Doubling Down: The Military, Big Bankers And Big Oil Are Not In Climate Denial –They Are In Control And Plan to Keep It That Way.

Also in CounterPunch

“Capitalism, militarism and imperialism are disastrously intertwined with the fossil fuel economy….A globalized economy predicated on growth at any social or environmental costs, carbon dependent international trade, the limitless extraction of natural resources, and a view of citizens as nothing more than consumers cannot be the basis…for tackling climate change….Little wonder then that the elites have nothing to offer beyond continued militarisation and trust in techno-fixes. — Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes [1]

The ruling class may be an utter failure but that is not stopping them taking aggressive action on climate change. Their chief concern: maintaining power, control and profits at all costs. 

The plan is well underway and it sure ain’t the Green New Deal. Just imagine a more extreme version of the world that already exists: where healthcare is rationed; where wealth inequality strangles democracy; where austerity is a weapon of class warfare; where millions die prematurely from toxins in air and water; where war and incarceration is the solution of choice; where people are rounded up in concentration camps; where corporations rule unchallenged; where extreme weather wrecks havoc in an expanding circle of misery. The only new thing about their solution is the stench of fascism that grows ever stronger and more odious. 

The Bosses Want More of the Same

When Trump and the Republicans deny climate change, when Pelosi, Pallone, Perez, Biden and Obama join with Trump in sabotaging the Green New Deal or dismissing climate action as too expensive, too dreamy, not practical or too pure — they are all bold-faced liars and frauds.

The Republicans know full well that their partners in crime — oil companies, bankers and the military brass have known about climate change for decades. And, the corporate Democrats know that these same powerful players they too represent already have a risky plan to deal with climate change. From their shared perspective, even the Democrat’s Green New Deal, despite its weaknesses, must be marginalized since it competes with the establishment’s plans for our future. 

Framing Climate Change

To maintain power they need to limit our thinking. The two most important narratives imposed on us are climate change as a “threat to national security” and as a “business opportunity” — the twin rationales for military and corporate power. They want to focus us on how to manage the crisis, profit from it, or adapt to it, instead of opposing it.

Once framed in this way the very institutions responsible for climate change can benefit from disaster while hiding their responsibility for creating the crisis. But the military-corporate management of the crisis will undoubtedly follow the same principles that created the crisis: the costs of pollution, adaptation, endless growth and war won’t appear in the corporate ledger. Military budgets will only grow larger. The costs will be “externalized” and paid by the suffering of everyday people.

The 63 million Americans currently exposed to unsafe drinking water and the 200,000 (according to an MIT study) in the US that currently die prematurely from air pollution are just a down payment. And the US is the wealthiest country in world history. The global figure for air pollution related deaths is 5.5 million annually. The 20 million or so deaths from war since WWII are a gross outstanding debt. How is that for adaptation and management? How will our rulers plan to maintain control as the crisis deepens?

Plans? What Plans?

Unsurprisingly, the military plans to maintain its ambition for “full spectrum dominance.”  A 2014 report from the Department of Defense quotes former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who — having previously been on the Board of Directors of Chevron and Deutsche Bank — knows how to unite big oil, big banks and big guns.  

“Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities….A baseline survey to assess the vulnerability of the military’s more than 7,000 bases, installations and other facilities is nearly complete, Hagel said. “In places like the Hampton Roads region in Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of U.S military sites in the world, we see recurrent flooding today, and we are beginning work to address a projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years…”

They want us to forget that it has now been proven beyond doubt that the military is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels and largest polluter. War will continue, climate crisis be damned. Elizabeth Warren’s 2019 policy statement and the bipartisan letter sent to Trump by over 100 congress members urging Trump to make climate change a national security issue is more proof that war trumps climate. In truth, the military is caught in a crisis of its own making. As Desiree Hellegers puts it: “The US Military Poses a Significant Threat to the US Military.”[2] 

While the pro-war media makes much of the military’s attempts to use alternative energy, the Pentagon failed to reach its puny 2014 goal of 5% renewable.

Similarly, Obama’s 2009 stimulus package cancelled out the effects of small green spending with an “all of the above” approach, including money for “clean coal,” record oil production and increased energy use. This pattern of “greenwashing” — minor green efforts masking major investments in fossil fuels is identical to the corporate approach.

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The oil companies and big banks that make crazy money from fossil fuels also hide the truth by posing the problem as a question of proper management. Sharon Kelly reports the banker’s view of a new “business opportunity”:

“Scientific research finds that an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases…is warming the planet, posing significant risks to prosperity and growth of the global economy,” JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley wrote in a 2015 statement. “As major financial institutions…we have the business opportunity to build a more sustainable, low-carbon economy and the ability to help manage and mitigate these climate-related risks.”

So how is it that the bankrollers of climate chaos, investing  $1.9 trillion in fossil fuels just since the Paris Accords, also claim to “manage and mitigate these climate-related risks?”

According to the bankers, the problem with climate change is that it’s “posing significant risks to the prosperity and growth of the global economy.” What they will not say is that the global economy — which demands enormous fossil fuel production and consumption — is posing significant risks to the climate. The global shipping and aviation on which peak profit-making depends is, like the military, exempt from the Paris Accords. The bankers, generals, and politicians are protecting the sources of their power.  

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From the Gold Standard to the Oil Standard

What the bankers will not say is that billions of the dollars they trade in are “petrodollars” — as explained in this informative documentary video.  A 40-year back-room deal with the Saudis secretly recycled oil money back to the US. This deal essentially shifted the US dollar from the “gold standard” to the “oil standard.” According to Bloomberg:

The basic framework was strikingly simple. The U.S. would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.

Buying oil in dollars is a form of imperial tribute other countries pay to the US — which is why the US insists all oil trading be in US currency. Iraq and Lybia once traded oil in other currencies. Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and China still do. See?

Since oil props up the US Dollar, bankers have a direct interest in wars that prop up the fossil-fuel regime. It is highly unlikely that the US Dollar, the Military-Industrial-Complex or the global corporate economy can live without its addiction to oil — whatever green capitalists imagine in their wildest dreams. Some contradictions simply cannot be overcome.

Representative Democracy is Dying. Long live Direct Democracy!

It’s “power to the people” or nothing. There is no middle ground. But we will be swamped along with the middle ground if we do not have real leverage and real power. The military, the oil companies and the big banks have plans and power both. The Green Party’s Real Green New Deal is a solid plan, as are the guiding principles offered by DSA Ecosocialists, or Tulsi Gabbard’s OFF Act.

But, the straightest line to the power we need is not just good policy, more manifestos, analytical precision or electoral politics (although those things might be helpful) — it’s the sloppy, contradictory, demanding work of organizing and direct democracy. The many efforts to protect water and confront infrastructure projects are leading the way.  The Red Nation is a new voice telling classic political truths. Listen carefully. The “Red Deal” platform states:

This…will encompass the entirety of Indigenous America, which includes our non-Indigenous comrades and relatives who live here….We cannot expect politicians to do what only mass movements can do…..A mass mobilization, one like we’ve never seen before in history, is required to save this planet. Indigenous movements have always been at the forefront of environmental justice struggles…The Red Deal is not a “deal” or “bargain” with the elite and powerful. It’s a deal with the humble people of the earth; a pact that we shall strive for peace and justice and that movements for justice must come from below and to the left.

