Category Archives: Neoliberalism

Sitting Pretty on a Sinking Ship: Neoliberal Feminism

Going down with the ship in style

Orientation:

For a number of years now I’ve been confounded by watching many of the straight upper-middle class women in the United States appearing to slide backwards in time into much more traditional roles. Why do so many women still do the heavy lifting of childcare, grocery shopping, housekeeping and cooking? Why do so many of them put the needs of their male partners and bosses first and their own needs last? Why have so many of them whole-heartedly embraced sports when I doubt that most of them were not sports fanatics before they were in relationships with men who are? These were the roles we struggled to break out of in the 60’s and 70’s. Yet in the seven cases I will present I will describe six women who consider themselves feminists. How can we explain this?

What does it mean to be a feminist in the United States today? Historically we have had liberal feminists and radical socialist feminists, but what do we make of the Pink Pussycats? Granted, they are not radical feminists, but are they liberal? The term “liberal” has become a moth-eaten word used by both sympathizers and demonizers. For now, we will put the word aside. First I will describe experientially what second-wave feminism attempted to do. Then I will describe the lives of seven women I know, six of whom claim to be feminists and certainly see themselves as Pink Pussycats. Finally, I will address the relationship between the Pink Pussycats and liberalism. My claim is that the Pink Pussycats are not liberal in the sense of second-wave feminism and the New-Deal liberalism of Roosevelt. Rather, they are instead “neo-liberal” feminists, who follow the neoliberal trend of the mid 1980’s, started by the Democratic Leadership Council. The reference to the sinking ship refers to the decline in the standard of living under capitalism, in which they are mightily trying to keep their heads above water.

Women in the four ages

In the first age, during the 1950’s, women were classically traditional. These roles included being the perfect wife and mother, always putting their own needs last and usually deferring to their husbands. They dressed in relatively conservative, soft styles and colors and many of them didn’t work outside the home because, though the times were conservative, the economy for the middle class was good. Think of the mothers in Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best (the name of the show says it all). They even dressed like that when they were cleaning the oven! They’d have the messes cleaned up before we, as children, made them.

Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer led second-wave feminism among others. They led the charge to challenge the long-accepted picture of a woman’s role.

During the second age, as our “consciousness” was becoming raised, we began to reject our traditional roles. Many of us started working for the first time. Because the pay for middle class women was higher at that time, some of us could afford to divorce our husbands and work in traditional male jobs such as middle managers. We started wearing more practical clothing, ditching the spike heels that hampered our walking – let alone running away from predators – letting our skin breathe without all the makeup and our hair turn naturally grey.

At the same time other women, less politically aware, embraced being seen as sexual objects, rather than as sexless as in the fifties. We started wearing provocative clothes, lots of makeup, ridiculous high-heeled shoes and laughed off or rationalized the catcalls on the street as well as sexual harassment from our bosses and male co-workers. I know all of this because I was one of those women.

In the third age, for roughly thirty years, from the early 1980s through 2008, the conservatives held power as the economy continued to contract. In reaction to this, the Democratic Party started sliding further to the right to keep up with the times, and those women who continued to see themselves as liberal slid right along with the Democratic Party. (For the Democratic party slide rightward, see Adam Curtis’s disturbing documentary Century of the Self Part IV)

In the fourth age, after 2008, and the election of Barack Obama, many upper-middle-class and middle-class women saw the election of a well-educated black man as a victory for them, too. The glorification of Obama and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton produced the seeds of the Pink Pussycat phenomenon. These women had to work harder than the women of the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s because the economy is now worse. Most middle-class and upper-middle class women can no longer afford to stay at home and take care of the children. They must work to supplement their husband’s earnings or, as single mothers, they are the family’s sole support. Most of them also do the bulk of the childcare and housekeeping. Because no feminist movement has been able to convince men to fully take on the responsibilities of raising children, these responsibilities fell to the women as their “second shift”. Perhaps as compensation for a surprisingly difficult life, women used their appearance to regain some of their lost power. Being sexy and the promise of attention was a bargaining chip.

My experience of second-wave feminism

I got married when I was 19 years old to a conservative Irish Catholic Naval officer. By the late 1960’s we had become friends with a group of officers and their wives, all of whom were vocal in their opposition to the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy in general. These conversations woke me up politically and I started moving further to the left. In the early 1970’s I attended community college where I met Mary, who became one of my longest standing friends. Mary was a strong feminist, and along with two gay men I became friends with, got me to take feminism and gay rights more seriously. I also joined the anti-war groups while at San Francisco State and started facing the growing differences I had with my husband. My marriage did not survive these changes. I did what many women did: dragged their husbands into therapy kicking and screaming, only to be told I was the one who had the problem.

At the same time, we liberal women were being exposed to books like Our Bodies, Ourselves. This book detailed for us information about our own health and sexuality that formerly had been secret, considered too crass to talk about publicly. Consciousness-raising groups sprang up everywhere, which aimed to help us understand the patriarchal system and how it oppresses all women. We were being taught that it wasn’t our job to please and cater to the men in our lives. We felt stronger together as we began making demands for equal pay, greater opportunities in the workplace, better support systems for single mothers and the right to be seen as equals to men, rather than as objects for them.

Women’s Success Teams

In the mid 1980’s I attended a weekend-long seminar entitled “Women’s Success Teams”. I was a single, working mother and could barely afford the seminar but managed to scrape together the money to pay for it. This turned out to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made. The goal of this workshop was to empower women to fulfill their highest potential and learn how to deal with any barriers in their way – and there were many barriers. I, as had many women, been subjected to sexual harassment on the job, lower pay than my male counterparts, the accepted belief that certain occupations and positions were simply not available for women – as well as the belief that a woman’s primary job was the care and feeding of her family and husband. This seminar fit perfectly into the liberal Women’s Movement of the time, which advocated consciousness-raising and self-realization. As a white, middle class, newly divorced single mother I welcomed the support and guidance I hoped it would give me.

At this seminar I was taught how to develop a career and financial plan for myself so I could achieve my goals. I was also taught skills like networking, becoming organized, budgeting and defining a career path. Most importantly, I was taught that I needed to articulate those goals, write them down and monitor them. I still do this on a regular basis. After the hard work of the first weekend workshops, our large group was then broken up into smaller working groups, called teams, of about 5 – 6 women each. These teams met once a week to set goals and objectives, and then assign themselves tasks as homework to reach those goals for the week to come. The following week we would report on any accomplishments or difficulties from homework and to ask for support from the team in a multitude of ways. This could include asking someone to call you for a pep talk before going on an interview, help figuring out transportation or childcare or simply moral support.

The slow slide backwards

It’s been with alarm and great disappointment that I’ve watched the slide backwards, away from the values I learned from Women’s Success Teams. As a university career and academic counselor working with many young women students, I’ve come to realize that many of them know almost nothing about the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. In the workplace I’ve seen so many women of all ages slip back towards wearing provocative clothes, lots of makeup, high heels and coloring their hair. They spend thousands of dollars on weight loss programs, the latest hairstyles and colors, plastic surgery, Botox treatments and even breast implants. I see so many older women dying their hair to cover the grey and spending thousands of dollars on products and procedures to make them look younger. I watch as women celebrities go to extremes to present themselves as eternally young, sexualized creatures. Many of them are in my circle of friends, and, indeed, in my own family. All of this is painful for me to see. I would like to share with you some of their stories.

Pink Pussycats on display

Jasmine

Jasmine is a very smart, naturally beautiful, 70-year-old woman who was a member of the generation of women who were told they could have it all – career, family, relationship – everything. With that propaganda playing in the background and coming from a firmly middle-class background, she went back to college in her 30’s, divorced her husband and moved into her own apartment in San Francisco while her two sons remained with her husband.

She did, in fact, seem to have it all as she completed her degree in political science, her career blossomed and numerous men lined up to be in relationships with her. She was successful in sales and real estate and managed to buy a condominium in San Francisco, not an easy task for a single woman to be able to do in the 70’s.

After leaving a second marriage, she married a professor at UC Berkeley and moved with him into a home in the Berkeley hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. She “retired” when she was 53 and settled into a life of travel with her husband who was sent on all-expenses-paid trips to lecture at institutions all over the world. This has been her upper-middle class life for the last 15 years or so. Any attempt at finding meaningful work or a vocation was forgotten long ago. She has also spent many thousands of dollars on facelifts, Botox injections and all manner of procedures to hang on to her beauty.

