Thursday, October 19, 2017

The End of Empire

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The American empire is coming to an end. The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia. Overseeing this descent at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too.

The empire will limp along, steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the United States into a crippling depression and instantly forcing a massive contraction of its military machine.

Short of a sudden and widespread popular revolt, which does not seem likely, the death spiral appears unstoppable, meaning the United States as we know it will no longer exist within a decade or, at most, two. The global vacuum we leave behind will be filled by China, already establishing itself as an economic and military juggernaut, or perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” by “a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international financial leadership self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg” that will “forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or empire.”

Under every measurement, from financial growth and infrastructure investment to advanced technology, including supercomputers, space weaponry and cyberwarfare, we are being rapidly overtaken by the Chinese. “In April 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that the American economy would grow by nearly 50 percent over the next 15 years, while China’s would triple and come close to surpassing America’s in 2030,” McCoy noted. China became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, the same year it became the world’s leading manufacturing nation, pushing aside a United States that had dominated the world’s manufacturing for a century. The Department of Defense issued a sober report titled “At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World.” It found that the U.S. military “no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors,” and “it no longer can … automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.” McCoy predicts the collapse will come by 2030.

Empires in decay embrace an almost willful suicide. Blinded by their hubris and unable to face the reality of their diminishing power, they retreat into a fantasy world where hard and unpleasant facts no longer intrude. They replace diplomacy, multilateralism and politics with unilateral threats and the blunt instrument of war.

This collective self-delusion saw the United States make the greatest strategic blunder in its history, one that sounded the death knell of the empire—the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The architects of the war in the George W. Bush White House, and the array of useful idiots in the press and academia who were cheerleaders for it, knew very little about the countries being invaded, were stunningly naive about the effects of industrial warfare and were blindsided by the ferocious blowback. They stated, and probably believed, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, although they had no valid evidence to support this claim. They insisted that democracy would be implanted in Baghdad and spread across the Middle East. They assured the public that U.S. troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis and Afghans as liberators. They promised that oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. They insisted that the bold and quick military strike—“shock and awe”—would restore American hegemony in the region and dominance in the world. It did the opposite. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, this “unilateral war of choice against Iraq precipitated a widespread delegitimation of U.S. foreign policy.”

Historians of empire call these military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, examples of “micro-militarism.” The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism when during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers and triggering revolts throughout the empire. Britain did so in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal and then quickly had to withdraw in humiliation, empowering a string of Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over the nation’s few remaining colonies. Neither of these empires recovered.

“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” McCoy writes. “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”

Empires need more than force to dominate other nations. They need a mystique. This mystique—a mask for imperial plunder, repression and exploitation—seduces some native elites, who become willing to do the bidding of the imperial power or at least remain passive. And it provides a patina of civility and even nobility to justify to those at home the costs in blood and money needed to maintain empire. The parliamentary system of government that Britain replicated in appearance in the colonies, and the introduction of British sports such as polo, cricket and horse racing, along with elaborately uniformed viceroys and the pageantry of royalty, were buttressed by what the colonialists said was the invincibility of their navy and army. England was able to hold its empire together from 1815 to 1914 before being forced into a steady retreat. America’s high-blown rhetoric about democracy, liberty and equality, along with basketball, baseball and Hollywood, as well as our own deification of the military, entranced and cowed much of the globe in the wake of World War II. Behind the scenes, of course, the CIA used its bag of dirty tricks to orchestrate coups, fix elections and carry out assassinations, black propaganda campaigns, bribery, blackmail, intimidation and torture. But none of this works anymore.

The loss of the mystique is crippling. It makes it hard to find pliant surrogates to administer the empire, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs of physical abuse and sexual humiliation imposed on Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib inflamed the Muslim world and fed al-Qaida and later Islamic State with new recruits. The assassination of Osama bin Laden and a host of other jihadist leaders, including the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, openly mocked the concept of the rule of law. The hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees fleeing our debacles in the Middle East, along with the near-constant threat from militarized aerial drones, exposed us as state terrorists. We have exercised in the Middle East the U.S. military’s penchant for widespread atrocities, indiscriminate violence, lies and blundering miscalculations, actions that led to our defeat in Vietnam.

The brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home. Militarized police gun down mostly unarmed, poor people of color and fill a system of penitentiaries and jails that hold a staggering 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although Americans represent only 5 percent of global population. Many of our cities are in ruins. Our public transportation system is a shambles. Our educational system is in steep decline and being privatized. Opioid addiction, suicide, mass shootings, depression and morbid obesity plague a population that has fallen into profound despair. The deep disillusionment and anger that led to Donald Trump’s election—a reaction to the corporate coup d’état and the poverty afflicting at least half of the country—have destroyed the myth of a functioning democracy. Presidential tweets and rhetoric celebrate hate, racism and bigotry and taunt the weak and the vulnerable. The president in an address before the United Nations threatened to obliterate another nation in an act of genocide. We are worldwide objects of ridicule and hatred. The foreboding for the future is expressed in the rash of dystopian films, motion pictures that no longer perpetuate American virtue and exceptionalism or the myth of human progress.

