Monday, July 27, 2015

Trustee's Report Shows Security Has Enough Money to Expand Benefits Now

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The Social Security Board of Trustees has just released its annual report to Congress. The most important takeaways are that Social Security has a large and growing surplus, and its future cost is fully affordable.

It is sometimes reported that Social Security's current costs exceed its revenue, but if that happened, we wouldn't need a report to tell us. The whole country would know, because 59 million beneficiaries would not get their earned benefits as they now do every month. By law, Social Security can only pay benefits if it has sufficient revenue to cover every penny of costs - administrative as well as benefit costs. The claim that Social Security is running a deficit counts only Social Security's income from its premiums, often called payroll contributions or taxes, and disregards one or both of its other two dedicated sources of income: investment income and dedicated income tax revenue. When income from all of Social Security's revenue sources is counted, Social Security ran a $25 billion surplus in 2014.

Social Security is projected to run a surplus again this year. And next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. These annual surpluses simply add to its large and growing accumulated surplus.

Over the next 5 years, Social Security has sufficient funds to pay every penny of benefits and every penny of associated administrative costs. That is true for the next 10 years. And also the next 15 years. Over the next 25 years, Social Security is projecting a modest shortfall of just .51 percent of GDP. Over the next 50 years, the projection is just 0.8 of GDP. And over the next 75 years, the shortfall is projected to be just 0.96 percent of GDP. Let's put those percentages in perspective. Military spending after the 9/11 terrorist attack increased 1.1 percent, of GDP. Spending on public education nationwide went up 2.8 percent of GDP between 1950 and 1975, when the baby boom generation showed up as school children.

The fact is that, as the richest nation in the world at the richest point in our history, not only can we afford the current levels of Social Security protections, we can afford to greatly expand Social Security. At its most expensive, in 2035 when all baby boomers are all over age 70, and indeed at the end of the 21st century, we are projected to spend considerably less, as a percentage of GDP, than Germany, France, Japan, Austria and most other industrialized countries spend on their counterpart programs today.

It is time to expand Social Security. Social Security's benefits are modest and don't cover a number of eventualities, such as parental leave and sick days, which the Social Security programs of other countries cover. It is time to bolster the economic security of America's working families.

Social Security is a solution. It is a solution to a looming retirement income crisis where most workers [3] will be unable to retire without a drastic reduction in their standards of living. Social Security is the most universal, secure, and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected source of income that one will never outlive. And, expanding Social Security helps more than retirees. Because disability and survivor benefits are derived from the same benefit formula, increasing its benefits automatically improves the income of non-aged workers and their families. Adding new benefit protections, such as paid family leave and paid sick days would do even more.

Virtually all politicians have expressed concern about growing income and wealth inequality. Expanding Social Security and requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share will begin to put brakes on this dangerously and rapidly growing upward redistribution of wealth.
Although today's Congress does not seem likely to expand Social Security benefits, the Democrats could force their hand. Though one single payment is deducted from paychecks for Social Security, its revenue is divided into two separate trusts. From time to time rebalancing is required. One would think that Social Security trustees have the authority to do this simple rebalancing themselves. But that is not how the law works. Instead, rebalancing requires an act of Congress.

The Trustees Report once again projects that Congress must act before the end of 2016 to rebalance Social Security's trust funds. If that is not done, Social Security's disability benefits will be cut by around 20 percent. Rebalancing should be routine and has been so in the past.
However, today's Republican leaders have already made clear, through a rule adopted on the very first day of the new Congress [4], that they plan to hold rebalancing hostage this time around. Presumably, they are seeking a bipartisan deal, worked out behind closed doors, that cuts Social Security and enacts other unpopular changes. Instead, the Democrats should hold firm for winning policy and politics. They should propose enactment of one of the many Democratic bills which expands Social Security.
For example, The Social Security Expansion Act, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), expands benefits in important ways while ensuring that all benefits, including disability insurance benefits, can be paid through 2065. The Social Security 2100 Act, introduced by Representative John Larson (D-CT), expands benefits while ensuring that all benefits, including disability insurance benefits, can be paid through 2090. Indeed, 43 Senators and 116 House members are on record in favor of expansion, in conjunction with ensuring that the wealthiest among us at long last pay their fair share.

Expansion is excellent policy. It is extremely popular. It solves many challenges - including the upcoming, manufactured crisis occasioned by the simple need to rebalance. If Democrats are smart, they will make this an issue in 2016 and smoke out their Republican opponents. Since the Trustees Report tells us that Social Security legislation must pass before 2016, Democrats should force Republicans to choose. Republicans in Congress can join with Democrats, backed by the majority of Americans, including their own base, in expanding Social Security. Or Republicans can seek to use their majority in Congress to enact the ideologically-driven, irresponsible and unpopular effort to undermine this bedrock of working families' economic security.