“We cannot expect politicians to do what only mass movements can do…from below and to the left.” So true, but how?

Whether you are base-building with workers or tenants, movement-building with the peace and environmental movements or running electoral campaigns, the under-appreciated work of talking with, and listening to, everyday people is the fast track to fundamental change. Talking with everyday people is a revolutionary act. Acting with others is better yet.

A massive Harvard study tells us what we already suspect: we have the most dysfunctional, least democratic electoral system of any so-called “western democracy.” The collapse of real representation is a leading cause of crisis. To think that such a broken system can repair itself and then take on massive problems of its own making without an equally massive and equally disruptive popular movement is more than just wishful thinking — it is a profound disregard for history. Show me some evidence. How was the original New Deal created? The failure to allow moderate and popular reforms like universal health care does not bode well for government’s ability to act on climate and war — issues that strike right at the heart of the existing social order.

We have good blueprints. It’s vitally important to put demilitarization at the center of our efforts not just because the US empire is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels or because the same military is the enforcer of the global fossil fuel regime but because understanding the connections between war and climate changes clears the way for fusion and synergy between the environmental and peace movements and movements for economic justice.

But the real question — the unanswered question — is HOW? How do we move on the climate crisis? Can we build it from the bottom up? It sure isn’t coming from the top down. Can the Green New Deal become a revolutionary reform? Ask people what they think about the Green New Deal. Where it leads is up to us.

 

1/ The best single source is a very well researched collection of essays The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World edited by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes.  Find the quote on p 234.

2/ You can see much more of this misdirection by looking at this document: Military and National Security Leaders Urge Robust New Course on Climate Change.” Or see Elizabeth Warren’s new plan for a green military.

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, revolutionary strategy, War | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal

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Also in Counterpunch.

There are things we are not supposed to know and the corporate controlled news industry is not going to tell us. Totally absent from the obedient media is one of the most important stories of all time: war creates climate change. 

The story of how this knowledge has been repressed is essential to understanding how the government and military are at the heart of climate counter-offensive and what it will take to stop them.

The Government Rules by Force, Fraud and Deception

The information blockade starts with the military itself. The military purposely restricts information plus its immense size and bureaucratic complexity means that it is so hard to grasp that political leaders cannot themselves understand the institution they are supposed to command. 

You want proof? Just try reading the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2016 report which could not figure out just how much oil the military burns. The GAO concluded: “[C]ongress does not have full visibility over the amount of fuel volume the military services require on an annual basis for their activities…”

This should not come as a surprise. Since its inception in 1950 or so the modern military has resisted any accounting of costs in violation of Article I, Section 9, of the US Constitution. In 2018 the Pentagon failed its first ever audit. It’s not just about the missing 6.5 trillions dollars, (although that really matters too) it’s that the opaque accounting system is armor — a defensive weapon used to neutralize anyone that wants to understand, let alone oppose, the US government.  

This massive fraud is just the financial side of the serial political con committed by the US government. Article 1, Sec. 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution clearly gives Congress, and only Congress, the right to declare war — but that has never stopped the Pentagon or the President or the Congress or the Courts from betraying their duty to defend the Constitution. 

Not only can’t the government regulate corporations it cannot regulate itself in line with what is supposed to be the highest law of the land— the US Constitution.

But shift your vantage point to see the merger of the corporation and the state and then you see a military perfectly regulated in keeping with a corporate empire that equates profit with power and actively promotes both without limit. The liberal state is no more

For example, the War on Terror increased the Pentagon’s appetite for power and secrecy at the cost of environmental justice. According to legal scholar Hope Babcock,

“[O]ne response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 has been a significant erosion of basic civil liberties. Congress has given unprecedented power to the President and his law enforcement agencies to wage this war against terror….The military has sought, and largely received, permission from Congress to weaken environmental and public disclosure laws as part of the arsenal of “tools” it needs to fight this war.”

If weakening “environmental and public disclosure laws” is a weapon of war  — then “destroying the planet to save it” is the outcome.

The Dirtiest Of All Dirty Secrets

This very big, very dirty secret — that war drives climate change — is carefully guarded. To keep things hush-hush the military is excused from oversight or obligation. This exception to the rule of law has always been the practice but G.W. Bush formalized it demanding language to that effect in the 1997 Kyoto Accords, which he later refused to sign anyway. 

As Sara Flounders reports:

“The complete U.S. military exemption from greenhouse gas emissions calculations includes more than 1,000 U.S. bases in more than 130 countries around the world, it’s 6,000 facilities in the U.S., its aircraft carriers and jet aircraft. Also excluded are its weapons testing and all multilateral operations such as the giant U.S. commanded NATO military alliance and AFRICOM, the U.S. military alliance now blanketing Africa. The provision also exempts U.S./UN-sanctioned activities of “peacekeeping” and “humanitarian relief.” 

The Kyoto exemption set the pattern for subsequent climate meetings at Copenhagen 2009, Cancun 2010, Durban 2011, and Doha 2012. In a typically toothless and incremental fashion the Paris Accords replaced the mandatory exemption for the military with voluntary reporting on non-binding goals, disguising further deception as progress.

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Speaking of toothless, Obama’s much heralded 2015 Executive Order requiring federal agencies to cut greenhouse gases specifically exempted all overseas activities of the intelligence and military agencies from having to report contributions to climate change or limit pollution. The military is responsible for 80% of all government fuel consumption.

The Democratic Party’s version of deception is the denial that anything can be done outside of stimulus for so-called markets. Obama’s support for alternative energy was a small part of an “all of the above approach” that provided cover for dramatically increasing oil production, and expanding oil infrastructure for an otherwise archaic and unproductive energy economy. 

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30 years of elite efforts to address the crisis did not capture the public imagination because they offered nothing of substance. Emissions only continued rising, as “Global Banks Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact.” Decades-old oil wars continue and expand as the US aims to capture and control Venezuelan and Iranian reserves with the backing of both corporate parties.

Trump seized on this record of weakness, withdrawing from Paris, rescinding Obama’s Executive Order and enforcing the Republican brand of total climate denial (a denial that even the oil companies and military they serve do not share). Trump’s climate death-wish is enabled by the failed outcomes of the non-binding agreements, exemptions and slick tricks like “all of the above” or Biden’s middle ground. These efforts will do nothing to “keep it in the ground” and that is a true measure of success. 

Trump and the climate deniers so easily mock the liberal attempts at addressing the climate crisis because the liberals make a mockery of themselves.

In fact, US government is the historic agent and manager of climate change.

“In all past international conferences it was again and again the U.S. government that sabotaged the meetings and refused to be bound by any treaty. The Obama Administration on Aug. 27 again confirmed that at the UN meeting in New York in September to prepare for the 2015 Paris meeting that only a non-binding agreement could be put forward.”

And so the Paris Accords undermined themselves by design. From the first international climate conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to Paris 2016, we witnessed a series of performances by the most accomplished actors on the world stage. By every critical measure the elite climate meetings have failed — except they have succeeded in offering false hope and distraction away from the massive movements it’s actually going to take to bring about change. 

These treaties did not fail for lack of an executive power to enforce limits on member nations. NAFTA, IMF, WTO, and the World Bank all create and enforce the rules of global corporate order by imposing international financial regulations and punishing all restraint of global trade. “Who elected the IMF to be the ministry of finance for every country in the world?’’ asked Julius Nyerere, the former president of Tanzania. Well no one, but that is exactly how the IMF operates.