Suzy

Suzy is a 48-year-old elementary school teacher with a husband and two children living in southern CA. While she has always made more money than her husband and has provided health care benefits for the family, her husband is firmly in charge of managing their money. He gives her an allowance – in cash – because she has proven she can’t be trusted with a credit card. She has no concept of money management, not even being able to report what their monthly utilities are or mortgage payments. In addition to working full-time, she is the primary caretaker of their children and her identity as a mother is the predominate one. Her husband decides where and when they will go on vacation, if they will buy a new car or pay for improvements for their house.

Politics is beyond her comprehension and she has shown no interest in trying to understand it. She loves wearing costumes and jewelry depicting Wonder Woman, demonstrating the public persona that she can do it all. Paradoxically, in many ways she has become another child in the family, taking direction from her husband.

Maria

Maria is an extremely smart, accomplished woman. She is the operations manager for a branch campus at a university. She is able to come up with solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems and last-minute emergencies without even breaking a sweat. She is kind, beautiful, funny and loyal to her friends.

However, she has convinced herself that she must remain in a marriage to a man who she mostly can’t stand. She defers to him, going to places she loathes like Las Vegas, football games and on cruises. He loves to gamble and buy a new car every year or two. While she shakes her head at these activities, she does nothing to try to dissuade him from them. She cooks meals for him that include all kinds of meat even though she is a vegan. Although she works about 50 to 60 hours a week, she is the one primarily in charge of all the household chores – cleaning, cooking, and shopping.

At the same time, she is a workaholic at the office, always cleaning up everyone else’s messes. She functions as the office wife to her boss, taking calls from him and checking in even while she’s on vacation and often taking on the responsibilities that, according to his job description, belong to him.

Helena

Helena got her MA in counseling psychology and then married. Until their daughter was born she worked at hourly-wage jobs. Since the year before their daughter was born 15 years ago she hasn’t worked full time and her husband has been the sole support of the family and provider of benefits. She worked for a brief time as a therapist with an organization in San Francisco until she got into an argument with the director and left. All the other jobs she’s had have been short-lived like that one, usually with her leaving in a huff after some kind of disagreement with senior management.

Her whole life revolves around her family and she epitomizes the definition of the helicopter parent. Her great love, besides her husband and daughter, is cooking. While she has tried to find jobs that would allow her to use these skills, all of them have not worked out.

Even though she doesn’t work to contribute to the lifestyle, she wants desperately to live the life of the wealthy. She is a devoted social climber, always looking for jobs or opportunities with “influential people”. She longs to live in a much more upper-class neighborhood and larger house in San Francisco than where they currently live. She considers herself a feminist.

Margaret

Next we look at the life of Margaret. After living a traditional life as a wife and mother during the 60’s and 70’s, she was also influenced by the new-wave feminism movement. She found the courage to divorce a husband she had long since fallen out of love with and who shared few of her core beliefs. Relying on his and her father’s financial support after her divorce, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and even though she never worked in the field, she never misses an opportunity to give therapy advice, solicited or not. She met and married a psychotherapist not long after her divorce. She worked for a time as the City Manager for the town of Chevy Chase, MD, a wealthy suburb of Washington DC. She retired early from this job in her early 50’s.

Since then she has spent her time travelling and buying decorative objects for both of her homes – which look like museums. She is a devout follower of the dharma as well as deeply interested in humanistic psychology, the core of which is the belief in the importance of the individual.

Deborah

Deborah is a 65-year-old chiropractor who has her own small practice. She works extremely hard to support her husband who has been an eternal student and whose contribution to the family income was to occasionally help clients with software issues. All the while she paid for the schooling that allowed him to get a PhD in psychology at the age of 65. She also supports two extremely dysfunctional adult children who, in my opinion are the result of her permissive parenting style. She is a classic enabler who puts herself last. Deborah has virtually no friends because she works to support three “children” through their various crises. Unbelievably, Deborah considers herself a child of the 60’s and does everything she can to relive what she thinks were the hippie days, going to hear old 60’s bands, wearing hippie clothes and attending Burning Man.

Natasha

Lastly we have Natasha. She is a 43 year-old woman who married a man 25 years older than she. She works as a substitute teacher and is a very good artist. The problem is, as usual, her husband and two children come first. She does her art “when no one is around”. Her studio is the only room in the house that is not heated or insulated. She can’t seem to get up the nerve to tell her husband, who earned good money as a military engineer, to invest in heating her studio so she could work there year-round. Natasha is very smart, has a degree in art and yet she shies away from stepping into the limelight.

What do these women have in common?

All of these women are, with the exception of one, upper-middle class. Two are in their 40’s and the rest are in their 50’s or older and all have college degrees. Half have master’s degrees. They all play a version of the “good wife”, doing all the holiday shopping, wrapping all the presents, making a huge meal, cleaning the house, and polishing the silver. Most of them go along with their husband’s desires even though they don’t share those desires, and in some cases they actively dislike their husbands. With all of them their husbands pretty much call all the shots. The ones who work – 4 of the 7 – have not been relieved of the primary responsibilities of taking care of the house and raising children. The rest don’t work because their husbands support them so then they have become over-involved with their kids. They also travel or redecorate their homes to give their lives meaning. The sum total of their political involvement is to very occasionally go on a Pink Pussycat march. If they do have a political perspective of any depth, it’s the belief that if they can only get the Democrats back in power, and more importantly, a woman Democrat, all will be well.

In terms of national politics most of them are apolitical. Most of these women blame the mess we’re in on Trump, never bothering to look back at the long slide we’ve been in through numerous administrations, regardless of which party was in power. There is not one of them who follow geopolitical relations, and they pay little attention to the role the U.S. is playing across the world. Over breakfast, lunch or dinner never, in all the years I’ve known them, has the center of a discussion been politics or economics. It is always about children, relationships or health. The macro world is too big for them.

Qualifications

Isn’t this about Euro-American women?

No, it is not. Jasmine is Filipina; Maria is from Argentina; Helena is from Iraq; and Natasha is from Russia. The slide toward putting yourself last can’t be reduced to ethnicity or culture. What is also interesting is these women are not poor women who “don’t know any better”. They are well educated and see themselves as running their own lives and not subject to propaganda. They have internalized their lives of subservience. 

Are you saying it’s against the rules to be pretty?

Some women may be saying – “Aw, c’mon – lighten up! Are you saying that in order to be a real feminist it’s against the rules to be pretty? Do we all have to dress and act like Protestant men? Do we all have to leave our husbands and strike out on our own?” What I am saying is that we need to look at our priorities. How much time and money are we spending on our appearance and why do we need to do that in order to feel good about ourselves and attractive to men? This seems to have taken priority over:

  • Controlling our own money management: Maria has little idea of her monthly expenses. Suzy is in the same boat.
  • Giving up full work lives: Margaret hasn’t worked in 25 years; Helena has never had a full time job for more than a few months; Natasha does part-time substitute teaching; Jasmine is now completely dependent on her husband’s income; Maria works very hard as an operations manager, but her salary alone would not be enough to support her lifestyle.
  • Having time to enjoy yourself without your husband or children: Not one of these women asks their partner to be a househusband while they work.

Are you saying there are no strong women?

No – I’m not saying any of these things. Nor am I saying that I see this slide backwards in all women. There are still plenty of strong, smart, self-sufficient women out there. There are some, but they’re not very visible in the mainstream media. Today, in the midst of the Pink Pussycat craze, women joining “The Resistance” by denouncing Trump while blaming those who didn’t vote for Hillary, we can look to some women as role models. Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Council member is one. María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, a Nahua indigenous healer, The Zapatistas and National Indigenous Congress’ (CNI) selection of as their spokesperson and presidential candidate for the 2018 elections in Mexico, is another. Gloria La Riva, presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is a third. All of these women are, and have been, fighting for social and economic equality, including the rights of women. But their primary focus has always been to see capitalism as the problem and the reason for inequality. In my mind, feminism can’t be separated from socialism. Further, all the women I mention are strong, not because they are liberals, but because they are socialists.

Isn’t the “Blue Wave” of Democrats in the recent elections a sign of women having more power?

