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03.02.2021 – US, United States – Codepink

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
(Image by Calvin Shen)

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies

In 2004, journalist Ron Susskind quoted a Bush White House advisor, reportedly Karl Rove, as boasting, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” He dismissed Susskind’s assumption that public policy must be rooted in “the reality-based community.” “We’re history’s actors,” the advisor told him, “…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Sixteen years later, the American wars and war crimes launched by the Bush administration have only spread chaos and violence far and wide, and this historic conjunction of criminality and failure has predictably undermined America’s international power and authority. Back in the imperial heartland, the political marketing industry that Rove and his colleagues were part of has had more success dividing and ruling the hearts and minds of Americans than of Iraqis, Russians or Chinese.

The irony of the Bush administration’s imperial pretensions was that America has been an empire from its very founding, and that a White House staffer’s political use of the term “empire” in 2004 was not emblematic of a new and rising empire as he claimed, but of a decadent, declining empire stumbling blindly into an agonizing death spiral.

Americans were not always so ignorant of the imperial nature of their country’s ambitions. George Washington described New York as “the seat of an empire,” and his military campaign against British forces there as the “pathway to empire.” New Yorkers eagerly embraced their state’s identity as the Empire State, which is still enshrined in the Empire State Building and on New York State license plates.

The expansion of America’s territorial sovereignty over Native American lands, the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of northern Mexico in the Mexican-American War built an empire that far outstripped the one that George Washington built. But that imperial expansion was more controversial than most Americans realize. Fourteen out of fifty-two U.S. senators voted against the 1848 treaty to annex most of Mexico, without which Americans might still be visiting California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah and most of Colorado as exotic Mexican travel spots.

In the full flowering of the American empire after the Second World War, its leaders understood the skill and subtlety required to exercise imperial power in a post-colonial world. No country fighting for independence from the U.K. or France was going to welcome imperial invaders from America. So America’s leaders developed a system of neocolonialism through which they exercised overarching imperial sovereignty over much of the world, while scrupulously avoiding terms like “empire” or “imperialism” that would undermine their post-colonial credentials.

It was left to critics like President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to seriously examine the imperial control that wealthy countries still exercised over nominally independent post-colonial countries like his. In his book, Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism, Nkrumah condemned neocolonialism as “the worst form of imperialism.” “For those who practice it,” he wrote, “it means power without responsibility, and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress.”

So post-World War Two Americans grew up in carefully crafted ignorance of the very fact of American empire, and the myths woven to disguise it provide fertile soil for today’s political divisions and disintegration. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Biden’s promise to “restore American leadership” are both appeals to nostalgia for the fruits of American empire.

Past blame games over who lost China or Vietnam or Cuba have come home to roost in an argument over who lost America and who can somehow restore its mythical former greatness or leadership. Even as America leads the world in allowing a pandemic to ravage its people and economy, neither party’s leaders are ready for a more realistic debate over how to redefine and rebuild America as a post-imperial nation in today’s multipolar world.

Every successful empire has expanded, ruled and exploited its far-flung territories through a combination of economic and military power. Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets.

But now U.S. militarism and America’s economic interests have diverged. Apart from a few military contractors, American businesses have not followed the flag into the ruins of Iraq or America’s other current war-zones in any lasting way. Eighteen years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq’s largest trading partner is China, while Afghanistan’s is Pakistan, Somalia’s is the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Libya’s is the European Union (EU).

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies, closing doors to economic opportunity instead of opening them, diverting resources from real needs at home, and damaging America’s international standing instead of enhancing it.

When President Eisenhower warned against the “unwarranted influence” of America’s military-industrial complex, he was predicting precisely this kind of dangerous dichotomy between the real economic and social needs of the American people and a war machine that costs more than the next ten militaries in the world put together but cannot win a war or vanquish a virus, let alone reconquer a lost empire.