On a twin track, the US government/military enforces the political rules of empire. The empire aims for total hegemony, known in military lingo as “full spectrum dominance” and will do whatever it takes to prevent the emergence of a multi-polar world. We spend trillions and kill millions policing the world.

But when it comes to climate change — where is a cop when you need one?

Well, there are far too many cops but they are busy enforcing the global order and a fossil-fuel economy that would collapse tomorrow if the true costs of oil and war had to be reckoned with. 

Despite the fact that the recent UN’s IPCC report has succeeded in sounding the alarm that we have precious little time before irreversible climate damage, it also continues earlier UN shortcomings by not mentioning the military’s role in climate change. As bad a future as the IPCC report predicts, is it does not include military pollution in its calculations.

Naomi Klien’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs The Climate fails to recognize the US government and military as a key player in the climate crisis. Why so? To accept government’s role would be to upend her claim that free-market fundamentalism is to blame and government regulation is to wish for. And despite all the good work done by 350.org their website hardly refers to government, let alone the military, as a source of climate destruction.

Disarming The Green New Deal

It is within this context of 70 long years of secrecy, special legal exemptions, deception, fraud, lies by omission, non-binding agreements — and the global role of militarism as climate crisis multiplier — that we can best evaluate the Democratic Party’s version of the Green New Deal (GND).

We owe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez our sincere thanks for bringing the GND to the world’s attention. The GND now has overwhelming public support and that is truly a great accomplishment. The Democrat’s version has many fine ideas linking inequality and social justice to efforts to fight climate change — and those ideas are all true. There can be no “just transition” to a new economy without security for workers and the communities most impacted by climate change. But in its current form the plan also uses the language of market solutions and technical fixes that sadly repeat the weakest features of failed climate “action” already offered by elites.  

But most important, the Democrat’s GND  — once again — omits the US government and military as a cause of climate disaster. The other — almost unbelievable omission — is the failure of the Democrat’s GND to explicitly call for dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels. In fact, the words “oil” “gas” “coal” or “fossil fuels” do not even appear in the final document that established the committee. It’s just amazing. It’s a dangerous replay of how we got sold the substandard ACA: take universal health care off the agenda from the very beginning and then craft a corporate “solution.”

The Democrat’s GND remains a vague non-binding wish. The 2050 deadlines are standard political dodge-ball. When faced with crisis, corporate politicians always want to ‘kick the can down the road” — postponing real action until the damage is already done and someone else takes the blame. Adaptation to disaster and management of the crisis rather than prevention of climate chaos is the hidden but actual program of the Democrat’s GND.

The climate committee lacks subpoena power and the ability to draft legislation as Pelosi and Pallone commanded. What then will it do? In keeping with other corporate-style plans it will likely only propose cosmetic changes to a social order that is no longer viable. 

Given the far-reaching influence of big oil, the near total dysfunction of Congress, and the sharp divisions among Democrats themselves, the GND committee is likely to remain yet another exercise in fraud and deception.  Republican members of the committee have terrible voting records on environmental issues and like some Democrats have significant financial connections to oil.  The New Yorker reported:

“Forty-one of the House’s four hundred and thirty-five members have pledged “to not take contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry…” But only one pledge-taker… is on the new climate committee. The rest, as E&E News reported, have fossil-fuel connections…”

Pelosi staffed the committee to kill it. Ocasio-Cortez was invited but chose not to serve. Why? Most likely she does not want to waste her time or spoil her reputation on a loser committee. Meanwhile we twist in the wind. Meanwhile 224 Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, voted to subsidize fracking and gas infrastructure, spending $580 million to open up new fossil fuel markets tied to the US as a rebuff to Russia. Russiagate and “security” trumps climate again. A real GND would ban fracking right now.

Like the Paris Accords, the Democrat’s GND is designed to fail us. All the decades of exemptions, denials, omissions and non-binding agreements gave the impression of action being taken. But they were all Orwellian theatrics scripted to distract from the vast consumption of fossil fuels and the military’s enforcement of a world order dependent on oil, gas and coal.

Ocasio-Cortez’s great contribution was to let the genie of the GND out of the bottle. It’s our job to make sure it never goes back in.

What is Viable?

The same historical context suggests that a program like the Green Party’s Green New Deal — the idea that inspired Ocasio-Cortez — gives us a real fighting chance because it accurately identifies the political and military roots of climate change. Such are the contradictions of the political crisis. A small, poorly funded and too often ignored organization like the Green Party is nonetheless freed by its independence to make a historic contribution to the most important issue of our time. Now, with Howie Hawkins the “Original New Green Dealer” running to be the Green Party’s candidate for President we can hope for a sharper public debate on climate change.

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The environmental crisis is beginning to reconfigure political debate. Incremental change is no longer an optionThis is precisely what happens in a revolutionary situation: prevailing wisdom and common sense are turned on their heads. Ideas once dismissed as utopian become the practical answer. 

Threatened with climate destruction is there any real meaning left to the “lesser of two evils?” Do we vote for permanent damage in 12 years as opposed to 8? Wouldn’t that be so cunning and clever? At least you couldn’t be accused of “purity.” Even the arguments about “viability” — designed to silence dissenters — are being weakened by the obviously unsustainable form of government we now have.  

What is viable? Any strategy, form of government, political party, or economic system that gives us a mere 10 years before irreversible climate chaos is not viable. Here is our paradox: watered-down programs like the Democrat’s GND is totally inadequate to the task at hand but may (or most likely may not) be politically “viable.” The Green Party’s GND — if enacted — would actually give us a real fighting chance against climate destruction but we are told it is not “viable” within the existing system.

Make your own judgements but make no mistake: the most powerful jury is not out; the verdict is in. Mother Nature has spoken: it’s the existing order that is not viable.  

Posted in Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, History, Organizing Strategy, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

War is War on Mother Earth

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Second in a series on War and Climate Chaos. Read the first here.  Also find this article at Counterpunch.

“In order to achieve the massive systemic and cultural transformations required for mitigating climate change…we’re going to have to deal with the socially sanctioned, institutionalized violence perpetrated by U.S. foreign policy that is pouring fuel on the fire of global warming.” Stacy Bannerman

Climate Change Causes War 

There is the close relationship between war and climate change that can be seen in a cycle of feedback loops creating the interlocking crisis. 

Take the case of Syria, the perfect example with its direct relationship between war and drought. In an exacting statistical analysis of wars fought between 1980 and 2010 the connection between war and climate change is undeniable. 

The US military itself has long recognized climate change as a “threat multiplier.” The last three Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Reviews characterized climate change as a threat to national security.[1]

Since the idea of climate change as “threat multiplier” tends to encourage militarized responses, (like Elizabeth Warren’s recent proposals) this information is widely reported in the pro-war media and I will not repeat it here. The military and their media allies fall silent when it comes to a far more important truth: war causes climate change.

War Causes Climate Chaos

At the core of the corporate state is the war machine, the world’s largest polluter. Despite the exemptions from reporting on military pollution that the US demanded in the 1997 Kyoto Accords and continued suppression of information by the military, the general picture comes through. Consider the evidence linking fossil fuels and war making.

