred. Those who remain trapped in the dogmas perpetuated by technology and knowledge, who believe in the inevitability of human progress, are idiot savants.

“Self-awareness is as much a disability as a power,” the philosopher John Gray writes. “The most accomplished pianist is not the one who is most aware of her movements when she plays. The best craftsman may not know how he works. Very often we are at our most skillful when we are least self-aware. That may be why many cultures have sought to disrupt or diminish self-conscious awareness. In Japan, archers are taught that they will hit the target only when they no longer think of it—or themselves.”

Artists and philosophers, who expose the mercurial undercurrents of the subconscious, allow us to face an unvarnished truth. Works of art and philosophy informed by the intuitive, unarticulated meanderings of the human psyche transcend those constructed by the plodding conscious mind. The freeing potency of visceral memories does not arrive through the intellect. These memories are impervious to rational control. And they alone lead to wisdom.

Those with power have always manipulated reality and created ideologies defined as progress to justify systems of exploitation. Monarchs and religious authorities did this in the Middle Ages. Today this is done by the high priests of modernity—the technocrats, scholars, scientists, politicians, journalists and economists. They deform reality. They foster the myth of preordained inevitability and pure rationality. But such knowledge—which dominates our universities—is anti-thought. It precludes all alternatives. It is used to end discussion. It is designed to give to the forces of science or the free market or globalization a veneer of rational discourse, to persuade us to place our faith in these forces and trust our fate to them. These forces, the experts assure us, are as unalterable as nature. They will lead us forward. To question them is heresy.

The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, in his 1942 novella “Chess Story,” chronicles the arcane specializations that have created technocrats unable to question the systems they serve, as well as a society that foolishly reveres them. Mirko Czentovic, the world chess champion, represents the technocrat. His mental energy is invested solely in the 64 squares of the chessboard. Apart from the game, he is a dolt, a monomaniac like all monomaniacs, who “burrow like termites into their own particular material to construct, in miniature, a strange and utterly individual image of the world.” When Czentovic “senses an educated person he crawls into his shell. That way no one will ever be able to boast of having heard him say something stupid or of having plumbed the depths of his seemingly boundless ignorance.”

An Austrian lawyer known as Dr. B, whom the Gestapo had held for many months in solitary confinement, challenges Czentovic to a game of chess. During his confinement, the lawyer’s only reading material was a chess manual, which he memorized. He reconstructed games in his head. Forced by his captivity to replicate the single-minded obsession of the technocrat Czentovic, Dr. B too became trapped inside a specialized world, and, unlike Czentovic, he became insane temporarily as he focused on a tiny, specialized piece of human activity. When he challenges the chess champion, his insanity returns.

Zweig, who mourned for the broad liberal culture of educated Europe swallowed up by fascism and modern bureaucracy, warns of the absurdity and danger of a planet run by technocrats. For him, the rise of the Industrial Age and the industrial man and woman is a terrifying metamorphosis in the relationship of human beings to the world. As specialists and bureaucrats, human beings become tools, able to make systems of exploitation and even terror function efficiently without the slightest sense of personal responsibility or understanding. They retreat into the arcane language of all specialists, to mask what they are doing and give to their work a sanitized, clinical veneer.

This is Hannah Arendt’s central point in “Eichmann in Jerusalem.” Technocratic human beings are spiritually dead. They are capable of anything, no matter how heinous, because they do not reflect upon or question the ultimate goal. “The longer one listened to him,” Arendt writes of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann on trial, “the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and presence of others, and hence against reality as such.”

Zweig, horrified by a world run by technocrats, committed suicide with his wife in 1942. He knew that from then on, the Czentovics would be exalted in the service of state and corporate monstrosities.

Resistance, as Alexander Berkman points out, is first about learning to speak differently and abandoning the vocabulary of the “rational” technocrats who rule. Once we discover new words and ideas through which to perceive and explain reality, we free ourselves from neoliberal capitalism, which functions, as Walter Benjamin knew, like a state religion. Resistance will take place outside the boundaries of popular culture and academia, where the deadening weight of the dominant ideology curtails creativity and independent thought.

As global capitalism disintegrates, the heresy our corporate masters fear is gaining currency. But that heresy will not be effective until it is divorced from the mania for hope that is an essential part of corporate indoctrination. The ridiculous positivism, the belief that we are headed toward some glorious future, defies reality. Hope, in this sense, is a form of disempowerment.

There is nothing inevitable about human existence except birth and death. There are no forces, whether divine or technical, that will guarantee us a better future. When we give up false hopes, when we see human nature and history for what they are, when we accept that progress is not preordained, then we can act with an urgency and passion that comprehends the grim possibilities ahead.

Towards a new municipal agenda in Spain?