My response is that is not new-wave feminism – it is neo-liberal feminism. The Democratic Party hasn’t been liberal since the 60s. Because the DNC is not a liberal party they don’t push for real change. Rather they push for tiny, centrist reforms. What they want is naïve. Women like Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein – considered the “left” in Congress – have done little to nothing to support women’s rights. Women continue to make $0.80 for every dollar men make. The Hyde Amendment, which bans abortion coverage in federal health insurance programs, has been upheld every year since 1976, blocking Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program from funding abortions. Democrats argue that the ban disproportionately impacts low-income women who rely on Medicaid for health care, yet they have been unable to overturn it during many Democratic administrations.

Planned Parenthood is facing threats of being denied federal funds and Roe vs. Wade is in danger of being rolled back. The Pink Pussycats have not managed to achieve any significant change in this area and their platform is vague, primarily focused on upper-middle class women. The women who desperately need this protection seem to be invisible.

The Pink Pussycat movement was vague in its goals and initially focused on expressing outrage at the election of Trump. Other than that, there seemed to be no specific goals or strategies beyond “women’s rights are human rights”. Additionally, there was honest criticism of the use of what are classic feminine symbols; the color pink, knitting, vaginas. The demographics of the marchers were clearly middle and upper-middle class straight, neo-liberal women. It was supported and funded by the DNC, George Soros and other neo-liberals who have their own agendas to push.

Aren’t you romantically pining for the return of second- wave feminism?

No, I am not. I am simply saying that the Democratic Party is not liberal and the values of the Pink Pussycats are not liberal so long as they take the Democratic Party seriously. If women were real second-wave liberal feminists, the National Organization of Women would have formed a women’s party thirty years ago when it was clear that the Democratic Party was not doing anything much for women, even middle and upper-middle class women.

Alexandra Kollontai, an important figure during the Russian Revolution, is a historical alternative to the Pink Pussycats. She fought for real equality for women in practical ways. In particular, she fought for the rights of the working class and poor women to have access to food, medical care and education. In my article, A Historical Alternative to Pink Pussy Cat Hats, this is my answer for feminism, not a return to 2nd wave New Deal liberalism.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Venezuela: US Imperialism Is Based On Lies And Threats


We are completing what became more than a week-long peace delegation to Venezuela organized by the US Peace Council and the Committee for International Solidarity in Venezuela (COSI). The trip was complicated by American Airlines cancelling all flights in and out of the country, leaving us scrambling for ways to get there and get home. We also arrived in the midst of the attack on Venezuela’s electrical system, which caused further complications.

Our delegation met with community groups, political parties and members of the government, including a private meeting with President Maduro. One theme that became obvious during the visit is that the United States’ imperialism is fundamentally weak. It relies on lies and bullying threats to get its way. So far, Venezuelans are resisting everything the US and its allies are throwing at it, but they remain vigilant and concerned about an escalation of attacks.

Rallying with the women oil workers outside the presidential palace on March 15, 2019 in Caracas.

Venezuela Unites in Response To US Attack on Electrical Grid

The attack on Venezuela’s electrical grid began on March 7 and continued for several days. The outage made life difficult for Venezuelans. Without electricity, water pumps could not bring water to people’s homes, refrigerators weren’t working and the subway couldn’t run.

People lined up to fill buckets with water. Lights were on, but not everywhere. When we talked to residents, we learned how they came to their neighbor’s aid, sharing food and water. Despite years of economic difficulties caused by US and allied countries’ sanctions, there were no reports of looting or unrest in Caracas. Venezuelans remained calm and steady while confronting the challenges of the blackout. School and work were cancelled until March 14, but some people were out anyway and a few shops were open.

Maduro explained that the attack on the electrical grid came from the United States. There is evidence it emanated from Houston, the home of the company that provided infrastructure for the grid, and Chicago. There were also attacks on power lines and substations inside Venezuela. When a section was repaired, it would be attacked again.

Maduro told us the plan had been for the attack on the electrical grid to cause chaos and confusion in order to provide an excuse for US intervention. The plan failed. Venezuelans realized this was part of the US-led coup campaign, and rather than becoming divided, they united.

Russia confirmed the Venezuela account and said it was supported by other evidence. The Grayzone reported on a 2010 memo about regime change in Venezuela, which included discussion of an attack on the electrical grid to cause a blackout and chaos. The US tried to sabotage the Iranian electrical grid and has used electricity attacks in previous coups, so this is part of the US coup playbook.

During our stay, CNN also reported that the drone assassination attempt against President Maduro last August was organized in Colombia and that the US was in close contact with the assassination plotters. It was also confirmed by the NY Times that it was the opposition who burned USAID trucks on February 23 at the border, the day of the humanitarian aid defeat. This corroborates the report by the Grayzone Project the day it occurred.

The democratically-elected government of President Maduro worked to end the electricity crisis, provide people with water and food and made sure buses were running. The self-appointed coup’s Juan Gaido worked with the United States, which caused the blackout and their hardships. Gauido is being investigated for his involvement in the electrical attack. He is allied with countries waging an economic war that is causing financial distress, and he is calling for foreign military intervention, a traitorous action.

The attack mobilized more people in the US and around the world to oppose the US coup calling for ‘Hands Off Venezuela,’ an end to the sanctions and an end to threats of war. Another mass march in support of Venezuela is scheduled in Washington, DC on March 30.

We attended an ongoing rally outside the presidential palace to defend it. On Saturday, there was a mass protest of tens of thousands of people celebrating the country coming together to confront the attack on their electrical grid. People were dancing, singing and chanting their support for President Maduro. While there were several opposition protests announced, when a member of our delegation went to cover them, they were not to be found.

Pro-Bolivarian Process rally on Saturday, March 16, 2019 in Caracas.

The US Embassy is Forced to Close

On Tuesday, the US Embassy in Venezuela was forced to close because it was being used as a center for organizing the ongoing US intervention. President Maduro told us how the US openly tried to bribe and threaten officials in his government and in the military and how they threatened his wife and family. The US told the opposition to boycott the last election and told candidates not to run against him. They knew they would lose an election to Maduro, so the plan had always been to falsely claim the election was illegitimate.

Maduro wants to have a dialogue with the US but the embassy had to close because not only was it undermining his government but it provided justification for the US to intervene on behalf of its diplomatic staff. Venezuela plans to have dialogue with the US through its UN representative.

When the embassy personnel left, we received word we were “on our own.” The State Department issued a statement describing civil unrest in Caracas saying that Americans could be arrested at any time for no reason. They warned people it was too dangerous to come to Venezuela. This was echoed by the Airline Pilots Association, who told their pilots not to fly to Venezuela because of the dangers.

The morning of these declarations, we went for a walk in Caracas to look for unrest. Families were out with their children, people were shopping and eating pizza, and ice cream. Caracas is as active and safe as any big city in the United States. Members of our delegation described in this video the calm in Caracas and how the US was falsely claiming civil unrest to manufacture an excuse for US intervention. The people of Venezuela are prepared for more struggle, building a self-sufficient resistance economy and they will fight to preserve their independence.

When we talked to Venezuelans, one thing they commonly told us was ‘thank you for coming to Venezuela, now you can tell people in the United States the truth about our country when your politicians and media lie about us.’ The Venezuelan people want a good relationship with the people of the United States. President Maduro told us of his love for the United States and how he had driven through Chinatown, Little Italy, and Harlem in New York, visited many cities in the US, was offered a contract to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and loves basketball and Jimi Hendrix.

Maduro has offered to meet with President Trump to discuss and resolve their differences. His Foreign Secretary met with John Bolton — a fruitless meeting, but an attempt by Venezuela for dialogue. Venezuela wants a positive relationship with the United States but it will not give up its sovereignty, independence, or pride, and is prepared to fight a US coup.

Hands Of Venezuela March in Washington, DC on March 16, 2019 (by Ted Majdosz)

Guaido Is the Butt of Jokes In Venezuela, Not Legitimate Under the Constitution

We were invited to be in the audience of the most widely-watched television show in Venezuela. It is a remarkable political education-entertainment show hosted by the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. The show, Con el Mazo Dando (loosely translated as “Hitting with a Club”), is a weekly five-hour show that combines politics with music and comedy. During the show, he covered 80 different news stories including a chronology of the electrical attack.

Cabello uses biting satire. Guaido was the punch line of many jokes and his alliance with the hated Trump administration was highlighted. Gauido does not have the respect of the people of Venezuela. He is becoming of little use to the US coup and will possibly be discarded in the near future.

While Guaido has overtly committed multiple crimes, the Maduro administration seems to have made a conscious decision to not arrest him as his actions are weakening him and exposing the coup’s connection to US and western imperialism.