“The demise of the United States as the preeminent global power could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” McCoy writes. “Despite the aura of omnipotence empires often project, most are surprisingly fragile, lacking the inherent strength of even a modest nation-state. Indeed, a glance at their history should remind us that the greatest of them are susceptible to collapse from diverse causes, with fiscal pressures usually a prime factor. For the better part of two centuries, the security and prosperity of the homeland has been the main objective for most stable states, making foreign or imperial adventures an expendable option, usually allocated no more than 5 percent of the domestic budget. Without the financing that arises almost organically inside a sovereign nation, empires are famously predatory in their relentless hunt for plunder or profit—witness the Atlantic slave trade, Belgium’s rubber lust in the Congo, British India’s opium commerce, the Third Reich’s rape of Europe, or the Soviet exploitation of Eastern Europe.”

When revenues shrink or collapse, McCoy points out, “empires become brittle.”

“So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly wrong, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, eleven years for the Ottomans, seventeen for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, just twenty-seven years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003 [when the U.S. invaded Iraq],” he writes.

Many of the estimated 69 empires that have existed throughout history lacked competent leadership in their decline, having ceded power to monstrosities such as the Roman emperors Caligula and Nero. In the United States, the reins of authority may be in the grasp of the first in a line of depraved demagogues.

“For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness,” McCoy writes. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will see the U.S. unable to pay for its huge deficits by selling Treasury bonds, which will be drastically devalued at that point. There will be a massive rise in the cost of imports. Unemployment will explode. Domestic clashes over what McCoy calls “insubstantial issues” will fuel a dangerous hypernationalism that could morph into an American fascism.

A discredited elite, suspicious and even paranoid in an age of decline, will see enemies everywhere. The array of instruments created for global dominance—wholesale surveillance, the evisceration of civil liberties, sophisticated torture techniques, militarized police, the massive prison system, the thousands of militarized drones and satellites—will be employed in the homeland. The empire will collapse and the nation will consume itself within our lifetimes if we do not wrest power from those who rule the corporate state.

Internet censorship and government war plans

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The meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York is taking place under the shadow of the accelerating drive of the major powers, spearheaded by the United States, toward World War III. This found its most noxious expression in the fascistic speech delivered to the assembly on Tuesday by Donald Trump, in which the US president threatened to “destroy North Korea” and attack Iran and Venezuela.
Trump devoted a significant portion of his tirade to a denunciation of socialism and communism, reflecting the fear within the US ruling elite of the growth of social opposition and rise of anti-capitalist and socialist sentiment in the working class.
Another major focus of the assembly is the mounting campaign of the US and European governments to crack down on the exchange of information and views on the Internet. British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni all used the pretext of fighting terrorism and “fake news” to call for more drastic measures by the major technology firms to censor the Internet, which Gentiloni called a “battlefield for hearts and minds.”
This attack on free speech is a central part of the response of the crisis-ridden capitalist ruling elites to the growth of global geo-political tensions and economic instability, and the political radicalization of broad masses of workers and youth.
In the US, the drive for Internet censorship has been spearheaded by the so-called “liberal” wing of the political establishment, concentrated in the Democratic Party, whose chief media organ is the New York Times. On the eve of the UN assembly, the Times published an unambiguous brief for censorship of the Internet in the form of an op-ed column by the ambassador to the UN under Barack Obama, Samantha Power.
Under the headline “Why Foreign Propaganda Is More Dangerous Now,” and on the pretext of combating Russian disinformation and subversion, Power calls for the use of “professional gatekeepers” to police public discourse on the Internet.
Power, a leading proponent of “human rights” imperialism, looks back nostalgically at the Cold War as a golden age of news dissemination, when “most Americans received their news and information via mediated platforms.” She continues: “Reporters and editors serving in the role of professional gatekeepers had almost full control over what appeared in the media. A foreign adversary seeking to reach American audiences did not have great options for bypassing these umpires, and Russian disinformation rarely penetrated.”
