Category Archives: Capitalism

What “That’s Not Realistic” Really Means: Bernie Sanders, Social Democracy, and Capitalist Apologetics

When discussing politics, or listening to pundits in the mainstream media in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, you’ve probably heard a common refrain: certain policies are “not realistic.” It’s similar to the close-minded remark that certain politicians, such as Bernie Sanders, have issues regarding their “electability”. What are these elites and people who continually parrot these media narratives actually saying?

The most obvious translation of “that’s not realistic” is this: we the people are powerless to change things. Of course, most of those who use the “unrealistic” fallacy conveniently have power and money, which has disillusioned them from imagining any possibilities for transformative changes, and blunted their ability to feel empathy for those less fortunate. It makes zero sense to call Sanders’ policies unrealistic when nearly all of Europe maintains core social democratic institutions with mass public approval.

The question of “how can we pay” for programs like Medicare for All, free college, debt relief, and a Green New Deal always comes up. This is hilarious, of course, because no one asks the elites to justify the annual $750 billion US military budget. Drastically cutting the military budget and redistributing the surplus is how you pay for these social programs.

Another accurate and blunter rendering of what the unrealistic/unelectable memes mean would be: “Don’t ask for too much. Know your place, peasants.” Notice how you don’t see poor people claiming that socialism or “democratic socialist” policies are unrealistic. I’m fairly certain slaves were told their freedom was unrealistic, the suffragettes were told their right to vote was unrealistic, JFK was told by many of the “smartest” people that a moon landing before 1970 was unrealistic. We can go on and on.

Then there are others who are somewhat “progressive”, sympathetic but disillusioned and cynical, and many will say that socialism or even social democracy sounds nice, but we all know the powers that be will never go down without a fight and allow for a systematic reconfiguration of society. In other words, it’s not so much that socialism is unrealistic; but rather, the threat of the elites turning up the authoritarian dial to full-blown neo-fascism is real; therefore, we still cannot afford to nominate a reformist social democrat. Egalitarian, humane, and fair policies are too much to ask for: the best we can do is tinker around the edges and reform capitalism incrementally and very slowly.

This is a blatant falsehood. It’s nothing more than a media-blasted form of collective hive-mind Stockholm syndrome, your basic case of false consciousness. There is a kernel of truth here, and that is the elites will never voluntarily allow for a transfer of power to the masses. The point of electing Sanders (despite his severe foreign policy limitations and reformist inclinations) is the potential of elevating working class consciousness and activating a mass base that will fight, protest, and strike when the ruling classes attempt to drop the hammer on him, his allies, the citizenry, and his policy and legislative agenda.

Just like with any other massive whopper, if enough people in the media parrot that Sanders is “unelectable”, it takes on a life of its own. The “unrealistic” narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and perception becomes paramount over reality. Material facts count for nothing, what matters are the feelings and ideological fables of pro-capitalist apologists. Only gradual change can occur, don’t ask for too much or you risk collapsing the whole system, because a Sanders presidency upholding democratic socialist principles would somehow turn the US into another Venezuela. Which, by the way, Venezuela is a democracy, and was a rapidly developing and improving nation before the combination of the drop in oil prices, sanctions, and US imperial meddling took its toll. A tragic example of how perception “trumps” reality in our new game show upside-down world.

Somehow changing things too fast will “rock the boat” and gulags and purges will come back into fashion. Promoting democracy will somehow work against citizens’ interests and do the opposite. It’s quite telling how the elites and the media view the prospect of the masses actually having power, no?

Isn’t it obvious how screwed up things are, and that the primary culprits are capitalists? Just consider global warming for a moment. Only one hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. If just those one hundred companies invested their profits in renewable energy technology, they could potentially mitigate the worst effects of future warming on their own starting right now. Not to mention that even the smallest green tech breakthroughs in the sector could generate massive federal subsidies to help with the high cost of research and development. Rather than that, however, these one hundred companies continually choose short-term profits over the health of the planet; hire some of the best and brightest scientists and engineers from all over the globe, all in order to divert their brainpower into constructing the most destructive industry the world has ever seen.

What kind of nation is so cowed and beaten down that the moderate reforms offered by Sanders are viewed as impossible to achieve? What about the millions of others who view his economic and social priorities with such fear, hatred, and derision?

Policies such as a Green New Deal, $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, universal healthcare, a universal jobs program, and student debt relief are extremely popular. These are simply the next logical steps to blunt the worst effects of capitalism on a path towards social democratic governance. The ideas promoted by Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar have a democratic mandate with many policies that have over 70% support. If centrist liberals and conservatives want to fight the will of the people, not only are they showing their true colors (as promoters of oligarchy), they are going to lose in the long run. If the Democratic Party had any intelligence and backbone, which of course they don’t, they would put Sanders and “the Squad” at the center of a new progressive agenda.

The undercurrent that is worth returning to in the “it’s not realistic” argument is that most of those who trot out this sort of thing are comfortable, well-off, if not just filthy rich. It’s the elites, but also crucially the conservative and liberal middle to upper-middle classes, the professional-managerial classes (PMCs), as well as small to medium size business owners, those who have climbed our fake “meritocracy” who don’t want to rock the boat.

Many have achieved some sort of professional “success” and secure middle class economic status, and to see a portion of that wealth given back to the poor and working classes makes the PMC class extremely uncomfortable. Of course it’s no surprise that most of these voters are white, unable to see how the structural and generational racism helped their families secure wealth and privilege, and catapulted them into their cushy jobs, while minorities, the poor, and younger voters overwhelmingly support Sanders.

Let’s just take one example: doctors. Doctors are not your typical PMCs, as they frankly do not have to climb a corporate hierarchy which gives them a bit more “freedom” to think and live without completely debasing themselves. One would think they’d be more progressive than your average bank executive or middle manager, and most probably are. Yet, as this survey shows, only 49% of MDs support Medicare for All (M4A below). Medical professionals are supposed to be the “best and brightest” in our society, so this a pitiful figure, really. It turns out they are just another specialist class which cannot see beyond their own narrow material interests, and refuse to make the connections as to how poverty and lack of health care leads to worse health outcomes for the whole of society.

A healthier population would mean less work for doctors, who are constantly putting in long hours. You’d think they’d be all for M4A. Yet the same study confirms the obvious suspicion that it’s all about the money, with 59% being concerned that M4A would reduce physician compensation. Doctors are very highly paid anyways, so the idea that they’d be making a little less should not be a deal breaker. But, yet again, there class interests dictate to them to want to work more, and want to hold a less healthy population captive to our horrible and inhumane health system.

Economic repercussions of a potential President Sanders are in the back of the upper-middle classes’ minds. These folks are worried about their 401k, the stock market dipping, or a that recession could begin. The upper quintile (top 20% of wage earners) or so would probably pay marginally more taxes to fund social programs, and somehow giving back to those less fortunate (as well as accruing the civic benefits of living in a happier and healthier nation) is seen as dangerous. However, the PMCs are so myopic that they can’t see the blinding truth that the vast majority of any tax increase would be paid by the top 1-5%, and that the marginal tax increases they might face would drastically improve the whole of society.

The key thing to remember is that these professional class lackeys of the elite view their wealth as paramount, which they never refer to as such; instead using euphemisms like having “security”, “freedom from worrying about money”, and a “comfortable lifestyle”. Don’t rock the boat or their lifestyles might be impacted, and they might have to share the best doctors in town, rub elbows with the rabble at their favorite café or upscale gym or yoga studio, and generally interact with what they see as the wretched of the Earth. The PMCs also all vote, and though they may lean slightly Democratic, there is a large contingent of Trump supporters as well. Yet the PMCs who vote Democrat are mostly older (40+) and will lean towards those who reflect their beliefs in climbing the “meritocracy,” such as the technocratic doofuses Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete in the primaries.

It’s true that imploding the economy via capital flight might be the first thing elites would try to do to undermine a Sanders presidency. Yet that would not be his fault. In this hypothetical situation, the cynical moderate liberal and conservative PMCs would rather pin the blame on the wrong person (Sanders) than try to understand the structural failures of capitalism, and how malevolent and vindictive the elites are.

Another undercurrent of the PMCs and petit bourgeois class is related to the uniquely harsh sado-masochistic traits in US society. I sometimes refer to this phenomenon as “cultural Puritanism.” It was best summed up by H.L. Mencken, when he stated: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”1

In other words, many in the middle classes and petit bourgeois get off on the suffering of their lower income neighbors and work colleagues, as well as finding perverse enjoyment in being exploited by their ruling class bosses and administrators. Brutal hierarchies in work and public life somehow validates and reinforces this cruel behavior in the bourgeois and PMC mind, rather than being viscerally repulsed by the crushing alienation and domination of social and economic life by elite one-percenters. So, universal healthcare, free college, and debt relief aren’t fair, as the poor aren’t “working for it” and “paying their fair share.”

The redistributive policies fundamentally clashes with the PMC worldview, because democratic socialist policies make clear that the poor and working classes built the modern world and deserve better treatment in a vastly unequal capitalist system. The implicit ideology of the “moderate” liberals is ultimately a conservative worldview: the poor are stupid, lazy, and crucially, they didn’t suffer in the right sort of ways; for instance by getting an MBA, by going to law school, by wasting their lives in boardrooms and management meetings, flying around the globe to sell useless products and giving PowerPoint presentations, and whatever else the corporate drones of the world do to convince themselves that they’ve “earned” their riches solely through their own “hard work.”

It’s quite visible when conversing with pro-capitalists, and you can see it on TV all the time when mainstream talking heads discuss Sanders’ policies, whether it’s on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. I call it the Tucker Carlson look, although his facial expressions are just the most ridiculous of the bunch. He’ll invite a guest on, say a morally decent person like Cornel West, who’ll spell out their ideas to make the world a better place, or at least a slightly less shitty one; and the brow becomes slightly furrowed, mouth goes a bit agape, a look of a mix of befuddlement and incredulity appears, following by either a snide, condescending, dismissive attitude and/or apoplectic rage. These people instantly become either confused, angry, or both at the thought of structurally changing society to help people in need.

What they seem to be thinking, but find it impossible to come to terms with, is this:

“Wait, you’re saying that my actions and lifestyle are implicated in hurting people? You’re making me self-reflect on my empty, hollow concepts of how to care for people and how my bankrupt worldview has made society demonstrably worse? And even though you’re not necessarily blaming me personally, you’re claiming my ideas are not my own, but rather the result of capitalist cultural hegemony which shapes, distorts, and filters my own ideological beliefs to suit capitalism? In the freest and greatest country ever to exist? I refuse to believe this! This is an outrage!”

The whole idea of trying to talk with people who are that far gone is absurd. The good news is conservatives, centrists, and progressive liberals do not always resemble the caricatures that leftists often stereotype them as. Most people are far too normal, boring, and trying to cope with their own problems to rigidly accept capitalist dogmas. Many more are fundamentally uninterested with politics beyond what serves their immediate needs and those of their family and friends, and that’s ok. What’s important is to keep trying to show that the publics’ needs can be better met under a socialist system. There is no nice way to tell someone that their views are ignorant, and it’s extremely difficult to do so without encountering the type of reaction shown above. It’s very difficult, but not impossible. This is the task we are faced with.