Social Security is a solution to our looming retirement income crisis, the increasing economic squeeze on middle class families, and the perilous and growing income and wealth inequality. In light of these challenges and Social Security's important role in addressing them, the right question is not how can we afford to expand Social Security, but, rather, how can we afford not to expand it.

Kids Count report: 22 percent of US children live in poverty

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Twenty-two percent of all children in the United States live below the federal poverty line, significantly higher than during the height of the 2008-2009 economic crisis, according to a report issued Thursday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The latest edition of the Kids Count Data Book found that the number of children living in poverty rose by almost 3 million between 2008 and 2013, the latest year included in the data: from 13.2 million to 16.1 million. The US child poverty rate remains four percentage points higher than it was in 2008, when it stood at 18 percent.
“Especially worrying” to the authors is the fact that the percentage of children in high poverty neighborhoods has risen from 11 percent in 2006-2010 to 14 percent in 2013, the highest level since 1990. The report notes that children living in high-poverty areas are more likely to drop out of school or develop behavioral or emotional problems.
The percentage of children in high-poverty neighborhoods is significantly higher in former industrial centers such as Detroit, where 81 percent of children live in poor neighborhoods. This figure is also higher for African-American, Native American and Latino children, at 32, 30 and 24 percent respectively.
The report reflects the fact that Obama’s economic “recovery,” which has seen a massive increase in stock values and profits of major corporations, has been a catastrophe for the American working class, who have seen their living standards and those of their children decline precipitously during this period.
“Although we are several years past the end of the recession, millions of families still have not benefited from the economic recovery,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “While we’ve seen an increase in employment in recent years, many of these jobs are low-wage and cannot support even basic family expenses.”
“Only the most highly educated and highly paid workers have seen their wages grow, while inflation-adjusted wages for the lowest-income workers have slowly but gradually fallen,” the report states. This shift toward unskilled, low-paid professions since the “recovery” has led to an additional 1.7 million children living in “low-income working families” between 2008 and 2013.
It is widely acknowledged among researchers that “at a minimum, families need an income of at least twice the federal poverty level to cover basic expenses,” the report states. A total of 45 percent of all US children lived beneath this threshold in 2013.
The bleak job situation facing the US population “remains one of the primary obstacles to further reducing economic hardship among children and families,” according to the report. In addition to low wages, the number of jobs created after the 2008 financial crisis has not been sufficient to keep pace with the natural growth of the labor force. Thirty-one percent of children in 2013 had parents that lacked access to secure employment, defined as having a full time, year-round job. This is an increase from 27 percent in 2008, or 2.7 million additional children.
Income levels for US workers remain far below what they were prior to the recession. Median household income fell by 8 percent between 2007 and 2013, according to figures from the Federal Reserve.
Even industries which were once associated with a decent standard of living, especially those in manufacturing, have now been opened up as low-wage platforms. In a move spearheaded by the Obama administration’s auto restructuring, auto makers have institutionalized a “second tier” of employees who now make less, in real terms, than autoworkers a century ago. Wages have been lowered to the point where manufacturers are now “insourcing” some production back into the United States, eager to exploit the emerging and highly profitable low-wage economy.
The difficult economic conditions faced by American children are among the worst of any country in the industrialized world. A report by UNICEF last year found that the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, as measured by the percentage of children beneath the median national income. The United States has the sixth-highest child poverty rate out of the 41 countries in the study, lower only than countries such as Mexico and Greece.
The social crisis has hit major urban centers particularly hard. An earlier report also released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that child poverty had risen in 35 of the 50 largest cities in the United States since 2005. In six American cities: Detroit, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Fresno and Memphis, the child poverty rate was higher than UNICEF’s figures for Greece, with Detroit and Cleveland topping 50 percent.
Even as the incomes of US workers have plunged, the profits of major corporations and the value of the stock market have soared. Major US stock indices have tripled since 2009, despite the fact that the real economy is still mired in slump, with the US economy barely growing over the first half of the year.
The wealth of the super-rich, meanwhile, continues to grow. A recent Forbes report found that the wealth of the world’s billionaires, 536 of whom live in the United States, surged past $7 trillion earlier this year for the first time.
Even as millions of people have slid into poverty, the White House and Congress have slashed funding for social programs year after year. Total cuts to food stamps implemented over the past two years alone have added up to $13.7 billion. Meanwhile, federal extended unemployment benefits have been continually slashed, resulting in a smaller share of the unemployed receiving jobless benefits that at any point in the history of the program.