By Carlos Delclós On May 27, 2015

Post image for Towards a new municipal agenda in Spain?A new film explains why Spain’s right-wing press reflections on the elections are wrong: they fail to understand where the new leaders really come from.

On Sunday, May 24, the two parties that have ruled Spain since the country’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s were dealt yet another substantial blow, this time in regional and municipal elections. Nationwide, the ruling Popular Party saw support fall from the nearly 11 million votes they received in 2011 to just under 6 million this year.

But while much has been written about the impact emerging parties like the anti-austerity Podemos or the right-wing Ciudadanos have had on the established parties, what makes Sunday’s results so remarkable is not what those parties did on their own, but what happened between several political actors at the municipal level.

In Barcelona, the prominent anti-evictions activist Ada Colau won the city’s mayoral race. In Madrid, once a stronghold of the Popular Party, the former judge Manuela Carmena also has a chance to govern, depending on whether her platform and the deteriorating Socialist party are willing to strike a deal.

In the four largest cities, it is quite possible that the mayor will belong to neither of the two major parties. The same is true in Galicia’s major cities, Santiago and A Corunha. In Cádiz, Spain’s unemployment capital, another new, anti-austerity platform finished a close second.

Much of the right-wing Spanish press is already attributing these spectacular results to a cult of personality around the people leading these platforms, accompanied by the typical references to populism and Venezuela, with an occasional shout-out to North Korea for extra flavor (as if the resort to these arguments weren’t the epitome of populist rhetoric).

What they ignore is why those faces became famous enough to put on a ballot in the first place: their roots in prominent local struggles, their independence with respect to the established parties and their willingness to spearhead bottom-up processes seeking a confluence between new or smaller parties, community organizations and political independents around a set of common objectives determined through radical democratic participation.

The Spanish hub of the Doc Next Network’s Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons project has been documenting this process since it began, through video and other media. Below, you can see a helpful infographic that shows just some of the ingredients with which the new municipalist candidacies Ahora Madrid (Now Madrid) and Barcelona En Comù (Barcelona in Common) cooked up their municipal recipes. They include more obvious reference points like the indignados movement, but also feminist struggles, the copyleft movement or the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, among many others.

Radical municipal politics is not an altogether new concept, especially not in Spain. In Catalonia, the Popular Unity Candidacies of the left-wing independence movement have had a notable presence in smaller towns for several years (they also quadrupled their 2011 results on Sunday, for what it’s worth). At the southern end of the country, the Andalusian village of Marinaledais a well-documented experiment in utopian communism that has been going on for over three decades now.

In fact, the so-called father of libertarian municipalism, social ecologist Murray Bookchin, was strongly inspired by the Spanish municipal politics of the 19th and early twentieth century, as well as the Swiss Grey Leagues and the New England townships, when he wrote his influential “New Municipal Agenda”.

While he hardly intended to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution—especially not in large urban belts and port cities—in the text, Bookchin outlined four main coordinates: a revival of the citizens’ assembly, the need for confederation with other municipalities, grassroots politics as a school of genuine citizenship and the municipalization of the economy. Underlying all of these coordinates is “a recovery of a new participatory politics structured around free, self-empowered and active citizens”.

All of these coordinates chime with the program and praxis of the new municipalist candidacies. In the newspaper they handed out as part of their campaign, Barcelona En Comù used almost as much space describing their process (30,000 signatures asking them to run for election, 1,000 campaign volunteers, 200 events organized by self-organized neighbourhood assemblies, 100 meetings with various community organizations in just 10 months of existence) and their vision (“a standard-bearer of social justice and democracy”) as they did outlining their program. The program itself includes 600 measures, ranging from modest but much-needed reforms (e.g., opening up more bike lanes, more social housing), to more radical ones (a guaranteed municipal income, coining a municipal currency).

Several questions remain about the conflict between the ambitions of the new municipalist candidacies and the daunting, path-dependent inertia of an institutional reality that threatens to swallow them whole. Many of those questions are addressed by some of the candidates themselves in the film Municipal Recipes, which you can watch below.

In it, they discuss the thought process that led them to make the jump into the electoral arena, how they hope to care for the city, how to make it liveable, the relationship between citizens, social movements and institutions, and the pitfalls of representative democracy, among other key issues.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into a remarkable process. Tellingly, one of the most frequently used words in the film is “tension”. As Pablo Carmona of Ahora Madrid puts it, regardless of whether they achieve something like Bookchin’s New Municipal Agenda, they have opened up “a new model of social conflict” in Spain.

Recetas municipales. Una conversación sobre el cuidado de las ciudades fromZEMOS98 on Vimeo. (Click CC for English subtitles)

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. This article was originally published on Open Democracy.