It can get depressing when confronting mass ignorance. It’s important to remember that the ultra-rich and their PMC lackeys are in the minority, however. I believe part of what’s been overlooked is that while the elites would be reigned in economically in a social democracy, the PMCs would not lose out much at all, as alluded to above. Rather, they would be hit with a loss in social capital. This is because many, but not all, will be exposed as the selfish burghers they are, for these are the little piggies that helped construct the system for their corporate overlords. It’s very much like in the military, where the officer classes attempt to justify their war crimes by stating they were just following orders.

Like little Eichmanns, they probably know this excuse will not work when the working classes become fully cognizant of their betrayals. Just like US military officers today, who are war criminals for their actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other nations, many of the PMCs are white-collar criminals, upholding a rotten system and implementing neoliberal austerity, structural racism, medical malfeasance, intellectual property theft, and gentrification. Even if their jobs or actions are technically legal, many of them at least can intuit to varying degrees that their work is just plain wrong. They are traitors to their fellow citizens and they know it. They serve the oligarchy and they know it. Therefore, their only hope is to cling to capitalist politicians as their saviors. These people believe that electing the technocrat Warren or the empty sloganeer Buttigieg can clear their conscience, and stop those dark voices in the back of their mind telling them that they are sell-outs, because they voted for a “progressive.”

Perhaps mostly unconsciously, some upper-middle class and elite liberals and conservatives want income inequality, economic stratification, and gentrification to increase, so as not to have to deal with, talk to, or even be forced to interact and look upon the poor and downtrodden, as they are to varying degrees responsible for their plight.

Most people, however, are not getting a fat paycheck from corporate oligarchs, and therefore the unstated and explicit narratives to support this god-forsaken system don’t work. Most citizen are at least willing to listen with an open mind, and the only people who really try to vouch for capitalism are economists, mainstream politicians, or affluent PMC sycophants and business owners who directly benefit from upholding the status quo. This has always been about 20-25% of the populace, a pitiful minority, really. Dismantling the horrible, inhumane system of capitalism will require tact and a sustained effort to repeat the fact that the onus is on those who construct the system to defend and prove its worth. Clearly, capitalism has outlived its usefulness, and the only ones who are unrealistic are those who want to uphold the status quo and insist that everything can stay the same. The only realistic solution is to go beyond capitalism and evolve into a democratic system that works for everyone.

  1. In “A Few Pages of Notes,” The Smart Set (January 1915).

Homewreckers and Nationwreckers United

The bestselling Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream is more than a must read, it is a have to immediately read! Glantz covers the beginnings and the rash aftermath of the 2008 Subprime Housing bubble. Even though I have followed the story pretty carefully, Glantz pinpoints things I did not know until reading this important book. Just one example is how the Vulture Capitalists, like present Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, to name but a few of the scoundrels currently surrounding Mr. Trump, made fortunes on the taxpayers’ dime. They not only bought failed Subprime specialty banks, as I call them, for pennies on the dollar (only as a favor to this empire), but they got more than special privileges from Uncle Sam.

Before I expand on this, take the example of your local Mom and Pop coffee shop. Let’s say the place was bought a few years ago for $50,k000. In the interim the place was losing business steadily. New investors came in and bought it for $20,000. They then turned around and decided to unload it for the same $20k. Would the government then make up the difference for what it was worth a few years ago and give the sellers the difference of $30,000? No way in Hell! Yet, for Mnuchin and his partners committing, what I call, “a Legal Crime” that is what Uncle Sam did for them — and did it happily to “save the economy.” Glantz explains how when Mnuchin and Co. took over Indy Mac bank in a fire sale, changed its name to One West, and were left holding thousands of toxic mortgages. These were homes that were foreclosed or ready to be foreclosed. One example would be if a home had been assessed at $300,000 and was now worth $100,000, One West would sell the home for the $100,000 and the FDIC would repay them the difference of $200,000. I kid you not! Sheila Bair, the head of the FDIC at the time, actually stated that this was done to save our economy. I guess Sheila never heard of the term Receivership, whereupon Uncle Sam could buy up those banks at the same fire sale prices, keep the people in those homes and reconfigure better rates and terms to keep them from the street. THAT  would save the economy, but THAT  is  a Socialistic practice. Ah, the empire does not like anything Socialistic, as we see with even the rather tame Bernie Sanders version of Socialism.

What Homewreckers also focused on was the newest economic pandemic hitting our nation: The corporate Absentee Landlords. Glantz writes how Steve Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, and his partner Pete Peterson, bought up foreclosed homes by the tens of thousands and turned them into rental properties. Many times the folks who once owned a home were now tenants in the same house, now under the auspices of their landlord, The Blackstone Group. We are talking of other such corporate vultures who followed suit and today we have this fact: in most major cities throughout America there are more homes as rentals than there are homes owned by individuals who live in them. Of course, this doesn’t even take into account the system, feudalistic as it is, of apartment houses owned by absentee landlords who own thousands of such places. In 2018 The Blackstone Group owned over 11,000 rental apartments In just New York City alone!

Another two individuals who are making fortunes owning slews of low income rental apartments are none other than Sean Hannity and Jared Kushner. One wonders if people who like to watch Sean on his TV show each night, or listen to his dribble on his radio show, are aware that they are tenants of his! As to young Kushner, son of major NYC real estate royalty, son-in-law of President Cheetos and friend of the Zionist-led Israeli government, does he care that his LLC corporation evicts just as easily as Hannity’s LLC does? Of course, with today’s laws that protect the identity of those who actually own these properties, perhaps none of these two landlords’ tenants even know who in the hell owns their residence! Yes, it is good to Make America Great Again for the Super Rich.

The real sin here is that this is all part of a concerted effort to bring us back to a Neo Feudalistic state. Along with the abundance of Part Time, No Union, No Benefits Employment, as the rents go up on where working stiffs have to live, many of us are but a few paychecks from the street, if not there already! Sadly, we know the right-wing half of this Two Party-One Party system, the Republicans, don’t care at all. It’s the other half, the “center right”-wing aka the Democrats, who have done NOTHING to address what Aaron Glantz pinpoints as the Vulture Capitalist takeover of our economy. When Obama took over from the Bush/Cheney gang in 2009, all he did was continue the giveaway to the vultures. Of course Trump, the poster boy of the real Deep State, has actually put these jackals inside his government! And much of the general public is more afraid of — God forbid — Socialism than these cutthroats!

Democrats Team Up With Trump to Maintain Disastrous Healthcare System

On Tuesday, February 4, Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union (SOTU) address. As expected, it was filled with contradictions, falsehoods, and distortions. Among other things, Trump spoke for close to ten minutes about health care in the U.S., claiming that he “will always protect Medicare.” However, neither Trump and the Republicans, nor the Democrats can be trusted when it comes to health care.

Just last week, for example, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump suggested he would think about cutting Medicare and Social Security to reduce the federal deficit. The Trump administration also recently announced it would take steps to overhaul Medicaid through a program ironically named “Healthy Adult Opportunity,” allowing states to choose to cut federal government funding they receive at a lump sum or block grant instead of paying a fixed percentage of costs. The goal is for states to reduce spending by decreasing health provider reimbursements, limiting drug coverage, or making it difficult for individuals to qualify for care. Trump’s plans for his 2021 budget are lockstep with his previous statements and would increase military spending while cutting Medicare and Medicaid.

This all comes from an administration that ran on a platform of protecting such programs.  As Trump told Fox News in 2015, “People have been paying in for years. They’re gonna cut Social Security. They’re gonna cut Medicare. They’re gonna cut Medicaid […] I’m the one saying that I’m not gonna do that!” Yet the administration’s most recent budget called for a total of $1.9 trillion in “cost savings” from programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Who Heads Government Health Programs?

Despite Trump’s SOTU remarks, his recent proposals should be no shock when one looks at who he tapped to oversee the distribution of healthcare in the United States. Seema Verma, who helped announce the “Healthy Adult Opportunity” program, serves as head administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Prior to being appointed to her position, Verma was President, CEO and founder of SVC, Inc., a national health policy consulting company which helped drive Republican state-level Medicaid reforms while also encouraging state outsourcing to private companies converting government funding into private profits. Since taking office, Verma has been instrumental in allowing states to institute work requirements—essentially requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to prove they are working, by logging work hours regardless of computer or internet access, in order to get health care. She has also railed against universal health care, stating National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) would “strip choice away from millions.”

Trump’s initial Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Tom Price—who resigned in 2017 after it was revealed that he used taxpayer money on personal travel—sponsored congressional budgets to turn Medicaid into a block grant program. Now-current HHS Secretary Alex Azar, sworn into office in 2018, was former head of the pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly and played a key role in driving up prices of crucial medicines, such as insulin, to increase profits. Individuals like Azar have proven time and again that they will not work to “lower drug prices” as Trump touted in his SOTU. Instead, Azar will defend the corporate elite; his new government position puts him in a perfect place to do just that. With individuals such as these heading the US healthcare system, it is no wonder such policies are being proposed.

The Democrats Aren’t Innocent Bystanders

While some members of the Democratic Party will want to condemn or distance themselves from these efforts, it is important to note their culpability in helping create the environment for Trump’s current policy proposals. For example, cutting safety net programs that working people rely on is not new for Democrats. As The Intercept recently reported, “As early as 1984 and as recently as 2018, former Vice President Joe Biden called for cuts to Social Security in the name of saving the program and balancing the federal budget.” Biden advocated for freezing spending on “every single solitary thing in the government” including Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans’ benefits.

And Joe Biden is not an outlier. Under the capitalist system, advocating for programs of “austerity” to combat the crises that are built into the system is standard practice. Austerity is often recommended despite evidence suggesting government cuts typically worsen economic downturns. Professor of Economics, Richard Wolff, has analyzed how this system functions, arguing that in times of economic growth, austerity is capitalists’ preferred policy: it means less taxes and thus more profits for them. In times of economic downturn, however, they are the first beneficiaries of state-sponsored bailouts, which require governments to run massive budget deficits.

The cycle Wolff describes only benefits the rich—Democrats and Republicans alike play into it. Despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the Democrats advocate for austerity just as Republicans do, because ultimately they are beholden to the same capitalist interests that run the country.

It should be also noted that the entire distribution of health care under the current for-profit model allows for continued cuts and alterations to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to occur. Dominated by the interests of the medical-industrial complex, leaders of the Democratic party have never articulated the vision that health care should be a human right and the profit motive should be removed from health care. They have never been able to collectively articulate that National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) is the only path to a relatively rational health care system.

Obama was not only not able to garner support for NIMA, but gave up even the modest reform of a public option when advocating for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While the ACA did expand Medicaid coverage, Democrats have attempted to frame its passage as a colossal win and this is simply not the case. The ACA mandates individuals purchase insurance from private, for-profit insurance companies, and still leaves 31 million Americans out of coverage. This has created  a situation in which being underinsured is quickly becoming the new normal. The bill was really anything but a win for the majority of Americans.