Wesley Clark’s internment proposal: The specter of military dictatorship

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The statements made by retired four-star general and former NATO commander Wesley Clark to MSNBC News last Friday in support of placing “radicalized” and “disloyal” Americans in World War II-style internment camps must be taken as an urgent warning by the working class.
Clark, America’s most prominent political general, was speaking not just for himself, but for powerful layers within the US military/intelligence apparatus and ruling oligarchy who fear the growth of social opposition and are preparing to defend their interests, no matter what the cost.
The event that prompted Clark’s televised remarks was the recent killing of four Marines and one sailor at an armed forces recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Clark’s proposal for mass internment was advanced as a response to the so-called “self radicalized,” “lone wolf” phenomenon—labels that have been applied to a handful of terrorist incidents over the course of more than a decade. The vast majority of such “lone wolf” incidents have involved hapless and, in some cases, mentally disturbed individuals who were set up by FBI and police agent provocateurs.
If Clark’s proposal were implemented, such “sting” operations and subsequent frame-up trials could be dispensed with, as the “self-radicalized” were identified by their thoughts, statements or Internet postings and summarily thrown into concentration camps.
The scale of his proposed response is so disproportionate to the actual threat—which has claimed far fewer victims than mass shootings carried out by individuals who have shown no sign of being “radicalized”—that it is impossible not to conclude that there are deeper and hidden motives and processes at work.
If one takes Clark’s statements at their face value, the term “Orwellian” does not do them justice. “We have got to identify people who are most likely to be radicalized,” he said in his television interview. “We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning.” In other words, the massive and ongoing surveillance of the American population must be intensified to identify potential radicals and jail them based on their alleged thoughts or expressions.
“In World War II, if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war,” he added.
Making the implications of his reasoning unmistakable, Clark continued: “If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle, fine. It’s their right, and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”
People are to be imprisoned in camps for the “duration” of the never-ending “war on terrorism” for being deemed “disloyal” or insufficiently supportive of the United States, a charge that could be leveled against anyone expressing opposition to US imperialist war abroad, police repression at home or even the profit interests of US corporations and banks.
There is no small irony in Clark citing supporters of Nazi Germany in World War II as a precedent for mass internment. Of course, the greatest number of those interned—some 110,000—were Japanese-Americans, imprisoned for nothing more than their national background in what is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest crimes against basic rights in US history.
More fundamentally, Clark’s proposal is entirely in line with the actions of the Nazi regime after it came to power in 1933. Justifying its measures by invoking a non-existent threat of “terrorism,” the Nazis suspended democratic rights, including habeas corpus. The regime opened the first of its concentration camps at Dachau to hold tens of thousands of political prisoners—socialists, trade unionists and others—deemed “disloyal” to the Third Reich.
Wesley Clark is no Adolf Hitler, but the measures he proposes are entirely in line with the actions taken by the Nazi regime.
Clark is far from a Rush Limbaugh-style media fulminator. Following his military career, he has become a leading figure in the Democratic Party and prominent supporter of presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. He has had a lucrative career as an investment banker and heads Wesley K. Clark & Associates, an international consulting firm geared to the needs of the big oil companies, defense contractors and investment bankers. The firm touts Clark’s “reputation” and “relationships” as its main asset.
Moreover, the retired general is not the only one invoking internment camps. In his dissent to last month’s US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, Justice Clarence Thomas, responding to the majority’s argument that its decision would advance the “dignity” of same-sex couples, argued that the government could not take away dignity. He cited the mass imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, writing, “Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them.”
The statement was greeted with astonishment from the media and outrage from survivors of the camps and other civil rights groups.
However, only last year, Thomas’ fellow right-wing justice, Antonin Scalia, referred to the high court’s 1944 decision upholding the legality of the mass internment camps during World War II—which has never been overturned—and commented that “you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.”
It would appear that the subject of internment camps is under intense and ongoing discussion within the top echelons of the state and the US ruling establishment.
Perhaps even more revealing is the corporate media’s stony silence in the face of Clark’s proposal for internment camps. Like other prominent media outlets, the New York Times published not a word on his statement, which came only days after the newspaper mocked as “paranoid” and “conspiracy theorists” residents of Texas who have expressed concern about Jade Helm 15, a seven-state exercise by the military’s elite Special Operations Command in which assassination, detention and internment of civilians are all being practiced.
The alleged ubiquitous threat of terrorist attack is the pretext for, rather than the real motive behind, the extraordinary police state measures that have already been implemented—the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the enactment of the USA Patriot Act and wholesale spying on the population of the US and the entire planet, the creation of the Pentagon’s Northern Command overseeing the US itself, and the unceasing militarization of US police departments—as well as even more sweeping fascist-style measures like those proposed by Clark.
Over the past two years, beginning with the imposition of virtual martial law in Boston following the Boston Marathon bombings, military-police lockdowns have taken place in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.
At its heart, this process is driven by the insoluble contradiction between basic democratic rights and the unprecedented levels of social inequality and continuous eruptions of US militarism that are the sharpest expressions of the historic crisis of American capitalism.
The corporate and financial aristocracy is acutely aware of the immense chasm that separates it from the broad mass of working people and lives in thoroughly justified fear that the policies it is pursuing are sowing the seeds of social revolution. Clark’s statements are one more indication that the ruling establishment is preparing accordingly. The working class must do likewise. It must recognize that no section of the political establishment will defend basic democratic rights. That depends on the independent political organization and mobilization of the working class