One thing that was highlighted to us in Venezuela was that the self-appointment of Guaido violates the Venezuelan Constitution. The language of the Venezuelan Constitution is plain regarding when the president of the National Assembly can become president and none of those conditions have been met. The coup relies on Article 233 of the Constitution, which allows the president of the National Assembly to become president only if the president-elect

become[s] permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice [equivalent of impeachment]; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.

None of these conditions exist. And, if they did exist, the vice president would take power until there is an election. Not only is Guaido a self-appointed president, but he is illegally self-appointed. In a press briefing, Elliot Abrams admitted that Guaido is not “able to exercise the powers of the office because Maduro still is there.”

The State Department has been pressuring the media to call Guaido the “interim president” and not to call him “self-appointed” or “opposition leader” despite the fact that he has no presidential powers and no legitimacy under Venezuelan law. Any media that succumbs to this pressure is participating in a dangerous farce that is part of a US-led coup.

This contrasts with the legitimacy of President Maduro. This week, international election observers wrote the European Union telling them they were “unanimous in concluding that the elections were conducted fairly, that the election conditions were not biased.” They described EU claims as “fabrications of the most disgraceful kind.” We described in detail the legitimacy of the elections and other essential facts activists need to know about this US coup.

Singing and dancing as people arrive for “Con El Mazo Dando” (by Margaret Flowers)

Solidarity With Venezuela Is Essential

The people of Venezuela have shown their solidarity in standing together against the US and oligarch coup attempt. It is essential for those who believe in peace, justice and anti-imperialism to do the same.

We agree with Vijay Prashad, solidarity is a process, not a slogan. We plan to build on the relationships we developed with the US Peace Council, World Peace Council and COSI among others. We will provide a list of items that COSI needs for their ongoing organizing in Venezuela, but so far they told us they need computers, printers and paper. They also need donations (a little goes a long way). They don’t have a website yet. If you can donate, contact us at gro.ecnatsiserralupopnull@ofni and we’ll find a way to get it to them.

The first steps in building solidarity include demanding the end to all interference: ending US imperialism and preventing military intervention and war. It also means an end to the economic war, sanctions, blocking of finances and the embargo. On a near daily basis, it requires us to correct the record and confront the lies on which US imperialism is based. We will continue to post stories on Venezuela regularly and we urge you to re-post them to social media, email networks, and websites.

We can defeat the regime change narrative by getting out the truth. Join the national webinar on Venezuela on March 26 at 7:00 pm Eastern. Register here. And join the national webinar on NATO and Latin America on March 28 at 8:00 pm Eastern. Register here. We will have more reports from our meetings in Venezuela posted on Popular Resistance.

Join the March 30 Mobilization Against the US Coup in Venezuela and the No to NATO protests in Washington, DC.

It is evident the US coup is weak. They have a weak leader in Guaido. They depend on lies because the truth undermines their every turn. They cannot participate in elections because they have very little democratic support. This contrasts with the strength of Maduro, who has the support of the people. The popular movement is positioned to stop the Venezuela coup and prevent a military attack. Our solidarity efforts in the US may prevent them from having to suffer more.

Wealth Concentration Drives a New Global Imperialism

Regime changes in Iraq and Libya, Syria’s war, Venezuela’s crisis, sanctions on Cuba, Iran, Russia, and North Korea are reflections of a new global imperialism imposed by a core of capitalist nations in support of trillions of dollars of concentrated investment wealth. This new world order of mass capital has become a totalitarian empire of inequality and repression.

The global 1%, comprised of over 36-million millionaires and 2,400 billionaires, employ their excess capital with investment management firms like BlackRock and J.P Morgan Chase. The top seventeen of these trillion-dollar investment management firms controlled $41.1 trillion dollars in 2017. These firms are all directly invested in each other and managed by only 199 people who decide how and where global capital will be invested. Their biggest problem is they have more capital than there are safe investment opportunities, which leads to risky speculative investments, increased war spending, privatization of the public domain, and pressures to open new capital investment opportunities through political regime changes.

Power elites in support of capital investment are collectively embedded in a system of mandatory growth. Failure for capital to achieve continuing expansion leads to economic stagnation, which can result in depression, bank failures, currency collapses, and mass unemployment.  Capitalism is an economic system that inevitably adjusts itself via contractions, recessions, and depressions. Power elites are entrapped in a web of enforced growth that requires ongoing global management and the formation of new and ever expanding capital investment opportunities. This forced expansion becomes a worldwide manifest destiny that seeks total capital domination in all regions of the earth and beyond.

Sixty percent of the core 199 global power elite managers are from the US, with people from twenty capitalist nations rounding out the balance. These power elite managers and associated one percenters take active part in global policy groups and governments. They serve as advisors to the IMF, World Trade Organization, World Bank, International Bank of Settlements, Federal Reserve Board, G-7 and the G-20. Most attend the World Economic Forum. Global power elites engage actively on private international policy councils such as the Council of Thirty, Trilateral Commission, and the Atlantic Council. Many of the US global elites are members of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Business Roundtable in the US. The most important issue for these power elites is protecting capital investment, insuring debt collection, and building opportunities for further returns.

The global power elite are aware of their existence as a numerical minority in the vast sea of impoverished humanity. Roughly 80% of the world’s population lives on less than ten dollars a day and half live on less than three dollars a day. Concentrated global capital becomes the binding institutional alignment that brings transnational capitalists into a centralized global imperialism facilitated by world economic/trade institutions and protected by the US/NATO military empire. This concentration of wealth leads to a crisis of humanity, whereby poverty, war, starvation, mass alienation, media propaganda, and environmental devastation have reached levels that threaten humanity’s future.

The idea of independent self-ruling nation-states has long been held sacrosanct in traditional liberal capitalist economies. However, globalization has placed a new set of demands on capitalism that requires transnational mechanisms to support continued capital growth that is increasingly beyond the boundaries of individual states. The financial crisis of 2008 was an acknowledgement of the global system of capital under threat. These threats encourage the abandonment of nation-state rights altogether and the formation of a global imperialism that reflects new world order requirements for protecting transnational capital.

Institutions within capitalist countries including government ministries, defense forces, intelligence agencies, judiciary, universities and representative bodies, recognize to varying degrees that the overriding demands of transnational capital spill beyond the boundaries of nation-states.  The resulting worldwide reach motivates a new form of global imperialism that is evident by coalitions of core capitalist nations engaged in past and present regime change efforts via sanctions, covert actions, co-options, and war with non-cooperating nations—Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and Russia.

The attempted coup in Venezuela shows the alignment of transnational capital-supporting states in recognizing the elite forces that oppose Maduro’s socialist presidency. A new global imperialism is at work here, whereby Venezuela’s sovereignty is openly undermined by a capital imperial world order that seeks not just control of Venezuela’s oil, but a full opportunity for widespread investments through a new regime.

The widespread corporate media negation of the democratically elected president of Venezuela demonstrates that these media are owned and controlled by ideologists for the global power elite. Corporate media today is highly concentrated and fully international. Their primary goal is the promotion of product sales and pro-capitalist propaganda through the psychological control of human desires, emotions, beliefs, fears, and values. Corporate media does this by manipulating feelings and cognitions of human beings worldwide, and by promoting entertainment as a distraction to global inequality.

Recognizing global imperialism as a manifestation of concentrated wealth, managed by a few hundred people, is of utmost importance for democratic humanitarian activists.  We must stand on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and challenge global imperialism and its fascist governments, media propaganda, and empire armies.

By Any Means Necessary

Back in the chaotic collapsing scenery of the Soviet Union in the late Eighties, there occurred an event that signaled the eventual fate of the USSR, even if no one exactly knew it at the moment. A fairly unknown teacher named Nina Andreyeva published an essay in a political magazine called Sovetskaya Rossiya, or Soviet Russia. The brave Andreyeva leveled sharp criticism at Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), a reformist agenda clandestinely aimed at dismantling the Communist Party and moving the country toward perhaps what would have been a vague form of European market-based social democracy. Andreyeva had understood where Gorbachev was headed and, as a committed communist, feared the dissolution of the workers’ struggle to build a truly communist society.