Trump also spent part of his SOTU bashing NIMA proposals calling them a “socialist takeover of the healthcare system that would disrupt the care of many “happy Americans.” One would think that today with various polls showing a majority of the public now wants Medicare for All, Democrats would oppose Trump’s rhetoric and advocate for such policy. Unfortunately, Democratic elites still refuse to accept NIMA’s popularity. Instead of getting uniformly behind universal health care, we have seen proposals ranging from strengthening the ACA (Biden) to proposals resembling a public option (Buttigieg).

Warren and Sanders have been the only two candidates who have had the courage to advocate going further to Medicare for All. Faced with conservative backlash, however, Warren has considerably back-pedaled on her Medicare for All rhetoric, now saying she would wait until at least her third year in office to attempt implementation. As for the proposed “leader” of the party, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, it was reported as recently as 2019 that her top policy aide was meeting with Blue Cross Blue Shield executives and assuring them they did not have to worry about Medicare for All. It appears Pelosi believes her energies would be better suited feigning progressiveness by ripping up Trump’s speeches, rather than actively opposing his poor health care policies by supporting the movement for NIMA.

Often Democrats and Republicans alike who are opposed to the NIMA claim it would be too costly. Various versions of “how we are going to pay for it?” are brought up over and over. Even if one ignores the fact that 30 years of single payer research shows NIMA would save money compared to the status quo, it is peculiar this same argument is not used when discussing funding for instruments of suffering, death, and destruction. The same conversation is never had when talking about providing tax incentives for large capitalist institutions to continue to oppress workers and destroy the planet. The same conversation was not had after 188 Democrats recently joined with Republicans to approve a $738 billion military budget—a budget which upholds the US military contributing more to pending climate collapse then 140 countries combined. The same conversation was not had after the Pentagon failed its first ever audit in 2018 and mysteriously could not account for $21 trillion dollars from 1998 to 2015.

NIMA: A Step Forward for the Working Class

As we have argued in the past, NIMA would be a large step forward for the working class. Currently close to 50% of the US population obtains their healthcare through their employers. This keeps workers in a vulnerable position when it comes to organizing in the workplace, because if a worker loses their job, they and their  family could lose health care coverage, which can be devastating for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or various forms of cancer.

Not having NIMA also puts the public at the mercy of large insurance companies, hospital corporations, and pharmaceutical companies whose number one priority is profit maximization. This leads to companies trying to raise prices for the “product” as much as possible, which leaves the public in an economically precarious position. Today some 70 million Americans are struggling to pay off medical debt, and medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country. A sudden illness in the US can mean financial ruin. A 2018 study in the American Journal of Medicine (AJM) found almost half of cancer patients studied depleted their entire life savings by the second year of treatment. The financial burden that illness can cause on working-class families under the current for-profit health care—or, put differently, the “exploitation of illness”—is nothing short of outrageous. It shackles working people and keeps them focused on struggling with not only their illness, but also their debt.

The Need to Go Beyond National Improved Medicare for All

The left needs to not only oppose the Trump administration’s current proposals, but advocate for National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) and for health care for all as a human right. At the same time connections must be made to the dynamics of capitalism and imperialism continually benefitting capitalists at expense of us all. The current revolving door system that operates as a result of wealth and power concentration inside capitalism, allows executives from exploitative institutions to continually guide the policy of both Republicans and Democrats. This only reiterates the need to move beyond a two party system structured to benefit the ruling class. In order to take on the vested interests of the medical industrial complex and provide health care each of us wants and needs, we must overcome an economic system based on exploitation and oppression. This system damages the health and well-being not just of humans, but all life systems on our planet. Only once we can transcend capitalism will we have not only a truly just health care system, but a society that prioritizes life and health over capital accumulation.

A Radical Call To Action  

A radical call to action has never been more vital than today, as the abomination of capitalism known as neoliberalism tears apart society from stem to stern, continuing the grand experiment that originated under the watchful eyes and vision of aristocratic plantation-owners like Washington and Jefferson as wealthy patriots.

In honor of their hard fought war to avoid taxation as much as possible, Trump retroactively honored them with a gigantic tax cut for their distant namesakes, the wealthy.

Lo and behold, he has hardened the battle lines between them (1%) versus us (99%). Will the lines be crossed and how so?

The Trump tax cut for corporations and rich individuals drops a trillion-and-a-half ($1.5T) out of the hands of federal tax collectors, helping to sustain a $1trillion unsustainable deficit that makes Democrat deficits look like small potatoes. “Instead of trickling down to workers, the 2017 tax cuts have largely served to line the pockets of already wealthy investors—further increasing inequality—with little to show for it.”1

Meanwhile, assuming Trump gets away scot-free with his impeachment proceedings, he’ll likely use that miscarriage of justice to enhance his standing among easily swayed impressionable voters as well as solidifying his overt ownership of dumbed-down members of Congress. It’s mind numbing and would be comical if not for the tragedy that’s unfolding.

Forthwith, it’s time to sharpen swords, as the onset of full-dress authoritarianism by the least qualified president in history is sure to ensue, aka: fascism in full living color. The previews are over.

A radical call to action, similar to the 60s, may be the country’s only salvation. In that regard, a guidebook to what ails society is a requirement so that radical fighters thoroughly understand why, who, and what they’re fighting.

Fortunately, there is a good radical textbook already in publication. It explains what eco warriors encounter during the late stages of capitalism, like today. It just so happens that’s the underlying footnote on almost every page of The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (AK Press, 2018.)

It’s a wonderful tome filled with eyewitness events, brass tacks explanations of rampant ecological damage, and it explains how humanity and the planet have become incompatible largely because of wrong politics and upside down economics that wreak havoc for the great majority of people that purportedly live in a democracy, as a rank odor drifts by.

Meanwhile, and of utmost importance, the prescient words of Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, co-authors of The Big Heat:

The world may be changing faster than humans can properly grasp which only means we must alter our perspective and change our tactics to defend it. In short, it’s time to get radical. (pg.2)

The Big Heat comprehensively, very comprehensively, covers the anthropogenic footprint, from loss of wolf habitat – stupid humans trampling landscape – oceans without fish – and lots more but most importantly it’s a Full Monty exposure of America’s insanity politics. As for one example of one among many: “Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death.” (pg. 183)

Really?  “Acceptable Death”

But, first to start at the start, the initial article, “The Wolf at Trout Creek” finds co-author Jeffrey St. Clair on a field trip in Yellowstone National Park, or thereabouts, to observe bison and wolves. Along the way, he accidentally (of course, it’s accidental) plunges down a mossy cliff at “a waterfall in the Absaroka Mountains, ripping the nail off my big toe.” (pg. 8)

That article includes the fate of one of the most important animals (the wolf) for maintaining healthy ecosystems. And, sorrowfully, it includes mention of the state of Idaho granting 6,000 hunting licenses to gun down, in cold blood, “an allotment” of 220 wolves. How could they miss?

Not only that, but with so many trigger-happy guys/gals out and about, it’s a wonder they don’t shoot and kill each other (shades of Dick Cheney) They probably do kill somebody but we’ll never, tongue in cheek, hear about it, Evidently, wolf eradication is a big political draw in the great state of Idaho.

The Big Heat, inclusive of 387 pages and 50 stand alone articles, is an exposé of the detrimental impact of the neoliberal brand of capitalism, as, time and again, it feasts upon ruination of federal rules and regulations which impede corporate profits, even if only by a slight margin.

Indeed, the book brings to surface, for all to see, some behind scenes maneuvers initiated by powerful lobbyists to upend safeguards for all of the citizenry, which, one would think, could also impact their own families (the lobbyists). But, then again, when playing in the big rough and tumble playground of payoff politics, money talks, people get hurt, who cares?

For example, in the article: “Pesticides, Neoliberalism, and the Politics of Acceptable Death” (Pg. 183-188) the food and chemical industries lobbied hard for decades to remove the Delaney Clause, which served to block carcinogens in processed foods ever since the 1950s, but that blockade was removed by Congress in 1996, signed by President Clinton.

With the Delaney Clause dead on the floor of Congress, some 80 pesticides that were about to be outlawed as carcinogens now remain in use. (Pg. 184)

The shock value of that one simple sentence speaks volumes.

It should be noted The Big Heat isn’t the only one to take note of harmful alterations to federal regulations, especially regarding food safety. According to the irrepressibly brilliant Donella Meadows (The Limits to Growth – a classic):

It’s probably just as well that the clear, brave language of Delaney no longer stands to deceive us into thinking that our food supply is risk-free.  How much risk there really is, no one knows. (Donella Meadows, Farewell to the Delaney Amendment, Sustainability Institute, 1996)

Really! “How much risk there really is, no one knows.” Hmm.

Meanwhile, back to St. Clair/Frank for more on toxic stuff: According to Dr. Joseph Weissman, professor of medicine at UCLA, cancer killed 3 out of every 100 Americans in 1900 but nowadays it’s 33 out of every 100.

Weissman reckons that a fair slice of this explosion in cancer mortality can be laid at the door of petro-chemicals, particularly those used by the food industry. (Pg. 183)

Then, does that mean that Americans are consuming cancer-causing foods, which, over time, alter or destroy human cells? Well, for starters:

The average apple and peach has eight different pesticides embedded in it. Grapes have six and celery five. Children get as much as 35 percent of their likely lifetime dose of such toxins by the time they are five. (Pg. 185)

After all, toxins accumulate in the body over time before striking hard at tissues, and such, otherwise known as human organs, blood, and bone.  Along those lines, here’s proof that something is horribly wrong: According to a Rand Corporation 2017 study (Chronic Conditions in America: Price and Prevalence) nearly 150 million Americans are living with at least one chronic condition of which 100 million have two or more chronic conditions.

Meaning, nearly fifty percent (50%) of Americans (whew!) live with at least one chronic condition, like diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, high cholesterol, arthritis, Parkinson’s, and heart disease. Sound familiar? Almost every family in America has at least one family member with a chronic condition.

Is that normal, to be expected, or is something somewhere somehow horribly wrong?

Rand calculates that, over time, it’ll translate into more than $1 trillion per year in overall health care costs. Then, what of universal health care? It’ll soon become an absolute necessity. Alternatively, millions will suffer and then, of course, they’ll die while suffering even more.

The Big Heat is an important book. It exposes disasters that ricochet straight out of neoliberalism dicta like bolts of lightning. And, it humanizes the importance of fighting back. It brings to light individual heroes who sacrifice their own safety to benefit society at large, yet mainstream news and governmental officials inevitably label these real American heroes as terrorists or criminals. That’s one more sign that something is horribly wrong.

“On the Front Lines of the Climate Change Movement: Mike Roselle Draws a Line” brings to light society’s stupid treatment of eco heroes. (pg. 295) Roselle, a co-founder of Earth First, stood up to mountain top coal removal. After all, somebody had to stand up to such a deadly, putrid business that was responsible in December 2008 for a major spill of more than 500 million gallons of highly toxic coal ash into the Tennessee River, 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. The total costs for toxic water of downstream cities and assorted environmental costs are still not known to this day.

Because Mike Roselle stood up to the coal interests, a Fox TV affiliate aired a story about him, labeling Roselle:

An eco terrorist… tomorrow night don’t miss the ‘Roselle Report’ when we’ll take a closer look at how this man’s radical methods of protest may put lives at stake in West Virginia. (pg. 295)

In Fox News’ view: The man standing nose-to-nose to stop a caterpillar tractor from razing a mountaintop is a dangerous terrorist.