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

General Wesley Clark calls for putting “disloyal” Americans in internment camps

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Retired US Army General Wesley Clark called for the internment of persons deemed “disloyal” to the United States government in an interview with MSNBC last Friday.
Warning of the threat posed by “lone wolf” attacks similar to last week’s mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Clark advocated stepped-up surveillance of US communities and pre-emptive detention of persons suspected of ideological or political opposition to US government policies.
“We have got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning,” Clark said.
“On a national policy level, we need to look at what self-radicalization means, because we are at war with this group of terrorists,” the former top military commander added. “They do have an ideology. In World War II, if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.”
He continued: “If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle, fine. It’s their right, and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.
“And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this, not only in the United States, but our allied nations like Britain, Germany and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.”
Clark’s recommendations, proclaimed openly on national television, amount to a recipe for mass detention of political opponents of the American state.
His assertion of the “right and obligation” of the US government to conduct round-ups and mass internment operations against political opposition, specifically citing as his model the methods employed against ethnic Germans and Japanese during the Second World War, provides a chilling insight into the thinking of powerful sections of the US ruling establishment.
Clark’s insistence, moreover, that such measures remain in force “for the duration” of Washington’s temporally and geographically limitless “global war on terrorism” amounts to advocacy of the permanent imprisonment of individuals deemed guilty of no actual crime, but merely being “radicalized” and “disloyal.”
These are not the ravings of some television talking head or military crackpot. Coming from a figure of Clark’s pedigree, such comments necessarily reflect views widely discussed within the US state.
As supreme commander of NATO, Clark held one of the most senior and politically influential posts in the US military. While serving as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Clark oversaw the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, Operation Allied Force, beginning in March 1999.
In both the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, Clark was considered among the Democratic Party’s leading contenders. He would likely have gained a senior position in the Obama administration had he not backed Obama’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton after dropping out of the 2008 primary campaign.
His role as a high-profile supporter of Hilary Clinton’s latest presidential bid suggests, however, that Clark’s political ambitions have only been placed on hold. Under a Clinton presidency, Clark could well get the chance to implement his proposals for mass “segregation” of dissidents.
Preparations for the sort of measures advocated by General Clark are clearly well advanced.
In recent weeks, as videos shot in locations from Arizona to New York show, US military units have conducted training exercises, practicing military internment and crowd control techniques at mock internment camps, with military personnel posing as detainees.
Clark’s statements, made last Friday on the major cable news outlet MSNBC, have been met with total silence from the corporate-controlled media, failing to receive even a passing reference in the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal.
This silence in the face of an open call for internment of domestic political opponents, issued by one of the country’s leading political generals, underscores the fact that the entire political and media establishment has decisively broken with centuries-old bourgeois democratic norms. The media silence will no doubt serve to encourage forces within the US military and intelligence apparatus to intensify the drive toward dictatorship.
For decades, the military and intelligence bureaucracies have developed the administrative, infrastructural and police components of an embryonic totalitarian state. Congressional hearings in 1987 on the Iran-Contra covert operations conducted by the Reagan administration exposed the existence of a plan developed by the Pentagon, codenamed Rex 84, to detain hundreds of thousands of immigrants and political dissidents and imprison them in militarized prison camps.
One Rex 84 sub-component, Operation Cable Splicer, envisioned the replacement of existing bourgeois political institutions by a shadow dictatorship controlled by a select group of some 100 executive branch cadre.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the Bush administration staged a dry run of updated Continuity of Government (COG) plans for a “shadow government, deploying dozens of pre-selected officials to a network of secret command-and-control bunkers across America,” the Washington Post reported in March of 2002.
The George W. Bush administration made further preparations for new prison camps in 2006, signing a $400 million contract with KBR to build up the Department of Homeland Security’s “detention and processing capabilities.”
The Obama administration has expanded the authoritarian legal and policy framework developed under previous administrations. Since taking office, Obama has issued annual decrees renewing the state of emergency declared by the Bush administration after 9/11 and further entrenching emergency powers granted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In a series of annual National Defense Authorization Acts, the Obama administration has codified the anti-democratic measures implemented under Bush, asserting unlimited power to indefinitely detain or kill individuals without trial.
The preparations for mass detention are part of broader efforts to tighten the grip of the ruling elite over society, using the pretext of an unending “national emergency.” Plans for dictatorial rule have found concrete expression in the imposition of de facto martial law in Boston following the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 and last year in Ferguson, Missouri following the outbreak of protests against the police murder of Michael Brown.
In March of 2012, President Obama issued an executive order, “National Defense Resources Preparedness,” that empowered the DHS to assume dictatorial control over the US economy, including any and all actions considered “necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements.”
Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved legislation granting the US government new powers to demand regular reporting from social media platforms about individuals suspected of ties to “terrorist activity.”