  • The US military is the world’s largest polluters of all forms of toxins. Almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or sites that otherwise supported military needs.
  • While there are many sources, a 2016 report by the GAO itself stated: “The Department of Defense (DOD) generally, and the military services in particular, are the largest consumers of fuel in the United States Government.”  
  • Military pollution is particularly poisonous. Fighter jets, destroyers, tanks and other weapons systems emit highly toxic, carbon-intensive emissions, not to mention the toxins released from the detonation of bombs including the forever-poison depleted uranium munitions.

Given the historically unprecedented size of the US empire and its permanent war- footing we can safely assume that the US military is the largest consumer of fossil fuels and largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world.

“Possessing the world’s largest fleet of…aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles…– virtually all powered by oil — the Department of Defense is, in fact, the world’s leading consumer of petroleum… [A]n April 2007 report by a defense contractor…suggests that the Pentagon might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day. This is greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland.” Michael Klare

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The military guarantees the profits and political power of the oil giants. As Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, explains in an article about the military-petroleum complex: 

“[T]he DoD had some of the planet’s biggest petroleum dealers, and masters of the corporate universe, on its payroll. In 2005, alone, the Pentagon paid out more than $1.5 billion to BP (British Petroleum)…(on whose behalf the CIA…covertly overthrew the Iranian government back in 1953). In 2005, the Pentagon also paid out over $1 billion to…the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (best known in the United States for its Shell brand gasoline) – and in excess of $1 billion to oil titan ExxonMobil. In 2005, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Petroleum, and BP ranked sixth, seventh, and eighth on the Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s five hundred largest corporations in terms of revenue.”

The subsidy to oil is so great it’s hard to tell where the military ends and the oil companies begin. And this does not even count other forms of direct and — the even more massive and hidden indirect subsidies — showered on fossil fuel giants by the US government.

Securing America’s Future Energy, a group of retired military and business leaders counter the official claims that the military spends zero dollars defending oil by making a conservative estimate that $81 billion a year funds oil capture and production.

Environmental engineer and Director of Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, Patricia Hynes captures the big picture in this excellent video.

“[T]he US military consumes fossil fuel beyond compare to any other institutional and per capita consumption in order to preserve strategic access to oil — a lunacy instigated by a series of post-WWII Presidential decisions.” Patricia Hynes

The war machine burns oil to capture oil to burn oil to capture oil. The empire is no marketplace: it’s both supply and demand. So while the consumption of oil by the military is a small percentage of the world’s total consumption, its role as coordinator and enforcer of the fossil fuel regime is what makes the US military a threat to our living planet. Hynes again captures the big picture in a recent article:

“The United States is the central actor and agent for more reasons than its historical megaconsumption of fossil fuels. The U.S. has functioned as the stimulant and model for social, economic and political systems driving GDP growth in other rich and newly rich countries, resulting in fossil fuel use spiraling “out of control since the mid 20th century.” Not only that, but the U.S. mode of consumption is continually being reproduced across the world.”

As the US empire grew around the world it held up the “American Way of Life” as proof of our superiority and a standard for others to follow. And that standard meant growth without limit and burning fossils, lot of them.

The Historical Context Reveals Everything: It’s an Oil Empire

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The fusion between the military and oil giants created a dramatic spike in fossil fuel use starting around 1950. This merger and its consequences occurred in a particular historical context: the supremacy of the US empire in the years following WWII. Elaine Graham-Leigh sets it out:

“The rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions that created the current climate crisis began around 1950…in the period immediately following the Second World War…..The Allies would not have won had they not been able to cut off German access to oil and to maintain it for themselves. The lesson for the US…was that… monopolization of the world’s oil was essential if it was to be the world’s superpower. This made oil a central military priority, and also cemented the dominant position of the petroleum/automotive sector in the US.”

Oil became “a central military priority” and engine of seemingly unlimited economic growth. The US military became traffic cop for the oil trade.

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A Marriage Made in Hell

In the decades following WWII only two global superpowers were left standing: the neoliberal regime of huge transnational corporations that operated above and beyond national borders and the US empire with its vast global network of military bases and perpetual wars operating above and beyond international law. The global economy and the global empire were a perfect match. It was a marriage made in hell.[2]

In 1980, President Carter reasserted the connections between US policy, military force and oil. Shaken by the overthrow of a CIA-installed regime in Iran in 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter’s State of the Union Address proclaimed US control over Middle East oil.

The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil….Let our position be absolutely clear: an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

The so-called “Carter Doctrine” was the work of Zbigniew Brzezinski (organizer of the Mujahadeen and father to corporate media star Mika Brzezinski). Apparently the US was not an “outside force” in the Middle East but there was nothing “outside” of its “vital interests.” Ronald Regan built on Brzezinski’s vision of limitless world hegemony by defining the security of Saudi Arabia as essential to US interests — to this day it still is.

The US government married its fortunes to oil — “until death do us part.” We shall see about that.

The Arctic as the “Last Great Frontier”

The other revealing context reaches to our oldest cultural mythologies of frontier and American exceptionalism. Only in the US could the disaster of climate change become a new frontier complete with profitable business opportunities.

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The Obama Administration discovered, in the melting Arctic, both our past glories and potential for future wealth.

The Arctic is one of our planet’s last great frontiers. Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region, for the economic opportunities it presents and in recognition of the need to protect and conserve this unique, valuable, and changing environment.” 

Are we supposed to believe that the very institutions that melted the polar ice caps can now be trusted to “protect and conserve” what’s left? The same document claims it’s going to “account for indigenous communities.” Right, just like natives were accounted for at Standing Rock (to name but one of many examples).

Falsehoods of this magnitude can only seem believable when they are part of a culture’s deepest mythologies. The “last great frontier” and “pioneering spirit” is code for empire, the colonial project and in this case — an updated version of the Doctrine of DiscoveryObama called forth the frontier spirits — a year later the US staked its claim to the newly “discovered” territory with a military strategy for the Arctic. 

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Then along comes Trump, another frontiersman — without the righteous pretensions — but still a product of the same myths each and every President has passed on to us.

Trump is rushing us toward destruction by escalating wars inherited from Bush and Obama even adding new fronts in Venezuela and Iran. He declared open season on Arctic oil production and native rights. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated the age-old formula seeing “opportunity and abundance and military advantage in the ice-free waters of the north pole. Trump’s new Arctic military strategy totally misses climate change while targeting Russia and China. Now we have a new arms race and record global military spending led by Trump but provoked by the Russia-obsessed Democrats and pro-war media.

It’s a perfect storm of a system. 

In elevating military power over climate change Trump takes his proper place as an All-American President much like the ones that came before him. Deal with it. Trump did not drop from the sky.

Unless we reckon with our past we will not have a future.

The war on Mother Earth demands the kind of transformative change that only a massive “movement of movements” can create. I hate being the bearer of bad news but we face an interlocking crisis of militarism and climate change driven by the interlocking institutions of corporate power  — all deeply rooted in national mythology.

Hope alone is not a strategy. Hope leads us to shallow moral politics that substitute our desires and dreams for the daily concrete work of organizing ourselves to confront power. A real political strategy begins with an honest assessment of the problems we face. Yes, we face a ruling class with a single-minded fixation on profit and power. No, there is no evidence that they will regulate themselves. In fact, they are driving us to the precipice.