The Big Heat is a treasure trove built upon blood, sweat, and tears, compiling years of hard work and astute research to help people better understand a bastardized psycho-socio-politico-economic system; i.e., neoliberalism, which is kinda like an outer space soulless alien devoid of humanity taking control over the planet.

The most critical portion of The Big Heat is found on pages 373-377, the “Epilogue, The End of Illusion”. It nails down the overriding issue, exposing the illusion of “hope…  hope is the enemy. The antidote is action.”

After all “hope” and “groupie protests” are dead-enders to nowhere.

Then, what is a radical call to action?

Here’s what it’s not: It is not marching a couple of times a year; it is not typing your name on a MoveOn petition; it is not a selfie with a celebrity protesting fracking in front of the governor’s mansion.

Action is standing arm-in-arm before water cannons and government snipers on the frozen plains of North Dakota… hanging from a fragile perch 150-feet up in Douglas fir tree in an ancient forest grove slated for clear-cutting…chaining yourself to a fracking rig… or camping out in the blast zone at a Mountain Top Removal site in the hills of West Virgina…Action is stopping bad shit from going down. (pg. 374)

The time for one-off protests is over. They don’t work. And, most likely none of them work, one-off or not.

If they did work, especially when consideration is given to the number of global climate change rallies and demonstrations worldwide these past few years, then CO2 would not be continuing at ever-faster rates (setting new record levels in 2019) blanketing the atmosphere, where it stays for at least 100 years. That’s the problem.

Earth’s sister planet Venus’ atmosphere is 96.5% CO2 by volume. Its temperature is 864F.

Carbon counts!

  1. “Trump’s Corporate Tax Cut Is Not Trickling Down”, Center for American Progress, September 26, 2019.

The Imminent Threat of Trump and the Value of Progressive Third Parties

As predictable as death and taxes is the quadrennial injunction from liberals for progressive third parties to cease and desist. Equally predictable is the admonition that this will be the most decisive presidential election in US history. Given the prospect of four more years of Trump, do they have a valid thesis or are they once again just sheep-dogging those of little faith back into the true church of the Democratic Party?

Prominent left-liberals Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Leslie Cagan, Ron Daniels, Kathy Kelly, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters and Michael Albert issued an Open Letter entreating third parties to “remove themselves as a factor” in the 2020 presidential election to “benefit all humanity and a good part of the biosphere.” They were addressing Howie Hawkins’ The Green Party Is Not the Democrats’ Problem. Hawkins is running for the Green Party’s presidential nomination.

Chomsky et al. “agree with much” that Hawkins argues except for the matter of whether third parties should engage in electoral politics. To be more precise, they think that it is perfectly copacetic for third parties to run in safe states where they don’t have a chance of affecting electoral outcomes, but not in swing states. Third parties should feel free to do what the Open Letter condescendingly describes as their “feel-good activity” if they are guaranteed to be ineffectual, but not otherwise. In short, these left-liberals are adverse to an independent left outside of the Democratic Party.

Shamelessly, the Open Letter proclaims: “we too are furious at Democrats joining Republicans in so many violations of justice and peace.” These left-liberals agree the Democrats have indeed become ever more odious and indistinguishable from the Republicans. They understand that the degeneration of the Democratic Party has progressed so far that sugar-coating it doesn’t pass the red face test.

The left-liberal mantra is support the Dems despite their politics, not because of their politics, to avoid an even greater evil. Their solution, however, is to reward bad behavior by pledging – even before the primaries – to vote for whomever the Democrats dredge up.

Hawkins advises the Dems to stop obsessing about third parties and concentrate on mobilizing their base because they have more registered voters than the Republicans. In the long run, replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote. Republicans Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016 lost the popular vote.

Further, the best way for the Democrats to avoid losing votes to a progressive third party is to preempt their issues for combatting global warming, reducing income inequality, dismantling the national security state, and ending militarism. A left alternative in the electoral arena challenges the Democrats to be progressive. Otherwise they have little incentive to raise these crucial issues and instead can content themselves by continuing to whip the dead horse of Russiagate. Removing a third-party challenge from the left is tantamount to encouraging the Democrats to shift to the right with the assurance that their progressive-leaning captured constituencies such as ethnic minorities and labor have nowhere else to go.

When Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000 as a Green, he offered to drop out of the race if Democratic candidate Al Gore would adopt a minimal progressive platform. Gore refused. If progressive third parties don’t contest and raise the important issues of the day, those issues will die in the “graveyard of social movements,” also known as the Democratic Party.

The Open Letter, it should be noted, calls for progressive third parties to capitulate even before the Democratic presidential candidate has been chosen and the platform drafted. This is the opposite of moving the Democrats in a progressive direction.

To use a popular term, there is no quid quo pro. Progressives are entreated to drop out but get no assurances in return. What is virtually assured by the Open Letter strategy is that Democrats will run on a de facto single-issue platform: we are not Trump. Wall Street backers of the Democratic Party will be delighted.

The fact that the Open Letter demands that third parties abstain from effectively raising issues is symptomatic of the crisis of liberalism within the Democratic Party and the larger polity. As Chomsky himself perceptively observed, Republican Richard Nixon was “the last liberal president.” Nixon created the EPA and OSHA, recognized the People’s Republic of China, supported the equal rights amendment, expanded food stamps and welfare assistance, substantially cut military spending, and signed a suite of environmental and affirmative action acts. Since Tricky Dick, virtually no major progressive legislation has passed.

Liberalism, which made progressive contributions in the past, is dead but not down. As exemplified by the Open Letter, liberalism today has been relegated to (1) attacking and suppressing the independent left while (2) legitimizing the purveyors of neoliberalism and imperialism. The authors of the Open Letter have made immense contributions to progressive causes in the past. Yet leaning on their well-earned laurels does not obviate the bankruptcy of their current position.

Yet does the imminent threat of Trump render all other concerns moot? From a left perspective, the Open Letter is right on target in cautioning that the reelection of Trump would be “global catastrophe.” But would election of a Democrat avoid such an outcome or is the problem deeper?

The Democratic Party is now the full-throated proponent of neoliberal austerity at home, aggressive militarism abroad, and the ubiquitous national security state. Democrats gave landslide approvals to a record high war budget and renewal of the Patriot Act, while Pelosi’s “pay-go” act doomed prospects for future progressive legislation. The last Democratic president’s deportations, drone strikes, wars in seven countries, multi-trillion-dollar upgrading of the US’s nuclear war fighting capacity, multi-trillion-dollar quantitative easing gift to finance capitalists, extension of the tax cut for the rich, and so forth also rise – giving credit where credit is due – to the level of catastrophe.

But what about the environment? Here, giving credit where credit is due, the Dems may be better but not better enough, if avoiding environmental disaster is our metric. The biosphere, to use the terminology of the Open Letter, has the choice of climate change deniers and those who recognize global warming and do nothing about it.

Actually, that is giving the Dems more credit than they deserve. To quote no lesser an authority than Mr. Obama: “Suddenly America is the largest oil producer, that was me, people … say thank you.”  When oilman Bush the younger was president, US oil production declined; under Obama, it nearly doubled.

What is needed is a break from rapacious capitalism, and this will not happen with either of the two parties of capital. Voting for the lesser evil of your choice does not break the calamitous rightward trajectory of worse and worse presidential prospects but perpetuates it. So, yes, Trump is arguably worse than Dubya (now viewed favorably by a majority of the Dems) or Romney or McCain.

The downward political spiral precipitated by lesser evil voting is reflected in Time magazine’s observation in 2011: “Now Obama is fashioning his own presidency to follow the Gipper’s [Ronald Reagan] playbook.” If the vicious cycle of voting for the lesser evil is not broken, future generations of progressives may look back nostalgically to the Trump years.

Left-liberals toil to influence the Democratic Party from within – what could be characterized as their feel-good activity – which gave us hawkish Hillary Clinton in 2016. (To be evenhanded, the outcomes to date seem to suggest that working within the Democratic Party and working outside have had similarly quixotic results.)

The progressive third-party strategy is to pull the political spectrum to the left from the outside, which has a greater potential than unconditionally joining the lesser evil party. To paraphrase Hawkins, third parties don’t spoil elections; they improve them.

Indeed, left third parties must contest the Democratic Party’s presumptive electoral hegemony with its ruinous directions in both warmongering and environmental turpitude, often outdoing the Republicans in the former and peddling a go-slow, soft-denialist approach to the latter.  The Open Letter is correct that the situation is dire. Their solution is to make it more so.

Trump is the hook; the Dems are the bait. Don’t swallow it and get reeled in by the two-party duopoly. A better world is possible.

Flu Deaths: US 6,600 — China 25


As of 24 January, a grand total of 25 people in China have died from a new strain of flu being dubbed “Wuhan”, after the city where it started. A few days ago, when 17 had died, Chinese media reported that 16 of them were over 65 years of age and the 17th was 61. So, clearly, the elderly is the most at risk group. But, that’s the case for mutating flu viruses every winter.

Beijing is taking unprecedented, anti-market, anti-capitalist measures to control it. Right at the peak of the busiest travel event in the history of the human race, Chinese New Year, Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has been quarantined and they just sealed three more nearby towns, bringing the total to 20 million residents. The magnitude of these public health measures is unprecedented in the history of the human race. The whole country is mobilizing to save as many lives as possible and Beijing has warned all government officials and citizens to NOT suppress any evidence of the flu’s existence. This real time webpage in English is available in Mandarin for all Chinese citizens, so they can react accordingly.

It is not just in Wuhan. Beijing and other cities have cancelled their New Year fairs and other public activities. China’s integrated, national rapid response is going to cost the economy billions of yuan/dollars. Try shutting down Paris, London or New York, all smaller than this midsized Chinese metropolis. It will never happen, because too many moneymakers would not be able to make a profit. Western countries just let their people die. It’s called “free markets” and the cold-blooded “cost of doing business”.

Private companies are also showing solidarity in living up to Mao Zedong’s celebrated maxim: serve the people! Alibaba’s online retail platform, Taobao, announced that they would not allow vendors to gouge customers buying face masks, even offering subsidies, so everyone could be protected. Get a load of that! In the West, the prices would go up many-fold, to exploit the people, making them unaffordable for the poor and those most in need, like the elderly on limited incomes.

Meanwhile, back at the capitalist ranch, in the last two months, 6,600 Americans died from flu. You saw that number right: six-thousand-six hundred human beings in about 60 days. This is not some unhinged conspiracy theory, but is factually reported by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, every year, 12,000-79,000 Americans have lives shortened from the flu. Last year’s was particularly lethal, when 4,000 citizens were dying every week.

China, with 20% of the world’s people has nationwide, universal health care. Longevity continues to increase. In the United States and the UK, the world’s neoliberal, capitalist dystopias, life expectancy is going down. When my family was living in the US, 2001-2010, we couldn’t afford health insurance. Our policy was: Don’t get sick and if we get sick, don’t go the doctor. Otherwise, we’d leave the clinic with hundreds or thousands of dollars of inflated charges, and if we didn’t cough it up, they extorted us with a lien on our house or got a court order to garnish our paychecks. It’s perfectly legal gangsterism, euphemistically called, “business as usual.”