China and the EU have become the major trading partners of most countries in the world. The United States is still a regional economic power, but even in South America, most countries now trade more with China. America’s militarism has accelerated these trends by squandering our resources on weapons and wars, while China and the EU have invested in peaceful economic development and 21st century infrastructure.

For example, China has built the largest high-speed rail network in the world in just 10 years (2008-2018), and Europe has been building and expanding its high-speed network since the 1990s, but high-speed rail is still only on the drawing board in America.

China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while America’s poverty rate has barely budged in 50 years and child poverty has increased. America still has the weakest social safety net of any developed country and no universal healthcare system, and the inequalities of wealth and power caused by extreme neoliberalism have left half of Americans with little or no savings to live on in retirement or to weather any disruption in their lives.

Our leaders’ insistence on siphoning off 66% of U.S. federal discretionary spending to preserve and expand a war machine that has long outlived any useful role in America’s declining economic empire is a debilitating waste of resources that jeopardizes our future.

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

As our government debates whether we can “afford” COVID relief, a Green New Deal and universal healthcare, we would be wise to recognize that our only hope of transforming this decadent, declining empire into a dynamic and prosperous post-imperial nation is to rapidly and profoundly shift our national priorities from irrelevant, destructive militarism to the programs of social uplift that Dr. King called for.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Thousands of Students Demonstrate Against the Education Bill
(Photo: Chrysoula Patsou)

Text/photos: Chrysoula Patsou

There was a strong presence, thousands of students in more than ten cities in Greece in response to the tremendous changes which are coming to universities and to secondary education – with a change in the rules of admission, a drastic reduction of admissions, and university police – in the middle of a pandemic.

More specifically, the demonstrators are calling for the withdrawal of the bill which concerns the introduction of a minimum level for admission in AEI (Higher Educational Institutions in Greece i.e. universities), the establishment of a body of guards at universities, and the abolition of “eternal” students. Among the demands is also the canceling of the decision to ban rallies. In an announcement, the Executive Committee of the Civil Servants’ Confederation calls upon trade union leaders to mark their presence, taking all the necessary protective measures.

As the Civil Servants’ Confederation points out in its announcement:

“The government of Mr. Mitsotakis under the pretext of the pandemic is strengthening its hold on repression and authoritarianism, seeking a general silencing of Greek society. In fact, at the moment, as it is sweeping away workers’ rights, not protecting public health, massacring social security, it introduces an education bill which puts still more obstacles in the way of children of the most vulnerable social levels, “pushes” youngsters into private colleges and creates a police regime in universities.”

The Greek Federation of Secondary Education State School Teachers demands the withdrawal of the bill and opposes the establishment of a minimum level for admission, and also the establishment of a university police force, noting that “a regime of repression and policing is being installed at universities”.

Translation by Jeannette A. Arduino,  from the voluntary Pressenza translation team. We are looking for volunteers!

03.02.2021 – US, United States – Mark Lesseraux

A Population Between A Sword And A Wall
Jamie Dimon, is the chairman, president and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase (Image by DonkeyHotey /CC)

“My heart is Democratic but my brain is kind of Republican.”
– Jamie Dimon (Multi-billionaire, Chief CEO of JPMorgan Chase Bank)

By Mark Lesseraux

Many people in the US and around the globe are expressing surprise these days at what appears to be the beginningof a possible sea change moment in the lifespan of the human experiment called democracy. Millions of awestruck citizens around the world are wondering how and why regressive nationalists like Trump (US), Bolsonaro (Brazil), Salvini (Italy), Le Pen (France), Orban (Hungary), Kasidiaris (Greece), Erdoğan (Turkey), Modi (India), Ventura (Portugal), Johnson (UK), etc., have suddenly taken power or are on the rise to power in recent years.

Mainstream “left” US news media outlets like The Washington Post, CNN, The New York Times, NPR, Huffington Post, etc., present a fairly unified overview of events and opinions which all tend to sidestep, with very occasional exceptions, really looking at what might be causing this upswell of resentment accompanied by calls for regressive nationalistic solutions. As if suddenly a synchronized horde of evil comic book characters had popped up out of thin air, a spread out cabal of proto-Mussolinis with millions of duped far-right wing followers, bee-lining for halls of power all over the globe.