Municipal Recipes is a campaign carried out by Lucas Tello, Nuria Campabadal, Mario Munera and Guillermo Zapata, coordinated by Sofía Coca.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/05/spain-elections-municipalism-colau-bookchin/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Behind the recriminations over the fall of Ramadi

150415023547-damon-ramadi-map-large-169

28 May 2015

The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has provoked a series of charges and counter-charges over who is responsible.

The debacle reprised the collapse of Iraqi security forces in the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, nearly a year ago. Nearly 10 months of US air strikes, stepped-up aid to the Iraqi military, and the deployment of over 3,000 US troops in support of Baghdad have apparently done little to contain, much less defeat, ISIS.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was the most blunt, declaring that the Iraqi forces who melted away in the face of the ISIS offensive lacked the “will to fight.” Similarly, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey commented that the Iraqi security forces were “not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi.”

From within the Iraqi government and security forces as well as from Iran, there has been another explanation for the failure of the US intervention launched in August of last year to defeat ISIS: Washington has no real desire to annihilate the Islamist forces, its “war on terror” rhetoric notwithstanding.

The widespread acceptance of this explanation was indicated last week in a speech given by the senior commander of US Special Operations forces in Iraq, Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Crytzer. Speaking before the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, a forum for the military industrial complex held in Tampa, Florida, he reported that it is widely believed in Iraq, including within its security forces, that the Pentagon is “re-supplying” ISIS.

“Without an effective counter-narrative, this quickly took traction, resonating with many throughout Iraq,” Crytzer said. “It’s not just the poor and uneducated that believe it.” The result, he added, was that US forces were at risk of attack from Iraqis fighting ISIS. He cited an attempt to shoot down a US helicopter believed to be ferrying arms to the Islamists and friction between American troops and their Iraqi counterparts.

Crytzer gave no indication why such a “narrative” would resonate so broadly among the people of Iraq, while the media covering his address referred to the charge of US support for ISIS as an Iraqi “conspiracy theory.”

There are no doubt “conspiracy theories”—which explain history as merely the working out of plots hatched by cabals at the pinnacle of society—but there also exist well-documented conspiracies by US imperialism in the Middle East. These conspiracies, which have not always produced the desired results, have decimated entire societies over the last decade.

As if to substantiate the Iraqi suspicions cited by General Crytzer, the US government has—in response to a Freedom of Information Act filing by the right-wing Judicial Watch group—declassified a series of documents, including one secret report produced by the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) dated August 12, 2012.

While Judicial Watch has focused entirely on the documents’ supposed substantiation of Republican claims that the Obama administration—and Hillary Clinton, in particular—“lied” about the armed attack on the Benghazi consulate and CIA facility in 2012, it and similar right-wing outfits studiously ignore the far deeper implications of the August 2012 report.

The heavily redacted seven-page DIA document states that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” while noting that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey” support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.”

The document accurately predicts that “If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria… And this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime…”

As for Iraq, the secret report continues: “This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi… ISI [Islamic State of Iraq] could also declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”

It should be recalled that this document was issued amid steadily escalating US support for the so-called “rebels” in Syria, with the CIA setting up a secret station in Turkey near the Syrian border to coordinate the funneling of arms, money and supplies to these forces, which, as was clearly known at the time, were dominated by Islamist elements such as Al Qaeda.

The report indicates that Washington and its allies were supportive of these forces carving out an Islamic state in Syria. And, while they saw the spread of such a state to neighboring Iraq as a likely danger, they considered this a chance worth taking in order to prosecute their proxy war for regime-change directed against Damascus and Syria’s backers—Iran, Russia and China.

It also should be recalled that this document was issued precisely at the moment that the entire international coterie of middle-class pseudo-left organizations—from the International Socialist Organization in the US, to the New Anti-capitalist Party in France, the Socialist Workers Party in Britain and the Left Party in Germany—was hailing the US proxy war in Syria as a “revolution,” and even crafting justifications for the US arming of the Islamists.

If Washington is pulling its punches in its supposed war on ISIS, it is not, as the New York Times absurdly suggested this week, out of concern for killing civilians. The US has butchered hundreds of thousands over the course of the last dozen years. Rather, it wants to preserve the Islamist gunmen, who constitute the principal fighting force in its proxy war to topple Assad, just as it employed similar forces to overthrow and murder Libya’s Gaddafi.

The US military/intelligence complex, along with its front-man, Barack Obama, is indifferent to the immense human suffering such polices inflict upon the peoples of the region. They are making their decisions based on strategic calculations in which elements such as Al Qaeda and ISIS are merely pawns in a far wider drive to assert US hegemony by means of aggression and war.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/28/pers-m28.html

David Harvey: reclaiming the city from Kobane to Baltimore

By Sardar Saadi On May 26, 2015

Post image for David Harvey: reclaiming the city from Kobane to Baltimore

In this interview with ROAR, the leading Marxist geographer reflects on Rojava, Baltimore and urban life as the terrain of contemporary class struggle.

David Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He was in Diyarbakir for a visit to the region and also to participate in a panel at the 1st Amed Book Fair on his latest book, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, translated in Turkish by Sel Publishing. ROAR contributor Sardar Saadi sat down with him for an interview.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Sardar Saadi: Professor Harvey, welcome to Kurdistan! Thank you so much for accepting our interview request for ROAR Magazine. It was very difficult to arrange a time for this interview. You have a very busy schedule. Would you tell our readers what brought you to Kurdistan? I heard you have been to Kobane as well?

David Harvey: Well, this is my third visit to this part of Turkey, and I have some strong personal connections with some of the people teaching at Mardin Atikulu University. Mardin is a very beautiful place to visit, so I found a way to combine pleasure and some work. But I’m also here because of the general situation in Turkey and particularly also in Rojava. The Syrian side is fascinating. At the same time, it is pretty horrific. So I have taken a bit of interest in that lately.

I was trying to get to Kobani, too, but the Turkish government has basically closed the border.

As you know, the governments of Turkey and the Kurdish region of Iraq have imposed an ongoing embargo on Rojava. How do you connect this to what is going on in Rojava?

I can only speculate that nobody wants whatever is happening in Rojava to be given any prominence internationally, and nobody wants whatever is happening there to succeed. That would be my guess. It is the most obvious one.

There are so many initiatives for rebuilding Kobane. The airstrikes and bombings have left the city almost entirely destroyed. What is your perspective on reconstructing Kobane, and on the possibilities of creating anti-capitalist alternatives in the area?

I saw this map with satellite data of the level of destruction, and clearly Kobane is about 80 percent destroyed. Reconstruction is essentially going to revolve around surface buildings and bringing the people back in. This offers a range of opportunities to think creatively about an alternative urbanization.

One of the big difficulties, I think, is going to be facing the existing property rights to a degree that the existing population can re-establish itself. They probably want to build their property rights in the way things were before, so they will get back to old-style urbanization, and that is maybe what will happen — in which case the question will be where the resources will come from.

Still I think the opportunity exists to explore anti-capitalist alternatives. Whether this opportunity has been taken, I don’t know. But to the extent that Kurdish thinking has been influenced by somebody like Murray Bookchin, I think there is a possibility for the population to explore something different. I was told there are assembly-based forms of governance in place in Rojava, but I haven’t seen anything yet. I worry a little bit, you know, the left sometime has this romanticism. The Zapatistas said “revolution” and everybody got romantic about what they were doing.

I actually made a comparison between the revolution in Rojava and the Zapatistas. I raised the question if Rojava is becoming like the Chiapas of the Middle East. Do you think there is a similarity between these two struggles?

Not so much of a similarity — in the sense that the Zapatistas were organized, took control of their territory and managed to protect it in a particular way and at a particular time. They were not devastated by war. They did not have many of the problems that the people of Rojava are facing. But they had a pre-existing communal structure in place, so there was a form of governance there already — they didn’t have to implement everything from scratch. So I think there are a lot of differences.

I think the similarity is the romance that some people on the left in Europe and North America may have that, ‘oh well, this is the place, finally!’ And I always say to them that the place we should be constructing revolutionary socialism is in the United States, not hoping that something in Chiapas or in Northern Syria will rescue us from capitalism [laughs]. It’s not going to happen.

How do you think the international solidarity movement can be productive in helping Rojava?

There are some basic things, I would say. No matter what happens there, I think the emancipation of the Kurdish people — to the extent that there is a level of self-government — is something worth supporting. I am happy to support it myself. To the extent that these communities are experimenting with new forms of governance and they want to experience new forms of urban development, I think I will be very interested in talking to them. I am glad that people are thinking about doing something different, and to the extent that I can help or help mobilize help, I would want to be able do it.

Of course, what we are seeing is that there are going to be barriers to that. We are going to have to find ways to circumvent those barriers. For instance, there is an alternative group of people from Europe and North America who are actually trying now to re-design urbanization in Gaza. I think that if they are actually able to do something there, they could mobilize to do something in Rojava as well.

There are some real possibilities here. But just speaking personally, I would want to be cautious about saying, ‘oh this is a great thing that happened, everything is great.’ I would want to say: ‘look, I think things are going in an interesting direction worthy of our support and discussions, and we should do our best to try to support whatever it is that the population itself is trying to come up with.’

You mentioned in an interview with Firat News Agency during a conference in Hamburg that the Middle East is a region that’s falling apart. Yet Rojava is flourishing as an alternative in this chaotic environment, don’t you think?