The Iran nuclear pact and US imperialism’s drive for global hegemony

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After 20 months of negotiations, the Obama administration last week reached agreement with Iran, China, France, Russia, the UK and Germany on a 15-year accord to “normalize” Iran’s civil nuclear program. Should this agreement survive the opposition of sections of the US ruling elite, it will constitute a significant tactical shift on the part of US imperialism, one with potentially far-reaching implications.
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution toppled the Shah’s bloody US-backed dictatorship, implacable opposition to Iran has been a constant in US foreign policy. During the past 12 years, Washington dramatically intensified its campaign of bullying and threats. Having ordered the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively Iran’s eastern and western neighbors, George W. Bush twice came close to launching war against Iran.
In 2009, the Obama administration sought to bring about regime-change in Tehran via a “Green Revolution” fomented through unsubstantiated claims of a stolen election. Two years later, Washington cajoled its European allies to join the US in imposing the most punishing economic sanctions ever deployed outside a war.
Now, in exchange for sweeping concessions from Iran, Washington has agreed to suspend the economic sanctions and provide Tehran a 15-year path to “normalize” its civil nuclear program.
Obama has stipulated that last week’s agreement with Tehran is limited to the constraints on its civil nuclear program. Yet Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other leading US officials have also made clear that they view the agreement as exploratory, a means to test Iran’s intentions. Their policy of “engagement” with Iran is a strategic bet that through a combination of continuing pressure and inducements, including an influx of Western investment, US imperialism will be able to harness Tehran to its predatory agenda.
The Republican Party leadership, the Wall Street Journal and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are publicly opposing this shift. They are demanding that Obama extract iron-clad guarantees of Tehran’s submission and warning against sidelining the US’s traditional Mideast client states, above all Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The public bluster of the Republicans, however, is not necessarily an indication of the real intentions of the main decision-makers in the Republican Party. To some extent, the Republicans’ opposition can prove useful to Obama in prying further concessions from Tehran. That said, it is far from certain the Iran nuclear accord will be implemented, let alone endure.
The nuclear accord and the fractious ruling class debate over it are a reflection of the mounting problems that US imperialism faces as it seeks through aggression and war to offset the erosion of its relative economic power and to confront multiplying challenges to its global hegemony.
There is deep dissatisfaction within the US ruling class over the outcome of the three major wars the US has waged in the broader Middle East over the past decade-and-a-half. In Ukraine, Washington has thus far been stymied, with the sanctions imposed on Russia failing to produce the desired results. To the Obama administration’s dismay, many of its closest allies, led by Britain, defied the US and signed up as founding members of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Development Bank earlier this year.
All of this has left the Obama administration and the US ruling class groping for an effective, integrated plan of attack.
Certain things can be said concerning the trajectory of US imperialism, the strategic calculations that underlie the proposed shift in US relations with Iran, and the implications of this shift:
* Obama and the entire US ruling elite are determined to maintain US global hegemony through military force.
There is something decidedly ominous about the president’s repeated proclamations over the past week that the failure of his diplomatic turn to Iran would result in war. These comments underscore that Washington is far from renouncing violence and point to the explosive character of global relations.
* Central to American imperialism’s global strategy is dominance over Eurasia, the vast land mass that is home to almost two-thirds of the world’s population.
In pursuit of this aim, Washington has long viewed Iran as an especially significant prize. The country stands at the intersection of three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa), commands the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s exported oil flows, straddles two of the world’s most energy-rich regions (Central Asia and the Middle East), and itself possesses the world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest oil reserves.
* Washington’s trumped-up conflict with Iran over its nuclear program was never just about Iranian-US relations. Nor was it solely about control of the Middle East. It always involved the broader question of US relations with the world’s major powers.
Even as US dependence on Mideast oil has declined, Washington has stepped up its efforts to maintain control over the Middle East so as to ensure domination over a region that supplies many of its principal competitors in Europe and Asia, including China and Japan, with much of their oil.
* When Obama claims, as he has repeatedly done, that for US imperialism war is the only alternative to a nuclear deal with Iran that realizes many but not all of Washington’s objectives, he is, for once, not lying.
Had the sanctions regime started to unravel, Washington would have faced a demonstrable challenge to its pretensions to world leadership, one that it could not walk away from without suffering a major geo-political defeat. In response, it would have been obliged to extend the sanctions--in other words, retaliate against the “sanctions-busters” by freezing their overseas assets and denying Iran access to the US-European controlled world banking system. Or, in order to avoid such action, which could quickly spiral into a military confrontation with China or Russia, the US would have been compelled to render the issue moot by abandoning the sanctions in favor of all-out war.