For the most part the mainstream “left-leaning” media’s position in the US has been to blame the current crisis entirely on the recent influx of anti-democratic forces that are external to what is, in their view, an otherwise exemplary, fully functional democracy. While it is certainly valid to point out that the proliferation of irrational currents of thought ranging from those expounded by fringe groups like QAnon to the regressive reactionary spewings of rightwing mainstream news personalities such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have helped propel demagogues like Donald Trump to the heights of power, to stop there is to remain fixated on the effect of a dis-ease that is rooted in a deeper cause.

What is being suggested here is that the source of this seemingly out of the blue lurch toward the far-right is not new at all. In fact what we are witnessing is a late stage symptom, a trauma-induced reaction produced by nearly a half century of neoliberal deregulation: The Fall Of The Liberal Left, The Rise Of Neoliberalism And The Resulting Confusion That Has Ensued.

This landslide of deregulation which began in full force in the early 1980s has stripped away nearly a century’s worth of long fought for safeguards that were put in place to protect our democracy from being usurped by the interests of a few. As a result, a very small contingent of extremely wealthy people have essentially taken over and formalized what were previously, at least to a degree, real democratic institutions. With legislation ranging from the deregulation of everything from the media to the banking system to campaign finance laws to trade, the last four decades have been, for all intents and purposes, a corporate “coup d’etat”.

A clear manifestation of this shift can be seen by looking at the people who are now considered the prominent “moderate” voices of (and some of the largest donors to) the current Democratic Party. Multi-billionaires like Jamie Dimon, Jeff Bezos, Lloyd Blankfein and Michael Bloomberg now represent the current mainstream “moderate left” in the US. In fact Bloomberg and Bezos own two of the biggest “left” leaning mainstream news publications (Bloomberg News and The Washington Post) in the country. Six months ago both Blankfein and Dimon openly stated that they would vote for Donald Trump in the 2020 election if Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran as a New Deal style democrat, won the Democratic primary. All four of these “standard bearers” of twenty-first century Democratic centrism would have been considered right wing republicans three decades ago. In fact, two of them were republicans as little as seven years ago.

All of this goes largely uncommented on in the mainstream media’s supposedly “neutral” reporting of events. What is almost never alluded to is the fact that what is tacitly understood to be the objective “center” of the socio-political spectrum has been steadily moving to the right for over four decades now. So much so that when it comes to the core matters of military and economic policy, the basic ideologies and actions of the Republican and Democratic parties have become almost indistinguishable. The two parties have become more and more similar in their ideologies because the donor corporations that support their politicians’ candidacies have become less and less regulated and thus more unified, despite superficial quarrels among the few remaining super-wealthy factions, as an obscenely rich elite ruling class.

This concentration of wealth, power and media influence has produced a dearth of mainstream news and information that is not propagated by and in the service of huge private corporations and their profit margins. As a result, the majority of the US population and other populations around the globe have become confused and desperate to make heads or tails of events that seem to be continually spiraling out of control. This combination of desperation, confusion and the lack of credible mainstream sources of information has fueled new forms of irrationalism and calls for regressive, quasi- fascist solutions.

These are the current options that the last 40 plus years of deregulated neoliberal capitalism appear to have left us with. This is the now entrenched global pattern that obscene, unmitigated wealth and power concentration in the hands of the very few has spawned. What is now on offer is the choice between being governed by corrupt entrenched elites or regressive nationalist proto-fascists.

There is an old Spanish saying, “Para ser puesto entre la espada y la pared” (To be placed between the sword and the wall). For the moment the US appears to have chosen the wall with the election of Democratic moderate Joe Biden as president. History has shown us time and again though that when a population feels continually placed between a sword and a wall that they often eventually end up choosing the sword.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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