Well, what is going on in this region is a crucial part of the world geopolitically. The Middle East is in a real mess right now. Everybody’s got their finger in the pie: the Russians, the Chinese, the Americans, the Europeans. It is a zone of conflicts, and it has been for some time. I mean, look at what’s happening in Syria — and then there was the Lebanese civil war, the situation in Iraq, and now what is going on in Yemen, in Egypt, and so on. This is a very unstable geological zone and geopolitical configuration of the world, which is producing disaster for local populations.

But one of the things that often happens with disasters is that new things come out of them. These new things can be very, very significant. I think the reason why disaster produces something new is because the typical bourgeois power structure disappears, and the ruling classes are unable to govern. That creates a situation where people can start to govern themselves outside of those traditional power structures. So we are likely to see possibilities emerge, not only in Rojava but also elsewhere. Some of them, of course, will not be very nice — like ISIS. So I am not saying everything is going in the right direction at all. It is a zone of opportunities as well as disasters.

I would like to open another topic in this conversation, and it is about cities — something you have written a lot about. In the last decade or so, we have witnessed the rising importance of cities in Kurdish politics. In Diyarbakir where we are right now, the pro-Kurdish municipality is intervening in the socioeconomic and political life of the city as well as re-appropriating urban spaces according to their agenda. Also, for the first time, Kobane’s resistance is the resistance of a city — unlike previous uprisings in the history of the Kurdish movement that were traditionally more about a tribe, a traditional leader, or a nationalist political party leading the resistance.

I am wondering if we can connect the resistance in Kobane or the example of the municipalist movement in Diyarbakir and other Kurdish cities in Turkey to the larger global movement we have seen in the last few years in places like Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Occupy movement that started in New York, the Gezi protests in Istanbul, or most recently the riots in Baltimore. Do you see a connection between these emerging forms of urban street politics?

Well, yes, the world is increasingly urbanized and we increasingly see discontent emerging around the quality of urban life. So you can see this discontent producing uprisings in some instances, or mass protests like Gezi and what happened in Brazil shortly after Gezi. There is actually a long tradition of urban uprisings — the Paris Commune in 1871 and other instances well before that — but I think that the urban question is really becoming a central question today, and the qualities of urban life are moving to the forefront of what contemporary protests are about.

But at the same time, increasingly, we see political protest internalized within the cities. What we are starting to see, with the Israeli Defense Forces confronting Palestinians in Ramallah and places like that, is that this is no longer about state-versus-state — it is about the state trying to control the rest of the urban population. We have even seen that in the U.S., in a place like in Ferguson, where an armed force came out to confront the protest. And in Baltimore, too. So increasingly, I think, we are going to see this kind of low-level urban warfare going on between populations, and increasingly we are going to see the apparatuses of the state isolating themselves from the people they are supposed to serve, becoming part of the administrative apparatuses of capital that are repressing urban populations.

So we are seeing these sorts of emerging urban uprisings in a patchy way all around the world: in Buenos Aires, in Bolivia, in Brazil, etc. Latin America is full of this sort of stuff. But even in Europe we have seen major urban unrest: in London, Stockholm, Paris, and so on. What we have to do is to start thinking of a new form of politics, which is what anti-capitalism should fundamentally be about. Unfortunately, the traditional left still focuses narrowly on workers and the workplace, whereas now it’s the politics of everyday life that really matters.

The left is sometimes very conservative in terms of what it thinks is important. Marx and Engels had a vision of the proletariat of a certain kind. Well, that proletariat has disappeared in many parts of the world, even if it has reemerged in places like China and Mexico under different conditions. So as a general matter the left has to be much more flexible in its approach to the anti-capitalist movements emerging in and around the question of urban life that we have seen in the revolts in Baltimore and in Tahrir Square and so on. Which is not to say they are all the same — because they are not — but there is clearly a certain parallel between these movements.

What do you think of the possible outcomes of something that happened in a place like Baltimore for the global movement against capitalism? Are they just momentary protests in their specific spatio-temporal conditions, or can they be seen as indications of something fundamentally wrong with the system?

One of the biggest difficulties, politically speaking, is to get people to see the nature of the system in which they live. The system is very sophisticated in disguising what it does, and how it does it. One of the tasks of Marxists and critical theorists is to try to demystify, but you can see this happening intuitively sometimes. Take the indignados movement: something happens in Spain and then, next thing, suddenly it happens in Greece — and then suddenly it happens elsewhere. Take the Occupy movement: suddenly there are occupations going on all over the place. So there is connectivity here.

A specific event like Baltimore doesn’t do anything in itself. What it does do, when you add it to Ferguson and you add it to some of the other things that are going on, is to show that large populations have been treated as disposable human beings. This is going on in the United States as well as elsewhere. Then, people suddenly start to see this is a systemic issue. So one of the things we should be doing is to emphasize the systemic nature of these type of events, showing that the problem lies within the system.