In any case, we also stood a good chance of getting killed by going, since 250,000 citizens die every year – not from a lack of medical care – but from negligent and corrupt intervention. American doctors killing you is the third leading cause of death. It’s the American Dream Nightmare. The United States’ medical extraction industry is cruel, corrupt, and criminal to the core. However, for hospitals, medical staff, insurance and pharmacy companies, profits are off the charts, which is the main benchmark of success in that part of the world.

Reflecting on the above facts, you have to hand it to the West’s Propaganda Machine. This hyperbolic, anti-China propaganda is racism that has been going on for centuries. For the West’s oligarchs, all this orchestrated brainwashing brilliantly deflects from just how bad it is back home, when in the time it takes me to write, podcast and post this article, 100 Americans will have died of flu, without a prayer, by a government and economic system that couldn’t give a rat’s ass about their loss.

Now Three Years into the Reign of Trump, What’s Left?

On January 20, Donald G. Trump completed his third year in office. My one blog that received five-digit Facebook shares predicted Trump would lose in 2016. I was spectacularly wrong but not alone. Even the Las Vegas bookies thought Clinton was a shoo-in with her unbeatable two-punch knockout of (1) I’m not Trump and (2) World War III with the Russians would be peachy at least until the bombs start falling. What could possibly have gone wrong?

More to the point, the unexpected victory of Trump was the historical reaction to the bankruptcy of Clinton-Bush-Obama neoliberalism. Now after three years of Mr. Trump, what’s left?

During the George W. Bush years – he’s now viewed favorably by a majority of Democrats – Democrats could wring their tied hands to the accolades of their base. My own Democrat Representative Lynn Woolsey stood up daily in the House and denounced Bush’s Iraq war. For a while there was a resurgent peace movement against US military adventures in the Middle East, which was even backed by some left-leaning liberals.

But the moment that Obama ascended to the Oval Office, the Iraq War became Obama’s war, Bush’s secretary of war Gates was carried over to administer it, and Woolsey forgot she was for peace. No matter, Obama, the peace candidate, would fix it. Just give him a chance. For eight years, Obama was given a chance and the peace movement went quiescent.

Trump takes office

Surely a Republican president, I thought, would harken a rebirth of the peace movement given the ever-inflated war budget and the proliferation of US wars. The US is officially at war with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger. To the official list are any number of other states subject to drone attacks such as Iran, Pakistan, and Mali. And then there are some 30 countries targeted with illegal unilateral coercive measures as form of economic warfare. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the demonstration.

With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, my expectation was that Democrats would safely take a giant step to the right in accordance with their Wall Street funders, while safely keeping a baby step to the left of the Republicans appeasing their liberal-leaning base. To certain extent, this is what happened with Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy. The Democrats could and did claim that their hands were once again tied…wink, wink to their Wall Street handlers.

Yet on many more fundamental issues, the Democrats did not take advantage of paying lip service to their base’s economic priorities by attacking the Republicans on their weak left flank. No, the Democrats mounted an assault on the Republicans from the right with what The Hill called Pelosi’s “fiscally hawkish pay-as-you-go rules,” increasing the war budget, and launching Russiagate. Instead of appealing to working people on bread and butter issues, the Democrats gave us turbo-charged identity politics.

Bernie Sanders had raised genuine issues regarding runaway income inequality and plutocratic politics. However, Sanders was suppressed by a hostile corporate press and an antagonistic Democratic Party establishment, which arguably preferred to risk a Republican victory in 2016 than support anyone who questioned neoliberal orthodoxy.

Sanders’ issues got asphyxiated in the juggernaut of Russiagate. His legacy – so far – has been to help contain a progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party, the perennial graveyard of social movements. Had Mr. Sanders not come along, the Democrats – now the full-throated party of neoliberal austerity at home and imperial war abroad – would have needed to invent a leftish Pied Piper to keep their base in the fold.

So, after three years of Trump, the more than ever needed mass movement against militarism has yet to resurrect in force, notwithstanding promising demonstrations in immediate response to Trump’s assassination of Iran’s Major General Soleimani on January 3 with more demonstrations to come.

Imperialism and neoliberalism

Dubya proved his imperialist mettle with the second Iraq war; Obama with the destruction of Libya. But Trump has yet to start a war of his own. Though, in the case of Iran, it was not from lack of trying. The last US president with a similar imperialist failing was the one-term Carter. But Trump has 12 and possibly 60 more months to go.

In his short time in office, Trump has packed his administration with former war industry executives, increased troops in Afghanistan, approved selling arms to the coup government of Ukraine, made the largest arms sale in US history to Saudi Arabia, supported the Saudi’s war against Yemen, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and killed more civilians in drone strikes than “Obomber.” In the empire’s “backyard,” Trump tightened the blockade on Cuba, intensified Obama’s sanctions on Venezuela to a blockade, oversaw the devastation of Puerto Rico, and backed the right wing coup in Bolivia. The Venezuelan Embassy Protectors are fighting the US government for a fair trial, while Julian Assange faces extradition to the US.

Now that Trump has declared the defeat of ISIS, the US National Defense Strategy is “interstate strategic competition” with Russia and China. This official guiding document of the US imperial state explicitly calls for “build[ing] a more lethal force” for world domination. Giving credit where it is due, back in 2011, Hillary Clinton and Obama had presciently decreed a “pivot to Asia,” targeting China.

Closer to home Trump has been busy deregulating environmental protections, dismantling the National Park system, weaponizing social media, and undoing net neutrality, while withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on global warming. What’s not to despise?

Russiagate and impeachment

Russiagate – in case you have a real life and are not totally absorbed in mass media – is about a conspiracy that the Russians and not the US Electoral College are responsible for Hillary Clinton not getting her rightful turn to be President of the United States.

For the better part of the last three years under the shadow of Trump in the White House, a spook emerged from the netherworld of the deep state and has toiled mightily to expose wrongdoers. This man, former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, we are told is only one miracle short of being canonized in blue state heaven. Yet even he failed to indict a single American for colluding with Russia, though he was able to hand out indictments to Americans for other wrongdoings not related to Russia.

Undeterred by this investigation to nowhere, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi initiated impeachment proceedings against the sitting president in the Democrat’s first successful step to promote Mike Pence as the next POTUS.

When an unelected and unaccountable CIA operative in secret collusion with opposition politicians (e.g., Adam Schiff) and with backing from his agency seeks to take down a constitutionally elected president, that is cause for concern. Operating under the cloak of anonymity and with privileged access to information, national security operatives skilled in the craft of espionage have the undemocratic means to manipulate and even depose elected officials.

What has arisen is an emboldened national security state. The CIA, lest we forget, is the clandestine agency whose mission is to use any means necessary to affect “regime change” in countries that dare to buck the empire. Latin American leftists used to quip that the US has never suffered a coup because there is no US embassy in Washington. There may not be a US embassy there, but the CIA and the rest of the US security establishment are more than ever present and pose a danger to democracy.

Now Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence and serial perjurer James Clapper holds the conflicted role of pundit on CNN while still retaining his top security clearance. Likewise, Obama’s former CIA director, torture apologist, and fellow perjurer John Brennan holds forth on NBC News and MSNBC with his security clearance intact.

Class trumps partisan differences

The Democrats and Republicans mortally combat on the superficial, while remaining united in their bedrock class loyalty to the rule of capital and US world hegemony. The first article of the Democrat-backed impeachment is the president’s “abuse of power.” Yet, amidst the heat of the House impeachment hearings, the Democrats, by an overwhelming majority, helped renew the Patriot Act, which gives the president war time authority to shred the constitution.

Contrary to the utterances of the Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail about limiting US military spending, the latest $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is $22 billion over the last. The Democratic Progressive Caucus didn’t even bother to whip members to oppose the bill. On December 11, in an orgy of bi-partisan love, the NDAA bill passed by a landslide vote of 377-48.

President Trump tweeted “Wow!” Democratic Party leader and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith called the bill “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”

This bill gifts twelve more Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets than Trump had requested and green-lights funding of Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Stripped from the bipartisan NDAA “compromise” bill were provisions to prohibit Trump from launching a war on Iran without Congressional authorization. Similarly dropped were limits to US participation in the genocidal war in Yemen.

A new Space Force is authorized to militarize the heavens. Meanwhile the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set the doomsday clock at 2 minutes before midnight. Unfortunately, the Democrat’s concern about Trump’s abuse of power does not extend to such existential matters as nuclear war.

Trump’s renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (i.e., USMCA), an acknowledged disaster, was renewed with bipartisan support. On the domestic front, Trump cut food stamps, Medicaid, and reproductive health services over the barely audible demurs of the supine Democrats.

Revolt of the dispossessed

Behind the façade of the impeachment spectacle – Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz are now on Trump’s legal team – is a ruling class consensus that trumps partisan differences. As political economist Rob Urie perceptively observed:

The American obsession with electoral politics is odd in that ‘the people’ have so little say in electoral outcomes and that the outcomes only dance around the edges of most people’s lives. It isn’t so much that the actions of elected leaders are inconsequential as that other factors— economic, historical, structural and institutional, do more to determine ‘politics.’

In the highly contested 2016 presidential contest, nearly half the eligible US voters opted out, not finding enough difference among the contenders to leave home. 2020 may be an opportunity; an opening for an alternative to neoliberal austerity at home and imperial wars abroad lurching to an increasingly oppressive national security state. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbord and before them Occupy point to a popular insurgency. Mass protests of the dispossessed are rocking France, India, Colombia, Chile, and perhaps here soon.

A Modest Proposal for Socialist Revolution

At this point in history, two things are clear. First, Marx was right that capitalism is torn by too many “contradictions” to be sustainable indefinitely as a global economic system. In its terminal period, which we’re entering now (and which we can predict will last generations, because a global economic order doesn’t vanish in a decade or two), it will be afflicted by so many popular uprisings—on the left and the right—so many economic, political, and ecological crises causing so much turmoil and dislocation, that only a permanent and worldwide fascism would be able to save it. But fascism, by its murderous and ultra-nationalistic nature, can be neither permanent nor continuously enforced worldwide. Even just in the United States, the governmental structure is too vast and federated, there are too many thousands of relatively independent political jurisdictions, for a truly fascist regime to be consolidated nationwide, in every nook and cranny of the country. Fascism, or neo-fascism, is only a temporary and partial solution for the ruling class.

Second, the original Marxist predictions of how a transition to a new society would play out are wrong and outdated. Some Marxists still continue to think in terms of the old formulations, but they’re a hundred years behind the times. It is no longer helpful (it never was, really) to proclaim that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” will “smash the state” and reconstruct society through initiatives that magically transform an authoritarian, bureaucratic, exploitative economy into an emancipatory, democratic one of dispersed power. The conceptual and empirical problems with this orthodox view are overwhelming, as I’ve explained in this book (chapters 4 and 6). As if the leaders of a popular movement that, miraculously, managed to overcome the monopoly over military force of a ruling class in an advanced capitalist country and took over the government (whether electorally or through an insurrection) would, by means of conscious aforethought, be able to transcend the “dialectical contradictions” and massive complexity of society to straightforwardly rebuild the economy from the ground up, all while successfully fending off the attacks and sabotage of the capitalist class! The story is so idealistic it’s incredible any Marxists can believe it (or some variant of it).