It is worth considering who is writing these lines. First as a key policy advisor to Obama, then as Washington’s representative to the United Nations, Power was a leading architect of the disastrous US-led destabilization operation in Libya that shattered that country’s society. She is a key propagandist of the American-instigated civil war in Syria, which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Power longs for the time when, as was the case during the Korean War and the earlier part of the Vietnam War, the monopoly of the major broadcasters over public discourse could be used to keep the criminal policies of US imperialism under wraps.
She is bitter and resentful over the fact that, despite the best efforts of the corporate-controlled media to sell US operations in the Middle East to the public as anti-terrorist and humanitarian efforts, organizations such as Wikileaks and journalists such as Seymour Hersh have exposed the fact that the United States has cultivated alliances with forces linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS to pursue regime-change in Libya and Syria, totally undercutting the narrative of the “war on terror” that has been used to justify US imperialist policy since 2001.
If Power had her way, Chelsea Manning’s exposure of the murder of journalists and Iraqi civilians by the US military and Edward Snowden’s exposure illegal dragnet surveillance by the NSA would be branded as “fake news” and blocked by technology giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook.
In her Times column, she mourns the passing of the overarching—and thoroughly repressive—anti-communist ideological framework of the Cold War period, writing: “During the Cold War, the larger struggle against communism created a mainstream consensus about what America stood for and against. Today, our society appears to be defined by a particularly vicious form of ‘partyism’ affecting Democrats and Republicans alike.”
Power presents the rise of the Internet, and consequent weakening of control over the flow of information and opinion by state-sanctioned and allied corporate media outlets such as the Times, as an altogether dangerous and negative development. Under conditions where the establishment media is increasingly discredited—“60 percent believe news stories today are ‘often inaccurate,’ according to Gallup”—Power notes, the fact that “two thirds of Americans are getting at least some of their news through social media” is a matter of the gravest concern.
The “growing reliance on new media—and the absence of real umpires,” she writes, have opened up the US to disinformation and subversion at the hands of a demonic Russia, with its all-powerful media outlets RT and Sputnik, and its “trolls, bots and thousands of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts that amplified damaging stories on Hillary Clinton.”
Here we see the coming together of the hysterical, neo-McCarthyite campaign against Russia that has been used by the intelligence agencies, the Democratic Party and their media allies to attempt to whip up a war fever and pressure Trump to take a more bellicose posture toward Moscow with a growing attack on public access to anti-war, progressive and socialist web sites.
Power’s demands for state-sponsored censorship have already been put into practice by Internet giant Google. In the name of combating “fake news” and promoting “authoritative content” over “alternative viewpoints,” Google has implemented changes to its search engine that have slashed traffic to leading left-wing and alternative news web sites by 55 percent. The central target of this attack is the World Socialist Web Site, whose Google referrals have fallen by 75 percent.
By “gatekeepers,” Power means the thoroughly vetted and subservient editorial boards of newspapers such as the Times, which dutifully hide from the American people whatever the CIA and State Department do not want them to know, while dispensing state lies and propaganda in the guise of “news.”
In 2010, then-New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller spelled out the policy of such “mediated” news outlets with unusual bluntness when he declared that “transparency is not an absolute good.” He added, “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”
More than a quarter century after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, all factions of the US ruling elite are haunted by the realization that socialist politics are, as Hillary Clinton put it in her recently published book, tapping “into powerful emotional currents” within the population. The fact that in the 2016 Democratic primaries, 12 million Americans, mostly young people and workers, voted for a candidate, Bernie Sanders, who called himself a socialist, shocked and unnerved the ruling class.
Unable to advance any policies to address the social grievances of working people or turn away from its foreign agenda of militarism and war, the ruling elite responds to the growth of opposition by recourse to police methods. The escalating corporate-state attack on freedom of speech on the Internet makes all the more urgent the campaign of the World Socialist Web Site against Google censorship. We call on all of our readers and supporters to sign our petition demanding an end to the censorship, send statements of support for our campaign, and actively work to distribute WSWS articles as widely as possible via Facebook and other social media outlets.