I used to live in Baltimore for many years — and what is happening there now is really a re-run of what I encountered in 1969, one year after a lot of the place was burnt down. So we went from 1968 to 2015, and things are still the same! You kind of go, ‘hey, what is keeping it all the same?’ Despite of all the promises of those who claimed they were resolving the situation in the 1970s, or those who claim to be resolving it today, it doesn’t happen — it just doesn’t happen. In fact, a lot of it is getting worse.

Baltimore is interesting not only because of what happened in the poor areas. The rest of the city has actually become extremely affluent and gentrified — so it has really become two cities. There always were two cities, but now there are two cities with a much wider gap in between, and everybody sees the difference. I read an interview with somebody in Tahrir Square, and one of the things they said was that they always lived in not very affluent conditions, but what they noticed was that some people were getting filthy rich. They couldn’t understand why those people were getting filthy rich while the rest were going down or just staying the same. And it is the anger over this disparity that turned them against the system. This is true in Baltimore as well: ‘their part of town is fine, and my part of town is in a nose-dive.’

This is actually true for most cities. You look around and see it in Istanbul, and you see it everywhere. What is government doing about it? Well, it is clearing people out of their so-called slum areas because they are sitting on high value lands, and they could give them to developers who can then build shopping malls and office spaces — and people say ‘this is not right!’ That is how you get to the point where people begin exercising their right to the city, which is to use the city for their own purposes.

We want to exercise our right to the city in our particular way, which is radically different from that of capital. We want to make a different kind of city. How do we do that? Can we do it? These are difficult questions. When people raise this demand, a further question arises: can you do this within the existing structure of property rights? There is a belief in the United States that private property and land ownership are not a problem. Part of the solution, I suppose, lies in people starting to realize that it is part of the problem. Then you will begin to see that we have to come up with an alternative structure of property rights that are not private. They are collective. They are common. And at the same time they have to offer security and take away the fear of speculation for capital.

I want to end by asking what inspired you on your trip to Kurdistan. Is there anything that will bring you back here?

Well, as I said, this whole region is a rather critical region. I actually had fantasies not so long ago that I would relocate entirely to somewhere around. I thought I could base myself in Athens, and I would then spend my time working a bit in Turkey, a bit in Lebanon, a bit in Egypt, because it is that zone between Europe and the region. What is going on here seems to be fascinating, so I like to be in the region. I also have very good friends here, and I have a wonderful publisher, Sel Publishing. I must say they have done a wonderful job of both translating and generally inviting me here and getting me to see things. If I get into Kobane, it is because they have worked really hard on it.

I hope we soon see your books translated in Kurdish as well — and I am sure the people of Diyarbakir will be happy to host you if you ever wanted to relocate in the region. Thank you so much for your time, Professor Harvey. I hope you will get into Kobane soon.

Sardar Saadi is a Toronto-based activist and a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Toronto. Please contact Sardar first before translating this interview into Turkish: sardarsaadi[at]gmail[dot]com.

http://roarmag.org/2015/05/david-harvey-interview-rojava-baltimore/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

NSA affair creates tensions between Berlin and Washington

us-german-communications

By Gustav Kemper
27 May 2015

Tensions have been growing between Berlin and Washington and within the German ruling coalition since it became known at the end of April that the German foreign intelligence service (BND) had spied on European politicians, businesses and individuals for the American National Security Agency (NSA). In particular, the demand of the Bundestag (parliamentary) NSA committee of inquiry for the list of so-called selectors–the phone numbers, names and keywords by which digital communications were searched–has led to fierce conflicts.

According to a report in the Bild newspaper, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper threatened to restrict cooperation with the German secret services, or completely discontinue it, because confidential US documents had been leaked to the media by the parliamentary committee of inquiry. The paper quoted an American intelligence official as saying, “What the German government is organizing is more dangerous than the Snowden revelations.”

Two years ago, whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the close cooperation between the BND and NSA under the code name “eikonal”. Since then, numerous other details have been made public.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the BND tapped into a major telecoms hub in Frankfurt and passed the data through a direct fibre optic cable to Pullach and Bad Aibling in Bavaria. There, digital communications from all over the world were searched by the BND using keywords (selectors) provided by the NSA, and then supplied the data back to the NSA.

There are supposed to be lists with a total of 800,000 selectors. Those affected include not only terrorist suspects, but also European politicians, institutions and companies, including ones in Germany. Among others spied upon were the aerospace and defence company EADS (Airbus Group), its wholly owned subsidiary Airbus Helicopters and Siemens. Via the Frankfurt network node, the NSA and the BND are able to monitor a large portion of the world’s population, including Germans.

This cooperation between the BND and NSA was established in April 2002 under SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the then Chancellery Minister and present Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The BND took over a US monitoring station in Bad Aibling, and in exchange filtered the digital data flow for the NSA.