What happened next is instructive: Gorbachev and his Politburo ally Alexander Yakovlev seized the opportunity to attack Andreyeva’s essay and paint those who supported it as anti-reformist and anti-modern. But along with that depiction, the media raised the criticism that Andreyeva’s essay was anti-Semitic. It was not, according to authors Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny in their excellent Socialism Betrayed, but it hardly mattered. Gorbachev and Yakovlev printed a fierce rebuttal in the journal Pravda. The media quickly took up Gorbachev’s line and the narrative was set. Gorbachev and his fellow reformists used the artificial scandal and the hysteria it generated to isolate and disempower his Politburo rival and critic, Yegor Ligachev.

From that point, Gorbachev raced forward with his reform program and rather than become a model European welfare state, the USSR soon collapsed, disintegrating into a ‘parade of sovereignties’ that saw many of the former Soviet republics declare their independence. Millions died in the wake of the collapse, with their social supports gone, their economy in tatters, and western vulture capitalists flooding into the country. Another seminal victory for neoliberal democracy. But does that media scandal ring a bell? Because precisely the same tactic of the anti-Semitic smear is being used against another critic of power, Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar.

Two Minutes Hate

In a thinly-veiled censure of Omar, the House Democrats issued a resolution condemning “all hate”. This artificial necessity of this “resolution” is pathetic. As Adam Johnson parodied it, “We oppose an abstract noun without any political or moral context. We are the party of good things and anti-bad things. Please vote for us, the good things party.” The resolution, as you may already know, addresses various comments made by Omar, the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress along with Rashida Tlaib. Aside from comments in other public appearances, she issued a couple of tweets saying that Congressional support for Israel was, “all about the Benjamins” and later that it produced, “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Omar noted that fealty to AIPAC and Israel were stifling debate on Gaza. She noted that the Israeli lobby was demanding a loyalty to Israeli Zionists interests that compromised politicians’ loyalty to American interests. Following initial criticism, she said, “I should not be expected to have allegiance or pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country…Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic…” and later added, “I don’t how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War, and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

Eleven Jewish groups led by AIPAC demanded a response from Nancy Pelosi, including having Omar removed from the Foreign Relations Committee and declaring an organization she spoke at labeled a terrorist unit. She has been subjected to Islamophobia from Republicans. After some push-back from the left, the House watered down the document to roundly condemn hatred in general, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and bigotry against minorities. But the weight of the document emphasized anti-Semitism, and everyone knows who the object of censure is. Her Democratic colleagues were largely silent. The bill passed 407-23. Every House Democrat voted for it, including Omar. Only Republicans voted against it.

The resolution argues that Omar’s comments conjure two anti-Semitic stereotypes. The first is the ‘dual allegiance’ ‘trope’, bringing up the Dreyfuss Affair and the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. The second was that her comments activated stereotypes about Jews controlling society with money. Of course, to say that AIPAC lobbying may make some senators and representatives more willing to do Israel’s bidding than America’s is not anti-Semitic. That is the very point of lobbying: placing a special interest’s objectives above those of the country at large. Nor is it anti-Semitic to argue that AIPAC uses money to push its goals in Congress. Every lobbyist does, regardless of color or creed. And yet these are easily conflated with the aforementioned anti-Semitic motifs, which is precisely the goal of the resolution.

But Paul Rosenberg at Salon, echoing Paul Waldman at the Washington Post, of all places, correctly noted that “Omar did not accuse Jews of holding dual loyalties. Rather, she objected to dual loyalties being demanded of her–and those who attacked her only proved her point.” And Jonathan Cook noted in his excellent review of the faux scandal, “These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-Semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.”

Not that it mattered to the hysterical cast of armchair magistrates, but the UN declared that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza during the recent border protests. The mainstream media continues its campaign to bury Omar, relentlessly pursuing and then evoking “pain and confusion” caused by the representative’s hard-hitting truths.

Fake Progress

The parallels with the Nina Andreyeva event are compelling. It isn’t antisemitism that is the real story, but the shuttering of dissent. Ruling class capitalists and their enthusiastic sympathizers will use any tactic they can to attack and disable perceived threats to their profiteering policy agenda. And make no mistake, profits are at the root of America’s support of Israel, as well as the entire project of imperialism. It makes no difference, as Cook argues, that a false charge of antisemitism is equal to actual antisemitism, what matters to elite capital and its political enablers is destroying threats and consolidating power. Nina Andreyeva was a threat to Gorbachev’s destructive reformism. Ilhan Omar is a threat to American imperialism. Both women were viciously attacked for their comments, their attackers using any means necessary to suppress the validity of their critiques. Andreyeva’s colleagues would soon, “give out her phone number with nasty glee…” She was eventually hounded into isolation. What will become of Omar remains to be seen, but the entire affair proved her point, that the Zionist lobby wields immense influence in Washington. Congressional representatives aside from the Minnesota representative and a handful of others are utterly venal sophists who themselves traffic in slander, exhibit base fealty to monied interests, and ignore American interests in favor of the ruling class constituency of white-led corporate entities that promote capitalist exploitation at home and abroad.

Precisely the same charges have been relentlessly leveled at British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party allies. The purpose is to ensure Corbyn never sees the inside of Ten Downing Street. Watch as this narrative of progressive anti-Semitism is transferred across the Atlantic to defile the left-wing of the Democratic party going into the 2020 elections. This is yet another strain of identity politics being wielded against progressives. And without question, the socialism of the left is a far bigger threat to capitalist rule than the fascism of the right. Socialism overthrows capitalism. Fascism supercharges it. It’s important to remember that Hitler saw the conquest of the USSR as his greatest opportunity, to crush socialism and obtain a vassal colony in one fell swoop, while purging the ‘Aryan’ race at the same time. It is a pathetic irony of history that modern neoliberals falsely charge progressives with echoes of Hitler’s quest to destroy Jews as a tool to enable his plan to destroy socialism. In another regrettable paradox of recent history, it might be worth remembering that the magazine Gorbachev used to crush his rivals, Pravda, is Russian for “truth.”

By Any Means Necessary

Back in the chaotic collapsing scenery of the Soviet Union in the late Eighties, there occurred an event that signaled the eventual fate of the USSR, even if no one exactly knew it at the moment. A fairly unknown teacher named Nina Andreyeva published an essay in a political magazine called Sovetskaya Rossiya, or Soviet Russia. The brave Andreyeva leveled sharp criticism at Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), a reformist agenda clandestinely aimed at dismantling the Communist Party and moving the country toward perhaps what would have been a vague form of European market-based social democracy. Andreyeva had understood where Gorbachev was headed and, as a committed communist, feared the dissolution of the workers’ struggle to build a truly communist society.

What happened next is instructive: Gorbachev and his Politburo ally Alexander Yakovlev seized the opportunity to attack Andreyeva’s essay and paint those who supported it as anti-reformist and anti-modern. But along with that depiction, the media raised the criticism that Andreyeva’s essay was anti-Semitic. It was not, according to authors Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny in their excellent Socialism Betrayed, but it hardly mattered. Gorbachev and Yakovlev printed a fierce rebuttal in the journal Pravda. The media quickly took up Gorbachev’s line and the narrative was set. Gorbachev and his fellow reformists used the artificial scandal and the hysteria it generated to isolate and disempower his Politburo rival and critic, Yegor Ligachev.

From that point, Gorbachev raced forward with his reform program and rather than become a model European welfare state, the USSR soon collapsed, disintegrating into a ‘parade of sovereignties’ that saw many of the former Soviet republics declare their independence. Millions died in the wake of the collapse, with their social supports gone, their economy in tatters, and western vulture capitalists flooding into the country. Another seminal victory for neoliberal democracy. But does that media scandal ring a bell? Because precisely the same tactic of the anti-Semitic smear is being used against another critic of power, Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar.

Two Minutes Hate

In a thinly-veiled censure of Omar, the House Democrats issued a resolution condemning “all hate”. This artificial necessity of this “resolution” is pathetic. As Adam Johnson parodied it, “We oppose an abstract noun without any political or moral context. We are the party of good things and anti-bad things. Please vote for us, the good things party.” The resolution, as you may already know, addresses various comments made by Omar, the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress along with Rashida Tlaib. Aside from comments in other public appearances, she issued a couple of tweets saying that Congressional support for Israel was, “all about the Benjamins” and later that it produced, “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Omar noted that fealty to AIPAC and Israel were stifling debate on Gaza. She noted that the Israeli lobby was demanding a loyalty to Israeli Zionists interests that compromised politicians’ loyalty to American interests. Following initial criticism, she said, “I should not be expected to have allegiance or pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country…Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic…” and later added, “I don’t how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War, and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

Eleven Jewish groups led by AIPAC demanded a response from Nancy Pelosi, including having Omar removed from the Foreign Relations Committee and declaring an organization she spoke at labeled a terrorist unit. She has been subjected to Islamophobia from Republicans. After some push-back from the left, the House watered down the document to roundly condemn hatred in general, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and bigotry against minorities. But the weight of the document emphasized anti-Semitism, and everyone knows who the object of censure is. Her Democratic colleagues were largely silent. The bill passed 407-23. Every House Democrat voted for it, including Omar. Only Republicans voted against it.

The resolution argues that Omar’s comments conjure two anti-Semitic stereotypes. The first is the ‘dual allegiance’ ‘trope’, bringing up the Dreyfuss Affair and the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. The second was that her comments activated stereotypes about Jews controlling society with money. Of course, to say that AIPAC lobbying may make some senators and representatives more willing to do Israel’s bidding than America’s is not anti-Semitic. That is the very point of lobbying: placing a special interest’s objectives above those of the country at large. Nor is it anti-Semitic to argue that AIPAC uses money to push its goals in Congress. Every lobbyist does, regardless of color or creed. And yet these are easily conflated with the aforementioned anti-Semitic motifs, which is precisely the goal of the resolution.

But Paul Rosenberg at Salon, echoing Paul Waldman at the Washington Post, of all places, correctly noted that “Omar did not accuse Jews of holding dual loyalties. Rather, she objected to dual loyalties being demanded of her–and those who attacked her only proved her point.” And Jonathan Cook noted in his excellent review of the faux scandal, “These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-Semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.”

Not that it mattered to the hysterical cast of armchair magistrates, but the UN declared that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza during the recent border protests. The mainstream media continues its campaign to bury Omar, relentlessly pursuing and then evoking “pain and confusion” caused by the representative’s hard-hitting truths.

Fake Progress

The parallels with the Nina Andreyeva event are compelling. It isn’t antisemitism that is the real story, but the shuttering of dissent. Ruling class capitalists and their enthusiastic sympathizers will use any tactic they can to attack and disable perceived threats to their profiteering policy agenda. And make no mistake, profits are at the root of America’s support of Israel, as well as the entire project of imperialism. It makes no difference, as Cook argues, that a false charge of antisemitism is equal to actual antisemitism, what matters to elite capital and its political enablers is destroying threats and consolidating power. Nina Andreyeva was a threat to Gorbachev’s destructive reformism. Ilhan Omar is a threat to American imperialism. Both women were viciously attacked for their comments, their attackers using any means necessary to suppress the validity of their critiques. Andreyeva’s colleagues would soon, “give out her phone number with nasty glee…” She was eventually hounded into isolation. What will become of Omar remains to be seen, but the entire affair proved her point, that the Zionist lobby wields immense influence in Washington. Congressional representatives aside from the Minnesota representative and a handful of others are utterly venal sophists who themselves traffic in slander, exhibit base fealty to monied interests, and ignore American interests in favor of the ruling class constituency of white-led corporate entities that promote capitalist exploitation at home and abroad.

Precisely the same charges have been relentlessly leveled at British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party allies. The purpose is to ensure Corbyn never sees the inside of Ten Downing Street. Watch as this narrative of progressive anti-Semitism is transferred across the Atlantic to defile the left-wing of the Democratic party going into the 2020 elections. This is yet another strain of identity politics being wielded against progressives. And without question, the socialism of the left is a far bigger threat to capitalist rule than the fascism of the right. Socialism overthrows capitalism. Fascism supercharges it. It’s important to remember that Hitler saw the conquest of the USSR as his greatest opportunity, to crush socialism and obtain a vassal colony in one fell swoop, while purging the ‘Aryan’ race at the same time. It is a pathetic irony of history that modern neoliberals falsely charge progressives with echoes of Hitler’s quest to destroy Jews as a tool to enable his plan to destroy socialism. In another regrettable paradox of recent history, it might be worth remembering that the magazine Gorbachev used to crush his rivals, Pravda, is Russian for “truth.”

SNC Lavalin: The Corporate Face of the Ugly Canadian Abroad

While the Justin Trudeau government’s interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin highlights corporate influence over politics, it is also a story about a firm at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.

In a recent story titled “Canada’s Corrupt Foreign Policy Comes Home to Roost” I detailed some of SNC’s controversial international undertakings, corruption and government support. But, there’s a great deal more to say about the global behemoth.

With offices and operations in over 160 countries”, the company has long been the corporate face of this country’s foreign policy. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to describe some Canadian diplomatic posts as PR arms for the Montréal-based firm. What’s good for SNC has been defined as good for Canada.

Even as evidence of its extensive bribery began seeping out six years ago, SNC continued to receive diplomatic support and rich government contracts. Since then the Crown Corporation Export Development Canada issued SNC or its international customers at least $800-million in loans; SNC and a partner were awarded part of a contract worth up to $400 million to manage Canadian Forces bases abroad; Canada’s aid agency profiled a venture SNC co-led to curb pollution in Vietnam; Canada’s High  Commissioner Gérard Latulippe and Canadian Commercial Corporation vice president Mariette Fyfe-Fortin sought “to arrange an untendered, closed-door” contract for SNC to build a $163-million hospital complex in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ottawa’s support for SNC despite corruption allegations in fifteen countries is not altogether surprising since the company has proven to be a loyal foot soldier fighting for controversial foreign policy decisions under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

SNC’s nuclear division participated in a delegation to India led by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day a few months after Ottawa signed a 2008 agreement to export nuclear reactors to India, even though New Delhi refused to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (India developed atomic weapons with Canadian technology). Describing it as the “biggest private contractor to [the] Canadian mission” in Afghanistan, the Ottawa Citizen referred to SNC in 2007 as “an indispensable part of Canada’s war effort.” In Haiti SNC participated in a Francophonie Business Forum trip seven months after the US, Canada and France overthrew the country’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Amidst the coup government’s vast political repression, the Montreal firm met foreign installed prime minister Gérard Latortue and the company received a series of Canadian government funded contracts in Haiti.

SNC certainly does not shy away from ethically dubious business. For years it manufactured grenades for the Canadian military and others at its plant in Le Gardeur, Quebec. According to its website, SNC opened an office in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982 amidst the international campaign to boycott the apartheid regime. Later that decade SNC worked on the Canadian government funded Manantali Dam, which led to “economic ruin, malnutrition and disease to hundreds of thousands of West African farmers.”

More recently, SNC has been part of numerous controversial mining projects in Africa. It had a major stake in a Sherritt-led consortium that initiated one of the world’s largest nickel and cobalt mines in Ambatovy Madagascar. Backed by Canadian diplomats and Export Development Canada, the gigantic open pit mine tore up more than 1,300 acres of biologically rich rain forest home to a thousand species of flowering plants, fourteen species of lemurs and a hundred types of frogs.

According to West Africa Leaks, SNC dodged its tax obligations in Senegal. With no construction equipment or office of its own, SNC created a shell company in Mauritius to avoid paying tax. Senegal missed out on $8.9 million the Montréal firm should have paid the country because its ‘office’ was listed in tax free Mauritius. SNC has subsidiaries in low tax jurisdictions Jersey and Panama and the company was cited in the “Panama Papers” leak of offshore accounts for making a $22 million payment to a British Virgin Islands-based firm to secure contracts in Algeria. (In a case of the tax-avoiding fox protecting the public’s hen house, former SNC president and chairman of the board, Guy Saint-Pierre, was appointed to Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2007 advisory panel on Canada’s System of International Taxation.)

SNC has benefited from Ottawa’s international push for neoliberal reforms and Canada’s power within the World Bank. A strong proponent of neoliberalism, the Montréal firm has worked on and promoted privatizing water services in a number of countries. Alongside Global Affairs Canada, SNC promotes the idea that the public cannot build, operate or manage services and that the way forward is through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which often go beyond a standard design-and-build-construction contract to include private sector participation in service operation, financing and decision making. SNC is represented on the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which promotes PPPs globally. The Montréal firm has also sponsored many pro-privatization forums. With Rio Tinto, Alcan, Teck Resources and the Canadian International Development Agency, SNC funded and presented at a 2012 conference at McGill University on Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Towards a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries.