Only we can steer us away from cliff. Grab the wheel.

1/For more on “threat multiplier” see Ben Hayes, “Colonizing the Future: Climate Change and International Security Strategies,” in The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate-Changed World.

2/ The persistent idea that the Soviet Union was a superpower on par with the US was ultimately proven false by the collapse of the Soviet state. The massively researched and award-winning book by Melvyn Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, shows that during the early formative years of the Cold War the US was without rival.

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, History, Movement Culture, organizing, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Interlocking Crisis: War and Climate Chaos

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Also in Counterpunch

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin

Climate change is the apex crisis of all time and the US military is the prime crisis multiplier.  

As we approach the horizon of climate disaster it certainly looks like the predatory phase of human history — of which war is just the most glaring example — is related to our predatory relationship with nature. At the center of the storm is the interlocking crisis of militarism and climate destruction.

We will evolve beyond perpetual war and global empire or face climate chaos.  

The climate crisis is rooted in a set of interlocking institutions with a common cause of power over others and a shared strategy of violence, plunder and deception. The military is the linchpin, playing a pivotal role intensifying the climate crisis.

Consider the basic facts. The US military is:

The war machine’s enormous consumption and strategic capture of fossil fuels and their behind-the-scenes management of the crisis hints at its true role: sponsor of big oil and co-creator of the climate crisis.

The dominance of fossil fuels and the supremacy of the US empire rely not on victory in war or on market savvy or “value added” to the economy but on their political power. That power makes destructive and wasteful industries extremely profitable. The Oil Empire relies on massive public funding, carefully crafted exemptions to law and immunity from the economic, social and environmental damages they inflict. 

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The military can only maintain the fiction that it protects our security by concealing its role as destroyer of the very things we really need to survive: a healthy environment and a democratic society. The fossil fuel giants can only maintain the fiction that they are profitable players in a free market by winning trillions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies and by eliminating its major cost: pollution. 

Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford’s Atmosphere/Energy Program speaks to the true costs of the choices ahead.

“[A] wind-water-solar system uses half the energy as a fossil fuel system and also eliminates health and climate costs due to fossil fuels. U.S. consumers will pay only $1 trillion per year in energy costs with the GND, whereas under a fossil fuel system, they will pay $2 trillion per year in energy costs and $600 billion per year in air pollution health costs, and will incur $3.3 trillion per year in global climate costs due to U.S. emissions, for a total economic cost of $5.9 trillion per year. Thus a wind-water-solar system costs society one-sixth that of a fossil fuel system.”

The carbon, methane, oil spills and fracking fluids wrecking our one and only home are — by the wonders of capitalist accounting — simply made to disappear as a cost of doing business.

Get this: giant corporations claim legal ownership to the fossil fuels created by nature; they own the machines and labor to refine and transport it; they hide and control the formula for fracking fluids as a trade secret. But, the toxic chemicals themselves, the oil spills, the carbon and methane waste — without which no fossil fuels are produced or consumed — are not their property but ours. Only the profits remain with the corporations. Pollution is considered by both corporate and government actors as an “externality” that is not counted. But, its poisons are not external to nature or our bodies and we are already paying for it with the sixth extinction, premature death for millions and hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

If the true costs of oil, gas and coal were accounted for in the capitalists’ equation — including massive public subsidies — the fossil fuel giants would quickly go from being among the richest and most connected corporations in the world to bankrupt orphans. But, those costs are cloaked by the war machine because it is essential to the military’s own need to hide the true costs of war.

The power of the corporations and the military are by no means the product of some mythical free market. Instead it’s an economic system — well rigged, well maintained and well enforced by US military muscle. Like the hub in a giant wheel of misfortune, the US military is the central point anchoring and protecting the global corporate power that is pushing us toward the planetary precipice. 

 

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We Knew This Once, Let’s Learn It Again

Over half a century ago Martin Luther King named the enemy: the evil triplets of racism, militarism and exploitation. In our time, the evil triplets have a new and monstrous brother: climate destruction. King was drawing our attention to the interconnections between all forms of oppression and exploitation. Fifty years later the links have become more intense and more obvious.

Along with the interlocking crisis and institutions, our troubled relationship with the planet is the single most revealing consequence of a deeply rooted culture of dominance. From the very beginning, European empires used the Doctrine of Discovery to claim ownership of “discovered” lands because the natives who lived there were pagan “others” with no rights Europeans should respect. Natives were threats to be assimilated or eliminated through war. The domination of “others” and the domination of nature have been linked ever since. Like our hostility to nature, war is not simply a policy or action — war is a culture — a way of understanding and acting in the world.

It’s the same culture that underlies our empire, our failed economy and failed political system. All the racism, the class exploitation, the misogyny, the homophobia, the inequality — all the hate and fear of “others”– are summarized, magnified and implicated in the degradation of the planet.

These ancient ideas of dominance live on in modern systems. Together they are like the “feedback loops” climate scientists warns us about. And, they are just as dangerous.

Today we face a constellation of powerful institutions that have magnified corporate power by merging the corporation and the state. It’s hard to see the boundaries between the big banks, oil companies, media giants and US government because they are united in purpose, design and culture. 

Where Do We Go From Here? Organize!

What is not obvious are the implications that the interlocking nature of corporate rule hold for our actions and strategies for change. What are the system’s weak links? Is there time for incremental change? I am afraid we have backed ourselves into a corner: it’s peace and revolution or climate catastrophe.

We can start by casting away illusions. The intertwined and escalating nature of the crisis will make it nearly impossible to fix within the existing order because the crisis was created by the current system of corporate governance. 

The evil triplets King identified were not simply free-floating ideas or bad attitudes. Each have a systematic and institutional foundation whose long history is both justified and hidden with cover-stories repeated thousands of times by the corporate media. These narratives are also related. “Free-market fundamentalism” is to corporate power what “colorblindness” is to the vast militarized penal system and “humanitarian war” is to empire: nice liberal sounding doublespeak that promotes the transition from old forms of dominance and exploitation to new ones. 

The interlocking nature of the crisis means the task ahead is monumental. Our actions must be truly historical in their sweep and consequences or we will be overwhelmed. We can begin by pushing back against the systematic interlocking crisis with a loosely interlocking movement of movements. As Michael Eisenscher wrote:

“What compels these different strands of progressive struggle to weave a new progressive tapestry is recognition that none of these movements can achieve their objectives without achieving the objectives of the others. We will not be able to successfully decarbonize our economy if we do not also demilitarize US foreign policy.”

We need each other to win.

Our rebellions against climate change and war should continue the work and extend the vision the black revolution started.

“[T]he black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws —racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” Martin Luther King Jr., “A Testament of Hope,” 1969

“Interrelated flaws.” “Rooted deeply rooted in the whole structure.” “Systematic rather than superficial.” We must see what King saw. Tell me the last time that elections alone accomplished the radical reconstruction of society.” Instead, the revolutionary project holds the greatest potential for overcoming the climate crisis. 

Ok, Smartass: But You And What Army?

Got me. In this article and those that follow, I look at the interlocking systems of war and climate crisis. If we don’t know the enemy we can never win. But what about knowing ourselves? The finest strategies, ideas, and analyses are barren without an army of organizers and activists to make ideas into real material forces that must be reckoned with.