In the Bundestag investigative committee, not only the opposition Left Party and the Greens, but also the SPD, which is part of the government, are now demanding access to the list of selectors. According to Bild am Sonntag, SPD General Secretary Yasmin Fahimi posed an ultimatum to the Chancellor and loudly demanded “that the chancellor’s office finally provides clarity about how the Bundestag can examine the list of selectors by the parliamentary session next week”.

Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel also called for greater self-confidence. He demanded that the list of selectors be presented to the parliamentary inquiry committee for consideration without US consent, so that it can determine whether more industrial enterprises were affected by the spying. “No Congress and no Senate in the United States would let itself be refused this right to information,” he said. The German parliament should be “at least as confident. We are neither immature nor order takers.”

“What we are experiencing now is an affair, a secret service scandal, which is capable of rendering a very severe concussion,” Gabriel added. He tried to draw the Chancellor into the affair, claiming she had assured him there was no industrial espionage beyond what was previously known. Should this turn out to be false, this would place a heavy “burden on the trust of government action,” he threatened.

Most editorials suggest that Gabriel, who is also SPD chairman, has played up the issue on tactical grounds. The SPD has not yet succeeded in rising above its current 25 percent support in opinion polls. However, the SPD is not seeking a break in relations with Washington.

It is striking that Frank-Walter Steinmeier–who as a former head of the chancellery and long-time foreign minister is deeply involved in the affair–is holding back. In the Welt am Sonntag, SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann promised, “We cannot and will not end cooperation with the American services. The world has not become more secure in recent years. We thank the Americans for important information.”

On the “Berlin Direct” programme of broadcaster ZDF, even Gabriel declared that the functioning of the intelligence services was in the “national interest”.

Chancellor Merkel has kept a low profile, but stressed, “The fitness for purpose of the intelligence services can only be achieved in cooperation with other services. This includes the NSA.” She will only make the selector lists available to the committee of inquiry when the NSA gives its permission.

Testifying before the parliamentary committee of inquiry, the president of the Federal Intelligence Service, Gerhard Schindler, defended the cooperation with the NSA. He said that Germany was dependent on the American service and not vice versa. The NSA did not threaten Germany’s security but protected it.

Schindler warned that the sustainability of the BND was at stake if more details came to light. “First partner services in Europe review the cooperation with the BND,” he said. “The first meetings without the BND” had already occurred at the European level. “The signals we hear are anything but positive.”

Schindler also claimed that the clarification of European objectives–i.e. spying on EU partners–was not contrary to German law. This was immediately contradicted by chancellery chief Peter Altmaier (CDU), responsible for the secret services. Whether the BND should monitor European targets was not a matter of opinion, and “was to be answered by those who are called to serve”, he wrote on Twitter.

However, there are also those who regard the conflict with the NSA as an opportunity to emancipate the German secret services from those of the US. The taking on of more “German responsibility in the world” and the “end of military restraint”, which the Federal President Joachim Gauck and members of the federal government have advocated for a long time, not only demands a stronger army but also more powerful intelligence services. The corresponding demands are being raised in both the ruling parties and in the opposition.

This view is most clearly expressed by Left Party leader Gregor Gysi. He accused the BND of “treason”, a term that the nationalist right uses mostly as a rallying cry against internationalists and socialists. “It’s about treason. It’s about intelligence activity, possibly against German interests, against German companies, at least companies with German participation, against friendly politicians”, Gysi said on Deutschlandfunk.

The SPD is working on a law that will restructure the BND. It should only collect and pass on data that meet its own task profile. “We need a fundamental new beginning in communications intelligence abroad”, said Christian Flisek, the SPD representative in the NSA committee of inquiry.

The German government also wants to strengthen the BND. Since it became known that the NSA had intercepted the private mobile phone of the German Chancellor, she has repeatedly called for a return to an “equal footing” with the Americans. However, this is difficult.

In 2013, the budget of all American intelligence agencies, with 107,000 employees, amounted to $52.6 billion (at that time about 40 billion euros), many times the nearly 800 million euros allotted to the German secret services in the same year, with a total of about 7,000 employees. The daily Die Weltnames a sum of 496 million euros for the BND, 206 million for the Secret Service and 72 million for the Military Counterintelligence Service.

There is no doubt that the government will massively increase these amounts, as well as funding for the armed forces, at the expense of already reduced social spending.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/27/bnds-m27.html

Why the Rest of the World No Longer Wants to be Like U.S.

Chomsky: 

Many countries in the world see the U.S. as the single greatest external threat to their societies.

During the latest episode of the Washington farce that has astonished a bemused world, a Chinese commentator wrote that if the United States cannot be a responsible member of the world system, perhaps the world should become “de-Americanized” — and separate itself from the rogue state that is the reigning military power but is losing credibility in other domains.