Some leftist writers have argued, rightly, against an insurrectionary approach to revolution in a core capitalist nation, using the words of Kautsky and other old Marxists to make their point. But it isn’t necessary to follow this general practice of endlessly poring over the works of Kautsky, Bernstein, Luxemburg, Lenin, and others who wrote in a dramatically different political economy than the present. It can be useful to familiarize oneself with hundred-year-old debates, but ultimately the real desideratum is just some critical common sense. We don’t need pretentious academic exercises that conclude in some such statement of truisms as the following (from an article by Stephen Maher and Rafael Khachaturian):

What is certain is that waging a struggle within and against the state demands that we build new forms of democratic participation and working class organization with the goal of breaking definitively with capitalist production relations and forms of political authority. This process will occur in fits and starts… Navigating between a reflexive anti-statism and the fallacy of attempting to “occupy” state institutions without transforming them is undoubtedly challenging. But only in this way can we advance beyond the past shortcomings of both dual power and social democratic approaches to the capitalist state.

Pure truism, which it wasn’t necessary to write a long essay to support. So let’s shun elitist jargon and academic insularity, instead using the democratic capacity of reason that’s available to everyone.

The social democratic (or “democratic socialist”) approach to revolution is favored by the Jacobin school of thought: elect socialists to office and build a social democratic state such as envisioned by Bernie Sanders—but don’t rest content with such a state. Keep agitating for more radical reforms—don’t let the capitalist class erode popular gains, but instead keep building on them—until at last genuine socialism is realized.

I’ve criticized the Jacobin vision elsewhere. It’s a lovely dream, but it’s over-optimistic. The social democratic stage of history, premised on industrial unionism and limited capital mobility, is over. It’s a key lesson of Marxism itself that we can’t return to the past, to conditions that no longer exist; we can’t resurrect previous social formations after they have succumbed to the ruthless, globalizing, atomizing logic of capital.

Suppose Bernie Sanders is elected this year (which itself would be remarkable, given the hostility of the entire ruling class). Will he be able to enact Medicare for All, free higher education, a Green New Deal, safe and secure housing for all, “workplace democracy,” or any other of his most ambitious goals? It’s highly unlikely. He’ll have to deal with a Congress full of Republicans and conservative Democrats, a conservative judiciary, a passionately obstructionist capitalist class, hostile state governments, a white supremacist electoral insurgency, etc. Only after purging Congress of the large majority of its centrists and conservatives would Sanders’ social democratic dreams be achievable—and such a purge is well-nigh unimaginable in the next ten or twenty years. Conservatives’ long march to their current ascendancy took fifty years, and they had enormous resources and existed in a sympathetic political economy. It’s hard to imagine that socialists will have much better luck.

Meanwhile, civilization will be succumbing to the catastrophic effects of climate change and ecological destruction. It is unlikely that an expansive social democracy on an international scale will be forthcoming in these conditions.

So, if both insurrection and social democracy are apparently hopeless, what is left? Realistically, only the path I lay out in my above-linked book.1 Marx was right that a new society can be erected only on the basis of new production relations. Democratic, cooperative, egalitarian relations of production cannot be implanted by fiat from the commanding heights of national governments. They have to emerge over time, over decades and generations, as the old society declines and collapses. The analogy with the transition from feudalism to capitalism is far from perfect (not least given the incredible length of time that earlier transition took), but it’s at least more suggestive than metaphorical, utopian slogans about “smashing the state” are. Through democratic initiative, allied with gradual changes in state policy as leftists are elected to office and the state is threatened by social disruption, new modes of production and distribution will emerge locally, interstitially, and eventually in the mainstream.

The historical logic of this long process, including why the state and ruling class will be forced to tolerate and aid the gradual growth of a “solidarity economy” (as a necessary concession to the masses), is discussed in the book. The left will grow in strength as repeated economic crises thin the ranks of the hyper-elite and destroy large amounts of wealth; the emerging “cooperative” and socialized institutions of economic and social life will, as they spread, contribute further to the resources and the victories of popular movements. Incrementally, as society is consumed by ecological crisis and neo-fascism proves unable to suppress social movements everywhere in the world, one can expect that the left will take over national states and remake social relations in alliance with these democratic movements.

Such predictions assume, of course, that civilization will not utterly collapse and descend into a post-apocalyptic nightmare. This is a possibility. But the only realistic alternative is the one I’m sketching.

Ironically, this “gradualist” model of revolution (which, incidentally, has little in common with Eduard Bernstein’s gradualism) is more consistent with the premises of historical materialism than are idealistic notions of socialists sweepingly taking over the state whether through elections or armed uprisings. At the end of the long process of transformation, socialists will indeed have taken complete control of national governments; and from this perch they’ll be able to carry the social revolution to its fruition, finalizing and politically consolidating all the changes that have taken place. But this end-goal is probably a hundred or more years in the future, because worldwide transitions between modes of production don’t happen quickly.

Again, one might recall the European transition from feudalism to capitalism: in country after country, the bourgeoisie couldn’t assume full control of the state until the liberal capitalist economy had already made significant inroads against feudalism and absolutism. Something similar will surely apply to a transition out of capitalism. It is a very Marxist point (however rarely it’s been made) to argue that the final conquest of political power must be grounded in the prior semi-conquest of economic power. You need colossal material resources to overthrow, even if “gradually,” an old ruling class.

What are the implications for activism of these ideas? In brief, activists must take the long view and not be cast into despair by, for instance, the inevitable failures of a potential Sanders presidency. There’s a role for every variety of activism, from electoral to union-building; and we shouldn’t have disdain for the activism that seeks to construct new institutions like public banks, municipal enterprises, cooperatives (worker, consumer, housing, financial, etc.), and other non-capitalist institutions we can hardly foresee at the moment. It’s all part of creating a “counter-hegemony” to erode the legitimacy of capitalism, present viable alternatives to it, and hasten its demise.

Meanwhile, the activism that seeks whatever limited “social democratic” gains are possible will remain essential, to improve the lives of people in the present. While full-fledged social democracy in a capitalist context is no longer in the cards, legislation to protect and expand limited social rights is.

Anyway, in the twenty-first century, it’s time Marxists stopped living in the shadow of the Russian Revolution. Let’s think creatively and without illusions about how to build post-capitalist institutions, never forgetting that the ultimate goal, as ever, is to take over the state.

  1. Being an outgrowth of my Master’s thesis, the book over-emphasizes worker cooperatives. It does, however, answer the usual Marxist objections to cooperatives as a component of social revolution.

We Work, They Scam: The Art of the Con in Terminal-Stage Capitalism

Recently, the ridiculous real estate company WeWork has faced intense scrutiny after their business model was absurdly overvalued and their CEO, one Adam Neumann, was exposed as an abusive boss as well as an overall crazy person. Investors from the Saudi royal family, companies like SoftBank and J.P. Morgan, and numerous venture capitalists poured vast sums of money into the company, fueling its overvaluation, which ran as high as 47 billion dollars. Unfortunately, mainstream media continues to trot out this story, as well as other famous instances of corporate fraud, corruption, and malfeasance as anomalies, aberrations. Somehow, absurd corporate business models, outright fraudulent behavior, and speculative overvaluations are seen as exceptions to the rule.

The bare truth of the matter is that various forms of fraud and cons are the rule for the vast majority of large corporations.  WeWork is basically a tiny fish in the ocean when we step back and consider the scale of cons from various transnational corporations. For more recent and humorous examples, check out Current Affairs 2019 “Griftie” Awards.

All the signs of brazen criminality are in front of us. We have to do no more than look at the public figurehead of the con economy, our own president. His personality is the distillation of the elite grifter, a hollow shell of a human, heir to a fortune which has created a uniquely toxic mix of entitlement, hubris, ignorance, and malignant narcissism; a truly pathetic man molded by late capitalism, celebrity and TV culture. His wealth bequeathed by inheritance, profits acquired through real estate scandals and “university” scams; his brain is addled by a diet of fast food; and his worldview warped by utterly deluded conservative media.

For instance, the spurious idea that 1.5 trillion in tax cuts will help grow our economy through job creation, or new business ventures, is a fraud on its face, but represents an exquisite example of capitalist propaganda. This is a lie that millions of US citizens either sincerely believe or acquiesce to due to generations of mainstream media indoctrination. As for the corporate scams cited below, there are similar factors involving coercion and propaganda, and they are similarly undemocratic: the ownership class and upper management dictate narratives in the media, how the labor is done, how the con will play out, and workers carry out immoral orders against their better judgment.

For instance, take Boeing and the two tragic crashes involving its 737 Max 8 jet. The market valuation of the company fluctuates today at around 200 billion dollars, even as it knowingly and deliberately sold its newest model without the needed software updates (MCAS), as well as without the needed sensor reading and indicator light to multiple foreign airlines, and in many cases without training pilots on the new system. Now, you might think that the software needed to keep a plane from nose-diving might come standard with the purchase of a multimillion dollar passenger jet, but you’d be wrong. In its infinite wisdom, Boeing decided to not to include the computer programmed safety features, selling them for extra and deeming them “optional.” Internal Boeing emails make clear there was systemic negligence and incompetence with the implementation of the MCAS program.

Let’s take another somewhat dated example, the behemoth Volkswagen, which had a huge emissions scandal in regard to its diesel vehicles produced from 2009-2015. Volkswagen installed “cheat software” to fool emissions tests in 11 million of its diesel cars, which, when driven for real world road tests, pumped out up to 40 times the permissible amount of nitrogen oxides. Further studies with other car manufacturers showed that many other brands were also well above the allowable limit for diesel emissions. One air pollution expert confided that the added pollution in European cities would result in “thousands of deaths.”  Volkswagen was forced to fork out 2.8 billion dollars to the US for their troubles. That might seem like a lot, but with 11 million cars sold in the process, and taking a guess and using a round number of $20,000 for each new car sold, it adds up to 220 billion in car sales just for these diesel automobiles.

Let’s shift to finance, a sector just filled with the most outlandish, craven, and fraudulent criminal activity. We could go on and on down the line from Bank of America to Wells Fargo to Deutsche Bank. By the way, media devoted to following the practices of these hallowed institutions have “scandal timelines” and lists of the “biggest scandals” just to help us make sense of the dizzying and insane levels of depravity these corporations have reached. One might think that encyclopedic chronologies and compendiums documenting these bank scams would shame and humble these corporations into adopting a semblance of corporate responsibility, but no.

Recently, Goldman Sachs has been in the news for their involvement in the 1MBD scandal. Haven’t heard of it? This was a massive scheme involving the Malaysian government and Goldman Sachs executives to sell billions of dollars worth of bonds to a giant Malaysian shell company functioning effectively as a Ponzi scheme, a “massive, international conspiracy to embezzle billions of dollars,” in the words of a wealth fund which was bilked in the process. Seventeen Goldman Sachs employees face charges in Malaysia, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein met with the disgraced Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the mastermind of the scam, one Jho Low, who is now believed to be on the run in China (check the Chinese wine caves?).