In an embarrassing comment on the PPP lobby, the year before SNC was charged with paying $22.5 million in bribes to gain the contract to build the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships and Thomson Reuters both awarded the MUHC project a prize for best PPP.

Further proof that in the corporate world what is good for SNC is seen as good for Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants gave SNC its award for excellence in corporate governance in seven of the ten years before the company’s corruption received widespread attention.

In an indication of the impunity that reigns in the corporate world, the directors that oversaw SNC’s global corruption have faced little sanction. After the corruption scandal was revealed board chairman Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana, continued to write a regular column for the Globe and Mail Report on Business (currently Financial Post) and continues his membership in the Order of Canada. Ditto for another long serving SNC director who is also a member of the Order of Canada. In fact, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was subsequently made a member of the Order of Ontario. Another Order of Canada and Order of Ontario member on SNC’s board, Lorna Marsden, also maintained her awards. Other long serving board members — Claude Mongeau, Pierre Lessard, Dee Marcoux, Lawrence Stevenson and David Goldman – received corporate positions and awards after overseeing SNC’s corruption.

The corporate face of this country’s foreign policy is not pretty. While Trudeau’s SNC scandal highlights corporate influence over politics, it’s also the story of the Ugly Canadian abroad.

A Political Renaissance in Ethiopia: What should change look like?

This is an extraordinary time in Ethiopia’s history, a time of tremendous opportunity and hope. Long overdue reforms initiated by Prime-Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office on 2nd April 2018, offer the prospect that democracy and social unity could at last become a reality in the country.

Before PM Ahmed took office Ethiopia was ruled by one of the most violent and repressive regimes in the world; freedom of the media, freedom of expression and assembly, political dissent and the judiciary, were all tightly controlled by the TPLF regime, which had been in power since 1991. Miraculously, all of this has now changed, and within a very short space of time, it offers hope not only for Ethiopia, but for the region and the wider world.

The new governments reform program has three main ‘pillars’ as they are called: 1. A vibrant democracy. 2. Economic vitality. 3. Regional integration and openness to the world. All very general and nothing extraordinary, but positive actions have followed and good will built. If democratic change can occur in Ethiopia it can take place anywhere, but, over and above the obvious elements, such as the observation of human rights, political pluralism, freedom of the media, independent judiciary etc., what should that change look like?

Impressive start

After undertaking a nationwide tour in which he stressed the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, PM Ahmed and his team swiftly began work. All exiled opposition parties were invited to return to Ethiopia and engage in dialogue, thousands of ‘political’ prisoners were released, including all journalists; the torture chamber known as Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa was closed, constitutional amendments were announced to limit the length of time anyone could hold the office of prime-minister, and the draconian state of emergency was lifted. The PM met the Eritrean president and began discussions to end the twenty-year conflict, and in a broader sign of how this cooperative approach is impacting on the region, the Djibouti and Somalia authorities have since held peace talks with Eritrea.

A series of historic actions followed: the military occupation of the Ogaden or Somali region has been brought to an end, all prisoners held in the notorious Jail Ogaden released and the prison closed down. A new regional president, Mustapha Omer, who was critical of the region’s authoritarian leadership, was appointed. A new cabinet was announced and gender parity established. Women now hold the two key security positions – defense and the Ministry of Peace, which oversees the police, the intelligence services and the information security agency. All this and more within months of assuming office. Remarkable by any standards. It shows what can be achieved if and when the political will exists.

While the new government attempts to build unity and social harmony, there are others, bitter remnants of the past that continue to work to aggravate ethnic divisions and ferment violence. As a result of inter-communal conflict there are estimated to be over two million internally displaced people in the country. Other than providing some humanitarian aid, the federal government has done nothing to relocate these people, whose homes have been destroyed. This is a national emergency and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

What kind of democracy?

Despite a decade of economic growth averaging 10% per annum, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks 173rd out of 186 countries on the UN Human Development Index. Around 26% of the population lives in extreme poverty (less than $2 a day), and a much larger percentage struggle to survive on under $5 a day. While the government claims that 50% of the population has been lifted out of dire poverty in recent years, the principle beneficiaries of growth have been those in high office and the already comfortable few. With growth the cost of living has rocketed, food, accommodation and transport prices have all increased dramatically, impacting on the poorest sections of society.

Whether in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the world, sharing is key to overcoming poverty and establishing social justice; sharing wealth, resources, skills and knowledge based on need. Sharing also cultivates trust, encourages cooperation and helps to build peaceful communities. Participation is a form of sharing and a cornerstone of democracy.

In addition to poverty, within the catalogue of challenges facing the new government, health care and education stand out, as well as environmental issues – Addis Ababa e.g. is the third most polluted city in Africa, after Cairo and Casablanca.

As Ethiopia enters into what Prime-Minister Ahmed describes as a ‘political renaissance’, the opportunity to discuss what kind of nation it wishes to become presents itself; what values and ideals should be pursued, what methods employed? In the demonstrations that brought down the previous regime protesters cried out for democracy, for freedom and justice. In response the government’s first reform ‘pillar’ calls for the creation of a ‘vibrant democracy’. What form should that democracy take?

The corporate state democracy of the west, in which political power is married to economic wealth, is a far cry from true democracy. While a level of freedom exists and, in some countries, civil society is strong, there is no social justice and participation by employees in the workplace, students in education and the general public in politics is weak or non-existent. Western democracy has been conditioned by government’s ideological devotion to an economic system rooted in competition and commercialization. It is a model that has failed the vast majority of people and poisoned the planet. True democratic values such as tolerance, sharing, understanding of others, cooperation and kindness, are incompatible with the ideals of the market – profit at any cost – human or environmental, separation, personal success, greed.

So, what type of democratic country do the people of Ethiopia and their government want to create, and, given the international pressure to conform to the economic stereotype, do they have any choice? Listening to the PM’s speech at the World Economic Forum it would appear not. He made clear his government’s intention to embrace the Neoliberal circus; he sounded more like the CEO of a medium-size electronics company looking for investors, rather than a national leader. Perhaps the audience conditioned his remarks, but there was no real vision, other than the usual economic ambitions; it was all disappointingly familiar.

Like all of sub-Saharan Africa the population of Ethiopia is young, the median age is just 18, around 60% of the country is under 25. More children are attending schools than ever and although Internet connectivity is poor and until recently access was heavily restricted, young people are in touch with the wider world in a way that was not possible for previous generations. Hundreds of thousands of under 25 year olds took part in public protests, which began in November 2015 and led to the collapse of the government. They risked their lives for change, they deserve more than a market led democracy.

This is a truly historic time for Ethiopia, general elections are scheduled to take place in 2020, between now and then the opportunity exists for a national debate to take place. For too long the people were silenced, now their voices must be heard. Platforms within the media – state and independent – in universities, schools and within the church, need to be established that allow the community as a whole and young people in particular, to express their views and share their aspirations for the future of their country and indeed the wider region.

No Such Thing as a Regulated, Public, or Good Charter School

There are many diversionary dichotomies within the unscrupulous web of charter school disinformation that have long distorted social consciousness and undermined the fight for social progress and high quality education for all. Some include the following:

  1. regulated verses unregulated charter schools
  2. for-profit verses nonprofit charter schools
  3. good verses bad charter schools
  4. high-performing verses low-performing charter schools
  5. mom-and-pop verses corporate charter schools
  6. school district-approved verses “totally autonomous” charter schools
  7. well-funded verses poorly-funded charter schools
  8. no-excuses verses regular charter schools
  9. urban verses suburban charter schools
  10. small verses large charter schools
  11. online verses brick-and-mortar charter schools

These and other misleading contrasts are designed to maximize confusion and abolish the consciousness and outlook that the core underlying issue with all charter schools is their privatized, marketized, and corporatized character. All other considerations are generally secondary, superficial, diversionary, or false in comparison to this key issue.

The privatized, marketized, and corporatized character of all charter schools is the central issue regardless of the different forms of charter schools. Form and content are not the same. Appearance and essence are not identical. It is important to look past the diversity of charter schools and appreciate their internal state; i.e., what is common and central to all of them. This will provide a much deeper understanding of charter schools. Forms and appearances are often misleading and superficial.

The privatized, marketized, and corporatized character of all charter schools is the reason why all charter schools have nothing to do with public right and instead embrace the outmoded ideologies and practices of the “free market,” private property, consumerism, competition, and possessive individualism.