The Pentagon has long been planning and gaming such a war. And while the American people know nothing of these plans, in various think tank reports it is openly admitted that a war with Iran—a country four times the size of Iraq and with nearly three times the population, and which has significant state and foreign militia allies—would quickly envelop the entire Middle East. It would further inflame the US-stoked Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict and, at the very least, tie down much of the US military for a protracted period. Last, but not least, such a war would incite rising popular opposition in the US, where class tensions are already fraught after decades of social reaction.
Obama is arguing that US imperialism has a cheaper, more prudent alternative. One, moreover, that, as Defence Secretary Ashton Carter boasted Sunday, “does nothing to prevent the military option” in the future.
* The agreement with Iran has been designed to give the US the maximum leverage over Iran and the maximum strategic flexibility. Should Tehran prove insufficiently pliant or should circumstances change, the US can initiate procedures to automatically “snap back” the sanctions and pivot back to confrontation with Iran.
Moreover, all of Obama’s arguments in favor of the nuclear accord—his assertion that it is better to “test” Iran’s intentions than immediately embark on a war that could prove hugely damaging to US imperialism’s strategic interests—are predicated on Washington’s supposed right to wage pre-emptive war against Iran.
* The Obama administration sees Western engagement with Iran as a means of preventing Tehran from being drawn into closer partnership with China and Russia. China is already Iran’s biggest trading partner and Russia its most important military-strategic partner.
A further US priority is to see if it can enlist Iranian support in stabilizing the Middle East under Washington’s leadership. The US and Iran are already at least tacitly allied in supporting the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish militia in opposing ISIS in Iraq.
The Obama administration has also served notice that it intends to use the nuclear agreement to pressure Iran to assist it in reaching a political agreement in Syria that would see Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime replaced by one more amenable to US interests. Reversing previous US policy, Obama announced last week that Tehran should “be part of the conversation” in resolving the Syrian conflict.
* Longer term, the supporters of Obama’s Iran gambit aim to “turn” Iran, transforming it into an advance post of US imperialism in the Middle East and all Eurasia. That means to return the country to the type of neo-colonial subjugation that existed under the Shah’s regime.
Toward this end, Washington plans to probe and exploit the deep fissures within Iran’s bourgeois-clerical regime. It is keenly aware that the reins of Iran’s government are now in the hands of a faction (led by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani and his protégé, the current president, Hassan Rouhani) that has argued since at least 1989 for a rapprochement with Washington and has longstanding close ties to European capital.
* The Iran nuclear accord only intensifies the contradictions in US foreign policy, laying the basis for future shocks.
While exploring engagement with Iran, Washington is seeking to placate its traditional regional allies by showering them with offers of new weapons systems and increased military and intelligence cooperation. These actions threaten Tehran, which—notwithstanding the relentless US media campaign aimed at depicting it as an aggressor—already faces a massive military technology gap, not just with Israel, but with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
Nor can the US afford to stand idly by as the European powers scramble to get back into Iran. On Sunday, Germany’s Vice-Chancellor and SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Iran at the head of a German business delegation. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said he will soon follow.
To secure support from the US ruling elite, Obama is stressing that he has only agreed to lift the latest round of US sanctions on Iran. Other sanctions imposed in the name of opposing terrorism remain, meaning US corporations continue to be effectively barred from doing business in Iran.
If the US is not to lose out in the race to secure Iranian assets, it must either move forward with rapprochement—over the strenuous opposition of Washington’s current Mideast allies--or revert back to confrontation and demand the Europeans and others follow suit.
* Other strategic calculations, many of a pragmatic and short-term character, also appear to be bound up with the Obama administration’s decision to consummate a deal with Iran now. One cannot make firm judgments about these calculations, as events are moving rapidly and Washington’s policies are fraught with contradictions.
However, it was striking that in the lengthy interview Obama gave to the New York Times last week, the US president praised President Vladimir Putin, saying the agreement with Tehran could not have been reached without Russia’s strong support. He added that he had been “encouraged” by a recent phone call Putin made to talk about Syria. “That,” declared Obama, “offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them.”
Is it possible that Obama is considering responding positively to Putin’s pleas for a ratcheting down of tensions over Ukraine in exchange for Moscow’s abandonment of Syria’s Assad? Could this be bound up not just with the crisis of US policy in the Middle East, but also with growing tensions between Washington and Berlin? Could this be intended as a shot-across-the-bow to Germany?
The US ruling elite has reacted with dismay to Germany’s cavalier role in the recent negotiations between the EU and Greece—not out of any concern for the Greek masses, but because of Berlin’s bald assertion of its new role as Europe’s disciplinarian.
Should the US ruling elite ultimately opt to move forward with the Iran deal, it will be from the standpoint of better positioning itself to withstand challenges to its dominance, including through military means, from its more formidable opponents, not only Russia and China, but also Germany, Japan and the other imperialist powers.

Gangs of the State: Police and the Hierarchy of Violence

Go To Original

Hierarchy of Violence: A system of oppression in which those with power, existing above those without, enact and enforce a monopoly of violence upon those lower on the hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is normal and is accepted as the order of things. When violence is attempted by those lower on the hierarchy upon those higher, it is met with swift and brutal repression.
December 15th, after the killings of Officers Liu and Ramos of the NYPD, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted "When police officers are murdered, it tears at the foundation of our society. This heinous attack was an attack on our entire city." On July 18th, the day after Eric Garner, a longtime New Yorker and father of six, waschoked to death by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, the mayor of of the Big Apple had only this to say: "On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Eric Garner."
In his condolences there was no mention of a "heinous attack" against the actual people of New York City. There was no mention of the "tearing at the foundation of our society" either. Still further, in the case for the police officers, de Blasio went as far as to use the word "murdered" long before a shred of evidence was provided. Yet in the face of video footage (that pesky thing called evidence) of Eric Garner's actual murder at the literal hands of an NYPD officer, de Blasio showed no "outrage", only platitudinous sentiment.
Such reactions are typical, but there is nothing shocking about them when we understand that our society operates on a clearly defined, yet often unarticulated, hierarchy of violence, and that the function of politicians and police is to normalize and enforce that violence. Thus, as an institution, police act as state-sanctioned gangs charged with the task of upholding the violent, racist hierarchy of white supremacist capitalism and, whenever possible, furthering a monopoly of power where all violence from/by those higher on the hierarchy upon those lower can be normalized into business as usual.
Any deviation from this business as usual, any resistance - the threat of force displayed in massive protests after Garner's death, or any displacement of state power whatsoever - by those lower on the hierarchy upon those higher is met with brutal repression. This is why cops are always present at protests. It is NOT to "Keep the peace." We have seen their "peace" - tear gas, rubber and wooden bullets, mace, riot gear, sound cannons, and thousands of brutal cops leaving dead bodies. They are not there for peace, but rather to maintain at all times the explicit reminder of America's power hierarchy through the brutalization of black and brown bodies above all others.
This is why de Blasio offered worthless platitudes to Eric Garner's family instead of outrage or solidarity. To him, as heinous as choking an unarmed black person to death is, it was business as usual.
Normalizing the Hierarchy of Violence
By framing this power dynamic as business as usual or "just how things are", it follows that the deployment of violence by police is always justified or necessary. This framing takes a myriad of forms almost always working in tandem to control how we think about the violence enacted by the state and its domestic enforcers, the police. Below are just a few of the tactics employed 24/7, 365 days a year.
Cop Worship and the Criminalization of Blackness. In this hierarchy of violence a cop's life matters infinitely more than a black person's life, and Americans, like NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, are expected to demonstrate sympathy with the lives of police officers. By contrast, Americans are encouraged to scrutinize and question the humanity of black and brown people murdered by police before questioning the lethal force used in otherwise non-lethal situations. This social reality illustrates how power is coordinated and wielded unilaterally, directed against the masses by a specialized minority within the population.
Police repression is framed in the mainstream media in such a way that when police commit violence against black and brown communities, it appears to white Americans as if they simply are protecting white communities from black criminality. This is the active dissemination of white supremacy. From it police accrue social capital and power within a conception of black bodies that perpetuates their dehumanization and murder. Completing the cycle, racist white Americans, after participating in the process of dehumanizing black people slain by police, then offer their sympathy, material support, and privilege to killer cops.
For example: George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson received over a million dollarsfor their legal defense funds. Both were either acquitted or not indicted by majority white juries. Officers Liu and Ramos of the NYPD, their families' mortgages are being paid. And thousands of other (white) officers are awarded paid time off (vacation) and non-indictments for what would otherwise be brutal crimes.
Ultimately, cops are praised because they enforce violence on behalf of the moneyed class. They protect existing power, wealth, and the right to exploit for profit, while simultaneously appearing to exist primarily for public safety. Straddling this paradoxical position, cops are worshiped because they are explicitly and implicitly attached to the rewards of privilege under capitalism.