In all likelihood, these scandals are just the tip of the iceberg. Even if someone like Blankfein did time for his involvement in 1MBD, it might be analogous to Al Capone doing time for tax evasion. The amount of immoral criminality is staggering when one attempts to tally how many countries have been ripped off and commons privatized, how much land and assets seized, how many poor and vulnerable people have had benefits cut and prices of necessities jacked up to benefit a tiny elite, how many desperate people have died to serve neoliberal business models. These untold atrocities are barely hidden, and all one has to do is scratch the surface of our system to reveal the sordid deeds which must stay hidden for the economy to stay afloat and for public morale not to wane and stir folks to revolution. No one is ever held responsible for financial crimes under capitalism, just like our war criminals, even though the culprits roam free in broad daylight, and even though these crimes have devastating real world consequences.

No corporate media will ever acknowledge that these are just the cases we know about. What else lies under the surface? Who among us has the means and the guts to find out if the mainstream media won’t? If these companies are willing to go to these lengths to defraud their customers, there is really nothing they won’t do. If we knew the full scope of the Mafioso-like corruption and barbaric behavior of these multinationals, people might actually revolt and overthrow our inhumane capitalist system. Mainstream media thus has a distinct role, and performs excellently for the transnational corporations (TNCs), by not investigating and not pushing for prosecution of guilty parties. This “balanced” approach to news is justified in the name of being “objective,” and trying to show “both sides of the issues.”

It’s not just corporate leaders, politicians, and the media who are shirking their duties. The judicial system is just as complicit. On January 17th, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a case (Juliana vs. United States) brought by twenty one young plaintiffs who argued that “the US government acts as a barrier to climate action” and quite rightly pointed out that “the US government [is] violating their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by enacting policies that contribute to the climate crisis.” The majority 2-1 ruling “reluctantly concluded that the plaintiff’s case must be made to the political branches or the electorate at large.” Isn’t it revealing that these judges view the judicial system as somehow above politics?

The dissenting judge called her fellow colleagues out for their cowardice:

It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation…my colleagues throw up their hands, concluding that this case presents nothing fit for the Judiciary.

Here we can clearly see the Kafkaesque institutional evasion of responsibility. Everyone in these elite institutions is to blame, so no one can be blamed, for it risks exposing the system as the root cause. In the West, we are stuck in a time where no one accepts a public duty to do anything regarding climate change, corporate criminality, etc. As Mark Fisher succinctly explained in Capitalist Realism:

The supreme genius of Kafka was to have explored the negative atheology proper to Capital: the center is missing, but we cannot stop searching for it or positing it. It is not that there is nothing there – it is that what is there is not capable of exercising responsibility.

As Fisher and others have shown, the lack of responsibility taken and lack of corporate and governmental transparency, and lack of differentiation between the corporate, judicial, legislative, and media bodies is a defining feature of late capitalism. We can view the contours and delineate between the modern and postmodern periods, in terms of the sea change from a Foucauldian disciplinary society to a Deleuzian society of control. In the modern period, there were bounded, separate domains of work, home life, recreation, public and private, etc. In our late-stage dystopia, it becomes exceedingly obvious that “all that is holy is profaned,” for instance, judges (supposed impartial arbiters of fairness and democratic values) who are supposedly duty-bound to uphold basic issues of social, environmental, and economic justice, yet do not have the temerity to overturn the death-grip fossil fuel multinationals have over our country.

Whereas before disciplinary action – punishment and jail time – could act as a bit of leverage to limit outright corporate crimes, now we have interconnected, networked, embedded elite coteries who can no longer be distinguished as serving private or public functions: the “revolving door” phenomenon. Today, our elites also cannot distinguish or internalize their own actions and take responsibility for them. Internal checks could at least possibly prevent catastrophes, or lead to feelings of shame and regret for past actions in the old-fashioned, modern way. For this reason, we can view someone like Robert McNamara as perhaps the last modernist public servant in the old-school disciplinary age. His actions were unconscionable, but it is well known he at least regretted his part in the Vietnam War afterwards. The bizarre but true story of McNamara almost getting thrown off a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard in deep ocean in 1972 by an enraged anti-war citizen with family who had served in Vietnam confirms this. Afterwards, McNamara refused to press charges, making clear he knew on some level he deserved punishment.

On the contrary, take the figures of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld today. They are insulated by layers of ideology (and bodyguards), inebriated by luxurious lifestyles and sycophantic think tanks who parrot their every word, and interwoven within the framework and institutions of imperialist and conservative power who no longer have the capacity for self-reflection. Their perceptions and self-image, in other words, are managed by a network of power, control, and domination, in this example the interests of the national security state. Figures such as Bush, Obama, and Trump operate under the aegis of the capitalist/imperial postmodern society of control, which has continually formulated, modulated, subdued and attenuated any tension, any tendency to self-doubt, or any capacity to think critically and examine the atrocities committed by their orders.

It is a world where instantaneous feedback can assuage and soothe the troubled nerves of the elites, by providing media and/or classified reports that justify their grotesque barbarism in real time. We can observe this on a smaller scale when examining how social media algorithms create echo chambers and polarize those with opposing belief systems. The type of worldview our war-criminal presidents are subject to is a “higher immorality” as C. Wright Mills put it. It was best summed up by an unnamed senior Bush regime official, supposedly Karl Rove, speaking to journalist Ron Suskind:

People like you are still living in what we call the reality-based community. You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

The commonality between all these absolutely absurd scams is that, unlike the relatively small size and bumbling ineptitude of a WeWork, the fetishization of and overvaluation of hare-brained tech with a company like Theranos, the pyramid scheme of a Bernie Madoff, or the cooking-the-books accounting of an Enron, companies such as Boeing, Volkswagen, and Goldman Sachs form the commanding heights of the world economy. These are supposedly the bona fide, respectable “blue-chip companies” which many middle class investors look to for stable, steady growth of their wealth. These companies and their corporate owners cannot clearly view “reality,” (who can? but still) and the public is simply “left to just study what they do.”

Another aspect is the proliferation of marketing and advertising, which hypnotizes the middle classes, which in the West are approaching comatose status in regards to the scale of these interlocking crises of corporate greed and climate disruption. Abject submission and conformity are the key features of the professional-managerial class, who hype new trends and fads, and even business models (such as WeWork). Pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than research and development, which lead the most sycophantic employees to top positions with deadly repercussions (for example, in the Vioxx scandal) and leads to modern pharmacological advances being in many cases guided by snake-oil peddling quack researchers and their corporate overlords.

Individuals, as well as our artistic preferences, and urban spaces, increasingly are modulated by these corporate structures, leading to a flattened consumerist aesthetic. In a brilliant essay, Andru Okun explains using quotes from author Oli Mould:

As Mould argues, ‘Neoliberalism is about the marketization of everything, the imprinting of economic rationalities into the deepest recesses of everyday life’ … [Mould] posits that 21st-century capitalism, ‘turbocharged by neoliberalism,’ has co-opted the conceptual framework of creativity in the interest of endless growth. Even movements interested in destabilizing capitalism can be ‘viewed as a potential market to exploit,’ subsumed by the very world they seek to transform. ‘Creativity under capitalism is not creative at all… it merely replicates existing capitalist registers into ever-deeper recesses of socioeconomic life,’ writes Mould.

This form of “imprinting” becomes clear when examining the professional-managerial classes and the petit-bourgeois class. Class locations, as Erik Olin Wright pointed out, invariably determine the psychological states of the middle classes, who exert exploitative pressure upon their subordinates as well as pressure from above. When advances and promotions are made within the confines of the professional class structure, one can view the accommodation to capital with near-empirical precision: “Individual consciousness is related to position within the class structure.  That is, the attitudes and behaviour of individuals has a connection to the location they occupy within the division of labour and the contradictory locations that exist in capitalism.” Thus, Mark Fisher explains how the individual actions of managers to change corporate culture are futile:

The delusion that many who enter into management with high hopes is precisely that they, the individual, can change things, that they will not repeat what their managers had done, that things will be different this time; but watch someone step up to management and it’s usually not long before the grey petrification of power starts to subsume them. It is here that the structure is palpable – you can practically see it taking people over, hear its deadened/deadening judgments speaking through them.

Again, the activities of these huge conglomerates which dictate the global economy, public discourse, and private and individual aesthetic preferences are not exceptions; they represent the rule when it comes to the behavior of TNCs and international finance. Scamming is what they do best, whether by illegal software or the TV commercial, and the scam-ees quite often turn out to be other elite venture capital and banking firms hoodwinked by the allure of profit no matter the unseemly source or the ridiculousness of the business model. Climate denialism is also a very profitable scam for its elite adherents in the fossil fuel industries and the media, one that plays a key role by influencing public opinion just enough to convince judges, politicians, and CEOs that nothing can be done within their hallowed institutions.

The assertion I’ll lay out here, and it’s admittedly not a particularly original or insightful one, is simply that the falling rate of profit as we approach what we might call terminal-stage capitalism has convinced these TNCs to slightly adjust their calculus. The adjustment is to supplement the neoliberal grip on power with the brazenness of the scam.

The neoliberal era, stretching from approximately the mid-1970s until now, can be defined quite rightly by David Harvey as being driven by a process of “accumulation by dispossession.” In his brilliant 2004 essay “The New Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession”, Harvey explains the four main policies which drive this process as privatization (selling out the commons to private interests), financialization (the penetration of all parts of the economy by banks, loans, institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, the WTO, excessive debt, etc), management and manipulation of crises (for instance, see Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine), and state redistributions (huge subsidies and contracts for the fossil fuel and military-industrial corporations, “socialism for the rich”, as it were).

Perhaps today we can add a fifth category: accumulation by the scam. If a Volkswagen or Boeing or Goldman Sachs stands to make hundreds of billions of dollars by swindling their customers, and can somewhat accurately guess that the level of future fines will be small or negligible; that lobbyists can protect future interests; that their teams of corporate lawyers can derail federal investigations; that federal regulators will be hamstrung due to lack of expertise, power, and/or resources; and that their customer base and supply chains will remain relatively stable, there is more of an incentive to cheat than ever before.

If the gravediggers of capital ultimately end up being a united working class, and/or the ecological crises combined with global warming-induced climactic Armageddon, perhaps it’d be helpful to think of these corporate grifters as the grave robbers, exhuming and reanimating whatever scam du jour they deem necessary to circulate capital. Not only does this reliance on fraud betray the moral failings of the people and institutions implicated, but it reinforces that Marx was right: the falling rate of profit over time and over-accumulation continues to force new methods of creative destruction to enter our midst to necessitate continuous expansion. Neoliberal economics officially saw its death-knell during the 2008 recession, but twelve years later this undead ideology maintains hegemony in a world teetering on the brink of disaster. Zombie Economics, if you will.

Profit and GDP growth at all costs to line elites’ pockets and increase national tax bases is killing the planet and working classes. Put another way, from a humorous statement by @Anarchopac on twitter: “The problem with capitalism is eventually you run out of planet to destroy to maximize short-term profit.” Put yet another way, John Maynard Keynes pointed out: “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

In our late capitalist reality, there are barely any new frontiers to shift capital and production to, and the possibility of opening new markets in underdeveloped nations is also limited. The colonialist frontiers have been tapped and the system begins to cannibalize itself. A rentier economy coalesces and the contours of a neo-feudal regime based on debt and precarity are readily apparent now. Speculation and passive income from the FIRE sectors (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) are near all-time highs, but their assets are so overvalued that sooner or later it will spur on an economic downturn that at this point is unavoidable. Consider, for instance, that the Dow Jones at its low point in March 2009 stood at around 6,600. Here in 2020, we find the average hovering over 29,000. No one can legitimately say that our markets or average families are four times as well off or any more resilient and economically secure than ten years ago. The next crash could very well make terms like “housing bubble” and “tech bubble” seem quaint. The entire US economy is a bubble, a rigged casino designed to implode.