The Washington debacle’s immediate source was the sharp shift to the right among the political class. In the past, the U.S. has sometimes been described sardonically — but not inaccurately — as a one-party state: the business party, with two factions called Democrats and Republicans.

That is no longer true. The U.S. is still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction: moderate Republicans, now called New Democrats (as the U.S. Congressional coalition styles itself).

There is still a Republican organization, but it long ago abandoned any pretense of being a normal parliamentary party. Conservative commentator Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute describes today’s Republicans as “a radical insurgency — ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition”: a serious danger to the society.

The party is in lock-step service to the very rich and the corporate sector. Since votes cannot be obtained on that platform, the party has been compelled to mobilize sectors of the society that are extremist by world standards. Crazy is the new norm among Tea Party members and a host of others beyond the mainstream.

The Republican establishment and its business sponsors had expected to use them as a battering ram in the neoliberal assault against the population — to privatize, to deregulate and to limit government, while retaining those parts that serve wealth and power, like the military.

The Republican establishment has had some success, but now finds that it can no longer control its base, much to its dismay. The impact on American society thus becomes even more severe. A case in point: the virulent reaction against the Affordable Care Act and the near-shutdown of the government.

The Chinese commentator’s observation is not entirely novel. In 1999, political analyst Samuel P. Huntington warned that for much of the world, the U.S. is “becoming the rogue superpower,” seen as “the single greatest external threat to their societies.”

A few months into the Bush term, Robert Jervis, president of the American Political Science Association, warned that “In the eyes of much of the world, in fact, the prime rogue state today is the United States.” Both Huntington and Jervis warned that such a course is unwise. The consequences for the U.S. could be harmful.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the leading establishment journal, David Kaye reviews one aspect of Washington’s departure from the world: rejection of multilateral treaties “as if it were sport.”

He explains that some treaties are rejected outright, as when the U.S. Senate “voted against the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012 and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999.”

Others are dismissed by inaction, including “such subjects as labor, economic and cultural rights, endangered species, pollution, armed conflict, peacekeeping, nuclear weapons, the law of the sea, and discrimination against women.”

Rejection of international obligations “has grown so entrenched,” Kaye writes, “that foreign governments no longer expect Washington’s ratification or its full participation in the institutions treaties create. The world is moving on; laws get made elsewhere, with limited (if any) American involvement.”

While not new, the practice has indeed become more entrenched in recent years, along with quiet acceptance at home of the doctrine that the U.S. has every right to act as a rogue state.

To take a typical example, a few weeks ago U.S. special operations forces snatched a suspect, Abu Anas al-Libi, from the streets of the Libyan capital Tripoli, bringing him to a naval vessel for interrogation without counsel or rights. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry informed the press that the actions are legal because they comply with American law, eliciting no particular comment.

Principles are valid only if they are universal. Reactions would be a bit different, needless to say, if Cuban special forces kidnapped the prominent terrorist Luis Posada Carriles in Miami, bringing him to Cuba for interrogation and trial in accordance with Cuban law.

Such actions are restricted to rogue states. More accurately, to the one rogue state that is powerful enough to act with impunity: in recent years, to carry out aggression at will, to terrorize large regions of the world with drone attacks, and much else.

And to defy the world in other ways, for example by persisting in its embargo against Cuba despite the long-term opposition of the entire world, apart from Israel, which voted with its protector when the United Nations again condemned the embargo (188-2) in October.

Whatever the world may think, U.S. actions are legitimate because we say so. The principle was enunciated by the eminent statesman Dean Acheson in 1962, when he instructed the American Society of International Law that no legal issue arises when the United States responds to a challenge to its “power, position, and prestige.”

Cuba committed that crime when it beat back a U.S. invasion and then had the audacity to survive an assault designed to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba, in the words of Kennedy adviser and historian Arthur Schlesinger.

When the U.S. gained independence, it sought to join the international community of the day. That is why the Declaration of Independence opens by expressing concern for the “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

A crucial element was evolution from a disorderly confederacy to a unified “treaty-worthy nation,” in diplomatic historian Eliga H. Gould’s phrase, that observed the conventions of the European order. By achieving this status, the new nation also gained the right to act as it wished internally.

It could thus proceed to rid itself of the indigenous population and to expand slavery, an institution so “odious” that it could not be tolerated in England, as the distinguished jurist William Murray, Earl of Mansfield, ruled in 1772. Evolving English law was a factor impelling the slave-owning society to escape its reach.

Becoming a treaty-worthy nation thus conferred multiple advantages: foreign recognition, and the freedom to act at home without interference. Hegemonic power offers the opportunity to become a rogue state, freely defying international law and norms, while facing increased resistance abroad and contributing to its own decline through self-inflicted wounds.

© 2013 Noam Chomsky — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT.