The Criminal Injustice System: Beyond Platitudes and Bleeding Hearts

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Aotearoa (New Zealand) has a lot of serious problems. Neoliberal reforms have been imposed against the will of the people here and it is only our pride and our racially informed sense of kinship with imperial power that keeps us from recognising that we are a neocolony – a privileged neocolony perhaps, but a neocolony nonetheless.

Recent decades have been an affront to our sovereignty and our progressive and socialist history. We were the first country with a 40 hour working week, the first to allow women to vote, the second to have a comprehensive public health system, and the first welfare state. It cuts against the grain, therefore, that in 30 years we have gone from a country with no poverty or unemployment and near the worst income inequality in the OECD (7th worst in 2014). With relatively low wages and one of the highest costs of living in the world, neoliberalism is ripping apart our social fabric. We have a housing crisis that is worse than those hitting the US, UK, Australia and Canada, but it is even more of a shock because 30 years ago the idea of homelessness and of people begging in the streets was simply alien to us.

Make no mistake, neoliberalism has fucked this country, and I do blame the US and the UK along with those traitor scum politicians who serve the empire and not their own people. But in one key respect, neoliberalism was pushing against an open door. Neoliberalism seeks to shrink the social support offered by the state but it also seeks to grow the coercive powers of the state – the police and the prisons. The latter harmonises much more easily with traditional Aotearoan values. We are a punitive people. We are not ruled by fear of malefactors to the extent that the US seems to be, but we still have a strong attraction to “law-and-order”.

Our prison population has traditionally been high, but as incarceration rates have grown in other countries we have kept our place in the leading pack (excluding the US which is in a league of its own). We imprison people at nearly twice the rate of Canada; 45% higher than England and Wales and 30% higher than Australia.

The punitive culture in Aotearoa is partly the product of settler-colonial relations. The nature of colonialism is to obliterate autonomy. In Aotearoa the British achieved this in the same manner in which they did in India. First is the process of dividing the locals, using diplomatic trickery, and co-opting collaborators. The second is military conquest, which is only achievable because of native forces. The third is the realm of police, judges, truancy officers, land surveyors, bureaucrats, and lawyers. It is a telling part of our history that the reputed “last gasp” of the decades-long New Zealand Wars was when a column of 120 armed men was sent to arrest a leader, Hone Toia, who refused to pay a dog tax. The judge who imprisoned Hone Toia made it clear that he was demonstrating the reach and power of the government.

The story thereafter will be familiar to other settler colonial societies, Compulsory schooling became the mechanism for literally beating and torturing the language and culture from Māori children. There was a school-to-borstal pipeline, particularly for Māori boys. This was the beginning of a self-sustaining circle of institutional racism. The result is that even though Māori are only 15% of the total population, they make up more than 50% of the prison population. Even Al Jazeera has made a documentary about the “Locked-Up Warriors” of our country.

However, at the risk of weakening the sense of crisis (which is very real in absolute terms) I feel obliged to point out that in proportion to indigenous populations Aotearoa actually has a lower indigenous incarceration rate than Australia and Canada. Australian aboriginals are the most imprisoned people in the world, ahead of US African-Americans. None of this should detract from the significance of Māori imprisonment here, where indigenous people make up a much larger part of the total population.

The prison is clearly being used as an ongoing tool of colonial control, even if it is only the momentum of the past that keeps it so. Yet I would argue that treating this as a race issue alone will not help. The racism of the system show that it is an unjust system, but getting rid of the race element will not fix the injustice. We have a massive social problem with Māori incarceration, but if we fix the racism inherent in the system will it really fix a system that is so open to racism? Where would that leave us with regards to class and poverty? In this day and age can do we really think we can address a racial disparity if we don’t also address inequality?

 

Native Affairs

Māori TV is a gift to all Aotearoans because it is our only public service mandated TV broadcaster. They produce some very good television – albeit at the cheap end of the spectrum. Yet I was sceptical of the Native Affairs episode on “Locking Up Māori”. I had the strange feeling that they would acknowledge the role of racism and poverty but then circle back around to the normal mindless position of showing stories of individual prisoners finding redemption with the help of guitar-toting redeemers.

Well, colour me un-fucking-surprised.

Of course, there is something to be said for reminding people that structural and personal racism are real factors behind imprisonment rates. When Marama Fox recently dared to use the term “racism” as a cause of Māori incarceration in The Spinoff’s “Great Debate”, the audience guffawed in incredulity. Clearly some people out there need a bit of educating. Therefore it might seem like a good deed to highlight the structural racism and social drivers that lead to high rate among Māori, but viewers of Native Affairs are probably not the ones that need telling. If you are not familiar with Native Affairs, it is just what it sounds like – a current affairs programme dealing with issues relating to Māori. The name is an ironic reference to the Ministry of Native Affairs – an historic institution of racial paternalism, land theft, and ethnocide.

Marama Fox flippin

Marama Fox (Māori Party Co-Leader) was quite expressive in the “Great Debate”

Given their viewership, it is less significant that Native Affairs addressed structural issues, so neglected in the mainstream, than that they took that as a starting point for a narrative that herded people back into alignment with mainstream thinking – like a sheepdog ensuring our wayward brains don’t wander too far from safe pastures.

First they identified the empirically proven drivers of incarceration as being poverty and poor education. Crucially they assert, without the same evidential backing, that “in Aotearoa cultural disconnection is a third factor.” They may or may not be correct in this. As I will discuss later it is not whether the latter is true or not that is at issue, but rather the way in which adding the element of cultural alienation sets up a narrative centred on the individual offender. It is a path back to old habits of thinking; the modern equivalent of the 19th century Samaritan’s self-righteous efforts to save the souls of the benighted sinners who have fallen from the Godly path of lawfulness.

Soon after this introduction the programme also broaches the subject of structural racism in the justice system. Māori are more likely to be stopped by police. Under the same circumstances they are more likely to be charged. If convicted they receive harsher sentences and are more likely to be imprisoned. Cumulatively it is this layered racism that is probably the biggest factor in Māori imprisonment.

So if poverty, under-education, and racism among police and judiciary are the best known significant drivers of Māori imprisonment then a documentary should surely focus on changing social policy, ending structural and personal racism in education, reforming the police and judiciary. The prisoners (referred to constantly in the programme as “these people”) are not the real authors of their fate in this regard. Yet instead of having the intellect and the guts to embrace what the statistics tell us, the participants cleave to facile moralism – depicting the narratives of each prisoner as being driven by transgression and the consequences that follow from it.

The social science shows clearly that focusing on changing prisoners is stupid. It tells us unambiguously that we are not being honest about what acts do or do not deserve punishment and why we expect prisoners to embrace guilt, remorse, and the need to change themselves. People are married to the fictional reductionism of crime stories in books, TV, and cinema. Through constant sensationalism in the news people are made overly fearful of the capacity for violence among convicted criminals, feeling safer if they think that people are being locked away. This is a heuristic error that vastly exaggerates the ability of any prison system to enact what is called “specific incapacitation” by isolating the offenders from society. It also fails to account for the ability of the prison system to engender violence.

Native Affairs should have shown the efforts to reform those in authority, and highlighted where such efforts do not exist. The onus should have been on police, politicians, teachers and judges. We should have seen them struggling to overcome their racism and their moral and intellectual failings. Exemplars should have described their journey of overcoming their unthinking abuse. In the documentary we meet the victim of a cruel self-righteous and almost certainly racist judge. This judge ruined a young man’s life. He caused immense harm and pain. but where was that judge or one like him talking about their journey to redemption – complete with guilt and remorse for destroying futures, for ripping apart social bonds, and for wasting inordinate amounts of taxpayers money?

I am aware that our prejudices are deep. It is easy to see a tattoo-covered ill-spoken prisoner as a wrongdoer, but few people can envision the judge as being a dangerous and vicious parasite, profiting from suffering that they help perpetuate. Yet if you strip away our personal fears and our social prejudices; if you judge the judges on the fruits of their actions rather than their benevolent rhetoric and evinced good intentions, it is authorities such as these that need fixing, not our prison population. So, dear reader, I am going to walk you through some things. I am going to show you that incarceration and criminality are not strongly linked; and I am going to help you learn to fear and loathe the genteel. Regardless of the existence of individual dangerous prisoners, collectively those in prison are the victims of violent injustice, not the other way around.

 

Lipstick on a Pig

TOPadOn the surface, The Opportunities Party has an admirably progressive criminal justice policy. They aim to reduce our prison population to half the projected number in 2027. There are two problems with this: arrogance and reductionism. The arrogance comes from presenting evidence already widely understood and proclaiming that other politicians are too stupid to get it. The reductionism is in reducing a complete socio-political problem to a single track of statistics without any sort of critical self-awareness. I don’t want to be unfair to TOP, who do link criminal justice to broader issues of poverty and inequality, but even that is a very narrow way of looking at a much more profound questions of guilt and innocence; justice and injustice; transgression and obedience. The weakness of their position is easily demonstrated with a question: if it is so stupid and counterproductive to lock up 10,000 people, why do you want to keep 6000 people in prison?

 

 

TOP are trying to solve a “problem” without asking why it arose initially. Why are we so punitive? I have suggested that some of it comes from our colonial past, but it has a contemporary and historical scaffolding that exists independently of that. We blame our populist right-wing politicians fear-mongering at election time andemotive pressure groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust; we blame talkback radio and racist muddle-Nu Zillind, but it takes two to tango.

Our politics are not shaped by one side of a political divide, they are shaped by the way our political discourse divides issues into two vested camps and creates a static establishment orthodoxy that serves both.

While Hegel, followed by Marx and Engels, proposed that social forces create a dynamic “dialectic”, it is far more common in our time for “opposing” ideologies to become entwined in mutually sustaining inertia. Arrayed against the self-righteous sadists who demand that convicts must suffer are an equally facile bunch of liberal journalists, left-liberal politicians and NGO do-gooders who (by choice or by constraint) are mainly about looking as saintly as possible without really rocking the boat.

Our problems run much deeper than the attitudes of right-wing people. The rituals that surround our criminal justice system should be a clue that something is wrong. Rationality does not need to don special robes and use dead languages to give itself gravity. The system itself is not a measured and enlightened social institution, it is a quasi-religious instrument of authority. On close examination it maintains a strange irrational pretence of omniscience and still functions as if the court and the judges within it were touched with divine power.

Fixing our criminal justice system will require much more that a white-hatted technocrat Sheriff riding in on his high-horse to tell all us dumbshit yokels how to live our lives. The problem with people like Gareth Morgan is that their disdain for the intellects of others makes them incredibly naïve about social institutions. Just because a given institution purports to serve a given function that does not mean that that is it’s sole function, or main function, or even a real function. Some social institutions do the opposite of their pretended function. To put it another way, Gareth Morgan wants to put “evidence-based” lipstick on a pig that he is too stupid to smell.

 

Controlling and Punishing Social Inferiors

Our institutions have multiple historical roots but the tendency to echo the past (even when we can see clearly how inhumane and unjust the past was) has to be explained in contemporary terms. We are not so different than our cruel, stupid, superstitious and hypocritical forebears and much that we think of as the cast is actually still as much with us as it has ever been.

To begin with there is the religious and pseudo-religious moral impulse to view matters of criminality as an expression of sin – a form of moral transgression. This comes from the belief that the law is a moral framework and even when it fails to be so obedience to the law is a moral imperative in itself. This is an authoritarian viewpoint that is not actually morally sound. It is an irrational impulse and you do not have to delve too far into history to see that morality and obedience to the law are distinct and may be at complete odds with each other. By consensus we now recognise many laws from different places and times as immoral – for example, race and gender legislation that make chattels of racial groups, wives and daughters; apartheid laws; or the Third Reich’s racial laws.

Then there are the politicians, bureaucrats and social workers who see their jobs as being the imposition of their will on the behaviour of others. At base any attempt to change an individual or group of individuals is an attempt to to control those persons through the exercise of one’s own will. This may be both a personal inclination that attracts people into positions of such power and a situational product of our institutions of power. Our society hands people in these situations hammers and instructs them to treat certain individuals as nails. For example, social workers may as a group lobby for social change, but their day-to-day hour-to-hour activity is to try and change individual people however futile that may ultimately be in the bigger picture. By contrast, some politicians have a clear pre-disposed inclination to enjoy exercising power over others. Bill English was recently asked what cause he would take to the streets to march for, and he responded that he would march for the right to govern us. This is just a small glimpse into the state of derangement that veteran senior politicians fall into. They do not see governance as the exercise of shaping institutions in order to allow the will of the people to rule, but rather see governance as creating and using institutions to control and “govern” the people. To them that is what governing is, and they see no contradiction between that and what they refer to as “democracy”.

Billmarchi

These contemporary controlling impulses find rich and fertile soil to flourish in our inherited criminal justice system. Centuries of penal reform have changed the sharp brutality of sadistic 18th century barbarism, into the duller grinding inhumanity of today. The criminal justice system that we have today may be the most gleamingly polished turd in human history, but underneath it is still an inherited institution of class warfare (repurposed to serve also as an instrument of racial oppression).

When the historian George Rudé examined early 19th century English “criminal justice” system, he found an institution devoted to perpetuating the social order of class and ethnic division, not an institution of “justice”. This was occurring at a time that saw an increasing conflation of poverty and criminality. The enclosure of common land and the loss of small-holdings, along with agricultural reform and industrialisation, had seen a growth of poverty in England and a breakdown in the medieval “Poor Laws”. Not coincidentally, this era saw the creation of the first professional police force. Many of the lower classes were transported first to North America and then to Australia and there was not a great deal of distinction between committing a criminal act and being criminalised and punished due purely to indigence.

The end of the transportation era saw the rise of a three-part system of prisons, debtor’s prisons, and workhouses. The workhouses were cruel and exploitative. The clear, if irrational, ideological foundation was that the poor must be made to suffer if they were to receive sustenance. The moralism of the era demanded that they redeem themselves through suffering, tinged by Calvinist beliefs that poverty was a sign of sinfulness and God’s disfavour.

 

Trapped in the “Safety Net”

Social reformers worked to end this inhumanity, and seemingly they succeeded. Yet they did not succeed as well as they might have hoped. Decades after the abolition of workhouses George Orwell lived the “down and out” life in England and what he found was a new form of cruelty and a new way of trapping people in poverty. Those who sought shelter and nourishment were forced to prove that they were not merely lazy scroungers living the high life at the expense of their betters. Thus they were forced to remain imprisoned in locked cells for their shelter and then forced by law to walk many hours to get shelter for another night. Needless to say they could not work and could not have social or family connections. With no way of earning money their attire, and particularly footwear, was appallingly poor for those who had to spend each and ever day walking and exposed to the elements:

“One could not, in fact, invent a more futile routine than walking from prison to prison, spending perhaps eighteen hours a day in the cell and on the road. There must be at the least several tens of thousands of tramps in England. Each day they expend innumerable foot-pounds of energy – enough to plough thousands of acres, build miles of road, put up dozens of houses – in mere, useless walking. Each day they waste between them possibly ten years of time in staring at cell walls.”

It was an expensive and self-defeating exercise. The sadism of it was less newsworthy (or Dickensworthy) than the workhouses, but was it really much better? Things may have improved now, but maybe not as much as people think. In many ways we are slipping back. Poverty and its effects are intensifying and incidents of people trapped in implacable cycles of futility and suffering are on the increase.

We have never gotten over the idea that those who need help can and should be controlled. We think it acceptable that unemployed beneficiaries should be drug tested (and sanctioned for failing) and an overzealous campaign against “contamination” has seen many people lose tenancy in social housing due to traces of methamphetamine being found. Effectively that means that the less fortunate in society have a greater degree of state control in their lives than the more fortunate.

Many people undoubtedly think that it is beneficial for the unfortunate to have the guiding hand of a benevolent state to guard them from their own self-destructive impulses. It is for their own good, after all. In reality that is as much of a self-righteous delusion as the Victorian missionary’s belief in reforming the sinner. There is an increasing recognition that the neoliberal state systematically produces homelessness and that forcing special conditions on recipients of housing or other welfare acts to reproduce the vicious circle enforced on tramps in Orwell’s time.

One response to the structural injustice created by neoliberalism is the movement known as Housing First. Even PM Bill English proudly claims credit for “Housing First” initiatives. Unfortunately English is about as capable of grasping the essence of Housing First as Vlad the Impaler would be capable of grasping Nonviolent Communication. In theory, though not as it is widely practised, Housing First is supposed to provide unconditional tenure. Yet under 3 terms of National Party government, with English as leader or deputy, the government’s own social housing agency has been going in the opposite direction.

Neoliberalism reproduces the trap enforced on Orwell and his down-and-out compatriots, but with a much greater masquerade of benevolence. It actively encourages the underlying cause of social ills through deregulation, austerity, erosion of worker conditions and the devaluation of labour in relation to capital. Neoliberalism helps poverty, precarity and socio-economic exclusion to flourish, encouraging the disease but making a show of treating the symptoms. The long walks and the cold cells of 1930s England are replaced by the equally futile system of grants and supplements, constantly exposing people to a capricious and arbitrary system where they must pointlessly engage in a bureaucratic struggle to gain the money and service required to live in a system that is designed to give minimal support. The basic “safety net” support is insufficient in itself and yet is still contingent on conditions and impositions that can be extremely difficult for destitute people to live up to.

On the Native Affairs programme they revealed that the Howard League works to get inmates their driver’s licenses. This is a crucial and worthy effort, but it is a piecemeal step. The need for drivers license is a symptom of poverty, social exclusion and racism in the education system. It is not the only barrier affecting inmates and if they have to keep reaching out for help over each thing the process itself becomes demoralising and debilitating.

We have begun to have real conversations about the reality facing those on benefits today, and with luck that will continue, but for the last 40 years the gravitational pull has been to become ever more and more aligned with the US. By withdrawing support from the most needy due to infringements of a pseudo-moral code of behaviour we risk following the US footsteps of creating a criminalised underclass, a “school-to-prison pipeline” and a racial caste system. In many aspects the US is already in a Dickensian state. For example Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD, was a career criminal who lived by breaking the law – he sold loose untaxed cigarettes and lived off the meagre profit margin. He wasn’t selling them at the time of his killing. He wasn’t even on his normal turf and was doing nothing wrong, but a cop recognised him from his own neighbourhood. Garner got angry at being harassed when minding his own business, and the police reacted with brutal and escalating violence that intensified when Garner was struggling for his life.

It feels as if we are not far away from the point where we too will tolerate the life and death of our own Eric Garner, seeing both the “criminal” and the poor person as somehow less human, lot worthy of a right to a dignified life and ultimately not even worthy of a guaranteed right to life of any sort. In the NZ Herald Paul Little has recently asked how Dickensian we have become:

Under the so-called three strikes law, Raven Campbell, a prison inmate who pinched a guard on the buttocks – his third offence – was sentenced, as that law required him to be, to the maximum term of seven years jail.

Social housing agency Tamaki Housing issued an eviction notice to the five children of Mabel Pe just weeks after her death. They were given three weeks to vacate the home where they had lived for 10 years.

Housing New Zealand issued an eviction notice to a family of seven, including two blind children, after their grandmother died. [3 of the children also suffer PTSD after losing a mother to cancer and a father to suicide shortly thereafter.]

In the last quarter of 2016, the number of people applying to Work and Income for hardship grants to buy food was 112,000 – an increase of 14 per cent over the equivalent period in the previous year.

Wendy Shoebridge, who was discovered dead in her home the day after she was told she faced charges over benefit fraud, was later found not to have committed any fraud, according to evidence presented at the inquest into her death.

We are seeing the rise of conditions of ever greater social division, a restructure in the relations of capital to labour and a massive upward redistribution of wealth. The transformation is akin to that of the mid-19th century, described by Karl Polanyi as The Great Transformation, and the response of our welfare and criminal justice systems is the same. It is not to ameliorate the conditions of those who are suffering the most under the change, but to preserve the social order. In effect this usually means inflicting greater suffering, hence the rising prison populations and the growing precariousness of those on benefits. If we don’t face up to those facts, how can we hope to make things better with our evidence-based culturally-sensitive “progressive reforms”. Quite apart from the fact that much of the “reform” only seeks to get incarceration rates back to where they were decades ago we cannot hope to effect positive change if we do not face up to the in-built malevolence and injustice in the system.

 

Crime Rates and Imprisonment Rates are not the Same Thing

To return to Native Affairs: Almost immediately after having established that Māori are imprisoned at rates disproportionate to their offending, without skipping a beat the narrator of “Locking Up Māori” reverts to the mindless conflation of imprisonment and crime rates, almost as if the journalist is incapable of processing the meaning of what is coming out of her own mouth.

The disconnect between crime and punishment is something that we as a society are not dealing with at all. It is far greater than the disparity in offending rates and imprisonment rate between Māori and Pākehā because there is also a massive class dimension that reinforces the racial dimension. Everything about our notions of crime is freighted with class disparity.

To begin with there is a much larger problem of prejudicial enforcement than merely who gets stopped by police more when driving or walking. Whole sectors of society are virtually invisible to law enforcement when it comes to certain sorts of crime. Most notably, bourgeois and wealthy people can reliably get away with committing drug offences. Many politicians have used illegal drugs, but few of those oppose prohibition. They are not volunteering to be punished themselves, but they are happy for others to be punished for doing the same thing they were not punished for.

The system is incorrigibly unequal and unjust. Ironically, many prisoners are victims in childhood or adolescence of serious criminal offences against them. Many, as we now know, were abused while in state care. Repeated offences of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse against vulnerable children in one’s care are amongst the most serious crimes we can imagine, yet those who perpetrated such heinous offences are afforded effective impunity while the victims often end up imprisoned for far less grave crimes.

Our need to see certain infractors punished is shaped far more by our sense of social order and hierarchy than it is by legally defined criminality. Researcher Emily Baxter conducted research for a project she called “We Are All Criminals”. In interviews with people she draws out the crimes they have committed and maybe spared little thought for because they suffered no consequences. She then gets them to reflect on how their lives might have been different had they been apprehended and reflect on the role that class and race play in making the difference between what might have been a youthful adventure for them, but could be the start of a descent into social exclusion for others.

The fact is that we are all criminals. Only a miniscule number of people have not committed crimes that individually or cumulatively could bring about a custodial sentence. If you think you are one of the rare innocents, then you probably need to interrogate you memory more vigorously.

There are also crimes which are hard to detect and prosecute. Nobody disputes that rape is a very serious crime, but the great majority of rapists a will never see the inside of a court, let alone a prison. We accept that reality because we cannot change it, yet it is hard to say how it can be just to imprison a minor thief or a cannabis user when rapists walk free far more often than not.

Further still there is the massive disparity in prosecution and even in the legal status of equivalent crimes that corresponds with differences in socio-economic status and power. The most obvious example at the moment is the disparity between those who commit tax evasion and those who commit benefit fraud. Tax evasion costs the government 33 times as much as benefit fraud, but the response is the inverse of what should be rational. Academic Lisa Marriott gives us these points:

  • We investigate a higher rate of welfare recipients than taxpayers. Around 5 percent of welfare recipients are investigated in an average year, compared to around 0.01 percent of taxpayers.

  • We have greater numbers of criminal prosecutions of welfare fraudsters than tax evaders. In a typical year, there are 600–900 prosecutions of welfare fraudsters and 60–80 prosecutions of tax evaders.

  • A higher proportion of prison sentences are given to welfare fraudsters, for a lower level of offending, compared to tax evaders. For an average level of offending of $76,000, 67 percent of welfare fraudsters received a prison sentence. For an average level of offending of $229,000, 18 percent of tax evaders received a prison sentence.

Marriott also compares two cases: “To summarise: welfare fraud of $3.4 million, where all was repaid (and more[$6.7 million was paid]), resulted in 10 years in prison — while white-collar crime of $4.3 million, where none was repaid, resulted in less than two years in prison.”

Another disparity is in the treatment of employers who steal from employees and vice versa. “Theft as a servant” is considered very serious because it is a breach of trust. Stealing from your employees, though, is a different story. I guess the logic is that because employees don’t have a choice to entrust their wages to their employer there is no breach of trust when the employer steals from them. Wage theft is commonplace in Aotearoa yet criminal penalties such as imprisonment, home detention or even community service are unknown. There is a push to impose criminal penalties such as prison on offenders, but not because we treat all other thieves in this manner, but because the offending is now reaching such a level of exploitation that it is linked with enslavement – yes enslavement, another thing we could not have imagined happening here even ten years ago.

Stealing hundreds of thousands from people poorer than you, who have no choice but to trust you, and whose labour is the source of your own wealth isn’t even treated as criminal. That is how fucked and how biased the system is.

And then there are those who more or less get to decide for themselves what the law is and whether or not they are allowed to steal from others without penalty. Meteria Turei, co-leader of the Green Party, bravely admitted to having lied about having flatmates in order not to lose some of the benefit she received while she was a single mother studying law. This was to raise awareness of poverty and precarity. She was hounded by the media relentlessly and felt compelled to resign just a week and a half after Andrew Little’s resignation (another party leader resigned the next week, by the way, just to keep the journalists on their toes). People asked why Turei had to go for taking a small amount so that she could afford to raise a child, while our wealthy PM Bill English took much more by deception. A “fact-check” assured people that Turei was naughty, because she broke the law, while English did not. Simon Wilson then he “sense-checked” the fact-checkers comparing the crimes of Metiria Turei with the perfectly legal acts of PM Bill English who claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars as a member of Parliament in order to cover the cost of living in a place he clearly did not live. Some of Wilson’s conclusions:

  1. Bill English must have known that he and his family did not live in Southland. But the system allowed him to pretend that they did, and he took advantage of that.

  2. He got away with it by arguing that his lawyers had told him it was OK.

  3. When he was found out, the system continued to protect him.

In fact, as Wilson further explains, the legality of the acts was not actually tested strongly: “He denied he had broken the law and the auditor general agreed. She appears to have been particularly persuaded by the fact he had relied on legal advice that his position was tenable.”

But wait, there’s more! Because ultimately the most criminally guilty people in the world don’t just go free, they are rewarded for their crimes. The worst criminal bankers on Wall St and in the City of London are not jailed, they are paid handsomely to retire, to stay on, or to work in government. Corporations can become a law unto themselves, causing thousands of deaths in Third World countries though pollution or using government forces to massacred those who stand between them and profit. From the days of United Fruit in Guatemala, to Shell’s involvement in the slaughter of people in the Niger Delta. No criminal charges.

Nor are there charges for murders carried out by the CIA, let alone other crimes. The whole existence of the clandestine action arms of agencies such as the CIA is based on lawbreaking. One old pre-digital estimate suggested that the CIA was committing crimes at a rate of 80,000 per day, dwarfing any non-governmental organised crime outfit. With computerised surveillance there is a near unlimited potential for individual crimes to be happening a dizzying speed.

Then there are the mass murderers. Since the death of Stalin, those with the most blood on their hands have mostly been Western political leaders. Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger – even Ford and Carter – Brzezinski, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush(es), Clinton, Blair. It is estimated that 20 million have been killed due to US-led aggression since World War II, frequently with crucial UK participation. They also have high levels of involvement in other acts of mass-murder. They backed the slaughter of 1 million in Indonesia and the subsequent genocide in East Timor. They gave diplomatic cover to the genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). They trained and backed those carrying out the genocide in Guatemala. Third world dictators cannot even compare in terms of the number of dead they have caused. Yet Henry Kissinger, perhaps the biggest murderer of them all, is a fêted elder statesman, treated like a rockstar guru by the political elite. These people are by any reasoned standard more despicable and fearful than the very worst of our prison population.

So, when you see the stats that show that social forces such as racism and poverty are the main causes of imprisonment, do not immediately think, yeah, but people need to be held accountable for their actions. The worst people in the world are not held accountable for their actions. Normal people are not held accountable in the way that those who fall foul of the criminal justice system are. It is a capricious system full of racial and class prejudice and rampant injustice

Argument from Consequences

As mentioned, the Native Affairs programme that fulfilled my low expectations of journalistic endeavour included “cultural disconnection” as an unproven third factor driving Māori incarceration. How much it is true that “cultural disconnection” causes imprisonment is definitely an interesting topic, but in the programme it becomes the central factor – the focus of the programmes call to action. Without seeming to be aware of what they were doing, the makers of the programme use the topic of “cultural disconnection” to leave poverty and poor education as background factors in a narrative driven by notions of individual reform.

There is certainly something quite powerful in the question by one prisoner who asked why it took coming to prison for him to find out about his own identity. The colonial system literally stole the sense of self from many Māori and it is heartbreaking that it might take imprisonment for some of those to benefit from reconnecting. But now the viewers have been taken back into their comfort zone, the place where no one can see the forest because they are too busy looking at all the trees. Unlike those factors of class and race which allow for the actions of others to be a cause of imprisonment, “cultural disconnection” can only be interpreted as a cause of criminality in the prisoner themselves. The notion leads us back to the belief that it is still their criminal transgression that drives their fate and what we really need to do is to help them to stop being so angry and naughty.

It is as if the journalists are programmed by cliché. They will always find a way back into the comfort of tinkering reformism that maximises the sense of doing good but minimises any real clash with the status quo. In this case, cultural disconnection brings the focus right back to criminal acts by prisoners. It is actually a little bit ridiculous, because as wonderful as it may be for Māori inmates to connect with tikanga Māori, it is not why they are in prison and nor should they be penalised if they do not want to embrace Māoritanga. When you get right down to it, they are suggesting that you can fix a racist system by getting the victims of racism to change, not the racists. There is an obvious parallel here to those who think that the way to prevent rape is for the potential victims to alter their appearance and behaviour.

Yet people seem to find it impossible to let go of the notion that prisoners have personal responsibility for their fate. To be reformed they must go through the ritual of penitence and agree that it is they that must transform. It is true that, apart from those wrongly accused, they must have contributed at least one “wilful” criminal act to find themselves behind bars, but between the disparities in policing and sentencing we can see that in most ways the criminal act is not the greatest factor contributing to the imprisonment.

It is tempting at this point to separate violent from non-violent offenders. Then, in pragmatic terms, we could abolish drug prohibition and end custodial sentences for non-violent crime. That would lower prison populations and instantly curb the worst injustices coming out of the racial biases of the criminal justice system. But as much as I feel that drug prohibition is morally insupportable (and that too is a conversation that needs to be dealt with in full) I also think that blunting the worst excesses of an unjust system still leaves an unjust system.

The fact is that even in committing a criminal act an offender is acting as a product of circumstances beyond their control. People resist understanding this, but it is abundantly clear in the statistics. In violent offending, the unchosen circumstances of birth and upbringing are clear predictors. Growing up exposed to and especially victim to violence does not always mean that a person will become violent, but it is such a strong statistical association that it cannot be ignored. And there are other factors such as sensory deprivation in infancy, exposure to lead and other toxins, traumatic brain injury or other neurological conditions. The more we study the factors that influence behaviour the more we must admit that we are all products of circumstances that we do not control.

It is not just the social sciences that problematise our punitive understanding of criminality. While many philosophers still try to justify the existence of free will, neuroscientists are increasingly able to pinpoint the chemical processes of decision-making. If someone spikes you with a drug it will affect your decision-making. If someone controls the information you receive, it will affect your decision making. If you are abused as a child, it will affect your decision-making. Free will is a delusion. Even our current understanding of physics suggests that the universe is shaped by stochastic (individually random and unpredictable) subatomic events. Because these shape the real world and ultimately affect our lives it is impossible to reconcile the nature of the universe with free will.

Free will was an excusable explanation for a complex phenomenon in the same way that explaining lightning as bolts cast by a god was excusable before the process was properly understood. It makes sense that we would feel that free will exists even without proof, but it is a religious concept not a rational concept. Basing criminal justice decisions of the concept of free will ultimately makes no more sense than treating criminality as demonic possession. Yet the concept of free will underpins our notions of criminal culpability.

We cling on to a model of individual guilt and just punishment because it works so well with our emotions and social conventions. When bad things happen we want a sense of reciprocity and we also want to feel protected from those who might threaten us. On the more sinister side, we also have a tendency to persecute those who are perceived as alien, defective, diseased, or just a burden to our social collective. This is nothing to do with justice. On the contrary, it is one of the ways our evolution has sowed within us conflicts between compassion and brutality; xenophobia and solidarity; inclusion and exclusion.

Our sense of reciprocity, however, is perhaps the greatest impediment to a more enlightened approach because this innate tendency is bolstered and magnified by the narratives in which we constantly immerse our consciousnesses. I refer here to books, film, TV and so forth. In our stories transgressions seldom go unpunished, guilt is seldom in doubt to the reader or viewer, and there is almost always the implication that somehow the punishment ends the narrative arc, tying up the story with a nice little bow. However, this is not just true in fictional narratives, it is also the structure used almost exclusively in news reporting and documentary.

In reality neither safety nor reciprocity can be achieved through the criminal justice system and social exclusion is both undesirable and harmful. Despite this, they are powerful desires and the reason we cling to the idea of free-will is that without free-will we cannot have individual criminal culpability. Without that sense of culpability, we cannot package reciprocity, safety and social exclusion as a function of “justice”.

We cling to the idea of wilful individual responsibility when logic and evidence both tell us it is a delusion. We do not want to deal with the consequences of not having the ability to pronounce guilt because it would deprive us of our ability to see the criminal justice system as having inherently positive outcomes.

Ritual Sacrifice

There is something disturbing about the way we as a society created a sudden and new official Truth once a judge or jury has pronounced guilt. Suddenly doubt is officially banished, facts are certain.

There is a time between the verdict and the sentencing when the convict becomes a species of outlaw. Their penalty and path back to citizenship is undetermined and actions which are not crimes may affect their penalty as much, or more, than the actually criminal act(s). This outlaw status, by some mysterious rationale, becomes retroactive. Everyone has a right to deny charges against them without penalty, but once they are found guilty a magic time machine allows judges to reward “early guilty pleas” because the special powers they have make everything fair (and apparently there is no contradiction at all in discriminating in favour of those who admit guilt because it is not the same as discriminating against those who maintain their innocence).

It is just as problematic that once guilt is established there is an expectation that the convict must now align themselves with the official Truth and make a ritual obeisance before the court by admitting guilt and expressing remorse. This is not a rehabilitative process and it is not a parole hearing, this is part of the sentencing, so it is actually quite difficult to say, in terms of justice, why remorse at the time of sentencing is so important. The practical effect of coercing a show of remorse from a convict is that it forces that person, and often their supporters, to readjust their narrative and to reify the Truth established by the court.

One of the strangest parts of the ritual, from my perspective at least, is the breadth which judges give themselves in rendering judgements. At this point in the proceedings there can be no objections or arguments. It is pure soliloquy. It is quite normal for judges to tell those found guilty what their motives were, what they were thinking, and what they feel currently, as if the judge were some form of omniscient telepath.

As with everything here, I do not have to delve deep into the past to find exemplars. A case I find problematic is that of Gustav Sanft who killed his 2 year-old daughter. At sentencing just a few days ago as I write his wife pleaded: “I know people want to see Gustav punished for this accident, I see it everyday in him that he punishes himself. All I can ask is have mercy on Gustav. Our babies need their daddy at home, that is where he belongs.” The judge, however, decided that Sanft was not experiencing real remorse but rather “self-pity”. He sentenced him to 4 years and 4 months imprisonment.

The judge said: “Your denial you pulled the trigger is something you have latched onto, perhaps to help explain to yourself, and others, the terrible consequences of that morning.” This leaves us with two unpalatable options. One is that the judge, despite feeling at liberty to characterise the mental states of others, is so ignorant that he is unaware of the effect of adrenaline on short-term memory. If Sanft did pull the trigger there is no reason at all to expect that he would remember doing so. The other option is that the judge doesn’t actually care what Sanft believes. Either way, the emphasis on this detail is disturbing. The prosecution did not rely on his having pulled the trigger and the jury’s verdict does not confirm the fact.

If Sanft were more calculating and cold-blooded he might simply have told the judge what he thought the judge wanted to hear. Ultimately he cannot be considered more guilty of the original crime because he refuses to admit to something he may not even remember. I cannot say what sentence might have been given if Sanft had admitted the act, but the judge himself has made it seem that a very important factor in sentencing is submission to the judgement of the court. It is hard not to feel that what is required of Sanft is not completely different to an auto-da-fé – the public penance required and coerced from those condemned by the Inquisition which reinforced to onlookers the righteousness and honesty of the convictions and subsequent punishments.

Michel Foucault opens Disclipline et Punir with the horrifying theatrical spectacle of the public execution by torture of an attempted regicide. Foucault made the case that the theatrics of power did not disappear with penological reform, they just became more regular and less overtly objectionable. In that much, at least, he is correct. Much of this ritualised display is a show of power designed to maintain and reproduce the power that is exercised.

The Disconnect

We understand that the outcomes of our criminal justice system are measurably and demonstrably bad. The individual stories of those caught in the system, though most people are blissfully ignorant of them, can be extremely harrowing. People’s punishment may lead to much greater suffering than the crime they committed. In most cases the family of prisoners suffer despite not having committed a crime, and the cost to the taxpayer is excessive – stealing from the sort of spending that might be genuinely helpful to people.

We acknowledge these harms yet we seem to think that the basic system doesn’t need fixing. It has been more than 250 years since Cesare Beccaria wrote On Crimes and Punishments, and yet in many ways we have not yet lived up to his vision of a humane system in which punishments served rational utilitarian purposes. Perhaps it is an impossibility; punishment and humane rationality may not be not reconcilable.

We need to end the vestiges of noxious feudalism within our court system, but to do that we may have to go further. We need to end the fictions of guilt and innocence and the even more dangerous fiction that we can safely create an absolute Truth and justly act as if doubt does not persist. We need to move beyond our primitive senses of vengeance and reciprocity and recognise that punishment is never just.

We need to abolish prisons. It may be that some people must be specifically prevented from harming others, but in the vast majority of cases we know that imprisoning some people is not a way to prevent harm.

Even in a case of “preventive detention”, which aims at the specific incapacitation of those who are deemed an unavoidable danger to others, we have seen recently that the criminal justice system may enable crime instead of preventing it. In another NZ case that was in the headlines just days ago, a man who had been sentenced to preventive detention after having been convicted of raping (on separate occasions) a woman and a girl was found to have subsequently raped three cellmates. One was repeatedly raped for a week. Another was knocked unconscious and then raped. The man threatened to kill his victims and told them he had nothing to lose because he was a “lifer” due to his preventive detention sentence. In other words the attempt at incapacitation seems to have actually become a factor leading to the violence.

The double-bunking that facilitated these rapes was introduced under Minister Judith Collins who dismissed concerns over rape, then later made a prison rape joke (as did the PM of the time John Key). These details reveal that the most “law and order” minded people are ultimately, if unconsciously, concerned about social order, not justice. The very reason that they are so assured in their “tough on crime” stances is that they have a Manichean view of Us “good” people and Them “bad” people. Such people often commit crimes, quite serious ones, but they don’t consider themselves to be criminals. Criminals are the racial and class Other. The baddies from the cop shows.

Prisons are a mechanisms of social control, one of the ways that the neoliberal state is keeping lower class people in their place as the system begins to fail them. You might think that if we get rid of prisons, change the court system, and if we stop singling out some as the officially Guilty, then we will have a sense of broad impunity that will lead to a lawless orgy. It is a challenge, true. Yet we are almost all criminals, and we accept as a matter of course that those who have committed the most heinous acts must continue to live among us. Some, particularly rapists, will never even have to talk to a policeman. So may be acquitted because of reasonable doubt rather than innocence. Some will have been convicted, but apart from a very small number who die in prison, those people will still be part of society. Prisons can’t change that. They can and do make things worse in a number of ways.

The problems of the criminal justice system, and the politics and power behind the discourse of criminal justice, are absolutely pervasive. I can almost take exemplars from the headlines of any day on which I am which I write on the issue, and indeed I did so. There is no cherry-picking here, this gross injustice is the daily reality of our society and it needs to change.

This has been my idiosyncratic argument for abolition; born of my frustration at the half-arsed bullshit that journalists keep spouting; born of my frustration at all the things never talked about, the assumptions and the complacency. I hope it adds new dimensions, but I should also point out to readers that there are far more developed views out there. Abolitionism has a very long history with many renowned proponents such as Emma Goldman, Nils Christie, Ruth Morris and Angela Davis. I urge readers to engage with the prison abolition movement, including People Against Prisons Aotearoa. The costs of not abolishing prisons are growing.

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Trump’s Straw Nazis: A Horror Story

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Introduction – Nothing is More Dangerous than a Discreet Nazi

People have been digesting the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and the sudden rise in overt racism and Nazi symbology. There are people saying “Heil Trump”, giving Nazi salutes, and spray-painting swastikas in alarming numbers. The US is a large, populous, diverse country, but there is clearly something of significance here beyond just a few ignorant teenagers with spraycans and emotional issues.

The overt Nazism is very disturbing. It was less than reassuring when Anne Coulter sought to tweet some perspective “Rachel shows FIVE PEOPLE at Richard Spencer meeting giving a Nazi salute. Call out the National Guard. Cf. Ferguson protests.” Then minutes later: “Total # of deaths connected to American Nazi Party in last quarter century: ZERO; Total # of deaths connected to Al Sharpton: 9 I know of.” Coulter might have chosen to compare exaggerated notions of a Nazi threat with, say, road fatalities or shark attacks. Instead she specifically cites examples that will provoke a fear of black violence. Instead of reassuring us, she shows that the overt Nazis are just the tip of an iceberg of frightening racists that includes her.

Equally unreassuring were Trump’s attempts to convey cherubic innocence and naïve confusion. Regarding what NYT’s Maggie Haberman referred to as “alt-right supporters” he said: “It’s not a group I want to energize. And if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.” For students of history this may be especially unnerving because Nazi and Fascist leaders deliberately cultivated ideological followers who could organise and carry out acts of violence which were deniable and which the leaders could, if it suited them, condemn as excessive.

[I should explain here that I use the term Nazi even though I would usually only refer to regimes and parties by the term’s they use to name themselves. In this case, however, I cannot be bothered with writing “National Socialist” each time because nobody else does.]

But Nazis who openly wear swastikas are not and never have been the real threat in Western countries. For decades thinkers have warned us that fascism will come to the West in the guise of a return to normalcy (a claim that is actually part of the essence of fascism). The US is particularly scary because it tolerates and empowers fascism more than other Western countries. Trump, for example, won the votes of tens of millions after he had vowed to increase the use of torture and to murder the families of “terrorists”.

Trump has been given a gift, because he can choose to continue to embolden the street-thug Nazis or he can make a great show of rejecting and crushing them. He will probably do both simultaneously and by turns, but all the while the back-room Nazis, the crypto-fascists who don’t even think of themselves as fascistic, will grow in strength.

To get some perspective on how far the US has gone into overt and proud barbarity, take the example of Trump’s nomination of General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to the post of Secretary of Defense. To start with, there should be alarm bells ringing when the President elect is working a crowd at a victory rally by yelling “Mad Dog!” repeatedly. The most memorable of many quotes from Mattis may be: “Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

Mad Dog got his sobriquet from his military service. Dahr Jamail was in Iraq during both 2004 battles in Fallujah conducted by Mattis. Jamail makes it very clear that Mattis is a war criminal:

During the April 2004 siege, more than 700 civilians were killed by the US military, according to Iraqi doctors in the city whom I interviewed in the aftermath of that attack.

While reporting from inside Fallujah during that siege, I personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by US snipers under Mattis’ command. Needless to say, all of these are war crimes.

During the November siege of Fallujah later that same year, which I also covered first-hand, more than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. Most were buried in mass graves in the aftermath of the siege.

Mosques were deliberately targeted by the US military, hospitals bombed, medical workers detained, ambulances shot at, cease-fires violated, media repressed, and the use of depleted uranium was widespread. All of these are, again, war crimes.

At that time I broke the story of the US military’s use of white phosphorous, an incendiary weapon similar to napalm in its ability to burn all the way down to the bone.

Mattis is openly antagonistic to Iran and to “political Islam”. This led to Congressional Representative Allen West (R, Florida) sharing a “meme” on Facebook which pictured Mattis and read: “Fired by Obama to please the Muslims, hired by Trump to exterminate them.” Before Facebook took down the post it gained 50,000 likes and 10,000 shares. This is not about a few bad apples. West’s career, his election and his 2.5 million Facebook followers all give us a window into what is really going on in the US.

West has said that “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 AD, and we need to have individuals that stand up and say that.” In 2010 Jen Phillips wrote: “West equates today’s Muslims with those of medieval Europe, alleging that if Muslims in the US are not stopped, we too will have to change our name like Constantinople.” He is also a self-confessed and proud torturer. In Iraq Lt. Col. West watched on as four of his men beat an Iraqi policeman on the head and body. He dismissed his men and then staged a mock execution, threatening to kill the detainee and then firing his sidearm next to the blindfolded man’s head. Under US Army Field Manual The Law of Land Warfare such coercion is clearly defined as torture. The seriousness with which the US Army takes such laws can be judged from the result – West was fined $5000 and retired with full pension benefits. The seriousness with which US people regard the lives and rights of others is clearly reflected in West’s successful political career.

The problem with extremists like West is not that they are in the majority it is that they are an accepted part of the political spectrum. As I will discuss further, the same was true of anti-Semites in Germany before the holocaust. Trump only has a 41% approval rating, which is amazing for someone who has yet to take office, but it is hard to take seriously those who oppose him any more because they want to have their exceptionalist cake and eat it too.

If there were approval ratings polls in Germany in 1932, Hitler would have also been below 50%. He was a polarising figure, and most people did not vote for him. The reason that Mattis, West and Trump succeed is that their opponents seem more interested in feeling good about themselves than about doing what is right. Many of them supported Clinton who, as we will see, is also insupportable. If people are not willing to stand up against the chauvinistic arrogance of US patriotism and exceptionalism then their opposition to Trump’s fascism is empty in both moral and practical terms.

To understand what it all means, I am going to present it as a horror novel spanning a hundred year; one with a chilling twist in the tail. I am not meaning in any way to make light of things. I am doing this to highlight that this is an informed argument based on solid inference: a logical progression grounded in history.

Certain commentators such as “Tyler Durden” of ZeroHedge were certain that Trump and his coterie are really trying to “drain the swamp” and sweep away DC corruption and more. As one breathless fantasist explained:

Drain the Swamp pertains to more than getting the corruption out of the system.

Bannon now has Trump’s full backing to destroy the UniParty, defeat the Globalists, banish the warmongers of the MIC and help the legal prosecution of the corrupt. This is the Revolution to end the domestic Tyranny and the global Hegemon.

In contrast, the blithe self-righteous liberal stance of NYT and its ilk is just as speculative and just as ideological. Perhaps one of the most significant medium term impacts of the 2016 campaign is that print journalism has descended to Fox/MSNBC levels of inaccuracy, with NYT, Time and WaPo liberally putting words in Trump’s mouth and making ludicrous claims about his ties to the Kremlin. This means that they have broken with generations of journalistic practice and the “North Korea Law of Journalism” (“editorial standards are inversely proportional to a country’s enemy status”) by telling barefaced lies about domestic politics when they normally only tell barefaced lies in international stories. Such lies are not the biggest problem though. The real problem is that the respectable media will selectively treat some utterances of Western politicians as being unquestionable truth. The result is a very distorted narrative, but we do not notice how irrational and fantastical it is because it is made banal by constant repetition.

To illustrate my point, if we take the ranting of the alt-right “revolutionary” above, once you look past the exotic terminology, the basic flaw in reasoning is that this person trusts Trump, a lying billionaire showman/fraudster with a proven record of betraying and fleecing anyone he can. You have to be very selective in your memory to think that Trump is going to oppose the growing corruption and concentration of wealth and power in DC, in the US, and in the world. However, contrast this for a second with the perfectly orthodox claim that Clinton seeks to bring peace and stability to the Middle East through a no-fly zone or some other initiative. If you really step back from the assumptions that surround us, that is a truly insane statement. Firstly, Clinton’s track record on peace in the ME and North Africa (dating back to her role in backing the Iraq NFZ, sanctions and Operation Desert Fox decades ago) is even clearer than Trump’s record of honesty and straight-dealing. Secondly, the US itself – however often it protests benevolent intent – has been acting in ways that promote conflict and instability in the ME since at least 1979. The fruits of US intervention are extremely obvious and monotonously predictable, repeatedly saying that it will be different this time has long since surpassed mere credulity and entered the realms of dangerous mental dysfunction. Thirdly, though everyone seems to avoid seeing it, if this was a strategy computer game or board game it would be immediately obvious that the US benefits from the conflict it brings about in the MENA region. The obvious conclusion is that the US destabilises and sows conflict deliberately.

If you ask yourself how the US would behave if they were intentionally maintaining instability it would look exactly as it does, right down to the protestations of peaceful intent. Logically, therefore, it is less doolally to say that Trump is fighting the evil tentacles of the Illuminati New World Order than it is to say that the US is concerned over the suffering of civilians in Aleppo, wants to promote democracy in Iraq, seeks to restore stability and prosperity to Libya, or is genuinely concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Luckily we do not have to rely on the things that pour forth from the orifices of politicians to make sense of events. When I say “luckily” I am using it in a special sense because once you strip away all of the illusions of Western benevolence the world is much bleaker and more alarming, but the longer we fail to face these realities, the worse things will become. This tale of horror I want to tell is a history of things going very badly for us all, and it did not begin in November 2016.

There are a number of places I could begin my tale, but I want to start as I mean to go on – with Nazis.


Chapter 1. Germany 1918-32 – A Paradise for Right Wing Violence

The violence and legalised illegality of Hitler’s Third Reich did not arise without precedent. Liberal and pluralistic Weimar Germany was, in fact, a very benign environment for proto-Nazi and Nazi violence. Social Democrat President Friedrich Ebert worked with the right-wing nationalist Freikorps militias to suppress a postwar socialist republic in Bavaria and socialist revolutionaries in the rest of the country. He would later retrospectively legalise the murders of thousands of leftists. This was one of 136 times he used “emergency powers” while President. Those same Freikorps carried the “Kapp Putsch” in 1920 which was not defeated by Ebert’s government, but by a mass popular uprising. Ebert’s successor Hindenburg was a conservative nationalist who also used emergency powers freely, including overriding the Reichstag. The judiciary throughout the Weimar period was unambiguously forgiving of right-wing political violence and repressive of the left. Most notably, a certain Adolf Hitler was given an extremely lenient sentence for his failed attempt at an armed putsch, turning what should have been a politically terminal debacle into a watershed in his rising career.

The German government was clearly a very right-wing government and that did not change when Social Democrats governed. Weimar Germany is not the first or last “democracy” to be offered the choice of those who talk left and govern right or those who talk right and govern right. Most Social Democrats and Liberals are rightists once in power, and some would say the same of Communists. History and contemporary politics also show that supposedly socialist regimes are just as susceptible as conservatives to vastly overestimating the threat of the real left and being complacent to the threat of the violent right.

In recent years the US has shown disturbing parallels with Weimar Germany. The executive has become the most powerful branch of government, able to carry out wars and extrajudicial executions; to conduct warrant-less mass surveillance; to suspend habeas corpus; and to militarise criminal and political policing. In the meantime the legislative branch, which is the most powerful in theory, is corrupted and subjugated by wielders of money and power and frequently deadlocks for supposedly ideological reasons. (This constant partisan warfare is quite an achievement when you think about it. Weimar Germany had proportional representation and legislators from the extreme right through to the Communists. The US has the least ideological variance in its 2-party system of any country I can think of. There is no question that many 1-party states have had as much diversity in their legislatures, yet the US with very little political diversity still manages to have bitter partisanship leading to “fiscal cliffs” and destabilising government shutdowns.)

The US has also seen a lenience against right-wing criminality and police violence accompanied by an excessive punishment of left criminality and the criminalisation of left dissent. It is abundantly clear that prosecutors and judges take a very permissive approach to police violence. On the rare occasions that juries decide these matters they often feel, or are led to believe by judge, defence and prosecution, that a claim to have been fearful is enough to justify considerable violence in self-defence without consideration of whether the fear was reasonable and the response was proportionate. I think the cases speak for themselves, like the recent mistrial over Walter Scott’s death. Then there is also the contrast between the fates of activists such as the Bundys in 2 armed stand-offs that resulted in 1 death and some relatively lenient sentences, and that of Philadelphia’s MOVE in 2 armed stand-offs that resulted in 9 life sentences, 11 members killed (5 of them children) and 65 neighbouring houses destroyed. Then there are the “Green Scare” victims whose political crimes (animal rights or environmental) were upgraded to “terrorism” leading to decades-long sentences.

Like all historical parallels, one should not read too much into specific details. No militias in the US have slaughtered thousands of leftists, but then in other ways, such as the persistent overtness of extralegal killings, undeclared wars, torture and indefinite detention, the US can be seen as already having more than a foot in the post-Weimar stage of this analogy.