The privatized, marketized, corporatized character of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools is also the reason why more than 95% of charter schools have never been started, owned, operated, or controlled by teachers since their inception 28 years ago in Minnesota. It is why charter schools are deregulated, deunionized, segregated, non-transparent, and poorly supervised. It is why charter schools close frequently, are plagued by high teacher turnover rates, dodge public standards of governance, often underperform, cherry pick their students, and are rife with fraud, corruption, patronage, nepotism, waste, arrests, scandals, investigations, and racketeering. The situation in the charter school sector is surreal, ruthless, insane, and miserable. It makes most other dysfunctionalities and crimes in society look normal, healthy, and trivial. Most aspects of the charter school sector are unethical and offensive.

Thirty years ago when democrats were actively and energetically leading the nefarious plot to deprive public schools of their “exclusive franchise” over education, deregulation and contracting became the main buzzwords to frame and drive the vicious neoliberal attack on public schools in the name of “improving schools,” “helping the kids,” “empowering parents,” and closing the “achievement gap.”

In this context, it is important to appreciate that contract law is part of private law, not public law. Private law is distinct from public law. They are not the same. They differ in significant ways. Private law governs relations between independent individuals and the exchange of goods and services. It accepts the premise that society is based on commodity exchange and possessive individualism. Public law, on the other hand, governs relations between individuals and the state, and is concerned with the common good. With private law, the government is largely out of the picture and the focus is on private, individual, personal affairs. Pubic law deals with issues that affect the society as a whole. This point cannot be emphasized enough. The difference between the motives, outlook, preoccupations, and implications of both types of laws is remarkable and often overlooked. To be clear, charter schools fall in the first category (private law), whereas public schools belong in the second domain (public law). One significant implication of this critical difference is that the relationship of students and parents to charter schools differs legally and politically from the relationship of students and parents to public schools. It also means that charter schools operate according to much different criteria and governance protocols and standards than those governing public schools. This is why calling charter schools “public” schools is erroneous, self-serving, and maximizes confusion instead of clarifying matters.

Charter actually means contract. Charter and contract are synonyms. Contract is the quintessential market category. Contracts make markets possible and rest on the ideologies of private property, possessive individualism, and commodity exchange. Social contract theory emerged in the 15-19th centuries in opposition to the feudal and medieval outlook and arrangements. “Free market,” by definition, means “laissez-faire”—no rules, no regulations, let it be, hands off! The “free market” means free reign for all major owners of capital to do as they please at any cost to students, society, and the environment. The “free market” celebrates inequality and the violent dictum that “might makes right.” It treats anarchy and violence as good and normal things.

Privatizing education through the mechanism of contracting and outsourcing requires eliminating long-standing highly-valued public governance arrangements (e.g., public school boards, public standards and regulations of governance, teacher unions, collective bargaining agreements, etc.) and moving into the deregulated, private, competitive, hierarchical, do-as-you-please, fend-for-yourself sphere of the “free market” where winning and losing, carrots and sticks, and “might makes right” are the name of the cruel game. Privatization means valorizing and celebrating the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism and denigrating the public interest. Privatization is how public education, which has served 90% of all students for more than 150 years, becomes depublicized, defunded, vilified, humiliated, scapegoated, commodified, commercialized, and subject to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market”—and all of it is cynically portrayed as being socially responsible.

Privatization is retrogressive and irresponsible. It is an attack on society and its members. Privatization violates the public interest and concentrates wealth and power in fewer hands. Privatization reduces the social wealth available to workers and the government and funnels it into the hands of private sector actors determined to enrich themselves at any cost to society. Privatization essentially increases opportunities for the rich to get even richer at the expense of the public. This is why so-called “public-private-partnerships” are a joke from the perspective of the public and society as a whole. Such “partnerships” always privilege major owners of capital and deprive workers of the value they produce. Privatization does not strengthen the social fabric in any way. Privatization drags society backward.

It is critical for the polity and education advocates in particular to make a clean break from the neoliberal ideas, categories, outlook, politics, and practices fueling the relentless violent disinformation on charter schools and instead give serious consideration to investigating, discussing, and opposing charter schools without the diversionary and misleading language of “regulated verses unregulated,” “good verses bad,” etc. A serious and disciplined focus on the meaning, role, and significance of the public and private sectors, as well as issues having to do with governance and who decides the affairs of society, that is, the issue of political power and where it lies, are urgently needed. This is hard to do in a culture that is intensely anti-investigation and where attention, focus, thinking, and discipline are being rapidly eroded by the digital invasion, but it must be done.

Diversionary dichotomies such as  “regulated verses unregulated,” “good verses bad,” and “for-profit verses nonprofit” cripple perception, cognition, and consciousness. They assault the senses and violate thinking and understanding. They mystify reality, engender confusion, increase doubt, and undermine confidence. They perpetuate an anti-intellectual atmosphere and prevent people from appreciating the core issues at stake. Misleading contrasts block people from seeing how their interests are being regularly violated by a handful of major owners of capital who are not concerned about anything except their own egocentric needs. Diversionary dichotomies ultimately sabotage action with analysis that favors the public. The rich know that many are easily fooled by their manipulative rhetoric and spin, especially when repeated over and over again. They are experts at duping people to get their own selfish way.

The aim of maximizing profit as fast as possible directly contradicts and sabotages the aim of social responsibility and a society fit for all. Maximizing profit for the wealthy few has absolutely nothing to do with serving society and its members. High quality, fully-funded, locally-controlled, world class, free public schools open to all cannot and will not be guaranteed by major owners of capital. The rich are not interested in improving schools or society. They have not solved a single major problem over the last 100 years and always operate with impunity and arrogance.

If a “school” can do whatever it wants whenever it wants, flout all kinds of public standards of governance while still being called “public,” treat the “law of the jungle” as a virtue, loot millions of dollars from real public schools with a straight face, oppose and eliminate unions, avoid publicly elected school boards, selectively enroll students, increase segregation, engage in extensive fraud and waste, underpay and overwork teachers, suddenly shutdown without caring about what happens to parents and students, continually engage in shady real estate deals, and also have unimpressive test results on top of everything else, then what is the justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of such schools in the first place? Is this how society is going to move forward? With more destructive pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as solutions for families, students, and education? What is the justification for allowing billions in public dollars that belong to the public to flow to huge private interests who have no claim to this social wealth and whose main aim is to maximize profit at any cost to society? Is this what a “good” school and “good” society look like?

Good schools can be created and developed when education is recognized and affirmed as a vital social responsibility that all modern societies must carry out on an organized pro-social basis that ensures full funding for all schools, local democratic control, and high quality curriculum, instruction, technology, facilities, and personnel. Society cannot move forward without organizing education on a mass, universal, public basis. Leaving education to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market” or the private choice of “consumers” who fend for themselves like animals is backward, irrational, and avoidable.

The rich and their political and media cheerleaders are more determined than ever to wreck public education and to cynically convince the public that this is in their interest. They desperately want people to believe that charter schools exist to serve “the kids” and not to make the rich richer. Fortunately, the tide is turning against the mass looting of America’s public schools by charter schools. The devastation that charter schools cause and multiply is becoming more visible and offensive to more people more rapidly. Charter school havoc and destruction can no longer be prettified or concealed. Many now see right through the violent disinformation long promoted by charter school promoters. As a result, pressure is mounting nationally on state and local governments to curb the growth of charter schools. It certainly is not the best time to be a charter school promoter. People have had enough of the criminal ruthlessness of the rich and realize that private greed has never served the public good or students.

Public schools, even in their under-funded, over-tested, and scapegoated condition, still do a much better job of meeting the needs of all students than for-profit and nonprofit charter schools. The tired claim that charter schools represent a better alternative to the 100,000 public schools that serve over 45 million youth is intended to dupe the naive. Charter school supporters are in the forefront of destroying public education and offering lower quality schools.

Each year that passes with no new charter schools in a city or state is a good year for society, education, and the economy. Charter schools introduce the worst kind of “innovation” in education, society, and the economy. Far from solving anything, they multiply serious problems.

Six states currently do not allow charter schools: Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. Striking public school teachers in West Virginia recently played a big role in averting charter schools in their state. Striking public school teachers in Los Angeles and striking charter school teachers in Chicago have also lately played a positive role in opposing charter school crimes.

The momentum against charter schools is building and it will keep growing because charter schools will keep wreaking havoc on education and society. People are saying enough is enough and calling on all to defend public education.