The Silencing of Dissent

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The ruling elites, who grasp that the reigning ideology of global corporate capitalism and imperial expansion no longer has moral or intellectual credibility, have mounted a campaign to shut down the platforms given to their critics. The attacks within this campaign include blacklisting, censorship and slandering dissidents as foreign agents for Russia and purveyors of “fake news.”
No dominant class can long retain control when the credibility of the ideas that justify its existence evaporates. It is forced, at that point, to resort to crude forms of coercion, intimidation and censorship. This ideological collapse in the United States has transformed those of us who attack the corporate state into a potent threat, not because we reach large numbers of people, and certainly not because we spread Russian propaganda, but because the elites no longer have a plausible counterargument.
The elites face an unpleasant choice. They could impose harsh controls to protect the status quo or veer leftward toward socialism to ameliorate the mounting economic and political injustices endured by most of the population. But a move leftward, essentially reinstating and expanding the New Deal programs they have destroyed, would impede corporate power and corporate profits. So instead the elites, including the Democratic Party leadership, have decided to quash public debate. The tactic they are using is as old as the nation-state—smearing critics as traitors who are in the service of a hostile foreign power. Tens of thousands of people of conscience were blacklisted in this way during the Red Scares of the 1920s and 1950s. The current hyperbolic and relentless focus on Russia, embraced with gusto by “liberal” media outlets such as The New York Times and MSNBC, has unleashed what some have called a virulent “New McCarthyism.”
The corporate elites do not fear Russia. There is no publicly disclosed evidence that Russia swung the election to Donald Trump. Nor does Russia appear to be intent on a military confrontation with the United States. I am certain Russia tries to meddle in U.S. affairs to its advantage, as we do and did in Russia—including our clandestine bankrolling of Boris Yeltsin, whose successful 1996 campaign for re-election as president is estimated to have cost up to $2.5 billion, much of that moneycoming indirectly from the American government. In today’s media environment Russia is the foil. The corporate state is unnerved by the media outlets that give a voice to critics of corporate capitalism, the security and surveillance state and imperialism, including the network RT America.
My show on RT America, “On Contact,” like my columns at Truthdig, amplifies the voices of these dissidents—Tariq Ali, Kshama Sawant, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Medea Benjamin, Ajamu Baraka, Noam Chomsky, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Rania Khalek, Amira Hass, Miko Peled, Abby Martin, Glen Ford, Max Blumenthal, Pam Africa, Linh Dinh, Ben Norton, Eugene Puryear, Allan Nairn, Jill Stein, Kevin Zeese and others. These dissidents, if we had a functioning public broadcasting system or a commercial press free of corporate control, would be included in the mainstream discourse. They are not bought and paid for. They have integrity, courage and often brilliance. They are honest. For these reasons, in the eyes of the corporate state, they are very dangerous.
The first and deadliest salvo in the war on dissent came in 1971 when Lewis Powell, a corporate attorney and later a Supreme Court justice, wrote and circulated a memo among business leaders called “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” It became the blueprint for the corporate coup d’état. Corporations, as Powell recommended in the document, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the assault, financing pro-business political candidates, mounting campaigns against the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and the press and creating institutions such as the Business Roundtable, The Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Federalist Society and Accuracy in Academia. The memo argued that corporations had to fund sustained campaigns to marginalize or silence those who in “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, and the intellectual and literary journals” were hostile to corporate interests.
Powell attacked Ralph Nader by name. Lobbyists flooded Washington and state capitals. Regulatory controls were abolished. Massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy were implemented, culminating in a de facto tax boycott. Trade barriers were lifted and the country’s manufacturing base was destroyed. Social programs were slashed and funds for infrastructure, from roads and bridges to public libraries and schools, were cut. Protections for workers were gutted. Wages declined or stagnated. The military budget, along with the organs of internal security, became ever more bloated. A de facto blacklist, especially in universities and the press, was used to discredit intellectuals, radicals and activists who decried the idea of the nation prostrating itself before the dictates of the marketplace and condemned the crimes of imperialism, some of the best known being Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Sheldon Wolin, Ward Churchill, Nader, Angela Davis and Edward Said. These critics were permitted to exist only on the margins of society, often outside of institutions, and many had trouble making a living.
The financial meltdown of 2008 not only devastated the global economy, it exposed the lies propagated by those advocating globalization. Among these lies: that salaries of workers would rise, democracy would spread across the globe, the tech industry would replace manufacturing as a source of worker income, the middle class would flourish, and global communities would prosper. After 2008 it became clear that the “free market” is a scam, a zombie ideology by which workers and communities are ravaged by predatory capitalists and assets are funneled upward into the hands of the global 1 percent. The endless wars, fought largely to enrich the arms industry and swell the power of the military, are futile and counterproductive to national interests. Deindustrialization and austerity programs have impoverished the working class and fatally damaged the economy.
The establishment politicians in the two leading parties, each in service to corporate power and responsible for the assault on civil liberties and impoverishment of the country, are no longer able to use identity politics and the culture wars to whip up support. This led in the last presidential campaign to an insurgency by Bernie Sanders, which the Democratic Party crushed, and the election of Donald Trump.
Barack Obama rode a wave of bipartisan resentment into office in 2008, then spent eight years betraying the public.Obama’s assault on civil liberties, including his use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers, was worse than those carried out by George W. Bush. He accelerated the war on public education by privatizing schools, expanded the wars in the Middle East, including the use of militarized drone attacks, provided little meaningful environmental reform, ignored the plight of the working class, deported more undocumented people than any other president, imposed a corporate-sponsored health care program that was the brainchild of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, and prohibited the Justice Department from prosecuting the bankers and financial firms that carried out derivatives scams and inflated the housing and real estate market, a condition that led to the 2008 financial meltdown. He epitomized, like Bill Clinton, the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party. Clinton, outdoing Obama’s later actions, gave us the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the dismantling of the welfare system, the deregulation of the financial services industry and the huge expansion of mass incarceration. Clinton also oversaw deregulation of the Federal Communications Commission, a change that allowed a handful of corporations to buy up the airwaves.