Chapter 2. 3rd Reich 1933-38 – Ostensible Diversity

The early years of Nazi rule in Germany are a rich source of uncomfortable similarities to the 21st century US. As with the Weimar period, when we look at the first years of Nazi rule we tend to pick out the things that retrospectively we know foreboded the mass-slaughter that would follow. At the time, however, only a minority of alarmist types, mostly but not exclusively from the left, suggested that Nazism was especially frightening. Even the German Communists (probably because they had seen thousands murdered under a “Social Democrat” led government) initially viewed Nazis as being just another bourgeois but promisingly deranged expression of the bankruptcy and impending collapse of capitalism.

The really disturbing thing about early Nazi politics is that they managed to mobilise and energise with racism and hatred, but yet always left room for people who didn’t like racism and hatred to live in denial about it.

When Hitler became Chancellor most people expected him to just carry on as normal. He didn’t, but to most people it was just a series of events. You know, one thing after another each explained as purely relative to the events of that week. As the Nazis systematically eliminated rivals and seized control of the entirety of the state, the number of people truly alarmed by Nazism did not swell by as much as you might think. Instead, the abnormal became normalised. Political opponents were taken into “protective custody” and put in camps such as Dachau. Treatment probably depended on how important and defiant the prisoner. Some were released quickly, others were “shot while trying to escape”.

Hitler, by the way, was not greatly concerned about where people were on the political spectrum. He simply wanted to destroy all political forms of social power that he did not have absolute control over. This would come to include rival Nazis.

The result was that for most people Nazis were just the German governing Party, almost synonymous with government itself. Nazis who emphasised anti-Semitic views, for example, were part of the political spectrum just as they had been in the Weimar Republic. As a result, lots of non-ideological people joined the Nazi Party. In fact, even before Hitler’s ascent to Führership, members were diverse. Humans often like to fool themselves. Politicians know by instinct to leave people enough room to be idiots.

Despite some very glaring and repeated violently anti-Semitic speeches and writings by individual Nazis, at the time of the pogrom called Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) most Nazis (including some of high rank) and the vast majority of Germans were opposed to the persecution of Jews. There is a strange tendency for people to tolerate, nod along and even applaud extremist rhetoric, admiring its emotional intensity, yet not really agree with the actual textual content. It has certainly often been true of fire-and-brimstone preachers. It is cathartic to watch passion, but unfortunately when it is political speech, such as Trump or Alex Jones, there are different levels on which it works. Different people are receiving very different messages. The same is true of Joe Biden’s speech which began with him asking the audience to “stop and think” but ended in final moments which amounted to jingoistic yelling. Most people seem to see it as a rejection of Trump’s extremism but Biden’s own extremism seems almost invisible to them, and that is a very dangerous situation.


Chapter 3. 3rd Reich 1939-45 – The Poison Surfaces

It was the War that brought the real essence of Nazism to the surface. As is so often the case, the guiding force of Nazism was not what most Nazis believed, but rather what the most extreme Nazis believed.

One alarming thing about the current “alt-right” is that they fit a similar pattern to the Nazi Party. All post-WWII Neo-Nazi organisations have highlighted extremist racial and nationalist politics. To be a part, you must embrace an overt politics of race. The frightening thing about the alt-right is that it is more like the original Nazi Party. Many alt-right people are in complete denial about the underlying racism and they are willing and able to overlook the fact that their movement attracts violent racists. For them Trump is the person who stopped the TPP and, unlike Clinton, was not openly campaigning on creating a no-fly zone in Syria which would have caused mass deaths and may have triggered war with Russia. To liberals that complain about racism they might reasonably answer that Trump actually disavows racism, but Clinton, in openly campaigning to bomb other countries, is a much deadlier and more real racist.

The alt-right are just a manifestation of a deeper and wider acceptance of racist violence. Clinton and Trump actually both sow and reap a deadlier racism, the general US belief that the lives of foreigners are not very significant and that the mass killing of other peoples is just business as usual. The US has created such a strong narrative of exceptionalism that, although the US public is usually consistent in rejecting anything presented as a new war, they accept perpetual war without question.

The Nazis left people room to be able to deny the full horrors of what was happening while also leaving them as much room as possible to support abstract and sterile principles that promote genocide. They didn’t ask people if they wanted to kill millions and million of Poles, Russians and Jews. They asked them whether they wanted to make Germany great again, while incidently scapegoating and stoking fears of the Bolshevik and the Jew. When Robert Jay Lifton interviewed doctors who worked at Auschwitz he found that though they had never expected Nazi exterminatory rhetoric to become a real programme of extermination, they felt that it had somehow prepared them for confronting the realities behind the verbiage.

The most important thing was that the Third Reich could count on ordinary Germans to carry out abominable acts when called upon to do so. The eponymous Ordinary Men of Christopher Browning’s historical account were a police battalion who were detailed to massacre Jews in rural Poland. 80 to 90 percent became mass-murderers when they could have chosen not to without facing punishment. Counterintuitively, this was not related to ideological fervour, but rather to habits of obedience. Germans had been made into a deeply authoritarian society.

Contrary to most people’s expectations, what we know of genocide is that it tends to be fostered by war, and that instead of being caused by extreme racial hatred it is more true that genocide causes extreme racial hatred, although, of course, the seeds must already be present. The US has the seeds of many forms of racial hatred and is now heading into a period where a minority that feels empowered in their racial hatred because they believe they have been validated by the Trump campaign. Just as concerning, though, should be the equivalent cult of personality towards Clinton. On pure factual grounds, because she has such a long political history, she was not a credible vessel of progressive ideals. However, a large number of people reacted to Clinton in an authoritarian manner, creating a false image of an immaculate icon of feminism, equality, solidarity and progress that was utterly at odds with her known public record. People even left signs on her street to thank her at thanksgiving time, though, if you think about it, it is very difficult to pinpoint what people are thanking her for. Her main qualification for most people may be that she is not Trump, and yet her major achievement of 2016 was to help get Trump elected.

The US has long been a particularly authoritarian country if judged by the RWA (right-wing authoritarianism) scale. More notable than its higher than normal median scores on the scale, is its skew towards extreme RWA scores. No single measurement can predict the destiny of an individual or a nation, but the US has a great potential for mass violence which has already found expression in massacres in Korea and Viet Nam. Behind this is a tendency to live in myth that is growing greater over time. For GI’s in Viet Nam the figure of John Wayne was important to a degree that is hard to grasp from our perspective, but the US is constantly re-imagining the macho hero with an almost demonic intensity.

Now the Demigod is not the cowboy, it is every person that dons a US military uniform. On the increasingly significant “Pearl Harbor Day” Trump tweeted about the thousands of “heroes who selflessly gave their lives”. This is a completely irrational way to characterise those killed in a one-sided surprise attack. This mythology incorporates a dangerous martyr obsession. Aggressive militarists, including but limited to the Nazis, are often steeped in hypocritical sentimentality. They wail and obsess over those of their own killers who fall to the violence of their enemies. The Nazis had Horst Wessel, but the US has legions to choose from: the Alamo; the Maine; Pearl Harbor; 9/11; Chris Kyle; the fictitious POW/MIAs in Indochina and their fictional rescuer John Rambo. In fact it is hard to escape the constant repetition stories, images and simple assertions of military sacrifice.

The Western world, as a whole, seems to be rapidly becoming more authoritarian. The “post-fact” nature of contemporary politics is a symptom of this. Whether this is purely the result of changes in technology or not, we are entering a time when belief is determined by group affiliation and deference to the position taken by a leader, rather than by reason or evidence. Globally we have seen a rise in anti-intellectualism and nationalist fervour. In some respects it is not just the US, but half of the world that is showing distressing fascistic tendencies.

Meanwhile the only prominent countervailing ideology that makes a claim to internationalism is neoliberalism. As I will show it is not internationalism, it is a Trojan horse for imperialism abroad and plutocracy at home. The false conflict against neoliberalism evinced by “populist” economic nationalists like Trump is no different than the fake isolationism shown by Bush and Trump. It is just a different PR approach to selling the same policies of war and imperialism, but I am getting a little ahead of myself….


Interlude – Old Lager in a New Stein

Much of the current symbolism and ritual in the Olympic games was created by Nazi ideologues and it remains with us today, echoing their idealised notions of nationality and physicality. It is quite creepy when you think about the Nazi minds and ideals behind the familiar Olympic rituals. I cannot help but think that the persistence of Nazism here is a token of something deeper and broader.

After WWII, pro-Nazi Western elites were still as powerful as ever, just a bit more circumspect. Ordinary people among the Western Allies had always been fairly solidly anti-Nazi and became far more so during the War. The rich and the powerful, on the other hand, had a much more sympathetic view, with many being unambiguously pro-Nazi. Without Western financial support it is doubtful that Hitler could have attained and consolidated his control of Germany. Western “neutrality” in the Spanish Civil War was also de facto support of the Fascist cause and helped Nazism.

Then the French and British betrayed their allies in Czechoslovakia by effectively gifting their country to Germany (Poland also took a slice of territory, after refusing to allow Soviet forces to cross Poland in order to defend Czechoslovakia). Perhaps the most grotesque aspect to this obvious Western ploy to foment war between Germany and the USSR, was the way they harnessed people’s fear of war and created a historical narrative of the Munich agreement representing ill-advised “appeasement”. Without being being betrayed by neighbours and allies, Czechoslovakia could not have been conquered by Germany. World War II as we know it could never have happened.

After the war the US and UK protected and recruited many Nazi war criminals with the OSS and SIS being key organisations involved in the “ratlines” that smuggled Nazis out of Europe. The US recruited Klaus Barbie, best known for his expertise in torture, and sent him to South America to help in anti-communist efforts. They also recruited Reinhard Gehlen, German head of counter-intelligence in Eastern Europe, who re-constituted his anti-communist intelligence network.

Anti-Semitism was no longer prominent, but the US military and intelligence organisations, and a significant part of the foreign policy establishment, were soon singing from a very similar songbook to that used by the Nazis. The ideology was a racially informed anti-communism: Russophobic; deeply racist towards Asians; unthinkingly and unquestionably white supremacist. The CIA was not just white dominated it was the province of rich Anglo-Saxons. Anti-communist campaigns in Latin America, the Philippines, Greece, Indochina, Korea and elsewhere were carried out with great brutality, with torture, and with massacres.

I have written about this previously in more detail but it bears repeating that Fascism and Nazism were not exclusive of liberalism, and the liberalism promoted by the US in the 3rd world was clearly fascistic. In Indonesia hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered to institute a US backed regime that was authoritarian and corporatist, and yet open to US capital and praised for being “moderate” and “liberal”. US clients like Nguyen Cao Ky and Ferdinand Marcos openly expressed their admiration for Hitler. The Argentine Junta targeted Jews for disappearance, torture, and death. Their security personnel were anti-Semitic and had pictures of Hitler in their torture chambers (where they used electrical and water torture techniques developed by US forces in Viet Nam). Milton Friedman stood shoulder to shoulder with Mussolini and Hitler in a country that where “nationalist” militarists in actual jackboots sold their own country to foreign capital.

The other side to this, as Michael Parenti has pointed out, is that Fascists and Nazis were actually free-marketeers. In fact in the Economic History Review Germá Bel explored the privatisations of the public sector in “National Socialist” Germany, the first of their kind. The Nazi Party, which repeatedly campaigned on promises to nationalise industry, was actually the first to indulge in mass privatisations of the sort that would later occur under Thatcher and Pinochet.

Nazi war, oppression and genocide were all explicitly undertaken for reasons of imperial expansion and control. In the Third Reich, the word “Reich” was explicitly used to mean empire. During the Cold War, US imperial activities replicated all of chauvinist brutality and the nationalistic and racially informed violence of Fascist or Nazi imperialism. There were no extermination camps with cattle trucks packed with those slated to die, but there were concentration camps. There were people lined up in hundreds in front of mass graves, shot, and thrown in with the dead and dying; and there were villages, towns and even entire cities of people incinerated by carpet-bombing. Perhaps we can agree that this was not as bad as what the Nazis did, but that is a bar so low as to be almost meaningless.


4. Cold War 1945-90: Schizoid home-front

Those who served in World War II went home determined that they would not be treated as poorly as those who came home from the previous World War. In the UK there was a landslide victory for Labour just 2 months after VE Day. During a very challenging post-War period of shortages and demobilisation, Labour created the NHS and a social welfare state that ensured that the vast majority of people had a reasonable quality of life.

In the US the “GI Bill” and a booming economy created an unprecedented upward mobility. In the US, UK and indeed globally an economic “golden age” coincided with a democratic spirit and expectations of fairness. Income and wealth became more widely distributed and many would argue (most prominently Thomas Piketty) that the drop in inequality was a major contributor the coincident economic growth and stability.

In foreign policy, however, extreme violence and brutality were commonplace and explicitly racist. For the colonial powers the violent repression of independence movements led to massacres, torture and the use of concentration camps. The violence of security forces in Algeria, Kenya, Yemen, Indochina, and elsewhere was horrific and undeniably racist. British “Tommies”, for example, did not hide their loathing for Arabs, Africans and Asians. While Clement Atlee’s Labour government made their own country less cruel, British troops were torturing in Aden and massacring in Malaya. When countries did win independence their former masters did as much as possible to wreck them, destabilise them, and leave them as dependent neocolonies.

In the US life was headed towards a consumerist idyll. Baby-boomer children would grow to become teenagers, and in doing so would create iconic narratives of ideal childhood and adolescence that still resonate today. Meanwhile the young men sent to occupy Korea were prolific thieves, murderers and rapists. Their “civilised” upbringings meant nothing when they were sent to garrison a country whose people they regarded as contemptible. Before the Korean War broke out in earnest tens of thousands of civilians were killed by US troops or US-led Koreans when suppressing uprisings in Jeju Island and southern districts. When war broke out, under US guidance politically suspect persons were massacred. First was the Bodo League massacre of up to 300,000 people registered for supposed leftism. Then in each town recaptured from communists throughout the peninsula many of those deemed to have collaborated were also killed. Massacres also continued in areas of guerilla activity. No one knows how many died in this manner, but the US was also carpet-bombing every significant North Korean town. They killed millions of civilians. Meanwhile, on the homefront (such as it was) people were listening to Perry Como and probably drinking chocolate malteds at milkbars with bobby-soxers. It was like a parallel universe.

There is yet another unsettling similarity here with the Third Reich. Hitler himself was a great believer in the ideal of not placing German society as a whole on a war footing and the regime managed to maintain the illusion for some time. In the post-War era this disconnection between a pacific and comfortable Western domestic population and bloodily murderous interventions in other countries became a social insanity. It created a weight of cognitive dissonance that over the years made young people, including some of considerable privilege, rebel. This would come to a head in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

US public opinion had actually turned very decisively against the Korean War by its end, but that did not create social upheaval. The US made a big mistake when fighting in Indochina because they vastly elevated the perception of risk and national involvement. People did not turn against the war purely because of the bodybags of US personnel returning home. Objections were varied and covered a range of political and moral grounds and certainly shouldn’t be reduced to a purely chauvinistic concern over US lives. The mistake the US regime made was in maintaining very high levels of recruitment and conscription. During the period of 1965-73, which to Usanians is the “Vietnam War”, more than 20 million personnel entered the armed forces. Of them, 5 million were sent to Viet Nam. Of them 500,000 served as combat soldiers. This vastly magnified the degree to which people felt that they were connected to the conflict personally. Very few people in the country would not have faced a realistic possibility that someone close to them might end up fighting in the War. 500,000 combat troops is actually quite a lot, and the other 4.5 million sent to Viet Nam were not necessarily safe from harm. It was almost like they were experimenting to see if a high perception of risk to loved ones might galvanise public support for the War. Their enemies in the People’s Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) were apparently concerned that this might occur and always concentrated on inflicting casualties on South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN).

Instead of galvanising the public in support of the war the sense of involvement sent the US into civil fracture and disruption. They learnt the lesson that any student of Roman history could have told them – you can’t use citizen soldiers for obviously imperial purposes, only for times when they really do believe in a threat to the homeland.

In contrast, using professional troops and local proxies the US had been able to militarily dominate the entire Western Hemisphere for over a century. Between 1965 and 1973 (just a small slice of ongoing interventions) they invaded the Dominican Republic; sent Green Berets to aid in the genocidal “counterinsurgency” in Guatemala; set up the ORDEN death squad organisation in El Salvador; overthrew the government in Chile; and supported a military coup in Uruguay. The level of death and destruction was not as high as in Indochina (where the US killed millions) but this was part of an ongoing interventionism. There would be moral objections, outrage and activism against these acts, but there was never the same threat of civil strife that was prompted by involvement in Indochina.


Interlude II – The Right-Wing Convergence

As the post-War power of the working class faded; as the Citizen Soldier proved to be useless for empire; as the Washington Consensus tightened its embrace of the hearts of Western technocrats and its grip on the throats of 3rd world peoples; as the Communist alternative seemed ever more bankrupt and hopeless; as all of this happened the elite and hegemonic politics of the West, if not the entire world, has coalesced a glob of ideological mucus. The glob extrudes pseudopodia such as a given political party that claims to be green, or nationalistic, or calls itself a Labour Party, but they are all part of the same glob.

Francis Fukuyama called it the “end of history” and he thought it was absolutely fantastic. Liberalism/neoliberalism is the ruling ideology of the whole planet. People might still have other ideas, but governments do not, they just have flavours.

The odd thing about liberalism is that when it is kept out of power it fights against tyranny in the name of liberty and justice, but once it is on power it support privilege and injustice. It is polluted with a fundamentally conservative core. By making private property inviolate liberalism ensures that there will always be a point where it admits to imperfection and injustice but claims that the cost of remedying such things is higher than the benefit.

Once we achieved the liberal utopia declared by Fukuyama liberalism became at once all powerful and, in another sense, utterly meaningless. Societies must be “managed” within tight ideological constraints. (Neo)Liberalism allows only grudging interventions in order to prevent deaths by starvation or having kids freezing to death trying to sell matches. Those who have the poor taste and judgement to be poor are expected to submit to control in the spirit of the Victorian workhouses. Freedom is for those who can afford it, those who need help must submit to additional regulation and must never receive more than the bare minimum lest they receive pleasure without having earned it. On the other hand neoliberalism is generally more favourably inclined when it comes to spending money on police forces, and it positively loves new prisons (especially private ones), security guards, and surveillance.

When they are in positions of power and influence it is hard to tell the difference between a liberal and a conservative. Take the liberal Henry Kissinger, for example; many call him a conservative but he never went through a conversion. Kissinger was and is an East Coast liberal, like Robert Kagan. Kagan is one of the most prominent neoconservatives and an avowed liberal. (Fukuyama was also a liberal neocon, but he left that club due to a belated attack of conscience.) Victoria Nuland, Robert Kagan’s liberal neocon wife, is an ally of liberal Hillary Clinton and helped engineer the coup in Ukraine under liberal Obama that has given overt Nazis the most power they have had since 1945. The labels have become almost meaningless.

In power liberalism militates against progressive democratic and socialist responses to change or crisis, but it is like a giant loophole for oligarchy, for plutocracy, for imperialism, and for authoritarianism. Right-wing ideologies merely need to transform themselves by adopting a meaningless liberal veneer, and the liberalism becomes the vehicle for their ideology. In truth, though, the espoused ideological distinctions are not really important any more. The glob of ideological mucus has a hard kernel of reality at its core. That reality is that the glob serves inequality. It concentrates wealth and power at all levels. The world it is making is neofascist, neoconservative, neoliberal and neofeudal. These things are not distinct any more. The very rich and very powerful feel beyond the reach of law. They feel they can and should buy and sell the lives of lesser people. They feel that government is the province of a type of aristocracy.

Steve Bannon has said that only property owners should be allowed to vote. Trump’s cabinet picks so far have featured billionaires and bankers like Steve Mnuchin. One of the billionaires, Betsey DeVos, said the following: “I know a little bit about soft money as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. …I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point.” Her brother is Erik Prince who is infamous for owning the mercenary army formerly known as Blackwater. Remember that Trump was running against the Washington insider.


Chapter 5. “Interventionism”, 1990-2016 – First they Came for the Iraqis…

In 1980 the US encouraged Iraq to attack Iran. They gave false intelligence to Saddam Hussein to convince him that Iran was in disarray after their revolution and that he could quickly seize territory. In the 8-year war that followed 1 million were killed. Whenever Iran had the upper hand the US would intervene to help Iraq. Secretly they also made deals with Iran which by an amazing coincidence helped Iran out when Iraq gained the upper hand. Some officials openly stated that US interests were served by the bloody stalemate. Following an attack by an Iraqi aircraft on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf the US used the pretext to enter into naval war against Iran.

When the war ended Iraq owed billions to its Gulf neighbours. It considered that it had been fighting to protect the Arab Gulf monarchies from the largely Persian Republican Islamist Iran. Within months of the end of the war, Saddam Hussein made it clear that he considered the US to be an enemy. Iraq’s creditors started putting the squeeze on Iraq. Iraq was caught in a Catch-22 situation because it could not sell enough oil to pay what was demanded without depressing the price to the point where it could still not pay its obligations. Behind the scenes, the US was encouraging the al-Sabbah ruling family of Kuwait to be bold and provocative. They gave them secret security guarantees. By keeping their guarantees secret the US deliberately avoided the very strong deterrent effect they would have had if known. Kuwait began the highly contentious practice of slant-drilling in an oil-field shared by both countries. As instructed by Washington, April Glaspie (who later did a fake mea culpa as if this were somehow her idea) gave an unambiguous guarantee of non-intervention to Saddam. Being suspicious Saddam took the unusual step of publicising the entire meeting with Glaspie. He then invaded Kuwait apparently feeling safe because he had video of a US Ambassador saying: “We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”

As soon as Iraq was in Kuwait, however, it was a completely different story. To begin with, the Iraqi regime may have been gesurprised that when they invaded Kuwait and killed Kuwaiti soldiers, they were not greeted as liberators (prior to thisKuwaiti anti-monarchist dissidents had sometimes called for unification with Iraq). The occupation by Iraq was undoubtedly unpleasant, but that unpleasantness was magnified into holocaust proportions by a PR campaign by the al-Sabbahs with CIA support and a US government acting as their megaphone. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International took a lead in promulgating unverified and largely false atrocity propaganda at a time when it was clearly building the case for war. The US created false satellite intelligence to convince the Saudis that Iraq was poised to invade them next and thus get permission to stage “Desert Shield”. They sought and received a UNSC resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq and they unleashed hell on the country: a nightmare that has still not ended quarter of a century later.

The “Vietnam Syndrome”, which meant that public and military opposition prevented the US from waging major wars, was no more. The US had chipped away at it in smaller acts of aggression like the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the invasion of Panama in 1989. Now, as long as it steered clear of mass conscription the US could send its own forces in large numbers for major acts of conquest and genocide (“genocide” meaning war against people rather than war against an enemy military force). Moreover, it had the ability now to manage the information flows in such a way that the conflicts themselves became a sort of adrenaline rich entertainment that made viewers excited and gave a sense of patriotic righteousness.

Big actions, though, remained a source of ambivalence. Excite people’s interest too much and they start to pay too much attention to the issues involved. The attack on Serbia helped push the boundaries of blatant illegality, but young people were still wont to be discontented. The facts, once known, also tended to be really unsavoury and NATO’s pretences of righteousness, humanitarian intent and unerring precision did not hold up to scrutiny.

9/11 gave a new lease of life to imperialist slaughter, and the US has not wasted it. Once it has a war now, it will not let it go. They are playing for keeps. Once they have visited conflict and instability on a foe they can maintain it indefinitely. There used to be no such thing as a “failed state”. The closest thing would have been Lebanon during the Civil War, a country devised by the French Empire to be a weak constitutionally divided and sectarian dependency, that was destabilised by both Israel and the US. Now “failed states” are sprouting like mushrooms. And behind every single failed or seriously fragile state is some form of US intervention. Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, DR Congo, Pakistan Libya, Iraq, Haiti, Syria all suffer directly from US intervention, but other places like Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda suffer from neocolonial dynamics that are just as much the responsibility of the US and its Western allies. In normal circumstances those countries that became unglued because of a massive invasion or regime change operation should slowly rebuild in the post-conflict years, but if you look at the highest scoring countries on the Fragile States Index you can see that they are continually getting worse. That is because there is no real post-conflict. Conflict does not end any more.

The desire to turn war into perpetual war is not new for the US. In Korea most of the War was a “stalemate” in which the US controlled the tempo. During this time there was a negotiation process which the US sabotaged in many ways while seizing every demand put forward by the Communists, however minor, and screeching incontinently that it was proof of Communist bad faith. In Indochina the US worked hard for decades to avoid, stall and subvert negotiations, arguably from 1950 until 1975, until finally the US Congress itself rebelled against the White House and Pentagon and refused to fund any further pointless and endless bloodletting by the US puppet regime in Saigon. These wars only ended because the enemy belligerents were strong enough to force an end. This may yet happen again in Syria, but perhaps one of the most saddening aspects of this is that for the targeted countries peace can only come at the price of authoritarianism. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but this is not the place for me to argue for an anti-imperialist left-libertarian alternative. Realistically at this point people like the Syrians have no choice but to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian government and there is little doubt that they will happily do so if it means an end to war. Having that “choice” makes them luckier than some others.

I very much hope that Rojava can maintain its autonomy. I also support the non-violent resistance movement in Syria in its fight against oppression from both the regime and the rebels. But to those who say that there is a revolutionary alternative to Assad for Syria as a whole, and that I am betraying that by not calling for Western support for his overthrow, I would just like to point out that Saddam Hussein was a more repressive leader but his overthrow did not benefit Iraq. Not only that, the left-wing uprising against him in 1991 was far stronger and more popular than any rebel formation that might be called “leftist” in the current civil war. And what happened to that Iraqi uprising? The US betrayed the rebels and helped Saddam Hussein to destroy them. The reality is that if you cannot support leftists in a way that does not empower the West and/or Takfiri Islamists then you are not supporting the leftists at all. That is not an ideological opinion it is a recognition of unavoidable facts.

As I revise this the last rebel enclave is falling in East Aleppo and people are going into propaganda overdrive. There may be massacres occurring but our sources so far are dubious or already discredited propagandists. Patrick Cockburn had only recently pointed out that there are no reliable sources in East Aleppo, but the same paper that carried his piece just posted an article based on “social media” of activists claiming that they face “a genocide”. One of the viral massacre photos is actually from a music video. Max Blumenthal tweeted “The BBC’s sources in E Aleppo are the four most popular opposition accounts that tweet in English. One is funded by the State Dept.” (The sources are named in an embedded image.) In contrast, over more than a year I have seen a steady stream of photographs of dismembered and starving children from Yemen. The provenance of these pictures is not disputed, the suffering is slow and ongoing and therefore (like that of Palestinians) it is not as susceptible to fakery and exaggeration, but none of these so-called humanitarians has ever seemed to care about Yemenis. They want a dramatic cause that is facile and unharmful to their careers but allows them to feel self-righteous. That is why I feel considerable disgust at words such as Shaun King’s putrid hyperbole: “I often wondered how the Holocaust could happen while so many people watched & did nothing. Aleppo is a modern study in how that happens.” The deep seriousness with which he regards this “Holocaust” can be inferred from the fact that it is a lone tweet; one isolated tweet in the middle of a timeline dominated by the evidently more important topic of Kanye West.