While the fresh energies and creativity of new political movements are our best hope, we still face the same old problems of organizing: “you and what army?” Extinction Rebellion, Youth Climate Strike, and About Face are rallying the troops we need — as are many other trends and organizations. Occupy Sandy showed us how a people-centered adaptation to climate disaster might work. Actions against more oil wars in Venezuela and Iran have the potential to knit both issues together.

But, we still need to build an army of organizers. Face-to-face work is the most labor-intensive method, true, but also the most effective. That actually makes organizing the quickest path to base-building and movement-building. Slow is the new fast.

While the Green Party thought up the Green New Deal, it is Sanders — operating on the left edge of the dysfunctional two-party system — that has the closest thing to the raw numbers of volunteers change demands. That alone means we need continued engagement with, and coordination between, various tendencies aiming to challenge the system. We can become greater than the sum of our parts if we have the political skill to allow for both unity and struggle in our political relationships.

We also need to recognize that organizing is a practice not a science. We are all perennial beginners. Here is a place to start again: check out my blog at befreedom.co. You will find a series of articles on organizing. Face-to-face organizing remains the gold standard for raising consciousness, building organizations and taking action. There is no way to challenge the war machine and face the climate crisis without it.

 

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, History, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, revolutionary strategy, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Howling Hypocrisy?

After two years of non-stop saber-rattling and war preparations against possible microscopic meddling by Russia, the mere mention of a verifiable truth that Israel meddles in our affairs on a continuous basis draws faux-righteous rebukes from the elites. With the next breath, plotting coup against Venezuela or waging the many wars we fight against the Middle East, is supported by the same party bosses and bankers as our god-given right.

So I am supposed to believe that the architects of perpetual war — at whose hands millions have died, trillions wasted and climate destroyed — are so sensitive to the evils of the world that they simply cannot tolerate hatred? No, they love hate. Hate is the inevitable product and precondition of war. That is what Russia-gate is about. This is why we bomb Muslim-majority countrys, not Christian ones, or run coups against brown peoples but suppress even the news of the French revolution. Show me an empire that does not rely on hatred and I will show you a belief in American exceptionalism. Of all the empires, in all the world, we are supposed to believe that only the American empire fights for democracy or for humanitarian reasons.  It is this belief — more than all the criticism of our imperial actions and allies — that will eventually lead to imperial decline because it prevents us from knowing ourselves. 

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By attacking critics of Israel as anti-semitic, the Democratic elites are simply doubling down on their most despicable (and failed) 2016 electoral strategy of using corporate-identity politics to attack dissent, limit free speech, and promote corporate power. This does incalculable damage to those who are actually struggling against racism, sexism and anti-semitism by masking the systematic nature of oppression —a system the party bosses have built and rule over.

What might seem like howling hypocrisy really isn’t. They know the existing order is based on war and empire and will do everything in their power to defend it. We must do everything in our power to overthrow it.

Posted in American Culture, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Empire, Racism, Red Scare, War, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Corporate Power

Also in Counterpunch

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The problem is not that the corporations are “out of control,” the problem is that the corporations are so much “in control.” By seeing neoliberalism as Free Market Fundamentalism (FMF) rather than Corporate Power we underestimate the challenges ahead. FMF does not help us to know what tactics and strategies are best because it cannot tell us about the enemy we face: Corporate Power.

If the corporations have merged with the state, then the liberal-regulatory state is finished and our faith in it’s ability to protect us is a poor substitute for self-knowlege and self-determination. Instead, we should realize that we are finally on our own. Mass movements making revolutionary demands and organizing projects aimed at building independent people power will have the best chance at overthrowing the corporate power.

The tension between seeing the problem as FMF or as corporate power will only be resolved by the highest stakes gamble imaginable. Can we dismantle corporate power and stop climate change through normal electoral means or will revolutionary upheavals provide the answers we need?

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

The recipes for action suggested by those writers who emphasize FMF give too much weight to elections and incremental change. Take Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage for example. On the one hand Monbiot supports community projects. Agreed. Communal approaches are very important and benefit from being rooted in existing institutions and relationships.

Monbiot also calls for the return to the “protective,” liberal state including an intriguing call for a constitutional convention by citizens and important electoral reforms. But his proposals for recapturing the state are essentially a more energetic version of electoral campaigning. The mass upheavals and deep organizing that created the liberal state in the first place are largely absent. We need both the commune and revolution

Naomi Klein’s No is Not Enough, while full of good advise and insight, also shows just how hard it is to see a passage beyond the corporate order. The author’s vantage point shifts back and forth between FMF and corporate power and her strategic advice reflects that.

Klein’s re-telling of Standing Rock is moving and true. Standing Rock calls on us to take action by building transformative social movements against what Klein rightly calls “ecocidal capitalism.” She recognizes that native communities have the experience and knowledge to lead the new environmental movement. So far so good.

Klein’s other major example is the LEAP Manifesto. It’s another good start, as is the coalition-building it hopes to promote: but to what end? Utopian visions are important, as Klein argues, but the future LEAP calls for is not nearly utopian enough. LEAP calls for more rigorous corporate regulations, ending austerity and expanding social inclusion. It’s all fine, but how is that different from returning to a new and improved liberal-regulatory state?

Klein praises social movements but tends to distill them into their programs, platforms and manifestos, which can then be deployed in the electoral arena. Although Klein addresses the shortcomings of the electoral process she then writes, “But the real trick is going to be to get those dreams on the ballot with a winning strategy as quickly as possible.”

Programs and manifestos are half the story. The other half is the capacity of social movements for disruption. Martin Luther King’s take on this is classic:

“The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

Yes, social movements are the true creators of ideals and visions but they are also the source of the kind of actions that put pressure on the system from the outside.

For Klein, recent “left-wing almost-wins” in US or French elections, took us “within an arm’s reach of power.” While a Sander’s win may well have been, and may well be, a huge step forward, his agenda would have been hamstrung by the corporate state and the war machine. The fact that corporate Democrats closed ranks to cheat Sanders out of the 2016 nomination was a very telling indication of what Sanders would have faced if elected — even from his own deeply corporate and pro-war party.

If we ever want to get closer than “an arm’s reach of power” we will need millions of people acting in ways that threaten the elite’s power and profit. The quest for limitless power and profit is the new rule underlying the corporate state and the main driver of climate disaster. We must overturn this rule knowing full well just how deeply entrenched corporate power is. No easy victories.

So instead of revolution — a word barely mentioned — or the stranglehold of the two-party system on government — a problem not analysed — or electoral fraud by both parties — an obstacle not considered — Klein’s understandable desire to instill hope, plus the focus on FMF, cycles us back to elections as the main strategy.

If only neoliberalism were simply an extreme form of capitalism we could turn off like a switch — instead of the final outcome of capitalism’s historical development — or just bad ideology and bad policies  — instead of a system of corporate rule exercised by the state — then maybe the people could take power using normal electoral means.

Solutions Need to Match the Scale of the Problems

Among the popular writers on neoliberalism Chris Hedges most persistently points to the need for massive non-violent civil disobedience as the way forward. Perhaps it was his 20 years as a war correspondent that allowed him to see the depths to which we have fallen and the heights to which we must climb — if we want to win. It is no coincidence that Hedges uses the concept of corporate power more than any other major popularizer of the neoliberal critique.