The corporate state was in crisis at the end of the Obama presidency. It was widely hated. It became vulnerable to attacks by the critics it had pushed to the fringes. Most vulnerable was the Democratic Party establishment, which claims to defend the rights of working men and women and protect civil liberties. This is why the Democratic Party is so zealous in its efforts to discredit its critics as stooges for Moscow and to charge that Russian interference caused its election defeat.
In January there was a report on Russia by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report devoted seven of its 25 pages to RT America and its influence on the presidential election. It claimed “Russian media made increasingly favorable comments about President-elect Trump as the 2016 US general and primary election campaigns progressed while consistently offering negative coverage of Secretary [Hillary] Clinton.” This might seem true if you did not watch my RT broadcasts, which relentlessly attacked Trump as well as Clinton, or watch Ed Schultz, who now has a program on RT after having been the host of an MSNBC commentary program. The report also attempted to present RT America as having a vast media footprint and influence it does not possess.
“In an effort to highlight the alleged ‘lack of democracy’ in the United States, RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates,” the report read, correctly summing up themes on my show.
“The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’ ”
It went on:
RT’s reports often characterize the United States as a ‘surveillance state’ and allege widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality, and drone use.
RT has also focused on criticism of the US economic system, US currency policy, alleged Wall Street greed, and the US national debt. Some of RT’s hosts have compared the United States to Imperial Rome and have predicted that government corruption and “corporate greed” will lead to US financial collapse.
Is the corporate state so obtuse it thinks the American public has not, on its own, reached these conclusions about the condition of the nation? Is this what it defines as “fake news”? But most important, isn’t this the truth that the courtiers in the mainstream press and public broadcasting, dependent on their funding from sources such as the Koch brothers, refuse to present? And isn’t it, in the end, the truth that frightens them the most? Abby Martin and Ben Norton ripped apart the mendacity of the report and the complicity of the corporate media in my “On Contact” show titled “Real purpose of intel report on Russian hacking with Abby Martin & Ben Norton.”
In November 2016, The Washington Post reported on a blacklist published by the shadowy and anonymous site PropOrNot. The blacklist was composed of 199 sites PropOrNot alleged, with no evidence, “reliably echo Russian propaganda.” More than half of those sites were far-right, conspiracy-driven ones. But about 20 of the sites were major left-wing outlets including AlterNet, Black Agenda Report, Democracy Now!, Naked Capitalism, Truthdig, Truthout, CounterPunch and the World Socialist Web Site. The blacklist and the spurious accusations that these sites disseminated “fake news” on behalf of Russia were given prominent play in the Post in a story headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during the election, experts say.” The reporter, Craig Timberg, wrote that the goal of the Russian propaganda effort, according to “independent researchers who have tracked the operation,” was “punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.” Last December, Truthdig columnist Bill Boyarsky wrote a good piece about PropOrNot, which to this day remains essentially a secret organization.
The owner of The Washington Post, Jeff Bezos, also the founder and CEO of Amazon, has a $600 million contract with the CIA. Google, likewise, is deeply embedded within the security and surveillance state and aligned with the ruling elites. Amazon recently purged over 1,000 negative reviews of Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened.” The effect was that the book’s Amazon rating jumped from 2 1/2 stars to five stars. Do corporations such as Google and Amazon carry out such censorship on behalf of the U.S. government? Or is this censorship their independent contribution to protect the corporate state?
In the name of combating Russia-inspired “fake news,” Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN in April imposed algorithms or filters, overseen by “evaluators,” that hunt for key words such as “U.S. military,” “inequality” and “socialism,” along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker. Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, says Google has amassed some 10,000 “evaluators” to determine the “quality” and veracity of websites. Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt.
The World Socialist Web Site reported in July that its aggregate volume, or “impressions”—links displayed by Google in response to search requests—fell dramatically over a short period after the new algorithms were imposed. It also wrote that a number of sites “declared to be ‘fake news’ by the Washington Post’s discredited [PropOrNot] blacklist … had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25 percent. …”
Another article, “Google rigs searches to block access to World Socialist Web Site,” by the same website that month said:
During the month of May, Google searches including the word “war” produced 61,795 WSWS impressions. In July, WSWS impressions fell by approximately 90 percent, to 6,613.
Searches for the term “Korean war” produced 20,392 impressions in May. In July, searches using the same words produced zero WSWS impressions. Searches for “North Korea war” produced 4,626 impressions in May. In July, the result of the same search produced zero WSWS impressions. “India Pakistan war” produced 4,394 impressions in May. In July, the result, again, was zero. And “Nuclear war 2017” produced 2,319 impressions in May, and zero in July.
To cite some other searches: “WikiLeaks,” fell from 6,576 impressions to zero, “Julian Assange” fell from 3,701 impressions to zero, and “Laura Poitras” fell from 4,499 impressions to zero. A search for “Michael Hastings”—the reporter who died in 2013 under suspicious circumstances—produced 33,464 impressions in May, but only 5,227 impressions in July.
In addition to geopolitics, the WSWS regularly covers a broad range of social issues, many of which have seen precipitous drops in search results. Searches for “food stamps,” “Ford layoffs,” “Amazon warehouse,” and “secretary of education” all went down from more than 5,000 impressions in May to zero impressions in July.
The accusation that left-wing sites collude with Russia has made them theoretically subject, along with those who write for them, to the Espionage Act and the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires Americans who work on behalf of a foreign party to register as foreign agents.
The latest salvo came last week. It is the most ominous. The Department of Justice called on RT America and its “associates”—which may mean people like me—to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. No doubt, the corporate state knows that most of us will not register as foreign agents, meaning we will be banished from the airwaves. This, I expect, is the intent. The government will not stop with RT. The FBI has been handed the authority to determine who is a “legitimate” journalist and who is not. It will use this authority to decimate the left.
This is a war of ideas.
The corporate state cannot compete honestly in this contest. It will do what all despotic regimes do - govern through wholesale surveillance, lies, blacklists, false accusations of treason, heavy-handed censorship and, eventually, violence.