Let me reiterate that I do not know what is happening in East Aleppo. What I do know is that it was inevitable that a “bloodbath” would be reported whether there is one or not. This propaganda will be used to foment war or justify sanctions that will kill Syrians. There is a chance that the Trump administration will launch the newer larger war in Syria that Clinton was tacitly promising, especially if some terrorist act provides a pretext. If not, however, Syria will slowly all be brought under government control. Unfortunately for Syrians they will find themselves in the position that Iraq found themselves in in 1991. Samantha Power has announced to the UNGA that 12 Syrian generals must face war crimes trials (just days before the UK parliament voted 439 to 70 not to hold Tony Blair accountable for lying to them in order to prosecute war against Iraq). When Syria’s UN Ambassador took the floor the US, UK and French walked out in protest before he had said anything.

More recently Power castigated Russia: “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?” For anyone who recalls some of the appalling atrocities known to have been carried out by US supported “moderates”, including the beheading of a 12 year-old, this hypocrisy seems extraordinarily like Power has entirely lost her humanity entirely and become an expression of pure evil. Robert Fisk describes the rebels she supports as: “among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East.” Yet Power, in this post-fact world, can act as if she were the most moral and perfect human ever created, knowing that she will never be called out by Western media with her hypocritical finger-pointing. The US will use such accusations and their control of the media narrative to impose sanctions on the Syrian people while those who might stand in solidarity with Syria are kept at bay by their dislike of the Ba’athist regime, exactly as it occurred in the early 1990s. History doesn’t repeat, but imperialists like to re-use successful ploys, only tinkering as necessary.


Chapter 6. Clinton, Blair, Obama 1992-2016 – Ostensible Diversity Redux

Living in a pluralistic polyarchy or what we laughingly refer to as a “liberal democracy” becomes much less of a source of self-satisfied complacency when you examine just how narrow the ideologies of the political leaders are and note that they are quite out of alignment with the more diverse ideologies of the populations they are supposed to “serve”. I have previously written about our worrying tendency to destroy Straw Hitlers as a way of justifying the unjustifiable. The fact is that we don’t like to admit that Fascism and Nazism were not ideological monoliths and pointing to differing policy positions on, say, banking regulation is not a sign that the major parties in a polyarchy are actually an expression of democratic pluralism.

Clearly Democrats and Republicans do not represent the breadth of public opinion in the US by any means. On many issues they are jointly in clear opposition to the majority. Their political speech has some diversity, but their actual policies are in a very tight consensus that is not at all related to public opinion, nor to what people perceive themselves to be voting for.

Bill Clinton was meant to be a left-wing alternative to 12 years of Reagan and Bush. Toni Morrison said one of the stupidest things ever said in history calling Bill the “first Black president” because he publicly treated Black people with the same unctuousness that he lathered on people with different skin colours. It was a breakthrough on a par with “United Colours of Benneton” ad campaign, when it was suddenly realised that you could make money by hypocritically appropriating progressive politics. In reality Clinton pursued policies that increased inequality: he supported NAFTA; he enacted welfare reform that set up a “race to the bottom” dynamic which effectively pushed states into miserly, cruel and even economically self-destructive policies; he increased mass incarceration and signed the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty” act, stating how much he approved of the limitation it placed in the ability of death row prisoners to appeal in court and thus “escape justice”. In cases like that of Troy Davis this has meant that belated exonerating evidence cannot be used to overturn a conviction and, as the US Supreme Court ruled, as long as the law was followed in gaining the conviction it is perfectly legal to put an innocent man to death. Davis was executed in 2011.

The continuation of the racist “war on drugs” establishes a key pattern in creating the fake pluralism in politics. Reagan and Bush had been very overt and loud in their anti-drug rhetoric. Under Bush it reached McCarthyite proportions with photo ops with kids denouncing their own parents for using drugs. When Clinton came to office everyone expected a change in direction from the sax-playing dude who admitted to smoking pot. Surely someone like that could not in conscience imprison people for doing what he had done with impunity? He was actually just the first of the a succession of three Presidents who have admitted to illegal drug use, and no they do not let the hypocrisy of their position bother them. They are politicians and increasingly I feel that they also view themselves as beyond the law. The point with Clinton’s war on drugs was that he continued to accelerate it. The only difference was that he didn’t wave around a white ten-gallon cowboy hat and yell “yee-haw” while promising to clean up the town. In fact, he switched to dog-whistle racism and played on fears, getting rid of Nancy Reagan’s prim moralisation and blurring the issue with the racially informed and fear-based law-and-order narrative that had always lurked underneath. This established a pattern by which politicians could capitalise on backlash against right-wing policies but then perpetuate those policies by merely not drawing the same level of attention to them. Another strong example of this is Obama’s deportation and “border security” policy. More people have been deported under Obama than any prior President and the Border Patrol and ICE now have a combined budget of $20 billion.

Then came Tony Blair. After 18 years of Conservative governments the theme song of Blair’s campaign went “things can only get better”. That is a ballsy way of not promising anything good, but still harnessing a false positivity in a way that foreshadowed Obama’s 2008 campaign. Claiming “things can only get better” does not actually suggest that your party intends to make any progressive change.

Economic “shock” practitioners sweep to power on a wave of panic and then wreak havoc on a society and its economy. They claim that it is analogous to a medical procedure, painful but necessary for long-term health. Then, when the pain of their attacks begins to fade they say “look its working”. It is like predicting that someone will develop a migraine and then hitting them in the head with a brick to “prevent” it and then claiming to have wrought a miracle once the bleeding stops and the pain fades a little. In a sense Britain’s “New Labour” only had to avoid overtly attacking the poor and working class for a couple of years for their campaign song to become prophecy.

After a while, of course, the underlying neoliberalism began to overtake New Labour’s unsustainable pretence of being a “Third Way” of market-friendly socialism. Private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships (PPPs) were not so much a compromise between nationalisation and privatisation as they were a way of giving the wealthy access to tax money and other unearned income (“rents”). They were scams of a sort, but the key is that they did not cause immediate suffering. New Labour were big on deferred pain. Their welfare reforms they laid the groundwork for much cuts under the 2010 Coalition Govt. and the 2015 Conservative Govt. The same could be said of their pro-finance policies, their response to the 2008 financial crisis, and the introduction of quantitative easing.

Under New Labour income inequality reached record levels in 2009-10, but that is a less important consideration than wealth inequality. In sharp contrast to the post-War years, wealth inequality has continued to rise at levels similar to the rise of income inequality under Thatcher. One reason that this is important is that throughout the world inflation has been affecting the spending of the poor more than that of the rich, so the income disparity is lower than the growing disparity in the material condition. One need only look at the costs of housing to know that the stagnant or declining incomes of lower income people actually understate the real growth in disadvantage.

The growing wealth inequality effectively indicates an upward redistribution of wealth. In the US and UK wealth inequality has steadily been growing since 1980 without noticeably changing when different parties or coalitions govern. Coinciding with this change is a neoliberal expansion of state coercive power and tightening of state social support which aggravates the loss of personal wealth. Effectively governments can forestall or accelerate the suffering caused, but the underlying change continues at a fairly regular rate.

Tony Blair was also a driving force behind the bombing of Serbia and the invasion of Iraq. He also eroded civil liberties. Yet many left-wing people still genuinely thought New Labour were credibly less awful than the alternative of staying away from the polls and letting the Conservatives back into power. Blair combined the 2 techniques that allow self-evidently right-wing people to occupy the position that would be taken by the left in an age of authentic politics. Those techniques are fake hope and blackmailing people into choosing the lesser evil.

Obama, of course, was the King of fake hope. In another example of brazen honesty, he did not campaign on real change, or meaningful change, or substantive change, he campaigned on “change we can believe in”. You know, the sort of change that brings Tinkerbell back to life. Change like closing Guantánamo, leaving Iraq, and ending the perpetual war.

Part of the camouflage that has allowed Obama to be the most successful conman of modern history is the constant and often completely insane blather of his right-wing critics. Nothing summarises Obama’s reign better than “Obamacare”. This is like a Blairite PPP taken to enormous and Byzantine extremes. It is not a compromise between two extremes, it is a way of exploiting an unacceptable situation to create another situation which is just as unfair and exploitative but blunts and delays the immediacy of the problem. It is another massive upward redistribution of wealth through giving tax revenue to private interests and creating new rents. It also shows how in practice (neo)liberal politics will happily contravene core liberal principles – in this case by forcing customers to buy products from a private vendor or face the coercive force of the state. This is actually a common product of the neo-liberal practice of privatising or subcontracting state functions, but in this case the money involved is a great deal more than, say, sitting a driver’s license test.

These false alternatives to the pro-corporate, pro-war, pro-inequality right-wing have had such effective PR that there is very little that a Thatcher, Bush or Trump could get away with doing that they could not. Hillary Clinton, however, really shifted the goalposts because she did not make much of a pretence of being any sort of leftist. Her administration would have had less overt militarists, but she herself was the more clearly hawkish of the 2 major Party candidates.

I do not think people are really offered alternatives in US Presidential politics, except in as much as a politician’s persona creates expectations that must not be transgressed too violently. That was why it was vitally important that Kerry no be allowed to win the 2004 election, because there was a serious expectation that he would end the Iraq War and the price of him not doing so would have been huge. With Clinton, though, there really are no expectations of that sort.


Interlude III: The Crooked Hillary Paradox

If you ever really believed that Trump intended to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s crimes then you need to re-examine everything you believe about politics. Even in more politically authentic times, politicians tend to view each other as peers regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.

US presidential politics takes the normal disingenuousness of politics and elevates it to the level of farce. This occurs through the increasingly protracted and expensive process that begins with people announcing their candidacies nearly two years before the election. Then follows a bizarre spectacle in the primaries where people who are of the same Party do everything short of accusing each other of being the Antichrist. Then they either suddenly fall madly in love with their former enemy when the issue is decided, or they try to maintain fierce enmity but slowly back away from it because they have to re-establish the notion that they are on the same side. If it was pitched as a fictional melodrama no one would accept it because it is too unrealistic, yet journalists build their entire universe around taking the whole thing at face value. If one was to make a realistic fictional narrative of it you would probably have to suggest that 90% of the protagonists are lying 90% of the time. The central characters would, of necessity, only be able to succeed by an ability to maintain a sustained complex deception. In those circumstances the only people able to succeed in politics would be highly professional showpeople.

Much was made of Clinton’s lack of charisma in this campaign, but I think that that is largely a cover story for how much people are revolted by her insincere politics. She is a professional politician and she knows how to ingratiate and sell herself. She is probably not up to the same standard as Obama or her husband, but it is clear that she knows how to make the common folk feel special and to make them feel like she is really concerned about their well-being. The tears on election night showed that she does have cult appeal. I don’t think anyone cried when George H. W. Bush lost to Bill, to name just one example. There have also been “touching” reports of her meeting people whilst walking or buying books.

Trump is a slightly different kettle of fish, but he is a celebrity, a showman and a salesman. He also makes his money by selling himself. This is not dissimilar to being an unctuous glad-handing baby kisser, it just means that Trump doesn’t have to rely so much on sucking up to the peasantry. The point is that he is equally calculating. He also has a long-standing relationship with the Clintons. Trump believed Bill was a kindred spirit and he courted the couple with donations and bonding over golf. Some call the relationship “transactional” rather than genuine friendship, but that is neither here nor there.

After months of talking about “crooked Hillary” and rallies chanting “lock her up”, Trump ruled out appointing a special prosecutor immediately after being declared the winner of the election. This is significant, because he is using a crucial time and burning political capital to end calls for an investigation of alleged crimes by Clinton. This tells us that Trump was treating the campaign as theatre. His relationship with Clinton therefore seems much the same as that he has with wrestling impressario Vince McMahon. 9 years ago, after body slamming him and yelling a lot, Trump acted out a scene in which he “forcibly” shaved McMahon. Yet they still play golf together, and after Trump’s grandiose WWE style entrance to the RNC, Trump remarked: “Well, Vincent’s a good friend of mine. He called me, he said, ‘That was a very, very good entrance.’ But I didn’t want to do it a second time, because, you know, it never works out the second time.”

The net effect of Trump’s calls to investigate the Clintons has, in fact, been to virtually guarantee them impunity. In the mainstream media they really hammered home the idea that threatening to have an electoral opponent imprisoned is unacceptable. That is crap. It may be disturbing to have a bunch of Trump supporters yelling “lock her up” in hateful unison, but not one of those people was saying that she should be locked up for her politics. They all believe that she has committed serious crimes. The reason for that is that there is ample evidence that she has. The revelations in Clinton Cash are a prima facie case of “pay to play” corruption which clearly warrants investigation. The email scandals, no matter which way you slice it, saw Clinton at the very least perjure herself before Congress. And then there is Haiti. The scale of suffering caused by the Clintons wrongdoing in Haiti is on the level of crimes against humanity. Once again there is ample prima facie evidence of criminality that warrants investigation and prosecution.

As we prepared for a predicted Clinton victory the buzz about crimes and the possibility of prosecution had gotten to such a level that it seemed inevitable that President Elect Clinton would have been given a pardon by Obama so that she did not have old business hanging over her head as she entered office. It is very hard to see how things could have worked otherwise. Yet the way things worked was almost like a win-win situation for Trump and Clinton. Without Clinton, Trump could not have won the Presidency, but although she lost Clinton is by some magical process no longer the subject of legal scrutiny, at least for now. How is that for “transactional”?


Chapter 7a. Trump PEOTUS Nov 2016-Jan 2017 – The Rise of the Straw Nazis

For Trump, the alt-right, the Neonazis, the Klan and the swastikas are just props in his theatre. He played the baddy in a wrestling match called the 2016 election and, whether by design or by accident, he won the bout. Should we be reassured that Trump isn’t really earnest in his fomenting of violence and hatred? Is there an authentic Trump that will ensure that common sense and civility prevail? Is it a good sign that he is choosing such an establishment friendly team to make up his administration?

There is a video from Trump’s acceptance speech when Trump’s evidently tired son Barron is shocked into wakefulness by a loyal Trump supporter shouting “kill Obama!” When you incite hatred you are always playing with fire. European rulers of the Medieval and Early Modern era would often continually incite anti-Semitic envy for policy reasons, only to have to send in troops to quell the resultant pogroms (which kill and destroy valuable subjects, their property, and their enterprises). The Jews who were slaughtered would not have been comforted by knowing that the lord or monarch didn’t support their actual killing and would have preferred if it only went as far as spitting or the odd beating.

At least, you might think, we can be assured that Trump is a fake in that he isn’t going to start putting skinheads in uniforms. There is not going to be a “Trump Youth” organisation teaching children to hate and to sell real estate. It should be comforting, but I can’t help but feel that it is not enough. Trump is clearly and deliberately evincing little fascist tics, such as when he retweeted a Mussolini quote and then happily stood by his endorsement of it. That is not politics as usual, that is a deliberate provocation.

I have already mentioned the way Trump’s incitement of violent ideologues echoes Fascist and Nazi use of deniable and disposable thugs, but we can get into even more disturbing territory by pursuing possible parallels with Hitler. I am not saying that Trump is Hitler, I am saying that we are wrong to be reassured that he is not Hitler.

A common understanding of Hitler is that before he seized control of Germany (and then again before he launched WWII and exterminated most of Europe’s Jews) people did not take him seriously enough. That is undeniably true. They say that people thought he was not earnest in his hate speech and then they were surprised when it turned out that he was earnest. This, unfortunately, is not as simple as it seems. In fact, distinguishing what Hitler did and did not believe is not that easy. He was very consistent in trying to concentrate power in his own hands and he clearly wanted to strengthen Germany and he must have believed in eugenics. There a probably quite a few things you could pinpoint that he believed in, but I suspect that his grand vision was much simpler than people believe and much of what he said and wrote was in a more grey area where he did not necessarily distinguish between truth and falsehood. Most obvious was his business and finance friendly policy. He eliminated all ideological rivals, but would happily allow others to wield power and co-operated with the military, financial and industrial establishment (who were equally amenable until the war started to go badly).

Perhaps the most striking and disturbing thing about Hitler is that his attitude towards Jews was not as simple as his action and rhetoric would suggest. Writing in the Journal of Genocide Research (2:3 pp 411-30) Gunnar Heinsohn reveals that Hitler wrote to Martin Bormann: “We use the term Jewish race merely for reasons of linguistic convenience, for in the real sense of the word, and from a genetic point of view there is no Jewish race.” Heinsohn also points out that before he discovered and joined the clearly anti-Semitic Nazi Party in its early days, not only did Hitler leave no record of anti-Semitic sentiment but he did on some occasions show respect and admiration of specific Jews. Once he was in power though, hatred of Jews was his most powerful weapon. As Karl Schleunes wrote: “It was the Jew who helped hold Hitler’s system together…. The Jew allowed Hitler to ignore the long list of economic and social promises he had made to the SA, the lower party apparatus, and the lower middle classes. By steering the attention of these groups away from their more genuine grievances and toward the Jew, Hitler succeeded in blunting the edge of their revolutionary wrath.”

That is what scares the shit out of me, because someone like Trump could easily set in motion the same type of process. When people unleash a political dynamic they will adapt themselves to it rather than challenge it, even when it becomes dangerously dysfunctional. It is bad enough when this happens in the form of an economic bubble or metastasising corruption, but when fear and hate shape that political dynamic it is potentially disastrous.

Trump will probably make political capital out of repudiating overt Fascists and Klansmen, but in knocking down those straw Nazis he will give himself even more space to foment xenophobic fears and to stoke the resentments of those who think that the US is being pushed around, men are under attack, and/or white people are being persecuted. And while he is doing that, how much more militarised will the police become? What new wars will be launched? How much more extensive will mass surveillance become? How much more fearful will ordinary people become of political dissent, or flag-burning, or disrespect of authority? How many more civil liberties will be lost?

All that needs happen for the Trump Presidency to become a danger to humanity is for the power of the US government to become reliant on promoting the hatred of an enemy to forestall growing discontent.


Chapter 7b. Clinton PEOTUS Nov 2016-Jan 2017 – The Rise of the Straw Nazis

Almost everything I said about Trump is also true about Clinton. As the possibility of a Clinton and Democrat landslide seemed to become more likely she became ever more scary. Nor would her election have prevented the continuing rise of unabashed right-wing extremists. In a parallel universe where Clinton won there may have been an even greater explosion of misogynist, Nazi and racist actions. Her response would have been the same: repress the overt Nazis but keep transforming the country into a paranoid, nationalistic, authoritarian dystopia that would make any Nazi green with envy.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that some Trump supporters genuinely saw him as the lesser evil. I have written about this before, but it bears repeating that because of Clinton’s record in government, those who argued for Trump as the lesser evil generally had far more concrete and immediate evidence to back their claims.

Clinton is symptomatic of an establishment that is every bit as off-the-rails as Trump. In fact, either Trump or Clinton could only ever be the tip of an iceberg. The type of fascistic governance that Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism” has grown to the point where it is flipping over into the normal territory of fascism with leader worship; flag worship; political violence; intolerance; militarism; scapegoating of internal and external enemies; inequality in law; fraudulent elections; fearmongering about national and personal security; and obsession with crime and punishment. The thing that most distinguishes current US from historic fascism/Nazism is the continued embrace of pluralism and tolerance in gender, sexuality and lifestyle. That tolerance itself is fuelling a hateful backlash that might at some stage produce a Joe McCarthy-like figure and all of the liberal elites will fall in line with new norms of intolerance.

Meanwhile the “post-fact” nature of current politics is making the US public even less connected to any rational grasp of a just and ethical foreign policy. In the past, when launching wars against Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and even tiny Grenada, the US would have to create complex fictions full of convoluted reasoning and numerous lies in order to justify going in to other peoples’ lands and killing them in mass numbers. Clinton, on the other hand, just said outright that she was going to impose a No-Fly Zone on Syria right in the middle of a live debate. Waging a war of aggression (namely war that is not in self-defence) is the supreme war crime, but it is actually a war crime to threaten to wage a war of aggression also. Clinton committed a war crime live in front of tens of millions of viewers and nobody seems to care.

I can understand how in circumstances of instability the US can get away with sending in its forces and ignore the protests of diplomats from the victim country, but I really think that a line is crossed when threats like this are treated as completely unremarkable. I think that people oppose war in general, and launching WWIII in particular, but rightly or wrongly I don’t think that Usanians really feel that they are personally at risk from war. They should be more worried because, like Trump’s, Clinton’s behaviour is not politics as usual. As I have said before, her NFZ claims made Trump’s wall claims look modest and extremely rational.


Epilogue – Welcome to Trumptopia

“I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.” – John Pilger

Even before taking office Trump is putting his stamp on domestic and foreign politics. In retrospect a pessimist might say that the election was about whether WWIII would be launched in Syria while trying to ensure that China remains neutral or whether it would be launched in the South China sea, while trying to ensure that Russia remains neutral.

Trump has already taken Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” to new heights. By the time he takes office we will all have to be genuinely concerned (at least on some level) that a 3:30am tweet will be the first quantum event in a chain-reaction that will lead to nuclear annihilation.

Trump’s provocations of China are truly dangerous, but there has been considerable calculation and planning behind this. His call with Taiwan’s President was planned months in advance and, while the Obama administration makes insincere apologies through the ironically named Josh Earnest, it is a fairly obvious next step in the process of creating a threat to China that Obama began 5 years ago.

As John Pilger reveals (in the article quoted above) the US has serious plans for how to fight a war with China, and it shows no signs that it is accepting the new global economic realities. Trump tweeted: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” The scary thing is that no one seems to think this is odd, let alone unacceptable. Trump has hundreds of millions of mirror-blind chauvinist nationalists behind him, totally incapable of imagining what it would be like if the situation was reversed.

When the US was at war in Viet Nam, protesters, including Vietnam Veterans Against War, would openly avow support for the National Liberation Front in South Viet Nam. People would chant “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh! Ho Chi Minh is going to win!”. That level of ideological and psychological freedom does not exist in the US any more. They have become exceptionally good at constraining what is acceptable thought and in co-opting dissent so that to “protest” a dissident must first wrap themselves in the flag and rap the praises of the founding fathers for a good couple of hours before suggesting that it is wrong to oppress people.

If it were the US alone that might be less alarming, but we seem to be all caught up in this madness. Countries that are far more closely tied to China than to the US, such as Australia and Aoteraoa, are happily obeying the commandment to aggravate and alienate their biggest trading partner. Western countries are so obsequious to the US that it barely possible to explain how hypocritical our government’s have become, or even to remind people what happened 5, 10, 20 or 50 years ago and how it might suggest that US foreign policy is actually insupportable and the US and its allies have no moral standing to criticise others. Even when the public do not buy into the insanity, as the Germans do not with regard to the wisdom of sanctioning and provoking Russia, their leaders do it anyway.

Meanwhile, Trump’s appointments are very alarming. They have been the one thing so far that really has made me doubt my previous conviction that Clinton was just as scary as Trump. (In the end I have to remind myself that “reasonable” people like Colin Powell, Wesley Clark, or Zbigniew Brzezinski kill as many people as overtly unreasonable people.) Trump has picked 3 Generals for his cabinet. General Flynn is most striking. His overt Islamophobia exceeds that of Mattis. He tweeted: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… http://youtu.be/tJnW8HRHLLw” The video he links to, among other interesting things, seems to suggest that there has never been anything problematic in the history of relations between Christians and Jews, nor Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. It implies that religious violence is a purely Muslim phenomenon which is presumably the only reason that the US needs to send so many troops to countries with oil.

Trump has also followed in the footsteps of Fascist and Nazi populists by campaigning as the anti-establishment figure and then empowering the establishment, though now with him firmly at the top. Even before appointing Rex Tillerson the net worth of Trump’s cabinet after roughly half of the positions were filled was $14 billion. In contrast the first George W. Bush cabinet, which was at the time considered corrosively moneyed, was worth $250 million.

These are dangerously decadent times. A tweet from Trump wiped $3.5 billion from the share value of Lockheed Martin. This is doubly insane because Trump is not going to be able to alter the F35 contract and because if the whole deal wasn’t incredibly unsound Trump’s tweet would not have an impact. Trump’s tweet is 5 years too late to make a real difference and yet it still makes a real difference to the tune of $3.5 billion. The post-fact world reifies fiction, giving lies a magnified reality while the truth shrinks into insignificance. Ned Resnikoff believes that Trumps incessant lies serve the purpose of destroying the distinction between truth and falsehood. Lauren Duca makes a similar point, suggesting that Trump is “gas lighting” the entire country – a type of abuse where the victim is controlled through deception and isolation. But like so many other things this is not just about Trump. Many of those who dislike Trump and abhor his election are happily re-bleating the baseless CIA claim that the Russians changed the election result by hacking the DNC. These idiots, these sheep, seem to be totally unconcerned that by blaming a Russian “hack” they are endorsing the DNCs right to commit wrongful and anti-democratic acts in secret and they are saying that revealing those acts is an assault on democracy. Both Trump and Clinton are guilty of serious wrongdoing, but instead of examining their real crimes hordes of factionalised morons rant at each other about #Putin and #Pizzagate.

The US is a society that seems on the edge of disintegration or descent into much tighter authoritarianism and many other countries will be pulled in the same direction. The US empire is probably unsustainable, but even it it can be sustained it should not be. The problem is that the dying empire poses a huge danger. The people who have the most power in the empire have done horrible things to all of us, including friendly and allied nations. Client elites, even in the poorest nations, have done well, but not the people. Nor have the US people been treated well, and that is fuelling resentment. If the empire starts to fuel its dying embers with the resentment of its own people, and with the resentment of the right-wing and racist people of other Western countries then we are in big trouble.

We all need to do something about this and the answer is the same in all countries, including the US: We have to get rid of the fake left.

We have to stop tolerating those who forget principles even though we understand that the media will make them pay for remembering those principles. We have to stop giving a pass to those who promise only to be the lesser evil. We have to demand a politics that does not compromise and that does not allow itself to be bribed into abandoning our fellow human beings because they are distant and foreign. Get angry at politicians and make them accountable for everything they do and say. Demand an end to war and to militarism. Stop buying into narratives that make it seem normal or even humanitarian to kill other people in their own countries. If you think Nazis are bad and racist, then you must demand that Westerners stop killing people from poorer nations because that is the most brutal form of racism.