Since financial, real estate, and stock speculation has in some sense reached a tipping point of limited returns on investment, our hypothesized 5th category, accumulation via fraud, is implemented. It fits into our upside-down world nicely: since what is productive for one class is often unproductive for another, one-percenters elide reality to maintain their own class interests at all costs, and block any real public discussion in the media of what constitutes productive versus unproductive labor. The masters know what is good for us. Capitalist elites see no moral qualms in the most debased forms of wealth acquisition. It’s all relative to them, and where previous Taylorist models focused on planned obsolescence of products, now we construct products that do not even work initially; i.e., jets that literally fall out of the sky without the necessary software updates.

In all likelihood these examples are just harbingers of things to come, as the structural instability of capital demands new avenues for expansion even as it teeters before the inevitable collapse. The brazen criminality and fraudulence of the system bubbles to the surface and can no longer be rationalized away as an “aberration.” As real material conditions deteriorate for the multitudes, resistance to capitalism must intensify as it enters its final death throes.

Challenging the Flawed Premise Behind Pushing GMOs into Indian Agriculture

A common claim is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are essential to agriculture if we are to feed an ever-growing global population. Supporters of genetically engineered (GE) crops argue that by increasing productivity and yields, this technology will also help boost farmers’ incomes and lift many out of poverty. Although in this article it will be argued that the performance of GE crops to date has been questionable, the main contention is that the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching the issues of hunger and poverty from their political contexts to use notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy. There exists a ‘haughty imperialism’ within the pro-GMO scientific lobby that aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’ which is a distraction from the root causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and genuine solutions based on food justice and food sovereignty.

Last year, in the journal Current Science, Dr Deepak Pental, developer of genetically engineered (GE) mustard at Delhi University, responded to a previous paper in the same journal by eminent scientists PC Kesavan and MS Swaminathan which questioned the efficacy of and the need for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture. Pental argued that the two authors had aligned themselves with environmentalists and ideologues who have mindlessly attacked the use of genetic engineering (GE) technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak at 11.2 billion. Pental added that aspects of the two authors’ analysis are a reflection of their ideological proclivities.

The use of the word ‘mindlessly’ is telling and betrays Pental’s own ideological disposition. His words reflect tired industry-inspired rhetoric that says criticisms of GE technology are driven by ideology not fact.

If hunger and malnutrition are to be tackled effectively, the pro-GMO lobby must put aside this type of rhetoric, which is designed to close down debate. It should accept valid concerns about the GMO paradigm and be willing to consider why the world already produces enough to feed 10 billion people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which 821 million were classed as chronically undernourished in 2018).

Critics: valid concerns or ideologues?

The performance of GE crops has been a hotly contested issue and, as highlighted in Kevasan and Swaminathan’s piece and by others, there is already sufficient evidence to question their efficacy, especially that of herbicide-tolerant crops (which by 2007 already accounted for approximately 80% of biotech-derived crops grown globally) and the devastating impacts on the environment, human health and food security, not least in places like Latin America.

We should not accept the premise that only GE can solve problems in agriculture. In their paper, Kesavan and Swaminathan argue that GE technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they say that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient. In this respect, conventional options and innovations that outperform GE must not be overlooked or sidelined in a rush by powerful interests like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate the introduction of GE crops into global agriculture; crops which are highly financially lucrative for the corporations behind them.

In Europe, robust regulatory mechanisms are in place for GMOs because it is recognised that GE food/crops are not substantially equivalent to their non-GE counterparts. Numerous studies have highlighted the flawed premise of ‘substantial equivalence’. Furthermore, from the outset of the GMO project, the sidelining of serious concerns about the technology has occurred and despite industry claims to the contrary, there is no scientific consensus on the health impacts of GE crops as noted by Hilbeck et al (Environmental Sciences Europe, 2015). Adopting a precautionary principle where GE is concerned is therefore a valid approach.

As Hilbeck et al note, both the Cartagena Protocol and Codex share a precautionary approach to GE crops and foods, in that they agree that GE differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GMOs are used in food or released into the environment. There is sufficient reason to hold back on commercialising GE crops and to subject each GMO to independent, transparent environmental, social, economic and health impact evaluations.

Critics’ concerns cannot therefore be brushed aside by claims that ‘the science’ is decided and the ‘facts’ about GE are indisputable. Such claims are merely political posturing and part of a strategy to tip the policy agenda in favour of GE.

In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GE crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about India’s prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GE crops.

As we have seen with the push to get GE mustard commercialised, the problems described by the TEC persist. Through her numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Aruna Rodrigues has argued that GE mustard is being pushed through based on outright regulatory delinquency. It must also be noted that this crop is herbicide tolerant, which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

While the above discussion has only scratched the surface, it is fair to say that criticisms of GE technology and various restrictions and moratoriums have not been driven by ‘mindless’ proclivities.

Can GE crops ‘feed the world’?

The ‘gene revolution’ is sometimes regarded as Green Revolution 2.0. The Green Revolution too was sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. However, emerging research indicates that in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased.

Globally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with the consolidation of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land) and (unfair) liberalised trade, linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF structural adjustment-privatisation directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas. And yet, the corporations behind this system of dependency and their lobbyists waste no time in spreading the message that this is the route to achieving food security. Their interests lie in ‘business as usual’.

Today, we hear terms like ‘foreign direct investment’ and making India ‘business friendly’, but behind the rhetoric lies the hard-nosed approach of globalised capitalism. The intention is for India’s displaced cultivators to be retrained to work as cheap labour in the West’s offshored plants. India is to be a fully incorporated subsidiary of global capitalism, with its agri-food sector restructured for the needs of global supply chains and a reserve army of labour that effectively serves to beat workers and unions in the West into submission.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are not the result of a lack of productivity. As long as these dynamics persist and food injustice remains an inbuilt feature of the global food regime, the rhetoric of GE being necessary for feeding the world will be seen for what it is: bombast.

Although India fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains and has ensured there is enough food (in terms of calories) available to feed its entire population. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, fruit and cotton.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food security for many Indians remains a distant dream. Large sections of India’s population do not have enough food available to remain healthy nor do they have sufficiently diverse diets that provide adequate levels of micronutrients. The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18 is the first-ever nationally representative nutrition survey of children and adolescents in India. It found that 35 per cent of children under five were stunted, 22 per cent of school-age children were stunted while 24 per cent of adolescents were thin for their age.

People are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, including inadequate food distribution, (gender) inequality and poverty; in fact, the country continues to export food while millions remain hungry. It’s a case of ‘scarcity’ amid abundance.

Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GMO lobby says GE will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income. Again, this is misleading: it ignores crucial political and economic contexts. Even with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress.

India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling from the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and predatory global agri-food corporations . Little wonder then that the calorie and essential nutrient intake of the rural poor has drastically fallen.

However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GMO agriculture, the pro-GMO lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynch pins of its promotional strategy.

GE was never intended to feed the world

Many of the traditional practices of India’s small farmers are now recognised as sophisticated and appropriate for high-productive, sustainable agriculture. It is no surprise therefore that a recent FAO high-level report has called for agroecology and smallholder farmers to be prioritised and invested in to achieve global sustainable food security. It argues that scaling up agroecology offers potential solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems, whether, for instance, climate change and carbon storage, soil degradation, water shortages, unemployment or food security.

Agroecological principles represent a shift away from the reductionist yield-output industrial paradigm, which results in among other things enormous pressures on soil and water resources, to a more integrated low-input systems approach to food and agriculture that prioritises local food security, local calorific production, cropping patterns and diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience, good soil structure and the ability to cope with evolving pests and disease pressures. Such a system would be underpinned by a concept of food sovereignty,  based on optimal self-sufficiency, the right to culturally appropriate food and local ownership and stewardship of common resources, such as land, water, soil and seeds.

Traditional production systems rely on the knowledge and expertise of farmers in contrast to imported ‘solutions’. Yet, if we take cotton cultivation in India as an example, farmers continue to be nudged away from traditional methods of farming and are being pushed towards (illegal) GE herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds. Researchers Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs note the results of this shift from traditional practices to date does not appear to have benefited farmers. This isn’t about giving farmers ‘choice’ where GE seeds and associated chemicals are concerned. It is more about GE seed companies and weedicide manufactures seeking to leverage a highly lucrative market.

The potential for herbicide market growth in India is enormous and industry looked for sales to reach USD 800 million by 2019. The objective involves opening India to GE seeds with herbicide tolerance traits, the biotechnology industry’s biggest money maker by far (86 per cent of the world’s GE crop acres in 2015 contain plants resistant to glyphosate or glufosinate and there is a new generation of crops resistant to 2,4-D coming through).

The aim is to break farmers’ traditional pathways and move them onto corporate biotech/chemical treadmills for the benefit of industry.

Calls for agroecology and highlighting the benefits of traditional, small-scale agriculture are not based on a romantic yearning for the past or ‘the peasantry’. Available evidence suggests that (non-GMO) smallholder farming using low-input methods is more productive in total output than large-scale industrial farms and can be more profitable and resilient to climate change. It is for good reason that the FAO high-level report referred to earlier as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, call for investment in this type of agriculture, which is centred on small farms. Despite the pressures, including the fact that globally industrial agriculture grabs 80 per cent of subsidies and 90 per cent of research funds, smallholder agriculture plays a major role in feeding the world.

That’s a massive quantity of subsidies and funds to support a system that is only made profitable as a result of these financial injections and because agri-food oligopolies externalize the massive health, social and environmental costs of their operations.

But policy makers tend to accept that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be owners and custodians of natural assets (the ‘commons’). These corporations, their lobbyists and their political representatives have succeeded in cementing a ‘thick legitimacy’ among policy makers for their vision of agriculture.

From World Bank ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ directives to the World Trade Organization ‘agreement on agriculture’ and trade related intellectual property agreements, international bodies have enshrined the interests of corporations that seek to monopolise seeds, land, water, biodiversity and other natural assets that belong to us all. These corporations, the promoters of GMO agriculture, are not offering a ‘solution’ for farmers’ impoverishment or hunger; GE seeds are little more than a value capture mechanism.

To evaluate the pro-GMO lobby’s rhetoric that GE is needed to ‘feed the world’, we first need to understand the dynamics of a globalised food system that fuels hunger and malnutrition against a backdrop of (subsidised) food overproduction. We must acknowledge the destructive, predatory dynamics of capitalism and the need for agri-food giants to maintain profits by seeking out new (foreign) markets and displacing existing systems of production with ones that serve their bottom line.  And we need to reject a deceptive ‘haughty imperialism within the pro-GMO scientific lobby which aggressively pushes for a GMO ‘solution’.