Military Defeat as a Financial Collapse Trigger

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Back in 2007 I wrote Reinventing Collapse, in which I compared the collapse of the USSR to the forthcoming collapse of the USA. I wrote the following:

“Let us imagine that collapsing a modern military-industrial superpower is like making soup: chop up some ingredients, apply heat and stir. The ingredients I like to put in my superpower collapse soup are: a severe and chronic shortfall in the production of crude oil (that magic addictive elixir of industrial economies), a severe and worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget and ballooning foreign debt. The heat and agitation can be provided most efficaciously by a humiliating military defeat and widespread fear of looming catastrophe.” (p. 2)

A decade later these ingredients are all in place, with a few minor quibbles. The shortfall of oil is in the case of the US not the shortfall of physical oil but of money: against the backdrop of terminal decline of conventional oil in the US, the only meaningful supply increase has come from fracking, but it has been financially ruinous. Nobody has made any money from selling fracked oil: it is too expensive.

Meanwhile, the trade deficit has been setting new records, defense spending has continued its upward creep and the levels of debt are at this point nothing short of stratospheric but continuing to rise. Fear of catastrophe is supplied by hurricanes that have just put significant parts of Texas and Florida under water, unprecedented forest fires in the West, ominous rumblings from the Yellowstone supervolcano and the understanding that an entire foamy mess of financial bubbles could pop at any time. The one ingredient we are missing is a humiliating military defeat.

Military defeats come in many shapes and sizes, and having the enemy slaughter all of your troops is just one of them. Equally palpable is the defeat of being unable to prevail against a weaker and smaller opponent. Accidentally inflicting damage on one’s own forces can also be quite humiliating. And the ultimate coup de grâce for a military empire is to be unable to join the opponent in battle at all.

We now have samples of all of these. We have fast US navy ships, equipped with all of the most modern radar and navigation equipment, inexplicably colliding with large, slow-moving cargo ships, resulting in the death of sailors. We have the example of Syria, where several years of concerted effort to dismember the country and dislodge its president have resulted in one disaster after another. And now we have the example of North Korea, which tests ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons to everyone’s great consternation while the US holds meaningless military exercises—meaningless because it has absolutely no military cards to play that wouldn’t result in the complete annihilation of the very same ally the US has sworn to protect.

The North Korean impasse is likely to drag on for some time, but the Syrian defeat is already very close to complete, so let us look at it in detail, because it provides a very interesting view into what makes the US, at this point, so much less than a military superpower. (Research credit for this goes to Yevgeny Krutikov in particular, and to others too numerous to mention here.) The Syrian defeat is not the result of a single operation, but an entire sequence of them, each resulting in what can only described as an epic fail. The entire US Syrian campaign can be described as a relentless pursuit of failure. It illustrates many of the features that make the US military machine worse than useless. Once upon a time the purpose of American military spending was to justify American military spending; now it can’t even do that. Key elements of this failure are:

• The complete inability to hold accountable those who are responsible for failure, be they politicians or military officers.
• The complete inability to learn from mistakes and adjust strategies, doing things that have been proven not to work over and over again.
• The complete inability to accept the truth of the situation, instead preferring to inhabit a fictional realm full of moderate terrorists, friendly tribal leaders, rainbows and unicorns.
• The complete inability to resist corruption of every sort, including fraudulent schemes that include outright theft of government property.

The entire US military involvement started back in the summer of 2014. At the time, there was some sort of armed compound near Raqqa, swarming with bearded jihadists that may or may not have been associated with ISIS. They held quite a lot of hostages that included Syrian soldiers as well as American and British citizens who had somehow ended up in Syria. After a lengthy analysis, the CIA decided that the compound should be attacked and occupied and the hostages released.

In early June, a few dozen special forces troops were dropped off in the vicinity of the encampment. After a three-hour battle (this already signals a failure; operations to free hostages should last minutes, not hours) the American troops killed five of the terrorists and took control of a perfectly empty building standing alone in the middle of the desert. There were no hostages, no high-ranking enemy types—nothing useful there. Later it turned out that the hostages were transported out a day before the start of the operation, giving rise to all sorts of questions within the CIA concerning possible leaks.

A few days later “Jihadi John” and his group of three British Arabs calling themselves “the Beatles” and acting under the pseudonyms John, Paul and Ringo beheaded a bunch of people on camera. Among them were the photographer James Foley, the journalist Steven Sotloff, humanitarian mission worker David Heins, British taxi driver Alan Henning (who worked for the same humanitarian mission as Heins) and, last but not least, Peter Kassig, a former member of the US military but at the time also working for some humanitarian mission with bases in Beirut and in Turkey, but regularly finding himself inside Syria—illegally and for unknown purposes.

Specifically, it was Kassig’s death that elicited a curiously strong reaction from Barak Obama, who declared that Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity.” This outburst was widely taken to mean that Kassig worked for either the CIA or US military intelligence. Notably, he was the only one who, while in captivity, converted to Islam and took an Islamic name.