We have already paid a price for failing to stand in solidarity with victims of US war and genocide. All of us, including the ordinary people of the US, have allowed an elite to feast on flesh and blood and through that to make themselves our masters and to enrich themselves at our expense. We have been creating more and more wealth and working longer and longer hours while our societies become ever more unequal. We have made fools of ourselves by our selfishness and our fear of having to share wealth and burdens with those less fortunate. To use the Nazi analogy one last time, being the Kapos in the global ghetto is not the boon we might think when we are all headed for the same final destination.

Maybe the US and its allies will continue business as usual under Trump. They will keep killing people in faraway places. Inequality will continue to grow and very slowly we will have our rights eroded and our place in society whittled away bit by bit. We are on the cusp of a transformation where labour will no longer be crucial enough to the production that attracts spending and to continue will require some form of universal income. Unless politics goes back to responding to people’s welfare, life could become very bleak and minimal – neoliberalism taken to its ultimate “bare life” extreme of mere survival.

On the other hand, even worse things are possible and we need to become very active in opposing wars and any politics that promote hate violence and reaction.

The 2016 US Presidential Election Will Not Take Place

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canned-life

From the beginning, we knew that this election would never happen. An election of representatives for any office involves the belief that they will represent the electorate. In the past, this system has been imperfect and undemocratic, but developing tools of mass persuasion have taken voting societies further and further away from democracy. In 2016 USA things have reached the logical conclusion wherein the public acts of voting are no longer related to a real act of election by an actual electorate.

I take my title and opening line from Jean Baudrillard who claimed the 1991 “Gulf War” was a literal “non-event”. The USA has now become the Disney version of 1984 and it seems right to draw on Baudrillard’s superposition of Disneyland fakery and the all-too-real atrocities that happened in Iraq and Kuwait. However, though Baudrillard leaves room for anger and anguish at the human suffering from the non-event, he indulges the avoidance of naming the real that hides behind the “hyperreal”. The non-event is an extension of the control of language in what Orwell described as “the defence of the indefensible”. Baudrillard was in some ways determined never to look behind the façade, and the non-event of this fake election of dead politics hides a real dynamic of empire which ordinary people would never countenance if it were shown to them as it truly is. I want to go beyond performing the autopsy of US politics, and find the events that do still take place, the ones that polite people don’t like to talk about.

The time also seems right to revisit some lines in a Yeats poem that was written in 1919: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” It describes people yearning for a “Second Coming”, and ends prophetically, on the dawn of Fascism and Nazism, with the lines:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

We have entered a fact-free zone. Sometimes it seems that the truth has entered a state of quantum indeterminacy where two contradictory things are simultaneously true until the waveform is collapsed by observations by political pollsters. For example, when the Clinton camp attributed their candidate’s 9/11 collapse to overheating, differing journalists and commentators simultaneously reported a that it was an unusually hot day or an unusually cold day. Another instance can be seen in these headlines from editions of the Wall St. Journal:

 

Events wildly plot a drunken careering narrative and each potential voter is forced into more and more speculative interpretation of what those events actually signify. People want to vote for a candidate according to their interests and principles, but those who still believe with “passionate intensity” that they can do so by voting for Trump or Clinton are dangerously deluded. As everything else about the year 2016 becomes muddier and weirder with each passing day, the only thing that is becoming more clear at every moment is that the 2016 election will not take place.

The Stinking Corpse of Democracy

From January to March 1991 the post-modernist Jean Baudrillard published 3 articles: “The Gulf War will not take place”; “The Gulf War is not really taking place?” and “The Gulf War did not take place”. Baudrillard was describing the war as a hyperreal simulation of something that has no origin in reality. “Hyperreal” refers to a situation where a simulation of a possible reality is indistinguishable from reality and is thus a type of reality itself. What happened in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 was not war, however it was made into a simulation of war and it was experienced as being war by those watching it on CNN.

This is why the Gulf War will not take place. It is neither reassuring nor comforting that it has become bogged in interminable suspense. In this sense, the gravity of the non-event in the Gulf is even greater than the event of war: it corresponds to the highly toxic period which affects a rotting corpse and which can cause nausea and powerless stupor.”

Baudrillard put the basic case most succinctly when he wrote: “Since this war was won in advance, we will never know what it would have been like had it existed. We will never know what an Iraqi taking part with a chance of fighting would have been like. We will never know what an American taking part with a chance of being beaten would have been like.”

The Baudrillard articles drew attention to something important (the fact that there was no war) but they also drew attention away from the fact that the “Gulf War” was an act of genocide; a very concrete, banal and definitely not at all “hyperreal” act of co-ordinated mass violence and destruction aimed at the nation and the people of Iraq. Baudrillard may have missed the mark on the Iraq War, but his remarks could be very fittingly adapted to 2016. To paraphrase: “…here comes the dead election and the necessity of dealing with this decomposing corpse which nobody from Washington DC has managed to revive. Trump and Clinton are fighting over the corpse of an election.”

Let me be clear, the people of the US have not lost democracy. They never had it. No modern countries are democracies. In countries with elections undemocratic power is given to numerous people, some of whom are elected. The theory is that by vesting the highest authority in officials who are elected, this will create an electoral process of candidates who seek and receive a mandate. Thus, by acting as a mandated elected official even though the power of the office may be undemocratic, this will bring about democratic governance. This is all jolly good, except that it doesn’t work. Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page made news a couple of years ago by releasing a study in 2014. While they acknowledge that having free speech is an important democratic institution, in policy terms: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

One writer called the Page and Gillens paper “the ‘Duh’ report” because anyone paying attention should have already known the truth. It roughly confirms what C. Wright Mills had diagnosed nearly 60 years earlier in his book The Power Elite, which showed the oligarchic nature of US political governance. The US has long had issues of plutocratic corruption intervening in government but the 20th century saw a change from influencing government against the wishes of the electorate to consciously shaping the electorate in order to “engineer the consent” of the governed. Democracy had always been a unrealised promise in the US, shoehorned uncomfortably into the Constitution by anti-Federalists against the wishes of Federalists (like the puzzlingly celebrated Alexander Hamilton). The promise of democracy died with the advent of the Commission on Public Information in 1917 which began an era of “guided democracy” in the US. Oligarchs and bureaucrats turned their minds towards shaping and controlling public opinion while plutocrats still tried to ensure that governance was not overly influenced against the interests of capital by this already mediated public opinion.

We take it all for granted now, but suddenly many different entities wanted to adopt the purposes that had previously been those of politicians, impressarios and snake-oil salesmen. The FBI published heroic literature about “g-men”, and black propaganda smearing Black Power and left-wing movements. The CIA, still one of the biggest publishers in the world, promoted jazz, abstract art and the right sort of academic work. They established themselves in every major news media organ in the “free” world. Hollywood established a close working relationship with different parts of the US government, becoming a willing source of propaganda, and largely integrated into the military-industrial complex (through both ownership and the close working relationship with the Pentagon and CIA). Advertising agencies, over and above the immediate purpose of selling, were slavishly loyal promoters of “free enterprise”, the “American dream”, consumerism, and the values of gendered racialised class hierarchy. For evidence you need look no further than this extraordinary (and ballsy) meta-propaganda about advertising:

Throughout the 20th century, governance in the US also became ever more technocratic and removed from public sight at the same time as the more overt part of governance (elected administrations and legislators) became subject to ever more inescapable and sophisticated perception management. It is difficult to see past the projected self-image of the US as the sort of country that has a minimal government (even to the point of neglecting the vulnerable and allowing infrastructure to crumble) but the truth is that the US has a vast state sector. Combining all levels of government it spent $6.134 trillion in 2010. This is many times higher than China which seems to be a distant second in terms of state sector expenditure.

The machinery of government in the US is enormous and has a Byzantine bureaucratic complexity of overlapping jurisdictions. The documentary above gave an image of a society of free agents with a welfare oriented government. In reality under neoliberalism government, using the pretext of shrinking itself, reallocates resources to state coercion: military, intelligence, police and incarceration. What welfare remains becomes a tool of state control under an ideology that criminalises or pathologises neediness of any form. If you have no home, for example, the state feels it can dictate behavioural and moral codes that are the absolute antithesis of the proclaimed “liberty” that is considered the norm of society.

Meanwhile, the US government at various levels has control of the greatest machinery of state violence and oppression that has ever existed. Some people refer to these capabilities as a “turnkey tyranny” (the phrase existed long before Edward Snowden’s usage) but that creates the unfortunate sense that the entire apparatus is currently turned off (and that some people are conspiring to suddenly turn it on). In reality there is a continuum of state coercion. In the US case the capability for rounding people up and putting them in FEMA camps will probably never be more than a remote, but scary, potential. On the other hand, surveillance, intrusive policing and security, militarised policing, restrictions on liberties, and fear-mongering are already familiar parts of routine and banal oppression. These shape and control people in ways that don’t involve direct physical coercion, but are not merely brainwashing people into happy consumerist zombies either. There is a carrot laced with tranquillisers, but there is also a stick. Sheldon Wolin called the resulting system “inverted totalitarianism”.

The freedom enjoyed by Usanians is the contingent freedom enjoyed by the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ anti-capitalist allegory The Time Machine. They live lives of consumerist luxury right up until the point that some are abducted and eaten. The same is true of those who fall foul of the massive private or governmental bureaucracies that run the USA, and I think that it is good to set-aside our visions of a land with 48-flavours-of-ice-cream and look at the grim, grey inhuman machinery that coexists with consumerist pseudo-liberty.

We have found in all of the former “free world” that our sneers at communist bread queues were premature. We felt superior because capitalism seemed to be designed to meet our needs and desires efficiently, but now that it faces no ideological competition we find that it just wants to sell us barely functional goods and when we call for support or service, to place us on hold for hours. I guess it is better than being hungry waiting in the cold winter, but it is hard to deny that capitalist private bureaucracy is just as entitled and unhelpful as socialist government bureaucracy. In the US it can be deadly. For example, by denying insurance cover to people with life-threatening conditions pen-pushing penny-pinchers from Aetna and other such “providers” hand out death-sentences. The US has a corporatised health sector that is measurably more inefficient, more bureaucratic, more inhumane and much more expensive than actual “socialism”, and it forces people to buy private insurance or face a fine (or, as Forbes spins it, because of exemptions “only 4 million people” are expected to be subject to fines in 2016, and we all know that any law that only affects 4 million doesn’t really count). Employers can also simply garnish wages without permission to enrol workers in the employer’s chosen insurance plan.

Moreover, in this land of private/public dual tyranny, eminent domain laws in the US are often used to forcibly alienate property for the benefit of private capital (because individual states can determine what is “public use”) in the manner that does not happen in other countries.

Meanwhile those who fall into the gears of the “justice” system may find fates that seem akin to terrible stories of mediaeval cruelty, grim totalitarianism, or dystopian science-fiction nightmare. In a Milwaukee gaol, under the jurisdiction of Trump supporter David Clarke, an imprisoned suspect had his water shut off for 6 days. Witnesses heard him beg repeatedly for water as he slowly died of “profound dehydration”.

In many countries the rights of criminal suspects are minimal despite the supposed presumption of innocence, but in the US this can reach a soul-crushing extreme such as in the case of Kalief Browder. He refused to plead guilty to stealing a backpack and because the case against him was thin to non-existent, he spent 3 years, from age 16, enduring terrible conditions and violent abuse at Rykers Island prison. He killed himself 2 years after release. A different horror was endured by Roberta Blake. Not knowing that she had an arrest warrant for returning a rental car late, she was detained in California and spent two weeks in a cage in an overheated van being taken to Alabama to face “justice” for her heinous crime: “Lacking both privacy and sanitary napkins, she had to use a cup in front of the male guards and prisoners when she began menstruating. After another prisoner ripped off her shirt, she spent the rest of the trip in a sports bra.” In most developed countries it would be illegal to treat an animal that way.

Staying on the subject of the accused, I want to remind readers that a Pennsylvania judge received millions in kickbacks for sending thousands of children into institutions. Given the level of corruption victimising so many kids, some of them from white-collar households, is it any surprise that some claim similar corruption is part of the adult incarceration system?

I mention these things to show that “guided democracy” (which is not democratic) produces a tyranny with two faces. These things happen because the accused are unpeople and that itself is a product of an elite “guided democracy” culture in the US that is authoritarian, lacking in empathy, and phobic about poor people.

All I have detailed is just passive and reflexive brutality. It is incidental and can fall on any non-rich person unlucky enough to fall foul of a capricious state, but you will notice that I haven’t even mentioned racialised police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration. That is a more active aspect of tyranny that functions (like “anti-terrorism” or the “war” on any other internal or external threat) to normalise oppression and market it to a much wider demographic than that specifically targetted. I won’t waste anyone’s time by detailing the latest horrors of police violence in the US, nor the everyday obscenity of mass incarceration. Readers are probably familiar with the topic, and I just ask that they bear it in mind as being an important element of this story that I am consciously omitting.

The Stinking Corpse of Politics

When Sheldon Wolin wrote Democracy Inc. he was effectively writing the obituary of “guided democracy”. Guided democracy was beginning to give way to something new which Wolin likened to 20th century tyrannies, but characterised as “inverted”. A “new type of political system, seemingly one driven by abstract totalizing powers, not by personal rule, one that succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, that relies more on “private” media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events.”

Before continuing, I must clear up a problem I have with the terminology. I cannot endorse Wolin’s (or any) use of the term “totalitarianism” because it has no potential for judicious usage. It was coined to refer to Italian Fascism to refer to the totality of the purview of the state, but both that regime and the current US regime show that defining what is and is not the state is actually subjective. The very concept of “inverted totalitarianism” or “totalitarian democracy” along with new coinages like “globalitarian” show that the word itself is useless. In fact, totalitarianism has primarily been used to create a concept which suggests that Nazism and Communism are of the same essence, but Western liberalism existentially distinct (which, by the way, is why it was one of the academic notions promoted by the CIA). Both the Soviets and the Nazis did the same thing in their time, as Slavoj Žižek explains: “Thus Stalinism in the 1930s constructed the agency of Imperialist Monopoly Capital to prove that Fascists and Social Democrats (‘Social Fascists’) are ‘twin brothers’, the ‘left and right hand of monopoly capital’. Thus Nazism itself constructed the ‘plutocratic-Bolshevik plot’ as the common agent who threatens the welfare of the German nation.”

However, Wolin also referred to inverted totalitarianism as being “a kind of fascism”. “Fascism” is a much better term to use, as I have argued at great length (in two parts). Though “fascism” is clearly too common and low-rent a concept for some people (who maintain their status with claims to exclusive multisyllabic knowledge), it is perfect in conveying an apt historical comparison. Henceforth, therefore, I will use “fascism” because it may be subjective, but even people who disagree with the usage will know exactly what I am referring to and why.

Wolin’s annunciation of the conception of a new fascism should also have pointed to the immanence of a new “rough beast”. We have seen, in the last 14 years, that the “inverted” part of Wolin’s described fascism is unstable and contingent. Like the pluralism of Weimar Germany it could be replaced with leader worship and more conventionally oriented fascism in short order. Ann Coulter, (author of In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome) recently said: “I worship him like the North Koreans worship the ‘Dear Leaders’ — yes, I would die for him.” Coulter might seem to be a clown or a liar trying to flog a bad book, but we can no longer doubt that Trump does have a cult of personality and very dangerously deranged followers. For example there is this irrational rant from a Trump supporter:

Note that he is wrong in every aspect of what he accusers Shah of being: her candidate is running against Clinton; Shah is US born; and, as it happens, she is not Muslim. His passion for these lies, though, is about as real as anything gets in this time. The self-deception that is so widespread is part of this erosion of the “inverted” corporate and impersonal aspect of US fascism. Obama has very frequently evinced his Christian faith over the years, but millions think he is either Muslim or even the Antichrist. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t make a big deal out of religion and yet he is still treated as the instrument of God. My argument would be that some feminists have exactly the same faith-based irrational and ironic view of Clinton that these “Christians” have of Trump. Both are equally unlikely avatars of the spirit of each faith and the blindness of the followers is very reminiscent of a fascist cult of personality.

The ever scary nationalist fervour in the US has also entered into the realms of mass hysteria. This year’s DNC and RNC showed plenty of evidence of violent irrationality. Only ten years ago neoconservatives were mocked by the “reality-based community” for saying things like: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Now, their view of history and of the US role in it has gone mainstream. There is no escaping the conclusion politics are dead and the US is taking an extended holiday (or vacation) away from reality.

We have entered what people are calling the “age of post-truth politics”. Here in Aotearoa it happened very suddenly. We went from being very hard on politicians when they were caught lying, to having a Prime Minister who lies constantly and freely and who gets away with it because the media adopted the self-fulfilling prophecy of saying that people are not bothered by his lying and therefore there is little point in drawing their attention to it by making a big deal of it. In short, the media created a new post-truth norm overnight.

In contrast, the US journey towards this post-truth moment has been a long and well sign-posted journey. The practice of “plausible denial” over covert action that began 70 years ago almost immediately became a practice that should more truly be known as “implausible denial” and was extended to overt military action. The system is simple: an official tells a blatant and obvious lie, then reporters report the statement as having been stated. No matter how thin the lie, it is treated as weighty. It is not analysed or fact-checked, because that is reserved for domestic policies that are contended between the two major parties. It may or may not be noted that others dispute the lie, but the real Orwellian and twisted part that occurs is that the media will forever after treat the lie as unquestionably having been believed by the officials in question.

Thus when the US destroyed a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in 1998, newspapers outside of the US reported that Bill Clinton knew that beforehand that it was a civilian factory, but inside the US the cruise missile attack, even after it was found that the target was not a chemical weapons plant, reported that the strike was “an effort to curb the activities of the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden”.

Hillary Clinton and Trump are the logical outcome of a combination of mainstream media permissiveness when it comes to politicians lies, and the existence of partisan spheres or “reference groups”. These spheres have two levels. The inner level is the “partisan echo chamber” where you will never be informed that your chosen candidate lies. Apparently the inhabitants of this bubble are a minority, but the outer sphere is may be more important. In the outer sphere people aren’t like Coulter; they aren’t uncritically loyal and they don’t think of themselves as belonging to the Great Leader; they just know that the lies of the candidate they support are regrettable but not outrageous, unacceptable and dangerous like those of the rival candidate. Clinton supporters know that their candidate has a few imperfections, but Trump threatens all life as we know it and they don’t seem to find it at all remarkable that their opponents feel exactly the same way in reverse. They do not recognise their mirror images because years of something called the “culture wars” (which I won’t get into here) have made them blind to similarities outside of that culture war framework. In fact each stance can be rationally argued and we once again see a kind of political quantum superposition where these contradictory stances are simultaneously true. Both of them are the greatest threat currently facing humanity and they must both be stopped.

That is why I say that this election shows the death of politics, rather then merely democracy. There is no longer a machinery to control public opinion, but rather opinions themselves are rendered meaningless. Only the delusional are still taking the rhetoric of Clinton and Trump as being an indication of ideology and policy intent. People are trying to discern their character, but if they juxtapose each against the other trying to make a relative judgement they get into trouble. Which one is the crook? Which one is the liar? Which one is the warmonger? Which one is pro-corporate? If you think that the answers to that are easy, then you aren’t really paying attention.

Things have gotten so bad that in South Park they clearly struggled to decide which candidate should be represented as a Shit Sandwich and which candidate is really a Giant Douche. The creators are lucky that their storyline depicts their own fictional character opposing Clinton, because otherwise they would have to admit that both candidates this year are Shit Sandwich. Their 12 year-old allegory for no meaningful electoral choice is now too mild for the circumstances. We now choose between a Shit Sandwich made with puffy white bread that has a tendency to go soggy with shit juice, and one made with a stale multigrain that is pretty similar but may or may not be a little bit healthier over time.

The Desert of the Real…

was a book by Slavoj Žižek published in the same year (2002) as Wolin’s Democracy Inc. It has its faults. Like Baudrillard on Iraq, Žižek imposes an inappropriate, if not offensive, semiotician’s interpretation of the bombing of Afghanistan. Instead of being a brutal act of imperialist aggression that can and should be compared with historical imperialism, Žižek asks if it isn’t “the ultimate case of impotent acting out?” In fact Žižek’s judgement in this ironically similar to the limitations he describes in others who cannot accept answers that fall outside of presupposed truth. As the old wisdom tells us, when you gaze long into Keanu, Keanu gazes also into you – to which I will add that Keanu knows fuck-all about geopolitics.

Another complaint, of a sort, is that reading The Desert of the Real today is somewhat like reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock in that events have so overtaken and exceeded the prophetic work that I tend to react by thinking: “You call that future shock? That is not even mild astonishment compared to what we have to cope with nowadays.” Žižek refers to Alan Badiou’s notion that the 20th century was dominated by “the passion for the real” which “was fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real.” With the benefit of the last 14 years of reality television informing us we can say back to 2002 Žižek: “No shit, Einstein.”

But Žižek was quite perceptive in seeing the beginnings of the regime that we now live in. The world of 2002 was one of “politics without politics” and Žižek saw the potential for a resurgent and dangerous right-wing. One passage should particularly resonate with those who are following the 2016 US presidential race: “A decade ago, in the State of Louisiana’s governor elections, when the only alternative to the ex-KKK David Duke was a corrupt Democrat, many cars displayed a sticker: ‘Vote for a crook – it’s important!’”

The 20th century “pursuit of the Real” may have chased reality away, but clearly Žižek understood early that this would take us back to the dangerous yearning for the authenticity of a Second Coming that Yeats perceived in 1919.

The Desert of the Real ends by asking “What if the true aim of this ‘war [on terror]’ is ourselves, our own ideological mobilization against the threat of the Act?” In many ways the war on terror has made people in Western countries accept discipline, control and surveillance that they would never have accepted otherwise, but in other ways there has been resistance. In some ways the things that are most obvious are the least significant because they are resisted and ultimately rejected. After 9/11 the US rounded up and detained hundreds of Muslims and foreigners. That practice ended. What stayed was the Department of Homeland Security, the Transport Safety Authority, and a new officially promoted “if you see something say something”. The most profound changes have come in those spaces of knowledge where people assent and accept subliminally because they feel no friction of resistance and they are anaesthetised. Some changes are too subtle, but others are too big. People stop thinking about them almost immediately because they become everyday normality very quickly.

As I alluded to earlier, the path to the current US post-truth post-politics moment follows through the territory of imperialist wars justified by a skein of lies that creates a pseudo-history. It is possible to discuss and dispute aspects of the pseudo-history in that same way that people can discuss and dispute aspects of Game of Thrones. It is still fiction.

Žižek described a dearth and death of reality that, to my prosaic mind, was the culmination of post-WWII US hypocrisy and exceptionalism. What is happening in the 2016 election is due to the fact that on September 11 2001, the US stopped merely stringing together lies and launched a “global” war that is framed within one giant fairytale. For 15 years it has been as if every day the US has destroyed another Sudanese factory, but the lies have become to large and too numerous. They penetrate everywhere and inter-penetrate each other so that they cannot be refuted singly.

The real is abolished, and no one really wants it any more. Trump recently rewrote history by saying that a “stop-and-frisk” policing policy worked wonders for New York. Some challenge that, but not because it is untrue, but because they are not on Trump’s side. Yet there is little objection when John Kerry spoke to the UN General assembly:

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The gall of the man is not merely from the inappropriate dismissiveness (compare this to attitude towards the attack on the USS Cole which killed 17 sailors), but also in brushing over the very obvious questions raised by claiming that this was an “accident”. It took me all of 5 minutes after putting in the search terms “syria deir ez-zor map forces” to find out that there is a prima facie case that the act must have been deliberate. I could easily just look at news reports from the past 6 months that make it hard to avoid the conclusion that the US-led attack must have been intended to aid the forces of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”. Once you consider in addition that within minutes of the attack the self-proclaimed “IS” launched an attack that has halted or reversed 6 months of slow SAA progress towards lifting the siege of Deir ez-Zor, then the incident looks very much like air support for “IS” forces. I would defy anyone to give any other explanation as to why the US would suddenly decide to bomb in this area, where the only military forces are the Syrian Arab Army and the “IS”. At the very least every journalist should report that the circumstances suggest that until their actions are explained, US claims should not be seen as credible as they are not reconcilable with the facts as we currently understand them.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I am about to write something that may be the most controversial thing I have ever written. I realise that many people will hate me for this, and I fully expect to be hunted down and savaged by vicious sci-fi nerds. But there comes a time when destiny calls, and it is my destiny to say something heretical about The Matrix

Here is my testament: If someone called “Morpheus” (the Greek god of dreams) offers to take you “down the rabbit hole” (an allusion to entering “Wonderland”) and you then end up perceiving a new reality in which you are the messiah, but the most fundamental fact of human existence (that people are in a virtual world being used by a machine intelligence as a way of generating electricity) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, then accepting Morpheus’ offer is choosing delusion over reality. That means that “taking the red pill” means indulging delusions, lies and fantasy.

To recap: 1) Morpheus = god of dreams; 2) “down the rabbit hole” = journey into fantasy; 3) world of people hooked up as batteries = self-evident nonsense; 4) messianic mission = attractive delusion satisfying to ego and superego (and id once you throw in the inevitable “love interest”).

Ironically people refer to “taking the red pill” as being a path to enlightenment. Even more ironically it is linked to “9/11 truth” activism. But the people who took the red pill on 9/11 were the people in the US government, the elected officials, the military personnel, the spooks, the cops, the administrators. They, along with much of the population of the Western world, entered a phantasmagorical parallel universe, the GWOT Wonderland, where the fundamental premise of the main fact shaping the world makes no sense.

The Matrix tricks its viewers in the same way that science fiction author Philip K. Dick would often trick his readers. But where Dick’s deception was either playful or served a serious purpose (or both), the Wachowskis were either more mean-spirited or simply underestimated the human capacity for self-deception. The desire for purpose and the need for meaningfulness in one’s life drives people to perceive Neo’s journey as a revelation of truth rather than a descent into madness despite the heavy-handed hints I mentioned. The messiah figure is enticing because it satisfies narcissism and altruism simultaneously in a way that real life does not offer. As it happens, Phil Dick also explored this desire with black humour in “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” which formed the basis of the films Total Recall. The short story parallels the Total Recall film adaptations up to a point but has crucial further developments that we omitted from the films. When the protagonist’s belief that he is a secret agent becomes rationally unsustainable he “remembers” that he is actually an alien emissary sent to bring peace and enlightenment to humanity. When the alien emissary narrative is fatally challenged by its own irrational contradictions, then the protagonist “remembers” that even that was actually a cover identity for his real nature which is the actual messiah and saviour of all humankind.