“The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties….We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year…”[5] 

Corporate power has produced multiple interlocking crises that cannot be resolved within the existing system. Consider the mountain of evidence on wealth inequality — a crisis responsible for much of the social dysfunction we face precisely because it combines and intensifies the inequalities of race, gender and class, threatens our environment and democracy and magnifies global inequalities produced by empire and colonialism.

Researchers from fourteen universities have studied wealth inequality over thousands of years finding that the US is one of the most unequal countries in all of history. In The Great Leveller, Stanford Universities’ Walter Scheidel has concluded that once inequality has grown to existing levels, history gives us no examples of it being resolved using normal means. Scheidel claims that mass warfare, plague, state collapse or transformative revolution are the most likely outcomes.  

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All the Means At Our Disposal

It’s hard to see that any movement against corporate power could succeed without using all the non-violent means at its disposal: social movement unionism, tenants unions, massive non-violent civil disobedience, strikes, communes, cooperatives of all sorts, occupations, rank and file groups, full-fledged social movement for peace and justice and all the forms of disruptive protest activities they can produce. Election do matter, but without these struggles and disruptions electoral efforts will fail to deliver. 

No one is going to save us. How do we save ourselves? It is impossible to know in advance, with any certainty, which tactic or strategy is best. Wild experimentation with strategy combined with disciplined, dedicated practice will resolve what debate alone cannot.   

We must also use all the visionary means at our disposal.  

We should make revolutionary demands that would lead to dismantling corporate power: abolishing the fossil fuel regime, ending empire and war, converting large corporations — the banks first of all — into public utilities placed under democratic control, expropriating billionaires, cancelling debts, abolishing the militarized penal system, returning large tracts of land to natives, paying reparations to populations once enslaved and no taxation without representation. We need many forms of experimentation in economic and workplace democracy, including worker ownership of enterprise and housing, public promotion of local economies and the transfer of significant political authority to local assemblies.  

Revolutionary demands take on their ultimate power when linked to universal values — for it is with universal values that we can communicate with the millions. When such demands are carried by mass movements in the name of values like freedom and democracy, then the political climate changes and new horizons become visible. Whatever name you wish to call it, this would be transformative revolution.

A new political climate based on revolutionary expectations will be the conditions under which the demands for minimum standards and minimum reforms can best be gained — rather than relying on a slow build-up of reforms. Minimum standards such as universal health care, free and fair elections, living wages, decent housing, ending prison labor — these kinds of reforms are achievable only when we aim much higher. 

Revolutionary Reforms

We might bridge the gap between reform and revolution, developing better synergy and coordination between different wings of the movement, by pursuing “revolutionary reforms.” What issues will move millions by the self-evident righteousness and reasonableness of the cause but also be something that corporate power cannot agree to without undermining their own hegemony?

We need a special kind of intermediate program sometimes described as a transition program or revolutionary reforms. What kinds of struggles would allow millions of people to make the passage between what is and what ought to be?

Perhaps the best bet is the environmental crisis because it is so universal and so catastrophic. The Green Party’s Green New Deal recalls past periods of reform but since it must include an uncompromising call for an end to war and dismantling of empire — if it is to work — then we have a reform with revolutionary potential.

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Naomi Klein starts us off on the climate crisis with a focus on ideology and markets when she writes,

“To admit that the climate crisis is real is to admit the end of the neoliberal project….[T]o avert climate chaos, we need to challenge the capitalist ideologies that have conquered the world since the 1980s….[T]he oligarch class cannot continue to run riot without rules.”

But, Exxon the Davos elites, the IMF  the corporate Democratic Party leaders and the US Military “admit that the climate crisis is real.” That has not stopped their predatory practices.

Obama proved, with record oil production, that it takes more than admitting to problems — it requires sweeping and decisive action — and fast. Massive movements for a whole and healthy earth will finally reveal whether or not neoliberalism is more than just an “ideology” and whether or not it “runs riot without rules” or has created a new set of rules enforced by the state.

By recognizing corporate power Chris Hedges offers a strategic counterpoint:

“To assume that Obama or the Democratic Party, simply because they acknowledge the reality of climate change while the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party does not, is better equipped to deal with the crisis is incorrect. [B]oth parties have and will do nothing to halt the ravaging of the planet. If Sheldon Wolin is right–and I believe he is–then when we begin to build our mass movements–and…acts of civil disobedience…We have to understand that the corporate state, including the Democratic elite, will react the way all calcified states react. They will use the security and surveillance apparatus….If the response of the corporate state is repression rather than reform, then our strategy and our tactics must be different… We will have to view the state, including the Democratic establishment, as antagonistic to genuine reform, and we will have to speak in the language of overthrow and revolution.”

The corporate state is not just bad ideology. It’s a system of hard and fast structures that command violence, surveillance and propaganda to achieve its goals. When “the language of overthrow and revolution” is spoken, it will be given voice by mass movements to defend the planet and realize the promise of universal values.

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Finding Passage

While different interpretations of neoliberalism lead to different strategies, the point is to plot a course that can allow better synergy between reform and revolution — a course that will allow millions of everyday people to transition beyond the existing order. If people want to stop big oil’s pipelines thinking regulation is the answer — there is nothing wrong with that. Let’s test it out. Projects like the Green New Deal can draw support from reformers as well as revolutionaries. Let’s test that one out too.

Let’s be good organizers and start where people are at, not where we want them to be. If we do that we just might end up with a whole people fighting for a whole earth. And that would be enough to bring down the corporate empire we have bowed down to for far too long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Green Party, History, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, organizing, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, Uncategorized, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Can’t Go Home Again: The Liberal State Is No More

Also in Counterpunch.

In a previous article I argued that often confusing and divergent arguments within the neoliberal critique could be best understood as the tensions between two opposing currents of thought. One tendency understands neoliberalism as the unfettered reign of the free market, often called Free Market Fundamentalism (FMF), the other sees neoliberalism as the fusion of the corporation and the state sometimes called Corporate Power.

If it’s FMF what does that mean for activism. If it’s Corporate Power what does that imply for strategy?

The greater the emphasis on FMF then the more possible it might seem to re-regulate the corporations back to within tolerable limits after recapturing the state through elections. The greater the emphasis on corporate power the less possible incremental (primarily) electoral approaches seem, and the more likely that revolutionary measures will be required to abolish corporate power.

You Can’t Go Home Again

FMF remains such a popular idea among progressives precisely because it allows us to imagine an easy escape. That escape is a return to the liberal-regulatory state that governed the US between the mid-1930s and mid-1970s. The problem — and most likely an insurmountable one — is that the old liberal-regulatory state was dismantled and replaced by a new corporate-regulatory state.

This bit of wishful thinking also forgets that the now defunct liberal state was codified by law and mandated by election due to massive protest and organizing in the 1930’s and cemented into place only at the high human costs of world war. The construction of the liberal state required mass movements, some with revolutionary aspirations, and it’s reconstruction would require nothing less. 

Equally daunting is the fact that the decline of the liberal state wasn’t caused by the rise of neoliberalism alone but by urban rebellions and social movements. Why would we return to the liberal state that brought us the Vietnam War, COINTELPRO, environmental destruction and the urban crisis among other wonders?  

In Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges argues that the liberals who once managed the regulatory state were marginalized or adapted to the corporate state.