Later, other strange facts began to surface. In particular, it became known that “Jihadi John” had negotiated with the US government and with the family of James Foley, demanding either a 100 or, for whatever strange reason, specifically 132 million dollars as ransom. The last communication from him was a week before the unsuccessful operation by US special forces, but the Americans refused to pay. Pentagon’s official representative Rear Admiral James Kirby blamed it all on the CIA. Most notably, those responsible for this amazing cock-up didn’t shoot themselves in the head like they should have as a question of honor but blissfully carried on with their illustrious careers.

To be sure, there were soon other, even more epic failures to behold. The US started up surveillance flights over Syrian territory, carefully mapping out the desert using first drones, then regular aviation, still not having the foggiest notion of what they were looking at. But apparently they saw pictures of things that looked like they would make nice targets, because in the fall of the same year Obama announced his intention to start bombing ISIS in Syria.

He also announced the start of a program to “train and equip” Free Syrian Army with the goal of overthrowing Bashar Assad. The CIA picked out promising groups, gave them weapons, and then watched as they joined either ISIS or Jabhat an-Nusra en masse. As this went on, US officials continued to refer to these eager new terrorists as “moderate opposition.” Eventually, the US-cultivated myth called the Free Syrian Army fell apart altogether, to everyone’s great embarrassment. But once again the embarrassment was insufficient to cause those responsible to do the honorable thing and shoot themselves in the head.

Done with fiasco number two—onward to fiasco number three. Once the fictional Free Syrian Army evaporated like the morning mist, the CIA decided to stake it all on the Kurds and Operation Timber Sycamore was born. It was declared top secret and authorized directly by Obama with most of the documents bearing Hillary Clinton’s signature. In many ways it replicated unlearned lessons from a previous American fiasco known as Iran-Contras or the Oliver North Affair.

Saudi money was used to buy up obsolete Soviet-era weapons, primarily in the Balkans, and then ship them to Turkey and Jordan, all using forged paperwork to avoid appearance of illegality. From there they were supposed to filter into Syria and end up in the hands of the Kurds, who were at the time defending the town of Kobani from ISIS. Quite unsurprisingly, none of this went according to plan. The arms black market in the Middle East started overflowing with weapons, including heavy weaponry. US intelligence officers started buying up Ferraris, refusing to accept bribes in paper money—only in gold bars. Small-time arms dealers suddenly became very rich and started battling each other over market share. Just one shoot-out at a Jordanian army base claimed the lives of two Jordanian officers, two American contractors and one South African. (What illegal arms deal can ever go down without a South African being involved?) When the scale of the fiasco became obvious, the Jordanians involved in it were fired, but nothing was confiscated. Hillary Clinton was particularly livid; she was made to look really bad when some smart person posted on an official US government web site a contract for the delivery of tonnes of weapons from Bulgaria to the ports of Tasucu (Turkey) and Aqaba (Jordan) and Wikileaks got busy digging up more details.

It turns out that altogether the Obama administration squandered half a billion dollars on just the Free Syrian Army and Timber Sycamore. Instead of blaming themselves, those involved (most of them still on the job, with nary a much-deserved bullet to the head among any of them) got busy blaming Russia for not letting them “finish the job.” Here is a very nice graphic, courtesy of Wikileaks, that details the staggering amount of funds squandered by the US on its mischief in Syria.
 

Done with fiasco number three—onward with fiasco number four. Instead of just tossing in the general direction of Syria tonnes of obsolete Soviet-era weapons bought up in Eastern Europe using laundered money and forged paperwork, the US decided to actually play an active role “on the ground.” In October of 2015 the first 15 American instructors were helicoptered into Syrian Kurdistan. From that moment on the Americans wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to cultivating Syrian Democratic Forces (the two largest Kurdish armed groups) plus, for the sake of ethnic diversity, a couple of local Arab tribes.

In May of 2015 General Joseph L. Votel, commander of US forces in the Middle East, was flown into Syria in (relative) secrecy and met with Kurdish commanders. He attempted to force through the idea of having American advisors in Kurdistan and of having them prepare the locals for action. The Kurdish commanders and the tribal leaders were unreceptive to these ideas, and demanded that the Americans supply them with heavy weapons. Luckily, Votel had no authority to do so, and so when the Kurds started besieging the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa it was the Americans who fired the mortars and the artillery, with American Marines providing security for them. The effectiveness of these actions remains questionable.

The Kurds have shown themselves to be willful and uncooperative as allies. Their main goal is to bite off as much territory as they can and to later use it in negotiation with the government in Damascus in order to establish the largest possible Syrian Kurdish autonomy. They are generally unwilling to venture outside of their established range. They weren’t particularly willing to fight even for Manjib, which is mostly ethnically Kurdish, and their interest in capturing Raqqa has been largely nonexistent.


And yet the Americans consider it reasonable to think that once ISIS is completely routed (a matter of a couple of months at this rate) these same Kurds will help them establish and maintain control over the entire eastern shore of Euphrates all the way to the Iraqi border. Not only are the Kurds quite unmotivated to do so, but the Syrians are currently busy fortifying a beachhead and erecting a pontoon bridge in Ayash north of recently recaptured Deir ez-Zor. In the past couple of days they have moved heavy weaponry across the Euphrates to its eastern shore, knocked ISIS remnants out of the surrounding villages and are getting ready to advance toward the Iraqi border. They have made no secret of their plan to reestablish control over all of Syrian territory.