There is a lot of power in the attractiveness of a sense of messianic purpose, but in The Matrix it is used to scam people. They overlook the obvious because that are deceived into doing so. I would even call it the “Neo con” (if I were cruel enough to inflict such a bad pun on readers) because it is a good model of the trickery that keeps people from seeing the obvious lies of the Global War on Terror.

The neocons themselves were and are a mix of scammers and scammed. Whether they believed the lies or not, they evinced a messianic purpose for the US. It is true that the fundamental benevolence of the enterprise did not bear much scrutiny, but then again the fundamental rationality did not bear scrutiny either. The point, like The Matrix, is not to conceal lies but to disincentivise the perception of unhidden lies. As the neocons’ direct influence seemed to fade, the fundamental parts of their worldview were left behind as mainstream political orthodoxy. The distinction between neocons and liberal interventionists (as I have repeatedly written) was never significant anyway and now we inhabit the world they created.

In The Matrix the whole purpose of the eponymous Matrix itself is explained as being a completely infeasible and physically impossible system of generating electricity. It is stated as quickly as possible, and the real trick is that those who do notice the impossibility will blame poor narrative construction and not suspect that it is key evidence of the real nature of what is happening. In the war on terror, Islamic terrorism is constantly highlighted but the connection with foreign policy is passed over very quickly, even though it is the central explanation for why the US needs to invade and bomb so widely. The US military still hands out medals for the GWOT so the basic premise is still that their far-flung interventions are a response to terrorism. The fall-back position is that even if it doesn’t make sense to attack other countries to stop terrorism, it is a real if mistaken belief on the part of officials.

Whether it is the Neocons or the Wachowskis, people never stop to consider whether it is reasonable to think that their unreasonableness is in earnest. Wolin, for example, keeps repeating that “inverted totalitarianism” came about without intention: “It has no Mein Kampf as an inspiration” he tells us in between quotes from various neocon equivalents. The ideology, the strategy, the intention and the foresight of consequences are all there to be seen, for those who will see them rather than asserting that they cannot be there. Once you figure out that the neocons and their allies must have deliberately crafted the terrorism lie, it puts quite a different spin on things.

15 years into this delusion we have seen military actions coalesce into a slow-motion World War. Without citing the threat of terrorism, the US could not have taken military action against Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet we shouldn’t forget that the threat of terrorism is still used to give people the impression that there is some natural and urgent reason for the US to be involved in Islamic countries. If we take the instances of Syria or Libya, they conflate concerns about the crimes of the dictatorial regime with concerns about terrorism. It makes no more sense than when the Nazis claimed that there was a single conspiracy of Communism and Western capitalism. Yet without being able to say the “IS” is a threat to the homeland, moves against regimes like Libya’s and Syria’s might be difficult to explain in light of, say, the ongoing support for Saudi Arabia or Egypt or any of the many brutal regimes that the US considers to be friendly and “moderate”. It makes no sense to attack regimes that oppose the alleged sources of terror, but that doesn’t really matter any more than it makes no sense to provide a massive life support and virtual reality infrastructure to billions of humans just so you can use them as energy cells. The senselessness is irrelevant.

We have gone down the rabbit hole, because even if we know that it is irrational to say that US interventions are against terror or because they oppose the oppression of dictators, we have no other coherent narrative. That is why I am constantly pushing for people to recognise that US interventions are genocides, attacks aimed at extending imperial power by committing violence and destruction against peoples and nations as such. It is that simple. It is also that banal. It is a grey world where even the most cruel of crimes are just another day at the office for some of the perpetrators. People prefer a dramatic fantasy narrative of anti-terror and humanitarian intervention to prevent the “next Rwanda”, yet most highly educated people would consider me a fantasist because suggesting a coherence in US foreign policy is a “conspiracy theory”.

Sauce for the Gander

In the end, if we have accepted irrationality and lies for so long; if we have for 15 years purged those who cannot live with cognitive dissonance from public and private areas of authority; should it surprise us that we have created the circumstances where truth is no longer relevant? Kerry, Clinton, Power and Obama are all capable at any day of the week of telling preposterous and monstrous lies. It is impossible to tell, for example, if Samantha Power is completely insane or not. Like Tony Blair she seems to be so deeply “in character” that the original human host, the once beloved daughter of Mr and Mrs Power, has been murdered by this bloodthirsty monster.

If you think Trump has gumption, think of the sheer chutzpah shown by Power when she turned the US massacre of Syrian personnel into an chance to attack Russia for daring to criticise the US: “even by Russia’s standards, tonight’s stunt – a stunt replete with moralism and grandstanding – is uniquely cynical and hypocritical.” As Gary Leupp writes, she is “condemning Russia for condemning a war crime”.

Our semiotician friends Baudrillard and Žižek like to condemn atrocious actions, but they avoid suggesting that there might be some premeditation and conscious shaping of the semantic. Žižek would probably consider me to be crude, primitive and jarring in my insistence on continually returning to a realist perspective. However Žižek has alienated many on the left with his comments on the European refugee crisis and I like to think that my more pointed view allows me to be honest about the refugee crisis without falling into disproportionate victim-blaming that amounts to xenophobia (regardless of whether it is literally true or not). On this subject Žižek is purely and smoothly in concord with the right. He is effectively like one of those second-degree racists who neatly substitute nurture for nature and justify fear and bigotry on the basis of “environment” instead of genetics. To my mind this is the logical outcome of never being brave enough to go out on a limb and say that there is a locus of power behind the events that shape our narrative perception. It may not be a literal Star Chamber of sinister conspirators, but power coalesces again and again in ways that form virtual Star Chambers and once you understand that mass transformations are often imposed from above then it makes little sense to fret about whether some refugees are rapists in the midst of a metastasising holocaust that has killed millions and threatens tens of millions.

Žižek wants to state a generality that is true and comforting (that the West is not responsible for every bad thing in the world) without testing whether it is actually applicable to the specific case he addresses. For example, Žižek says that the Rwanda genocide can’t be blamed on the West, because he is ignorant of the history. The US acted in co-ordination with Uganda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front to destabilise the country and provoke ethnic violence. Perhaps the resulting genocide was far beyond what they wished for, or perhaps not. It was not the end of US-backed ethnic violence in Rwanda and bordering areas of the DR Congo, so the provocateurs cannot have been too appalled at the violence. Nor does the US history of slaughter in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East allow us to take seriously the horror they evince at the Rwanda Genocide, nor the way they use the memory of it as a pretext for their own acts of genocide.

Likewise, Žižek says that the refugee crisis cannot be blamed entirely on the West because “ISIS” is an “active response”. The problem is that we either have to confront the fact that “IS” is a deliberate creation of the US empire, or we remain in Wonderland where magically, just when the US needs a new pretext to carry on the wars that it is already fighting, “IS” appears. Miraculously, because of “IS”, the US gets to continue the wars it was already fighting for other reasons even when the primary activity of this wars is to attack the enemies of “IS”.

We know that the US armed the “IS” forces, but we are meant to believe that they did it somehow by accident. A country suddenly appeared and found itself governing millions while simultaneously fighting a four-front war against established national armies and ethnic militias. Despite being land-locked and surrounded by putative enemies it has remained in play for 2 years. It is as if the Nazis had consolidated in Bavaria in 1945 and were still there in defiance of the Allies best effort in 1947. It simply makes no sense.

That is why a lying reality show personality and probable child rapist can make a credible run for the highest office in the US. It is because we have had 15 years of deluded and/or shameless US imperialists doubling down over and over and over again on their lies. We are trapped in Wonderland, because it hurts people to think of reality; because people want to believe Žižek’s announcement that not everything is the West’s fault; and they want to join in with his implied sneer at those who say otherwise.

The 2016 US election will not take place because reality is in abeyance. Young people might not even know what it is any more. They see all the shades of grey, but they can no longer conceptualise black or white, so it is hard to find meaning. The trivial and the profound are no longer distinguishable, not because of some general social evolution, but because managed democracy evolved as a system of political domination. This is the result of astroturfing, greenwashing, pinkwashing, native advertising, product placement, grey propaganda, and so forth. We did not just end up like this because we are spoilt and spend too much time on social media. This was done to us.

So there is Trump. He is a sick joke. His party, which he seems almost completely detached from, is like magician’s illusion: a giant edifice that seems to be levitating with no visible means of support. He has the endorsement of the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” Phil Robertson who offered to baptise him on camera to get “God on our side”. Apparently even God no longer believes in the Real until it is on reality television. But it takes two to tango; Hillary Clinton is no more real than Trump and the polls show that ordinary people know it.

The 2016 election will be a non-event. The way the votes are counted will shape the destiny of the world, but the voting itself will be an empty ritual. That is not a reason not to vote, it is actually a reason to reject the idea that your vote was wasted. The votes are not wasted, but even if they are counted they are stolen. Stolen by fictional candidates like Trump and Clinton and stolen by the death of politics. Vote your conscience and then live according to it. Let everyone know that your vote was stolen by a system that is fraudulent. Make sure that everyone remembers that it is a lie every time they tell you that you might not like what the President does but you have to accept it because that is the way democracy works.

One day they will push the lies too far and Wonderland will shatter, releasing us from this dark sphere back into the light.

The Empire Paradox: More Power is More Weakness

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In response to my recent article on US imperial wars some people objected to my characterisation of the US empire. I wrote: “In global terms the US has never been more powerful” and some were quick to point out that the US empire is very weak. To those people I want to say that we are both right, but the weaknesses of the US empire do not generally affect its functioning. One day these weakness will become very, very important, but we cannot predict when that will be. In the meantime, critics of US empire undermine themselves by their focus on weakness, which often leads to millenarian predictions of immanent collapse.

To explain, I will begin by giving shape to the empire’s dynamic of power and weakness. There is nothing new in suggesting that empires can become victims of their own success. “Imperial overreach” is a common enough term and it is clearly worrying at least one imperialist (Zbigniew Brzezinski, whom I will discuss further at a later point). However, while the established language of “stretch”, “overextension” and “centrifugal forces” evoke 2 dimensions, I want to suggest that we visualise the empire in 3 dimensions.

2-dimensional metaphors of imperium are cartographic in origin. They reflect the logistical, strategic and tactical concerns of an empire of military, bureaucratic and economic control. The irony is that the imperial quest to conquer and tame geography is also a process of transcending geography with institutions and communications which erase differences and distances. Geography is still important in many respects, but I think we need to visualise the totality of empire in an abstract way, because in some important ways it has become a post-geographic empire wherein many important connections exist without physical proximity. This changes some facts of empire, even if others remain the same.

For example, the British had to worry about the “agency problem” in India which could be epitomised by, say, an East Indian company employee marrying a local woman and setting up in business with his new in-laws. This was very common, and the response from the Empire was to create a segregationist and anti-miscegenation racial discourse (and to ship young British women to India in bulk consignments). In contrast, the US can send agents to any country without such worry due to transnationalisation and global mobility. Though there is still a bias towards people of European descent, diplomats, spies, contractors, investors, missionaries, and garrisoning troops are ever more likely to be people of colour. Far from needing to keep its people separate, the US empire is benefiting from its ability to send agents who have ethnic origins and family ties to the neocolony in question. Meanwhile comprador oligarchs (especially in the Western hemisphere) are educated in the US and may have residences and business concerns in the US. The nationality on your birth certificate might limit your power at the highest levels (unless Trump and the “birthers” are correct), but there is still an international imperial elite including many non-US nationals who wield great power.

My proposal for an abstract 3-dimensional model of imperial power is a foam of conjoined bubbles. Each bubble represents a discrete institution of imperial power relations has the properties which we associate with metaphorical bubble such as a price bubble.

Imperial power relations are bubbles because the empire is a structure which puts power into the hands of the few. As Antonio Gramsci famously observed there must be “Consent” to domination, and as Gandhi noted: “We in India may in moment realize that one hundred thousand Englishmen need not frighten three hundred million human beings.” This sets up a dynamic that necessarily inclines towards an increasing but individually unsustainable concentration of power with the necessary increase of coercive power being a threat to the “hegemony” that maintains the consent of the governed.

Not every aspect of imperial power replicates the dynamics of an economic bubble, but I think that enough do to make the generalisation valid. In the resulting imperial spume each bubble; such as petrochemical hegemony, financial hegemony, or entertainment media hegemony, must individually expand or die, but the conjoined bubbles can artificially prevent a bubble burst, or may at other times simply fill the space so that the imperial mass continues with little diminishment. But as the bubbles continue a general trend of expansion there will be an increasing number of bubbles large enough that the bursting will set off a chain reaction. Theoretically there will come a point where the increasingly dominant and powerful empire will be susceptible to complete collapse from the tiniest pin-prick.

The problem is that the system is too complex for us to predict. We don’t know where we are at. The empire has responsive institutions, so vulnerabilities that are predictable are compensated for. This itself feeds the processes of inflation. To use another analogy, perhaps the future will bring a giant iceberg of imperial weakness which is foreseen, but cannot be avoided. It is possible, but the empire is constantly steering among icebergs. I think it is more likely that one day an unforeseen fault will cause a cascade failure, destroying the ability to steer. After that we can spend all the time we want arguing whether it was the unforeseen fault or the giant and obvious iceberg which is to blame (or praise) for the empire’s collapse.

Because of this unpredictability, the weaknesses of the US empire are significant potentialities, but they have little relevance in actuality. For those who oppose empire there is little to be gained fro focussing on imperial weakness.

I count myself among those who has a bias towards perceiving the inherent weakness, contradiction and self-defeat built into imperial expansion. We do not want to think of the empire as a “success” in any terms. We do not want to think that the mass-murderers of Washington DC might go to their graves believing that they have been on the side of the angels. We do not even really want to admit war and genocide can be used successfully to advance the interests of US empire. We want people to understand that nobody truly benefits from the cruel crimes of empire.

I do not want to believe that the US empire “wins” all the time, but I know that that is the real nature of empire. With very few exceptions it will always leverage from its superior power and will win every conflict eventually. Every time the US empire seems to be handed a defeat, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a US victory. In 1950 the US was worried about an independent Viet Nam becoming an industrialised socialist regional hegemon. Now Viet Nam is a poor neoliberal source of cheap labour that has signed the TPP and lets US warships use Cam Ranh bay and Haiphong harbour. The Phillippines evicted the US military in 1992, to much acclaim, but they were back a decade later and have been increasing their presence ever since (including announcing of 5 new bases in recent months).

They are also hard to stop when they decide to go to war. 3 years ago, after protest had prevented US bombing of Syria, I wrote “Though apparently thwarted in its efforts to justify action against Syria, the US is likely to continue looking for cracks in the wall of opposition and will exploit any opportunity to act, relying on its well established impunity.” Sure enough, in time the US began bombing Syria, having found a completely different rationale that coincidently meant they needed to bomb the country they had wanted to bomb for unrelated reasons just months before.

In Latin America, just a few years ago it seemed that the tide had turned decisively and enduringly against Usanian dominance, but now: Dilma Rouseff has been ousted; Venezuela is nearing collapse under the strain of US economic warfare and sabotage; Mauricio Macri plunged Argentina back into the deepest depths of neoliberalism; post-coup Honduras is rife with right-wing death squads; Rafael Correa will not be standing in the upcoming Ecuadoran election; and the historic peace-deal in Colombia has actually given a platform and relevance to mass-murderer Alvaro “I did it because it was a necessity” Uribe who is leading the right-wing campaign against peace (50 years of killing is apparently not enough).

In Europe, NATO has expanded to Russia’s borders in numerous places. India is now clearly in the US camp, a factor that should not be underestimated. Under AFRICOM (established 2002) the US military is now deeply entrenched and highly active throughout most of Africa. US military capabilities on the borders of rivals and enemies become ever more menacing with deployments such as the THAAD missiles in ROK, and ABM missiles in Romania and Poland.

The US remains the largest arms exporter and provider of military “aid”, but there has been a qualitative shift that increases the dependency of its clients. US weapons systems, and the insistence on “interoperability” amongst allies and clients, are now such that many military activities require US contractor or military personnel for maintenance. This gives the an unprecedented lever of control that supplements the military aid and training programmes that ensure that officers in the neocolonies are loyal to the empire. In direct terms the US can also, under circumstances decided by itself, take control of the massive and well armed forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK). Moreover, though its sidekick the UK has dropped from 2nd to 5th in military spending, it is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world.

The US has been proliferating missile defence systems which are designed to prevent retaliation from Russia after a massive US nuclear attack. This alone is causing dangerous instability, but the US is also trying to blur the lines between nuclear and conventional weapons to make them more “thinkable. Complementing this is a very expensive nuclear modernisation programme that includes many smaller “tactical” munitions.

In conventional terms the US also has excessive and peerless firepower. The US has 10 massive “supercarriers” currently in service. There total displacement is close enough to be called a megaton (1,000,000 tons). In contrast, adding all other countries aircraft carriers together you get under 200,000 tons of displacement (one fifth of the US strength). Total US naval size is 4 times that of its nearest rival (Russia): quote “the U.S. war fleet displaces nearly as much as all other warships in the world’s navies, combined.” Given that is also has the highest nuclear and conventional payloads, and the greatest technological sophistication, it is fair to say that the US Navy is considerably more powerful than all other navies combined.

In military terms the US is unquestionably a greater power now that it was in the past, and it is the greatest military power in world history.

The US has also gone from strength to strength in being able to impose economic control and in coercing and bribing governments into signing over economic sovereignty to the empire’s corporate arm. Once again it seems that the US empire never has to concede defeat, it merely bides its time and finds a new way forward when checked. The anti-globalisation movement in the late 1990s seemed spell the end of the march of neoliberalism. Indeed the Doha round of WTO negotiations, which started in 2002 and still continue, were hijacked by notions of development and welfare. Undeterred, the US has turned to bilateral and regional multilateral deals which further US hegemony and neoliberal governance. Now it gets to exploit the synergies that result from having its fingers in so many pies. The TPPA and TTIP, for example, also function to isolate China and Russia. We may still be holding a good fight against the TPPA, but the fact that the US could muscle in on someone else’s trade deal and then pervert in entirely to their own cause and then get the government’s concerned to sign the deal. Now many believe that TTIP is dead in the water. I would caution that there was a period when the TPPA also seemed dead (some say it is now), but stalled is not the same as dead.

The forces wanting these agreements are not going anywhere and no one is actually dismantling the process to this point. With the TPPA in particular, even if ratification becomes indefinitely delayed popular outrage, we don’t have a realistic way of getting the deal off the table altogether. This is a ratchet system, it can only go one way and it moves that way every time public pressure is relaxed or confounded.

Even if we defeat TPPA and TTIP, then there is already the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which “imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and will force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses.” As George Monbiot writes: “TTIP has been booed off the stage but another treaty, whose probable impacts are almost identical, is waiting in the wings. And this one is more advanced, wanting only final approval. If this happens before Britain leaves the EU, we are likely to be stuck with it for 20 years.”

We seem to have no means of reversing the progressive loss of economic sovereignty. Each individual country knows that they will be hammered if they take the first step. Thus in those periods where a country might be lucky enough to have a government that has a level of benevolent intent, they are constrained to trying to beautify our prison cells with some flowers and maybe (if we are really lucky) a comfortable vermin-free mattress. They provide insufficient and, above all, precarious well-being in a world where inequality has become a rampant cancer, as dangerous as it is obscene and surreal. Billionaires now own over $US7 trillion in wealth.

The empire can think up new ways of robbing and enslaving the people of the world because it owns our governments, it owns our bureaucrats, it owns our spooks, it owns our generals. As for multinational corporate interests (and their legions of lawyers and lobbyists and PR hacks), well the empire owns them and they own the empire (or is that the other way around?)

At the launch of a left-wing think tank author and academic Nick Srnicek said: “Neoliberalism is dead, and we have an opening to produce something new.” He is right, but wrong. His diagnosis is no different from what was said by people like him after the Asian Financial crisis 20 years ago. We must build intellectually robust counterarguments to neoliberalism, but we should realise it does not actually need to be intellectually valid to continue. You cannot kill that which does not live. Likewise, it is wrong to think that the rise of right-wing populism means an end to neoliberalism. It is a scam, and you don’t have to believe in the lies to perpetuate them or use them. Srnicek thinks that Trump is anti-neoliberal, which is what a lot of Argentinians thought about Mauricio Macri. Macri (who laid off 100,000 public sector workers in his first 3 months and deregulated labour laws for the benefit of employers) has just announced an end to energy subsidies which will cause a 400% rise in gas prices. Combined with Macri’s earlier move to raise wholesale electricity prices this will mean increases in power bills of up to 700%.

I think it is great, wonderful and necessary that we use the term “neoliberalism” as a catch-all term. It helps us draw links between the policies of our own governments and the international trends, and now people are grasping the fact that it has an authoritarian side. But I would caution against treating it as deriving its coherence from an ideology. As David Harvey pointed out in A Brief History of Neoliberalism neoliberals do not play by the rules they espouse.

Neoliberalism isn’t really particularly neo, it is just a new bottle for the old sour wine of market fundamentalism (as Fred Block explains in this interview). In practical terms, for example, Herbert Hoover was indistinguishable from a neoliberal except that he was less slick. In reality, the final nail in the intellectual coffin of market fundamentalism came before neoliberialism even existed. It was the work of economic historian Karl Polanyi whose unrefuted 1944 book The Great Transformation showed that market fundamentalism always was a bunch of crap going right back to its first policy applications in the 19th century. Polanyi also found exactly the same double standards in 19th century British laissez-faire that Harvey found in its modern incarnation, quoting a US Treasury Secretary who complained that the British Empire’s policy was “do as we say, don’t do as we do”.

Thus, neoliberalism always was an undead ideology of Zombie Economics. Personally I find it hard to believe that people take something like Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom seriously but clearly, like Ayn Rand, he is tapping into the hidden desire for absolution that obviously afflicts the wealthy and the bourgeois. It must be something like that, because it is a really pathetic book. First Churchill and then Thatcher had tens of thousands of copies distributed free to the Conservative Party faithful like it was the Tory Bible, or Little Red Book.

The thing about zombies is that, however shambling, they are hard to stop. There have been few sour notes in the orchestrated global advance of neoliberal imperialism. There have been thorns in the sides of the US – nation-states that just won’t play ball – but the empire has the time and expanse to quarantine such naughty countries until such time as they can crushed. People call the US weak, but they are destroying Syria now at no real cost to themselves. Syria was on a list, as was Libya. People point to Libya and call the intervention a failure, but Libya is fucked and it hasn’t hurt the empire in any way. Mission accomplished, surely? And then there is Iraq. Iraq, which would be an incredibly rich nation without intervention, is barely holding together. It is so divided that any powerful outsider (not just the US) can destabilise it. This is a clear win for the US, and they used the Iraq invasion to give $US19 billion of Iraq’s money to US contractors like Halliburton. Iraq now spends billions in oil money each year to buy US weapons and is completely dependent on US support to keep its government in one piece.

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Picture: power supply in Iraq embodying the “logic” of neoliberalism

After what the US has done to Iraq, no one should think that Iraqis want the US there, but people still call the 20-year genocide a “failure” and a “tragic error”. It is an evil master-stroke, not a mistake. The empire is only threatened by such action in that eventually it may over-reach, so each success carries the germ of potential disaster. As I mentioned at the beginning though increased power and increased fragility go hand in hand. Maybe a collapse of the empire will come, but until that time the empire’s power is an actuality, but its weakness is only a potential.

People who develop the habit of announcing the immanent demise, or even just the weakness of the US will eventually find themselves in the same position as those cultists who have to sheepishly keep pushing back the date of the apocalypse as each predicted end-time passes without the end actually happening. Historians Joyce and Gabriel Kolko spent decades emphasising US weakness in foreign policy, beginning during the US war in Indochina. At each point, over the decades of writing, it seemed valid to highlight this supposed weakness, but if you trace their work through time that aspect of the work becomes ridiculous, which in turn brings into question their very understanding of the empire. Sun Tzu advised: “When you are strong, appear weak”, and US officials love nothing more than whingeing about their vulnerability and impotence. The Kolkos let themselves be misdirected. They let their desire for a more just world lead them astray.

The empire’s weaknesses are its contradictions, which is another way of saying what I wrote in the title: more power is more weakness. But the potential weakness only affects the empire in the here-and-now inasmuch as it causes imperialists to become circumspect and modest. That is not happening. We know it is not because there is an exception to the rule, and that is Zbigniew Brzezinski. He wrote an article this year calling for caution and realignment. However, he is claiming that the US empire is already dead (which could be seen as disingenuous) and that a global realignment has to occur in which Russia and/or China are incorporated. He is basically advocating a global carve-up of the world and his can even be read as an appeal to take substantive control of China and Russia in order to dominate parts of the globe through them (in the same manner that occupied post-WWII Japan was used as a sub-hegemon in East Asia).

Brzezinski is clearly not being 100% honest either. He makes a transparently fake denunciation of “the current inclination of the Saudi government still to foster Wahhabi fanaticism”. Once the obvious lie is removed he is clearly saying that SA (which used to just buy US weapons and not use them) should continue in its new-found warmongering role.

Perhaps Brzezinski is genuinely worried about continued unipolar expansion, and that is what makes him an exception, but his answer is to a problem of empire is more imperialism: a controlled US dominated delegation of power to subordinates: “the United States must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture”. Nevertheless Mike Whitney seized on Brzezinski’s article with glee at the arch-imperialist giving up on empire, and I think he represents a broader tendency to want to see the empire as crumbling. But even if one imperialist did give up on empire, it isn’t much to get excited about it. Moreover, if “giving up on empire” comes in the form of saying that the US should create an new New-World-Order, then I would hate to see what expansionism looks like.

Besides all of that, none of this is new for Brzezinski, and a veteran like Mike Whitney should have remembered that this echoes Brzezinski’s stance from 2006, especially since Whitney quoted him in 2007: “American power may be greater in 2006 than in 1991, (but) the country’s capacity to mobilize, inspire, point in a shared direction and thus shape global realities has significantly declined. Fifteen years after its coronation as global leader, America is becoming a fearful and lonely democracy in a politically antagonistic world.” In fact Brzezinski had much the same stance in 2000 when he published The Geostrategic Triad advocating “The progressive inclusion of Russia in the expanding Transatlantic”. He wanted the US to rule in conjunction with partners dominated by it. The details in his latest article are different (China promoted, Europe demoted, Russia matured), but the essence is the same, a unilateral imperialism that calls itself multilateral and pretends to be pragmatic by being thoroughly overtly repugnant in the name of realism.Having seen many excited tweets about Brzezinski’s putative turn against empire, I think it is a good case study on which to end. It shows how we fool ourselves, seeking the easiest signs of hope and progress when the outlook is actually daunting and scary. We cannot see what lies ahead. We could be on the cusp of something great or something horrific or a long hard slow battle which we might not win. At the moment we have little control over such things. Any attempt to take a shortcut because of some will-o-the-wisp is counterproductive. We have been dealt a crappy hand, but that is what we have to live with because the masses are unreachable and will remain so until dissidents can offer a coherent comprehensive alternative to empire. That is why Srnicek was correct in his prescription, even if his diagnosis was a bit off.