“But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class…gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers…who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets…The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality.”[1]

The Bill of Rights is in tatters. “We the people” do not rule. Representative democracy is all but dead. Welcome to the real world.

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Q: What killed Democracy? A: Corporate Empire.

The corporate power destroyed the limited democracy of the liberal state because it was an obstacle to its insatiable need for power and profit.

If democracy is dead, what is the new reality we face? By the 1980s a new version of the two-party system emerged: the extreme right-wing takeover of the Republican Party accomplished largely by the “Reagan revolution” on one hand and the rise of “third way” or corporate Democrats represented by the Clinton machine on the other — both wings of one duopoly dedicated to establishing and maintaining the new corporate order.

Along with the earlier restructuring of the US government in order to wage our imperial wars — it was this corporate takeover of the political parties and the government they have a chokehold on that killed American democracy. And, both parties championed policies that were responsible for a steep decline in the power of the working class.  

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Follow the Money

This new corporate political class managed the fusion of the state and corporation — as can be clearly seen in the history of finance capital. Banks are the executive branch of corporate power dispatching capital, natural resources and labor in a war for profits. To the degree that capitalism is planned, bankers do the planning. During the exceptional period of limited economic democracy from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s, capital was forced to share the wealth. But by the 1970s big changes were underway. As a response to the upheavals of mid-20th century, the ruling elites reasserted their class power and bankers were their vanguard.

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In All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, Nomi Prins documents the relationships between presidents and bankers. By the 1980’s that relationship had grown less personal and more institutional. Not only were bankers routinely appointment to powerful government posts but all agreed that free-market neoliberal ideology was the best rhetorical strategy to maintain US hegemony — even as they created the corporate state.[2] 

Before long the power of capital grew to such proportions that it overshadowed even presidential power, as well as the other branches of government. The bankers’ supremacy was based on the remarkably rapid concentration of capital and control in the hands of a few. Between 1960 and 1979 there were 3,404 bank mergers, from 1980 to 1994 there were 6,345, but in a short period from 1995 to 2000 — in the middle of the Clinton presidency — 11,100 banks merged, crushing competition, centralizing power and overtaking the state in the name of the free market.[3]

Corporate Coup or Merger of the Corporation and the State?

The rise of the corporate state was nothing so sudden or confrontational as a coup. Nor will it be undone easily. Corporate power is the outcome of a century of growing corporate influence, imperial war and the historical development of capitalism itself. There was no hostile takeover — the economic policies of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump — and the parties they led — fully supported the aims and ambitions of the largest bank and corporations. 

[T]he federal government and Fed response to the third world debt crisis, S&L bailout, and 1987 stock market crash was to subsidize the banking system with federal and multinational money. The bankers had succeeded in pushing the presidency to back losses….They had succeeding in privatizing their profits and socializing the costs of failure.  This fiscal policy had officially become US domestic and foreign policy.[4] [emphasis added]

Socializing costs and privatizing profits reached new heights after the 2008 crisis but the instruments of corporate power were already well in place. On a few days notice the elites launched a global bailout of unprecedented scale and scope that rescued banks “too big to fail.” Few asked how we were going to pay for it but during the height of the crisis 19 $trillion was made available in subsidies and bailouts to bankers.[5] Profits and wealth inequality soon returned to record levels while permanent austerity for millions was sold as the cost of “shared sacrifice.”

The faux reform of the Dodd-Frank bill was a revealing response to the crisis because it only further cemented the corporate state while preserving the largest concentration of capital in US history.

The bill was riddled with holes punched out by bank lobbyists with Washington connections: forty-seven of fifty Goldman Sachs lobbyists had previously held government jobs (or were “revolvers”). In addition forty-two of forty-six JPMorgan Chase lobbyists in 2010 were revolvers, as were thirty-five of Citigroup’s forty-six. President Obama signed the bill into law on July 21, 2010.[6]

Dodd-Frank was the corporate-regulatory state in action.

The unprecedented concentration of capital through mergers, loan guarantees, massive bailouts to investors, enormous subsidies, tax breaks and virtually free cash infusions — while shielding the same bailed-out bankers from prosecution for fraud — made the US government the agent and guarantor of vast wealth inequality. If these payments were cash transfers to the poor it would clearly be understood as part of the liberal-regulatory state but cash transfers to finance capital are seen as what? Free market fundamentalism? No, its corporate power.

The merger between corporations and government was accomplished at the pinnacles of power. Antonio Gramsci showed us the right place to look when he wrote, “The historical unity of the ruling classes is realized in the state.”

The great wall between public and private, between government and corporation has come tumbling down. Maximizing profit and power are the new rules shaping the regulatory environment because under the dictates of the corporate state, power = money and money = power. The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United simply legalized the existing order by protecting corporations as people and money as free speech. The consequences? Corporations are the only “people” who matter and money the only form of “speech” heard by politicians.  

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This fusion of finance capital with national executive power may well be the economic foundation of fascism. In order to secure the equivalence of money and power, the corporate state seeks to weaken democratic institutions, such as trade unions, and institutionalize austerity — paving the way for the rise of fascism. The concept of corporate power helps us better understand that neoliberalism and fascism are blood kin. One cannot save us from the other — that much should be clear. 

What is the Passage Beyond Corporate Power?

The corporate capture of the state means any return to the liberal-regulatory state — let alone genuine economic democracy — would require something more like revolution. History would suggest that the kinds of popular unrest and social movements responsible for the long period of reform from the Great Depression to the end of the Vietnam War are the true engines of history and should be the true goals of strategy. For it was those movements that both created the liberal state and began a transition beyond it.

In the last revolution, the civil rights/black power and the peace/anti-imperialist movements provided transition beyond what was then called the “liberal consensus.” Many people started out from a straightforward moral perspective wanting something that seemed like an achievable and reasonable reform: peace and racial justice. Later many discovered that the entire system was largely based on racism and empire and that both Democrats and Republicans were guardians of the establishment. So to win those seemingly simple reforms people had to build disruptive movements that raised the question of capitalism, white supremacy and empire itself as a necessary part of challenging power. What will allow us passage beyond today’s neoliberal consensus?

Climate Crisis and War

The return to the liberal state would require us to literally live on a different planet. The environmental crisis will prohibit returning to past ways of reforming capitalism because past models were also based on permanent war, unsustainable growth and the insatiable drive to plunder earth’s resources and human labor. It’s unlikely that legislation or even significant electoral victories are going to be enough to re-regulate the corporations and scale back, let alone dismantle, the world’s largest empire. Show me an empire dismantled by legislation or an ecosystem saved by the profit motive. Show me an example from history when a crisis — of similar proportion and scale to what we currently face — was resolved by “normal” electoral means.

When the people of Standing Rock stood up against some of most powerful corporate interests in the world, their prayers, their prophecy, their vision was not to cage the “black snake” but to kill it. We defeat corporate power or it will defeat us.

Climate destruction may just be our last stand, our greatest opportunity and most dangerous crisis. But, to make the most of it we’ll have to raise revolutionary demands and adopt the movement-building strategies that have the best chance of challenging corporate power.

 

 

[1] Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, p.9

[2] Prins, All the Presidents Bankers p. 319-323 

[3] Prins, 382

[4] Prins, 356

[5] Prins, 411-414

[6] Prins 415

 

 

 

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