Looks like fiasco number four is already very much baked into the cake. But as usual, this is not stopping the Americans from pumping in more advisors and weapons, who will advise people who will refuse to heed their advice and arm people who will just as easily fight for them as against them. They are also pumping in other resources into constructing military bases on Syrian territory, which they will not control for any length of time. There is the airfield in Rmeilan, a larger base in Kobani and yet another airfield in Tal Beidir. Syrian Kurdistan is now playing host to a few hundred Americans armed with light weapons, Hummers and Strykers who never cease complaining about the substandard living conditions and the lack of good intelligence about what’s going on around them.

Not content to wait for fiasco number four to run its course, the Americans have launched preemptively into fiasco number five: constructing a military base in the south of Syria. Amazingly, even after all that has happened, they saw it fit to try to breathe some new life into the Free Syrian Army, and also to find some use for their bases in Jordan which had been thoroughly discredited by their performance in Timber Sycamore. To this end, they cozied up to some obscure armed groups that had crossed into Syria from Jordan and with their help established a base at Al Tanf, sufficiently heavily armed to hold that territory for a long time, and possibly to serve as forward position for an invasion from the south.

What happened instead is that the Syrians and the Iranians quickly circumvented Al Tanf and took control of the Iraqi border (with full Iraqi cooperation), rendering the Al Tanf base completely irrelevant. In recognition of this fact the Americans started dismantling and evacuating the base while the obscure armed groups they had cozied up to gave up and either surrendered to the Syrians or ran off and joined ISIS. Fiasco number five is now complete.

Fiasco number four is still ongoing, but the end result is already clear. Pretty soon there will no longer be any ISIS left in Syria for the Americans to pretend to be fighting. Their position, both in the Middle East and all around the world, is increasingly weak. Other than Syria, the country that has the most to gain from this situation is Russia. Consider the following:

• Saudi Arabia has been the major financier of the Syrian conflict, but even the Saudis have grown weary of American fecklessness and are trying to work out deals with the Russians.

• When the Israelis recognized that Syria has been conclusively “lost” to them, Netanyahu immediately jumped on a plane to… Moscow, of course, to beg for a few crumbs off the master’s table.

• Turkey has decided that cooperating with NATO is no longer on strategy and has put a down payment on Russian S-400 air defense systems which, unlike NATO-approved, US-supplied weapons, are not hindered by an inflexible friend-or-foe identification system and are perfectly happy to shoot down NATO targets.

• Even Germany—America’s most obedient lapdog since the end of World War II—has just launched an investigation into arms shipments to internationally recognized terrorist groups in Syria that went through the Rammstein military base and are illegal under German law.

As ISIS is being destroyed by the Syrians, with Russian air support, the Americans, in keeping with tradition, are blaming Russia for their loss of face, if not outright strategic defeat. If that silly blame game isn’t a sure sign of extreme weakness, I don’t know what is. The end game may not be entirely clear yet, but what is already clear is this: in order for a superpower to cease being a superpower a relatively small military defeat is sufficient, provided it is sufficiently meaningful. American performance in Syria is such that the US will no longer be party to international negotiations over Syria’s future—because its position is now so weak that it can simply be disregarded. And when it comes to meaningful military defeats, a self-inflicted one is by far the most efficacious.

Syria is not the only place where US military power is turning out to be not the least bit powerful. There is also Afghanistan, where the Taliban is busy reconquering the north of the country—the part of it that was most easily “liberated” when the Americans first invaded back in 2001. And there is also North Korea, whose leadership has successfully checkmated the US, leaving it with exactly zero viable military options—a situation the Americans are constitutionally incapable of accepting. And so they trash-talk the North Koreans, who trash-talk right back at them, making the rest of the world laugh nervously.

In conclusion, let me go out on a limb and venture a guess as to where this is all heading. I think that now that all the evidence is in that America’s superpower status is just a bit of Cold War nostalgia what comes next is… punishment. What do mommy and daddy do with a spoiled brat who has maxed out his credit cards squandering money on bar tabs, fancy toys and hookers? Why, take the credit cards away, of course!

In the case of the US, this action goes by the name of dedollarization. Those who have attempted it before—figures such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafy—were swiftly killed and their countries destroyed. But now such countries as China and Russia are heading up the dedollarization drive—countries that the US cannot hope to oppose, especially when they act in concert—and the American response so far has amounted to empty threats, toothless sanctions and a great deal of angry but incoherent mumbling.

To describe the situation in the simplest terms possible: the function of the US military is to intimidate other countries into letting the US buy whatever it wants by printing US dollars as needed, essentially robbing the rest of the world at gunpoint. Once their ability to intimidate the world into submission is gone so will be their ability to endlessly fleece the planet. And once that ability is gone all that will remain of the “richest country in the world” is a pile of worthless paper. When precisely that moment arrives is anyone’s guess, but you shouldn’t need to time it exactly provided you can plan for it. I recommend that you do so—if you haven’t already.