To paraphrase Gramsci, what we need is accuracy of the intellect and sufficiency of the will, in that order.

US Wars are for Empire, Not for Profit

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Yemen is being destroyed. A US-backed “Saudi Coalition” has been bombing and shelling Yemen for 16 months. The UN puts the civilian death toll at 3700, but (aside from the question of why combatants’ lives apparently only count if they are Western soldiers) this probably vastly under-represents the death toll by both direct violence and by the indirect effects of the war. Most of the country has no reliable access to clean water and people, particularly young children, are dying of disease and deprivation.

On August the 22nd, two eminent commentators gave interviews on Yemen. Harper’s magazine editor Andrew Cockburn (author of a book on drone assassinations called Kill Chain) was interviewed on Democracy Now! Later in the day Medea Benjamin (prominent activist co-founder of Code Pink and also author of a book on Drone Warfare) was interviewed on KPFA’s Flashpoints.

Cockburn and Benjamin were in complete agreement about two very important facts. This first is that this is a US war. As Cockburn wrote in a Harper’s piece:

Thousands of civilians – no one knows how many – have been killed or wounded. Along with the bombing, the Saudis have enforced a blockade, cutting off supplies of food, fuel, and medicine. A year and a half into the war, the health system has largely broken down, and much of the country is on the brink of starvation.

This rain of destruction was made possible by the material and moral support of the United States, which supplied most of the bombers, bombs, and missiles required for the aerial onslaught. (Admittedly, the United Kingdom, France, and other NATO arms exporters eagerly did their bit.)

The second important fact is that Saudi violence is is targeted against civilians and civilian infrastructure. To quote Cockburn again: “They’ve destroyed most of the health system. They destroyed schools. Human Rights Watch did an excellent report pointing out that they’ve attacked—consistently attacked economic targets having nothing to do with any kind of war effort, but like potato chip factories, water bottling factories, power plants. It’s an effort to destroy Yemen. And … we are part of that. This is our war, and it’s shameful.”

The type of warfare Cockburn is describing, systematic violence against a national group and systematic destruction of a nation-state, is exactly what was meant by Raphael Lemkin when he coined the term “genocide” (as you can read for yourself here) and it is clearly covered by the UN Convention against genocide which prohibits any intentional destruction “in whole or in part” of a national group by:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

I will return to the significance of the concept of genocide in due course, but there is a third very significant thing on which Benjamin and Cockburn agree, and that is that the US motive in participating is to make money. In response to Kevin Pina’s opening question as to why the US is involved, Benjamin answered: “That’s a pretty simple one: money; greed; US weapons industries. The Saudis have become the number 1 purchaser of US weapons.” In this case, however, I must vehemently disagree with Benjamin and Cockburn (and on this subject it often feels like I’m disagreeing with the entire Western world). Blaming greed, or the power of profit, is a dangerous delusion. If opposition to permanent warfare continues to be dominated by this trope then we will never be able to end these ongoing massacres. Nor, for that matter, will we be able to halt the war on the domestic front – the intrinsically linked increase in militarisation, surveillance, and state violence (actual and potential) that is the other side of the permanent warfare coin.

There are many things that make me angry about the wide-held belief that US foreign policy is shaped by the profit motive. It is facile; it is intellectually cowardly; it is self-defeating; it is chauvinistic (or more specifically Usacentric) and thus unavoidably racist; and it is embarrassingly credulous. Nicholas J S Davies recently published an excellent article on the “normalisation of deviance” which causes US foreign policy elites to embrace a worldview of vast cognitive dissonances, in which realities of illegal and inhumane US practices are subsumed (and thus made possible) in the oceanic assumption of fundamental existential US benevolence, benevolence of US purposes, and benevolence of US intents. My contention is that Benjamin, Cockburn, and others I shall name are part of a constrained and disciplined dialectic of opposition that condemns the individual dissonant actions but actually accommodates and reinforces the US exceptionalist worldview that creates the “normalisation of deviance”.

There are two things that are very crucial to understand. One is that the US exceptionalist worldview is hegemonic throughout the West and, to a lesser extent, globally. What this means is that when judging the actions of the US government we project our own self-image onto imagined or real agents (such as the US President). We assume that the motives behind their actions are sane and rational and not malevolent in intent (unlike those of demonised enemy leaders who are often assumed to be acting out of irrational or diabolical intent). That is not to say that the claim is that US foreign policy is rational, but rather that irrationality is created by the system, while US leaders are personalised as rational beings who mean well in exactly the way that enemies of the West are personalised as irrational and/or malevolent in intent.

The second thing to understand is that without the widespread “normalisation of deviance” US military interventions would be impossible. Many US personnel would not follow the flagrantly illegal orders which they currently enact without a second thought. Other countries would not continue to cooperate with the US except when necessary and they would make war crimes prosecutions an unsurpassed priority of public and private diplomacy.

The idea that “war is a racket” and that wars are fought to line the pockets of profiteers is part of a tradition that comes out of an ideological consensus that is so widespread as to be nearly invisible. This is a materialist consensus between Marxists, liberals, conservatives, and others which embraces economic determinism (meaning roughly that economics shape society rather than society shapes economics). Note that Marxists often reject economic determinism as merely “vulgar Marxism”, but the fact remains that the very terminology of Marxism, much of which is used by non-Marxists, ensures that they remain shackled to that basic position. Free-market liberals, conservatives, neoliberals, and libertarians are ultimately just as tied to economic determinism, not least because they embrace the notion of capitalism which (as we tend to forget) comes from Marx. The point about this materialist consensus is that creates a common language in which people can intelligibly argue about the fine details of a fundamentally nonsensical construct. Disputants on both sides find that the path of least resistance lies in affirming the underlying orthodoxy and working with that, and the prefabricated arguments that come with it. The fatal flaw is that dissent becomes limited and impotent to affect change.

People who cite the military-industrial complex and profiteering as being a cause of US foreign policy often seem to be rather smug with what seem to me to be an unjustified sense of bravery and insight. I think people find it satisfying because they have the sensation of having pierced a veil, or having clambered over the thorny hedge that surrounds the a meadow of classroom platitudes. Such people, presumably, feel good about themselves for being clever. They will generally only be challenged by people who still cling to an even less tenable analysis so they need never interrogate these beliefs.

There is also a certain calculus of dissent. If you reject the mainstream view in the most obvious and easy fashion, you can be sure that you will have a cohort of like-minded semi-dissidents. However, if you then question and reject the easy critique, you will most likely find yourself isolated and deprived of the common language and shortcuts shared between the mainstream and semi-dissenting viewpoint. Usually someone will be quite young when they reject idealistic notions of politics and embrace a sense of amoral economic determinism and human greed or self-interest as driving forces behind the exercise of power. Once they have that conviction it will be a foundation on which rests all of their political analysis that they develop through life and thus it becomes an ingrained unexamined habit of thought.

However, when it comes to war, the centrality of profit/profiteering becomes a big problem. There are some exceptional circumstances, such as the interests of US financiers in World War I, in which powerful individuals may have a strong profit-motive that leads them to agitate for war. On the whole, however, wars do not create wealth, they destroy wealth. Some interests may profit, but fighting wars will reduce overall profits (except in as much as they may allow an upward redistribution of wealth through the disbursement of tax money and government bond money (which is the tax money of future generations)).

In the US context people may mistakenly believe that they have a more robust analysis than “war is a racket” because they can cite the existence of the military-industrial complex. The problem with that is that is presumes that the military-industrial complex just created itself. On Waatea 5th Estate, for example, Henry Rollins opened an interview by explaining the whole thrust of US politics since Reagan as being caused by the needs of the military-industrial-complex and the prison-industrial-complex. In fairness, he did go on to show that he understood the prison-industrial-complex to be a dynamic mechanism (situated in history) for reproducing the racialised “caste” system that subjugates African Americans. However, he shows no such insight into the military-industrial complex, though its historical roots are, if anything, more strikingly functional than those of the prison-industrial complex. The prison-industrial complex exists to maintain a domestic social order through violent subjugation and the military-industrial complex exists to maintain imperial hegemony and an international social order through even greater violence and subjugation.

The term “military-industrial complex” was coined by Dwight Eisenhower at the end of 8 years in the White House. The forerunners of the complex can be seen in the British Empire. Thus, in trying to diagnose the British Empire at the end of the 19th century, John A. Hobson noted that the Empire was an economic drain, but that it benefited “certain sectional interests”. He specified that these interests were the finance sector plus the shipbuilding, boiler-making, and gun and ammunition making trades”. In those days of British naval supremacy shipbuilding and boiler-making were the equivalent of the aerospace industry in the US today. Hobson, like today’s aficionados of the military-industrial complex, treated the whole thing as if it were some sort of scam – an unfair and vastly disproportionate way of fleecing the British people and the colonies. But the disproportionality itself showed that profit could not be a driving factor. Why, after all, would wealthy landowners and traders sacrifice their own wealth, as Hobson claimed, for sectional interests? If those interests had taken control of policy, why and how?

The key to understanding this “empire complex”, as I will call it, is that these “certain sectional interests” were, alongside the military and some other parts of the British state structure, the governing structures of the Empire (and the informal empire). This rose from a deliberate blurring of the lines between state and private power. For example, in Century of War F. William Engdahl writes of 3 “pillars of the British Empire” (finance, shipping and control of natural resources) and gives this example of interpenetration between private interests, government and British intelligence:

Britain modelled its post-Waterloo empire on an extremely sophisticated marriage between top bankers and financiers of the City of London, Government cabinet ministers, heads of key industrial companies deemed strategic to the national interest, and the heads of the espionage services.

Representative of this arrangement was City of London merchant banking scion, Sir Charles Jocelyn Hambro, who sat as a director of the Bank of England from 1928 until his death in 1963. During the Second World War, Hambro was Executive Chief of British secret intelligence’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) in the Government’s Ministry of Economic Warfare, which ran war-time economic warfare against Germany, and trained the entire leadership of what was to become the postwar American Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence elite, including William Casey, Charles Kindelberger, Walt Rostow and Robert Roosa, later Kennedy Treasury Deputy Secretary and partner of Wall Street’s elite Brown Brothers, Harriman.

The US military-industrial complex took things further than its British forerunner. When Eisenhower gave his famous warning about the “military-industrial complex” he was referring to something with long historical roots and antecedents, but nevertheless he was referring to something new; something only a decade old. In earlier drafts of Eisenhower’s farewell address it was referred to as the “military-industrial-Congressional complex”. In retrospect it was unfortunate that the word “Congressional” was omitted, because he nature of Congressional involvement shows a level of premeditated planning. Military contracts were distributed to every possible Congressional district so that every representative would be vulnerable to losses of jobs and income in their district. Politicians were being deliberately tied to the complex, so that it would be possible to either direct or replace any who spoke out against the interests of the complex. This was all happening at the time when NSC-68 became policy, creating what we know as the Cold War.

NSC-68 was a policy document signed by President Truman in 1950. It halted the post-WWII demobilisation of the USA and put the country on a permanent wartime footing. Though top secret, the 58 page document is stuffed full of propaganda that painted a fictitious picture of the USSR as a military threat to the USA. It states: “The Kremlin regards the United States as the only major threat to the conflict between idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the Kremlin … and the exclusive possession of atomic weapons by the two protagonists. The idea of freedom, moreover, is peculiarly and intolerably subversive of the idea of slavery. But the converse is not true. The implacable purpose of the slave state to eliminate the challenge of freedom has placed the two great powers at opposite poles. It is this fact which gives the present polarization of power the quality of crisis.” NSC-68 is full of fake figures and outright lies about Soviet capabilities. The document was probably not intended to persuade lawmakers and administrators as much as it was to give them a Party-line and talking points. These were words, phrases and arguments that could sell a new brand of USA to the people living in the USA itself and the strongest dissenting voices were soon silenced by McCarthyism.

Military spending tripled in the three years after NSC-68. An armistice was signed in Korea in 1953, but the military spending remained at wartime levels, and has never significantly decreased since.

The military-industrial complex was purposefully given a lever to control Congress and this tells us something about the intentionality of its creation, but I must point out that the complex has other levers to pull. Like other big industries which rely on government contracts and/or a lucrative legislative and policy environment, the private interests in the complex spend vast amounts on lobbying and campaign donations. This alone gives them “unwarranted influence” far in excess of what Eisenhower might have envisaged (at least in the fact that that influence is ineradicable by any means short of revolution). It gets even worse, however, because elected officials in the US are heavy investors in weapons and aerospace, and House and Senate members are not prohibited from insider trading. Between 2004 and 2009 19 of 28 members of the Senate Armed Services committee held stock in companies to which they could award contracts. They are only: “precluded … from taking official actions that could boost their personal wealth if they are the sole beneficiaries.”

The circle of venality tying politicians to the military-industrial complex works through bonds of greed and self-interest, but it has nothing to do with the profit mechanisms of “capitalism” as it is usually conceived. The complex was partly the product of historical processes shaped by power relations, but more importantly it was a conscious artifice. At the same time that food companies were developing the “TV Dinner”, US political elites created a TV Dinner military hegemony which went with a new TV Dinner empire. They pulled back the foil on their instant empire by announcing the doctrine of Cold War “containment”. Modelled on the 19th century “Monroe Doctrine”, by which the US gave itself the right to intervene in any Western hemisphere country, “containment” meant that any time the US had the power and desire to intervene they would simply claim that there was a Communist threat.

The military-industrial complex was created to tie government to the project of empire, however it did not remain static once created. Because this is an empire, success within the system is not determined by market forces, as much as market forces are twisted, wrangled and beaten into a shape that feeds the semi-private arms of imperial power. They are profitable, but that is incidental.

Both the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex are subsumed within a greater empire complex. This model of government corruption (campaign financing, lobbying, revolving door appointments, intellectual property legislation, no-bid contracts, cost-plus contracts, bail-outs, etc.) creates a whole class of industries that are co-dependent with government. These are not random concerns, they are tied together by a shared characteristic. Such industries include arms; aerospace; finance; agribusiness; pharmaceuticals; health; oil and energy; infrastructure; media and communications; and security/policing/prisons/mercenaries. What ties them together is that whoever controls these things controls nations and peoples.

The imperial complex creates a situation where it becomes inevitable that the business of empire is empire, and nothing else unless it is in the service of empire. The government of the USA is so integral to the empire complex that, in foreign policy, it is purely devoted to the extension and maintenance of imperial power. In fact, the model of governance imposed on the empire by the public-private branches of the empire complex, widely known as “neoliberal”, increasingly provides the model of domestic governance. The US is colonising itself. The empire complex has evolved to control, not to build, nurture or protect. Like empires of the past, it has become the tool of a narrow elite whose interests are not truly tied to the motherland any more tightly than they are to the colonies.

This brings me back to the claim that the US is behind the bombing in Yemen because it feed the profits of the military-industrial complex. The claim is 100% wrong. None of this is for profit. It was a system intentionally constructed to maintain and extend imperial hegemony. It’s subsequent evolution has not in any way made it capitalistic, but has alarmingly broadened and deepened the governance structures.

There is an underlying assumption by Cockburn, Benjamin and other such critics of US foreign policy that the money factor has perverted foreign policy from its true course. This implies that uncorrupted by money (and nefarious foreigners) US foreign policy would revert to being a largely benevolent practice directed by concern with national security, the national interest, and the prosperity of the homeland. The frustrating thing about this is that it is a complete refusal to simply attempt to analyse an empire (which many critics US foreign policy gladly admit that it is) as an empire. It is sad that trenchant critics of wars (and the bloodthirsty elites who wage them) are stuck with such a childish mentality. They evince a faith that the proper purpose of the system itself is akin to that of a parent (whether loving or stern) and that Dad just needs to sober up from the intoxication of money.

Most critics of US foreign policy assume that it is a dysfunctional branch of nation-state politics, rather than even entertaining the idea that it might be a very rational and functional arm of imperial politics. For example, they assume that provoking terrorism against US interests and people is a failure of policy, but there are no concrete reasons for believing this. In contrast, one can argue that the US provokes terrorism on purpose in order to justify foreign interventions and erosions of civil liberties. That is a reasoned position that explains US actions with a clear motive. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but let us consider conventional assumption that provoking terrorism is a mistake. In that case the contention is that an observed repeated pattern of behaviour (the various violent provocations such as invasions, bombings, torture, kidnappings) is a continual series of errors due to systemic dysfunction. To support this you must create a complex analytical apparatus showing that some essentialist cultural characteristics (a blend of ignorance, arrogance, and the desire to do good) cause US officials and personnel to keep repeating the same mistakes and never learn their lesson. All of this, a massive offence against the principle of parsimony, rests on the assumption that there can be no intent to foment terrorism because those same officials and personnel are collectively inclined to protect Usanians and US interests. This all falls down though, in the very obvious fact that the US government only protects US citizens when forced to. In the policies environment, public health, health, economy, trade, infrastructure, civil defence and (let us not forget) foreign intervention the US government shows that it will happily sacrifice the lives of its citizens. Terrorism deaths are a drop in the bucket compared to those caused by the insufficient healthcare in the US. Moreover, if you pre-ordain that non-interventionism and demilitarisation are not allowable foreign policy options, then you will not allow a policy that keeps people safe from terrorism. In practical terms that is a conspiracy to foment and harness terrorism for foreign interventions because the results are foreseeable and unavoidable.

Accompanying the infuriating belief that the natural state of Western governance is enlightened self-interest is the more repugnant and hypocritical belief that non-Western foreigners act in ways that need no explanation other than their hatred, brutality, and irrational violence. We endless ask ourselves where the US went “wrong” over various acts of mass violence, but no one feels the need to agonise about what part of the Qatari national character causes them to keep making the “mistake” of thinking they can bomb terrorism out of existence. The only analysis you need put forward is that they hate Iran, or hate Shi’a or (if you are really sophisticated) hate republicanism, then there is not need to explain why this translates into bombing or invasions or torture or any form of violence. When non-Westerners commit such acts it is treated as no more remarkable than the sun rising.

When Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen with US weapons, few entertain the notion that the Saudi Arabia might be acting as a US proxy, even though the US must approve enough to keep supplying the bombs. Instead we have a frankly racist discourse that suggests that Saudi Arabia is by some means dragging the US into a conflict in contravention of US interests. This whole “tail-wags-dog” trope really pisses me off. The US has been using the supposed rebelliousness and truculence of its puppets as an excuse for its actions going at least as far back as Syngman Rhee, the dictator they installed in South Korea after WWII. Everywhere that they possibly can, the US installs leaders who are unpopular enough with their own people that they are dependent on the US military to stay in power. That is how you run an empire. Sometimes it is in the US interest that such people make a show of anti-imperialist defiance, but when they really are defiant they tend to find themselves exiled, dead or imprisoned in fairly short order.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, an oligarchy of royals rules in defiance of the public will and the public interest. That is the classic recipe for a client regime, and probably differs little from a standard Roman client regime 2000 years ago. Iraqi-American analyst BJ Sabri has been posting a multi-part analysis of Saudi subjugation for over some months and argues that Saudi dependency is very deep, perhaps unusually so. In Part 2 of the series Sabri wrote:

On one side, we have the Saudi deference to the United States. I view this deference as follows: (1) confluence and reciprocal opportunism of two different but oppressive ideologies —Wahhabism and imperialism; (2) oil and petrodollars, and (3) a long history of secret deals—since the day Franklin D. Roosevelt met Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 1945. On the other, we have a supremacist superpower that views Al Saud as no more than a backward tribal bunch whose primary function is providing special services to the United States. These include cheap oil, buying US weapons, investing oil money in the US capitalistic system, supporting US hegemonic quest, buying US national debt, and bankrolling its covert operations and wars.

To drive the point, I argue that the combination between lack of means, lack of resistance, and other forms of dependence (US political and public relations support, for example) has created a situation of dependency. It incrementally forced the Saudi regime into a mental subordination to the United States similar to an occupied mentality.

Of course, others will tell you that the US must be acting at the behest of Saudi Arabia because they have no motive of their own. As Cockburn reports, “no one that I talked to in Washington suggested that the war was in any way necessary to our national security. The best answer I got came from Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California who has been one of the few public officials to speak out about the devastation we were enabling far away. ‘Honestly,’ he told me, ‘I think it’s because Saudi Arabia asked.’”

When people like Cockburn make reference to “our national security” as if it were a factor in US military interventions I have to check that I haven’t been whisked to a parallel dimension. When has US national security ever been a consideration in a US decision to attack another country? This is the most interventionist state in the history of humanity and from an historical perspective the only differentiation in terms of national security is whether the US government puts a lot of effort into lying about having a national security interest (e.g. Viet Nam, Cambodia, Korea, Iraq); puts on a minimal or pathetic show (e.g. Grenada, Laos, Syria, Libya); or doesn’t really bother with the pretence at all (e.g. Haiti, Somalia, Panama).

Implying that a given US military intervention is aberrant because not does not serve national security is gross intellectual cowardice. It is a way of critiquing US policy without ever suggesting that the US might itself be worthy of criticism. Notions of exceptionalism are not challenged but rather are enforced by the implication that each act of mass violence is a departure from an unspoken norm. These are criticisms that sanitise and conceal US agency and intentionality by using the equivalent of the passive voice.

Gareth Porter is a fine critic of US policy when it comes to challenging the lies of officials who are gunning for war. He has written extensively to debunk the nuclear scare tactics used by US officials to threaten war against Iran and to impose cruel sanctions. But Porter is also an exponent of this passive voice historiography. His 2005 book Perils of Dominance documented the fact that the US had an unassailable strategic hegemony and lied to create the impression that the USSR was a threat to national security. It is a very useful book (although I would dispute his exculpation of Lyndon Johnson), but the way Porter frames facts, indeed the central “thesis” of the book, is that not having any genuinely security fears caused the US to invade Viet Nam. It is rather like framing a story of spousal abuse by focussing on the fact that the perpetrator was induced to beat the victim because of a large difference in size and strength.

The reason I bring Porter up is because in a recent interview with Lee Camp he said we need to go beyond the military-industrial complex and look at the “national-security complex” and the “permanent war state”. At first glance you might think that he and I were on the same wavelength, but despite admitting to long years of “committing the liberal error of opposing the war, but not the system”, he refuses to relinquish his central delusion. He reprises the same analytical framework that was very common after the US withdrew from Viet Nam under titles like Quagmire Theory or Stalemate Theory. The idea is that bureaucratic systems running on their own logic become the determinants of foreign policy. This allows people like Arthur Schlesinger (himself an official under Kennedy) to state that the war in Indochina was “a tragedy without victims” and talk of “the politics of inadvertence”. This apologism can be seen in book titles on US war that emphasise benign intent or lack of agency such as Nobody Wanted War, or the book by one of the US officials who help destroy Iraq whose lame excuse is We Meant Well.

Discussing Syria (though it could just as well be Yemen) Porter says US actions point to “the total inanity and irrationality of US policy”. This is the critique of someone who wants to go on record as opposing US warmongering but wants the least possible challenges and repercussions for doing so. It resonates easily with people, but it simply does not hold up to any intellectual examination. US aggressions, as Porter admits, fit a pattern of behaviour, so are they irrational? Irrational would imply self-defeating, but the US has been destroying countries, Balkanising them, destabilising them, killing and impoverishing in many places. They have created an ever-lengthening string of failed or near-failed states in actions so momentous that they have created the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Why would irrationality be so consistent and have such a strong impact?

I do not have the time and space here to detail the intrinsic links between genocide and imperialism here, but let us not be unnecessarily stupid and deny that empires profit from Balkanising, partitioning and destroying countries that are strategically inconvenient. That is well established as part of history, and there is no reason at all to think that the US should be any different. The US empire, despite its internally generated weakness and contradictions, goes from strength to strength in foreign policy. The USSR is gone and NATO is on Russia’s border. China is besieged by the “Pacific pivot” and the TPP. Independent nationalist regimes that reject the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” (which is the surrender of economic sovereignty to the US empire) have been picked off one by one. In global terms the US has never been more powerful.

How many times do we need to see the same intentional destruction of a country and its people by the US before we call it what it is – genocide. This is intentional destruction of “nations and peoples” and it is exactly what the term genocide was coined to describe.

The US empire is hollowing itself out. As it fails internally it will be ever more driven to impose control globally. As the 2016 Presidential campaign enters its crucial stage, we are entering the most dangerous period of history since the Cold War. We cannot afford to cling to delusions. We need to oppose US wars; evict US military bases; end mass surveillance and intelligence co-operation; reject neoliberalism and pro-corporate trade deals; and we need to reject the propaganda and discourse of US exceptionalism and apologism. When I say “we”, I mean every single person on the planet (including people in the US itself). The empire has to be beaten back on all fronts, because otherwise there are two horrific options: either it collapses, or worse still it doesn’t.

It is not “Ridiculous” to Reject Hillary, Part 2: Bride of the Monster

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In Part 1 of this article I argued that the 2016 US presidential race is the Alien vs. Predator election. The joke, which is at the expense of everyone on this planet, is that they are both aliens and both predators. Many ordinary people understand the situation perfectly well. A South Carolina real estate billboard shows Trump and Clinton and reads: “Moving to Canada? We can sell your home.” Even a month ago you could read this Onionesque headline at The Hill: “Poll: 13 percent prefer meteor hitting earth over Clinton, Trump”. It is even heard “out of the mouths of babes”. My 11 year-old daughter and her friend just told me a joke they heard in school:

Q: Clinton and Trump are together in a plane crash, who survives?

A: America.

Many ordinary US folks get it. They understand. Some may grit their teeth and vote for Clinton, but most people do not have positive feelings about her. A small number of others feel the same about Trump and argue that he is actually the lesser evil. I will return to that subject later.

Clinton and Trump are much more similar to each other than they are to any ordinary mortals. The Clintons are estimated to be worth $110 million in wealth. Trump is clearly also obscenely rich (even if it is partly delusional). It is widely known that Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton are friends, but Bill and Donald are much closer than people think. In 2012 Clinton said of Trump: “I like him. And I love playing golf with him,” and Trump called Clinton “a really good guy”.

The other link between Bill and Donald is their mutual friend, the paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. It is very important, if indirect, evidence that Clinton and Trump inhabit an elite sociopathic world where ordinary people’s lives are insignificant and expendable. People might think I am making the following stuff up, so I will simply quote from named news sources:

Daily Wire: “Both presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton have ties to convicted pedophile and Democratic donor, billionaire Jeffery Epstein and ‘Sex Slave Island.’”

Fox: “Former President Bill Clinton was a much more frequent flyer on a registered sex offender’s infamous jet than previously reported, with flight logs showing the former president taking at least 26 trips aboard the “Lolita Express” — even apparently ditching his Secret Service detail for at least five of the flights, according to records obtained by FoxNews.com.

The tricked-out jet earned its Nabakov-inspired nickname because it was reportedly outfitted with a bed where passengers had group sex with young girls…

New York magazine: “’I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,’ Trump booms from a speakerphone. ‘He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’” [This is from 2002. The investigation leading to Epstein’s conviction for child-sex offences began 3 years later.]

VICE: “In 2010, Epstein pled the Fifth when asked by a lawyer representing one of Epstein’s victims about his relationship with Trump: ….
Q. Have you ever socialized with Donald Trump in the presence of females under the age of 18?
A: Though I’d like to answer that question, at least today I’m going to have to assert my Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights, sir.”

Epstein was also allegedly involved as the procurer of the 13 year-old who was allegedly raped by Trump in Epstein’s apartment. As both Lisa Bloom and Drew Salisbury point out, these are not accusations that can be dismissed out of hand.

Hillary Clinton cannot wash her hands of Bill’s record of sexual violence, in part because her denials have helped him escape the consequences. Particularly damaging is Juanita Broaddrick’s belief that Hillary tried to ensure her silence after Bill almost certainly raped Broaddrick in 1978. The National Review reports: “Juanita Broaddrick’s claim was supported by not one but five witnesses and a host of circumstantial (though no physical) evidence.” The allegation seems difficult to deny because Broaddrick never voluntarily came forward. Rather, she was served with a subpoena and then taped without her knowledge after years of rumours. Hillary’s approach to this has been to brazen it out in a frankly Trumpian show of denial: “On December 3, a couple of weeks after Clinton tweeted, ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported, ‘a woman at an event in Hooksett, New Hampshire, asked, ‘Secretary Clinton, you recently came out to say that all rape victims should be believed. But would you say that Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones be believed as well?’ Clinton replied, ‘Well, I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.’ The audience applauded.”

These rape allegations are symptomatic of an aristocratic system in which Marie Antoinette would feel at home. Epstein, for example, received a secret “sweetheart” non-prosecution deal from the FBI and only served 13 months. There is no equality under the law and many ordinary people are becoming acutely conscious of the divide between Us and Them.

A good argument can be made that voting for Trump or Clinton is essentially exactly the same thing. They are friends, peers, comrades and co-conspirators. Trump puts on a good show of dirty negative campaigning, but remember that this guy really does come from the entertainment world and even from pro-wrestling. His CV includes “body-slamming, beating and shaving” WWE owner Vince McMahon, and anyone who doesn’t at least entertain some doubts about the sincerity of his campaigning trash-talk is simply refusing to see what is in front of them. It is possible that this invective is just his natural way of being, but if that is true then he isn’t actually sincere in anything he does. The only question is whether he remains friends with the Clintons after this campaign.

We have now reached a point where both of these super-rich aristos are campaigning for the votes of the working class. Trump knows that he gets far more votes campaigning against trade liberalisation than he does by pushing xenophobia, and it was a key component of his recent speech in Detroit (though he did promise jobs to “titties like… Detroit” instead of “cities”). But he mixed “fiscal conservative” tax-cut rhetoric with anti-trade-deal rhetoric in a way that was unconvincing. Trump runs as an outsider and a maverick, but so has every Republican candidate since 1996. He decries Clinton as a creature of Wall St., but his own economic team includes several billionaires including financier John Paulson.

In essence Trump and Clinton also have identical stances on the TPP, a point that should give as much pause to Clinton supporters as to Trump supporters. Tim Kaine, who went against most Senate Democrats in support of TPP “fast-track” authority and defended the decision hours before being nominated as VP candidate, stands out because his flip-flop objections to the TPP (a transparent ploy to dilute the left-wing anger against his nomination) differ sharply from Trump and Clinton in that they reference unfairness in practical, ethical, and moral terms. Clinton’s TPP stance agrees with Trump’s and his implication that the problem with the TPP is that US negotiators were outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by us cunning foreigners with our underhanded slyness. Indeed, while some of us here in Aotearoa are wondering why our government is signing us up to a pact which will hurt and alienate our biggest trading partner (China), Trump is saying that the TPP “was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” The media don’t particularly care to highlight the fact, but Clinton has stuck to the same risible line: “We can not let rules of origin allow China — or anyone else, but principally China — to go around trade agreements. It’s one of the reasons why I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership because when I saw what was in it, it was clear to me there were too many loopholes, too many opportunities for folks to be taken advantage of.”

Understanding the dynamics of these elections, and the ramifications of taking one stance or another, cannot be reduced to “candidate X says they support A and I support A, therefore I support X”, but our journalists and pundits are simply not capable of dealing with the reality of the politics we have to live with.

Broadcaster Paul Jay (who would much prefer Clinton as POTUS than Trump) put his finger on something when he observed that people should choose the lesser evil but “the problem is… they don’t call them the ‘lesser evil’; they start saying good things about them.”

Trump and Clinton are both vicious parasitic lifeforms too loathsome for people to bear in ordinary circumstances, but the people’s instincts are blunted and confuted by a journalistic and academic culture that gets stuck in half-think. Half-think, I should explain, is the process by which some people take the surface appearance of things and then apply fatuous received wisdom. Half-thinkers apply pre-fabricated generalities to any situation in order to make all things conform to an established ideology of complacent authoritarianism. Thus, when the common plebeians of Pompeii became alarmed by a smoking mountain and shaking ground they were probably reassured by one of their social betters: “Well actually, according the Greek authorities on such phenomena, belching is a healthy response for the human body and if the earth itself should belch it is surely a good omen. Quod erat demonstrandaaaaaaaah!”

Those who use half-think gain a sense of superior education and intellect, having gone past the mere vulgar issues of “plain fact” and “common sense”. However, this is no process of interrogation in which the half-thinker delves beneath the surface. It is an unthinking response that can be arrived at instantaneously, or sheltered behind over a long period. The half-thinker simply grabs onto any generality which they can pass off as being an educated insight in order to defend the status quo. That is to say that half-think is used to defend racism, inequality, war, state violence and so forth. It is fundamentally conservative in nature and often revolves around defending the indefensible because it is natural, unavoidable, part of human nature, or what anyone would expect of any “red-blooded male”.

I mention all of this because in times of political and social decadence and dysfunction, half-thinkers will always do their best to convince people that there is “nothing to see here”. Chris Trotter, who readers may remember from Part 1, has been employing the phrase politics is the “art of the possible” as a kind of snobby way of blocking his ears and going “lalalalala I’m not listening, I’m not listening lalalalala”. On one hand he is using a commonplace generality to assert something that he could never safely assert in specific reference to Clinton herself, and on the other hand, in doing so, he is performing the standard half-think trick of making remarkable things unremarkable.

I do agree with the half-thinkers on one thing, because they believe that there is nothing new under the sun. Where I differ from the half-thinkers is that for them this means: Western liberalism is the acme of civilisation; the people in charge are there for a reason; the police are doing their best in a difficult situation; North Korea is a rogue nation; ordinary people are dangerously stupid; Putin is a villain; our politicians mean well; you have to have a seat at the table to enact real change.

Half-thinkers like Trotter never examine their assumptions, they just use safety in numbers to avoid being challenged. They use their compatibility with power to keep real intellectuals at the margins.

In contrast to Trotter, Luciana Bohne, compares Clinton to Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha: “the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.” She casts Trump as Charybdis, “a huge bladder of a creature whose face was all mouth and whose arms and legs were flippers”, and Clinton as the Basilisk. “I’m raving, you say? This is the Age of Empire, and empire breeds monsters.”

Bohne’s imagery is extravagant because her eyes are open and the times demand it. Man-eating giants are striding the land stuffing screaming peasants in their maw by the handful, like so many jelly-babies, and people like Trotter are saying: “What giants? I can only see windmills and people have always been crunched up in windmill accidents. It is nothing new. Yelling about it will only cause more windmill deaths.”

Trotter wants us to be practical, but is his business-as-usual, vote-for-the-lesser-evil-then-appeal-to-her-progressive-principles actually practical? Or is it based on Panzaist delusions that turn a bloodthirsty mass-muderer into a well-meaning advocate of the rights of children? To counter cliché with cliché, is supporting Clinton the “art of the possible” or is it sticking your head in the sand?

Trotter doesn’t simply rely on the threat of Trump to argue that the US electorate should settle for Hillary, he also claims “This was the battle that Bernie won. As he told the Convention: ‘This is the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party!’ Yes, he endorsed Hillary, but in doing so he took care to bind her to that progressive platform with chains of rhetorical steel.”

In reality the platform is fatally flawed. Cornel West abstained from passing the platform because it did not oppose the TPP, acknowledge the occupation of Palestine as an occupation, or call for universal healthcare: “I have no other moral option”, he explained. Worse still, by stating “we will not hesitate to take military action if Iran violates the agreement”, the platform is advocating illegal aggression. The US has no right to take military action if Iran breaks its nuclear deal. Moreover the threat of a war with Iran horrifies most of the US public, particularly Democrats, so slipping a phrase like that in without mass protest shows how US exceptionalism and these “lesser evil” oligarchic politics create a massive and dangerous cognitive dissonance.

Even if the platform did have stronger and less ambiguous commitments, it is still nothing more than rhetoric. In the US system, there is no comeback for an administration or a caucus that does not abide by a platform. The platform means nothing. Obama entered his first term with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress so the 2008 Democratic platform should have been more binding than ever, right? Here are some of my favourite excerpts from that 2008 platform so you can judge for yourself:

* “We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination. The White House and Congress will work with all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years.” [Under the Obama administration Puerto Rico has just been stripped even further of self-determination and been placed under similar governance to that which worked so well for Flint, Mi.]

* “We support equal rights to democratic self-government and congressional representation for the citizens of our nation’s capital.” [For the actual situation here is John Oliver’s rant]

* “We will close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay,….” [No comment]

* “We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans.” [LOL]

* “Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college.” [Data from Feb. 2015: “The official poverty rate is 14.5%, meaning 45.3 million people in the US live in poverty, up by over 8 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million (33%) of people living in the United States are low-income, defined as incomes below twice the federal poverty line, or $47,700 for a family of four. Taken together, this means that 48% of the US population is poor or low income, 1 in every 2 people. More than 1 in 5 children in America (21.8%) are living under the official poverty line. Half of all children will be on food stamps before they turn 20, including 9 out of 10 African American children. ]

* “To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end. … At the same time, we will provide generous assistance to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. We will launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic surge to help broker a lasting political settlement in Iraq, which is the only path to a sustainable peace. We will make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We will encourage Iraq’s government to devote its oil revenues and budget surplus to reconstruction and development.” [The US just announced 400 more troops deploying to Iraq: “Last month, President Obama raised the “cap” on the number of ground troops in Iraq to 4,647. This cap has become something of a running joke, as the Pentagon has repeatedly admitted to having well more troops than that. Most recent estimates have over 6,000 US ground troops in Iraq already, before this new deployment.”]

The 2008 Democratic Party platform also promised to end nuclear weapons, whereas Obama has launched the biggest nuclear weapons programme since the Cold War. They promised to institute transparent government, but “transparency” and the FOIA system has become even more of a farce than under Bush II. Redactions are so commonplace and arbitrary that they release whole redacted pages that now have “redactions within redactions”, as if redacting something once is not enough any more.

So much for this year’s allegedly “progressive” platform, but we are still left with the major practical argument that supporting Clinton is necessary to stop Trump, even if she is not a desirable leader in her own accord. There are several important assumptions behind that which should be interrogated. One: can Trump win, and under what circumstances? Two: does supporting Clinton actually help stop Trump? Three: is Trump actually worse than Clinton? Four: balancing all these factors and more, what are the practical repercussions of supporting Clinton?

Like most people, I am frightened of what Trump might unleash on the world, but I have become much more relaxed on the specific subject of him winning the Presidency. All things being equal, Trump really doesn’t have a chance simply because this is a negative election (where the vote is decided on whom you most hate) and Trump alienates more people in swing states, while Clinton alienates people in populous safe Democrat states. In practical terms, as Rik Andino has pointed out, it is hard, if not impossible, to see a scenario in which Trump wins 50% of electoral college votes.

Since Clinton’s nomination, Trump is looking even less viable. In fact, with Clinton’s nomination it was as if a switch was thrown and suddenly the media that had previously made it seem that Trump could get away with murder, found his standard daily outrages now damaging and intolerable. Tellingly, it all began with him saying of Gazala Khan: “Maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that.” Suddenly this typical Trump comment was unacceptable, with news reports switching from telling people that Trump can say these things with impunity to running pompous features like this Guardian piece about how the dead “hero” Humayun Khan “could derail his campaign”.

Meanwhile, Trump has plummeted in the polls. Even previously safe Republican states , like Georgia, seem to be leaning towards Clinton. In Republican Arizona Clinton now leads in the polls. On the one hand this might seem to be expected in a state that is nearly 30% Hispanic, but on the other, Arizona has a history of supporting some extremely Trumpish policies including the notorious SB 1070 “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”. This is widely felt to have encouraged racial profiling and was formally opposed by 11 other states, Mexico, large numbers of Obama administration officials and Obama himself, law enforcement heads, 68 national members of Congress, and dozens of human rights and civil liberties organisations. The state also banned successful Mexican-American studies programmes after Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal had been horrified to find that “they were portraying Ben Franklin as a racist”, and “they got a poster of Che Guevara.” Many books were banned from schools including important texts from James Baldwin, Isabelle Allende, and Howard Zinn along with Chicano writers that include some of the most important literary and scholarly figures in Arizona itself. They banned Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and the novelist and professor Manuel Muñoz is banned in the school just across the street from where he lectures.

In Maricopa County, which is home to 4.2 million of Arizona’s 6.8 million population, SB 1070 was welcomed by 4 term “toughest Sheriff in America” Joe Arpaio. To call Arpaio controversial simply cannot do justice to his proven hatefulness, dishonesty, sadism, xenophobia (or crypto-racism), corruption and abuse of power. Arpaio is a Trump supporter who makes Trump himself seem like Mahatma Gandhi. I cannot detail his impressive record of lunacy, so I will take the unusual step of recommending this section of his Wikipedia page.

Arizonan’s have stuck with Arpaio through thick and thicker. They voted for a State Congress that banned hundreds of books from schools and a Senate that passed SB 1070. Yet they are turning away from Trump (perhaps they are also belatedly having qualms about their “tough” sheriff). It really doesn’t bode well for Trump’s bid for the White House.

There is also the question of how serious Trump is in his Presidential bid. From the beginning, on an escalator, his campaign has played out like a prolonged amateurish publicity stunt. A tax specialist who examined the possible reasons that Trump would continue to refuse to release his tax returns could only conclude: “Donald Trump will not publish his tax returns because he does not expect to be President, or at best has not internalized what becoming President actually entails. Trump’s tax return strategy is directed at a future in which he is not President, but is an even richer self-promoter.” More recently still, Representative André Carson (D-Ind.) claimed that Trump is “trying to sabotage himself to clear the way for President Clinton”: “It appears as if he knows he will not be the next President of the United States, so he’s trying to sabotage this thing because he’s not used to losing.”

Perhaps it is irrelevant whether Trump really wants to win or not. Trump is a threat and he has the potential to unleash violence upon the world, but it does not follow that supporting Clinton lessens that threat. As Kshama Sawant (a socialist city councillor from Seattle) suggested on Democracy Now!, if people to the left of Clinton give her their support out of fear, then they will drive masses of ordinary people into Trump’s camp. It is actually the politics of the lesser evil that have given us Trump. What is more Trump is not necessarily going anywhere.

If Trump is just playing a game, using extremist rhetoric to stampede people into the Clinton camp (like a sheepdog, but with rabies) then an electoral loss may or may not mean the end of Trump’s political career. If Trump is earnest, however, then everything we know about him suggests that he will not accept defeat in the way we have come to expect. Defeated major party Presidential candidates have a tendency to recede like clumps of rotting matter back into the roiling mire of party politics, thereafter surfacing occasionally or not at all. But Trump, if he is what he appears to be, will not accept defeat. He has repeatedly claimed in advance that the election will be rigged and one of his Republican Party supporters warned that there will be a “bloodbath” if he loses in November.

People are understandably concerned that Trump’s loaded language, such as his recent hint about “2nd amendment people” taking action, will inspire political violence, but let’s keep this in perspective: Trump may inspire some lone nutcases, but whoever is next President will be killing thousands of people with the US military.

The most tangible and certain fact about the Trump campaign is that his campaign is shifting the discourse of politics altogether. From that perspective it fits a long tradition of pushing rightwards, of increasing oversimplification, of increasing extremism, of increasing self-righteous chauvinism, and of decreasing empathy. It is a slow drift into what can best be described as a type of fascism. It is a one-way street, a ratchet system that can only go towards fascism and never away from it (though it may feature socially liberally aspects which are very different from historical fascism). The thing that makes this drift so certain and unremitting is the politics of the lesser evil. Democrat and Republican leaders have been playing Good Cop/Bad Cop since the Reagan years. The very logic of the lesser evil ensures that each new election cycle will see both greater and lesser evils being more evil than the last time around. We might worry about what Trump might hypothetically do if he takes office, but this is an effect that we know he is having. It is happening now and supporting Clinton only strengthens the shift towards a more encompassing and total fascism.

Not only does supporting Clinton empower Trump’s transformation of politics (bearing in mind that Trump and Clinton are merely the latest in a line of electoral double-acts), but some people see Trump as the lesser evil. Anthony Monteiro, for example, is an activist and African-American studies scholar linked to Black Agenda Report and Counterpunch: “His positions come as close to the working class as you’re going to get.” Talking to Don Debar and Glen Ford he says “he is to the left of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama….” He and others like him point out that Clinton is supported by the neoconservatives, Wall St., the military-industrial-complex, and appears much closer to overt plutocrats like the Koch brothers than Trump.

Those who see Trump as the lesser evil point out that Hillary Clinton is an undeniable war hawk, whilst Trump is an advocate of détente. Clinton has a public and undenianble track record of advocating, supporting, and committing war crimes that is far more significant from any perspective (including a feminist perspective) than Trump’s overt misogyny and probable history as a rapist. But then again, Trump is a monster, so treating him as the lesser evil is no more sensible than treating Clinton as the lesser evil.

Listening to Anthony Monteiro talk about Trump is exactly like listening to apologists for Clinton. The polemic follows exactly the same formula for either: Find the positive things and avoid testing them to see of they actually make sense; point out how scary the opponent is; state that there really are good reasons to treat the nicer rhetoric as substantive (like “chains of rhetorical steel”); find some reason to say that unlike the opponent this particular very rich powerful establishment figure is actually on the side of the common people; don’t mention the long public record that shows your candidate is against the common people (but do mention the corresponding record of the opposing candidate); et cetera.

In the end it is impossible to support Clinton or Trump in good conscience and that in itself is a practical consideration. Trump supporters should be aware of his extensive record of scams, lies and ties to organised crime. David Cay Johnston, for example, has been reporting on Trump for 27 years: he is not some stooge for the Clinton campaign; he isn’t protecting Wall St. from the new champion of Joe Lunchbox (quite the opposite really); he just reports that Trump has a long ongoing close working relationship with organised crime and reaches the conclusion (which is amply supported by evidence) that Trump is a dangerous “world-class narcissist”.

I am personally less interested in the individual character of a candidate than in the political dynamic that they create and that would result form their taking office. From that perspective Trump is terrifying. Almost everything that Trump says stokes anger. He is not only inflaming aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome, he is appealing to all who believe in US exceptionalism. He paints a picture of a noble and strong USA belittled and persecuted by inferior foreigners. This trope has historical roots from 19th century nationalism that continue through Fascism and Nazism. In the US context the conceit was a staple of the most violent hard-line Cold Warriors, but went mainstream under Ronald Reagan. Most relevant to Trump, however, was when it was used to justify one of the greatest war crimes of the 20th century by Richard Nixon – the invasion of Cambodia, which was followed by bombing that killed hundreds of thousands and is significantly responsible for the Khmer Rouge takeover and subsequent autogenocide. Nixon justified his act of aggression by saying that if the US “acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”

Trump is openly Nixonian, which again suggests that he is not very serious about winning the Presidency. Aides avowed that Trump’s nomination acceptance speech was modelled on Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech. There are many similar themes, but in fact Trump’s speech was far more alarmist and negative, and thus more inflammatory. The scariest thing for me is that Nixon’s speech was a launching pad for a campaign of right-wing authoritarian law-and-order at home combined with a crucial promise of “peace with honor” abroad. Trump 2016 and Nixon 1968 are part of a US tradition of loudly avowing peace in an election campaign when you are set on war. Other examples include Wilson’s 1916 slogan “He Kept US Out of the War” and Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration “we are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”. Nison’s “Peace with honor” meant 7 more years of war, in which millions died. Incidentally Nixon had recruited the Democrat and liberal Henry Kissinger (who was on LBJ’s staff at the time) to sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks thus guranteeing more war.

Another war hawk who donned the election-year dove suit was George W. Bush. He opposed military over-commitment and nation building. He said, “I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into another country and say: ‘We do it this way, so should you!’” Trump has reprised Bush’s semi-isolationist pragmatic deal-maker rhetoric in its entirety. People seem to have forgotten that this was the platform on which Bush campaigned because he did exactly the opposite when he was in office but that should be a lesson about how we really need to view political rhetoric. Rhetoric has meaning, but it is not as simple as equating an expressed wish with an actual desiure or inclination. Sometimes it means exactly the opposite. In taking the same pragmatic dove stance (which does not reject chauvinist patriotism or exceptionalism) Trump is positioning himself exactly as Bush, Johnson, Wilson and Nixon did. He is stating a desire for peace in order to create political space to wage war.

Choosing between Trump and Clinton is a lot like choosing between Nixon and Kissinger. Clinton is unashamedly close to Kissinger and is rumoured to be seeking his endorsement. Clinton and Trump, by their positive referrals to the widely loathed Nixon and Kissinger, are showing how contemptuous they both are of ordinary people.

I tend to see Trump as more dangerous, but someone responded to my stance by pointing out that Clinton is more dangerous because she would have bipartisan support for waging war. In parliamentary terms (not in terms of public opinion) this is certainly true and may or may not become crucial to the future of the world. GOP senators and congressional representatives will support every military adventure, every increase in surveillance and secrecy, every assassination, every arms deal, and so forth. Like Tony Blair in the UK, the only legislative opposition that Clinton will face will come from a weak sub-group of her own party. So as well as being like the choice between Nixon and Kissinger, this election presents a choice akin to voting either for Tony Blair or George W. Bush: one is unstoppable because she has captured and controls the one party that might oppose her warmongering, the other is unstoppable because he has created the space to govern as a partisan rogue who is not subject to congressional restraint or restraint by public opinion.

In the final analysis, any acquiescence to Trump or Clinton is a grovelling surrender to a sick slave-master who is demanding that we eat a pile of steaming dog turds. People like Chris Trotter lick their lips at the prospect and expect us to do the same, but how can supporting for Clinton not be an act of self-debasement? The FBI, predictably, decided not to prosecute her even though it is clear from their account that they believe that she committed a serious crime, but their account contradicts what Clinton said on three occasions under oath. As Clinton will be aware, that perjury makes her eminently impeachable, which really should have ended her presidential run then and there. How can people be expected to vote for someone who could be impeached on the moment she takes office? Now she is involved in a “pay-to-play” scandal from her time in the State Department that, among other things, is the perfect example of why her attempt to keep her emails private was a serious crime. Clinton will enter office with a number of unresolved scandals that should disqualify her. The worst thing is that she will probably do so with impunity, revealing that she is above the law and that people like her can openly mock the law. To support Clinton is to support demockracy [sic] – the farce of elections that are used to legitimate an actual kakistocracy.

Chris Trotter recently compared Clinton to F. D. Roosevelt and claimed that the US role in Libya was just lending “support to British and French efforts in the UN Security Council to provide air support to Libyan rebels fighting Muamma Gaddafi.” He is coming very close to simple outright lying and seems completely unfazed by the masses of negative comments he receives and equally disinclined to answer any of the arguments and evidence presented within them.

I agree with Paul Jay that our best hope for the future is that Clinton becomes President, but then becomes the immediate focus for discontent and agitation. If we support Clinton (by “we” I mean those of us who know more than what is fed to us by a mendacious system of mass media) we will undermine our own future. Mumia Abu Jamal said “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism – so be it.” I want to suggest that Trump is not likely to become POTUS and the we already pay the price of having Trump in our world. The real issue whether we are willing to risk an outside chance of a Trump presidency, or whether we will be self-defeating losers who let ourselves be spooked by the scary clown. People in the US and outside need to gear up to oppose the next President, whoever she may be.

Many Trump supporters are like Brexit supporters who, as Jonathan Pie pointed out, made an almost rationally irrational decision to choose a self-destructive hopeless gamble over the certainty of slow neoliberal degradation. They weren’t really being offered a choice, because the entire referendum was framed so that voting stay would be taken as an endorsement of the wider status quo. US voters are faced with a similar non-choice. Clinton’s election will be taken as a mandate for war, empire and neoliberalism. Moreover, if people do not make a show of rejecting both Trump and Clinton it will validate and consolidate the demockracy. It will be a watershed in the slow murder of democracy, perhaps not as irremediable as the 1932 Nazi electoral victory, but a definite goose-step in the same direction.

As a long-standing student of US history and wars, this election reeks to me of the election before a major war. I suspect that we will be tested by the next administration and our responses will write the future for us and our children. The distinction between war abroad and war at home has always been blurry and it looks like becoming much more so. The US is heading back into the Middle East at a time when conflict in the Middle East and North Africa is metastasising and consolidating into a single historic bloodletting.

It is time to ask the question, which side are you on? Supporting Trump could be hateful or delusional or simply the product of desperation, but supporting Clinton (even out of fear) is a clear endorsement of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and empire. Do you think that your hatred of Trump can justify supporting the killing of tens of thousands in the Middle East? the suffering of tens of millions as whole countries are slowly ground up and turned into failed states to maintain US hegemony? the immiseration of hundreds of millions as neoliberalism continues its march towards a nightmare future? If you choose Clinton, whether you are witting or only half-witting, you are the enemy of humanity.