Victim Blaming (Lynching the Dead). Seeking to justify hierarchical violence, the police collude directly with the mainstream media to exalt those who "uphold the law," while eroding the humanity of those whom have had their lives stolen by the police. Most often in the extrajudicial killings of black and brown people this has happened through a process of character assassination, or the process by which authorities and the media dredge up every possible occurrence of a "bad deed" of the victim's to discredit their innocence. It is effective considering dead people cannot defend themselves.
Erasure and Decontextualization. Time and time again police and the mainstream media will attempt to divert attention from the violence of the state by focusing on the retaliation of an oppressed group. This purposeful refocusing is a method of erasing the previous violence visited upon oppressed peoples in order to delegitimize any resistance to police domination. If those higher on the hierarchy can erase the history of those lower on the hierarchy, they effectively erase the oppression they themselves committed and make invisible the power they obtain from it.
We have seen this in the establishment's constant prioritization of defending private property over black and brown lives. As an example, after Mike Brown was slayed in the street by killer cop Darren Wilson the media headlined stories about "looting" instead of the fact that an unarmed 18-year-old child's life was snuffed out. The role of "looting" rhetoric served to remove the context of a white supremacist power structure, its history, and to allow for a game of moral equivalence to be played - one where property damage was as heinous as killing a black child.
In addition it served to usurp the fact that America's justice system has always been and continues to be racist. From its racist policing built on profiling, to its war on drugs which dis-proportionally incarcerates black (and brown) people, to itssentencing laws that increase in severity if you are black, to the fact that a black person is killed by cops or vigilantes every 28 hours. It is murderous and racist to its core, but the neither the mainstream media nor the state will ever admit it.
Narrative Restriction. To build off what Peter Gelderloos said in his piece The Nature of Police, the Role of the Left, discussions in America operate by fixing the terms of debate firmly outside any solutions to the problem. This happens by first establishing "fierce polemics between two acceptable "opposites" that are so close they are almost touching". Surrounding the national "discussion" about police terror, this has manifested as a polemic between "good cops" versus "bad cops". Second, encourage participants toward lively debate, and to third "either ignore or criminalize anyone who stakes an independent position, especially one that throws into question the fundamental tenets that are naturalized and reinforced by both sides in the official debate."
By creating a limited spectrum of discourse an ideological foundation is created for the hierarchy of violence. The end result is a set of normalized choices (reforms) which restrict or repress any competition an actual solution to the problem might bring. What is valued as acceptable within this limited spectrum then is only that which reflects the range of needs of those higher on the hierarchy of violence (reforms which gut radical resistance in order to maintain status quo power structures) and nothing more. In the current "discussion", the prevailing and unapproachable axiom is that the police represent protection and justice, and therefore they are a legitimate presence in our lives. Anyone who says otherwise is an agent of chaos.
This narrowing of the discourse never allows us to deconstruct the fact that policing in our society has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with punishment.
As Against Hired Guns put it, "Regardless of laws that claim we are all innocent until proven guilty, the results of wrongdoing and office referral, investigation and trial, always start and end in punishment. Our society takes this punishment as justice, and even though it is the nature of this system to attempt to prevent crime by deferment regardless of circumstance, many of us still cling to the idea that at its core the system means well. Many of us think to ourselves that aberrations of this are merely "bad apples" and we must expunge or punish them, but the reality is that this is not a unilateral system of justice at all. The police enforce a steady system of punishment on our streets, and punishment is specifically and intentionally directed at Black or Brown people."
The Law and the (In)Justice System. Institutions designed exclusively for punishment, primarily the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), expose the inability of a penal system to produce justice and the conditions for liberation. Here, the deliberately narrowed discourse concerned only with crime and punishment fabricates a perceived necessity for police that appears undeniable. This is an exploitative deception obscuring the socio-economic conditions that produce poverty and suffering within oppressed communities. On its own terms, the mechanisms of hierarchical violence fail to provide the resources and opportunities necessary for assimilation into a white supremacist capitalism. The ultimate limitation of capitalism is that it will always need an exploitable class of people to produce profit for an insignificantly small wealthy population.
The System Isn't Broken, It Was Built This Way
Since its formative days as an institution of slavery, policing in America has always been about the maintenance of this country's racist power structure. The major difference today has been an increased technological and military capacity for politicians, the media, and the police to march locked in step with each other in controlling the narrative we see. Politicians like Bill de Blasio still make laws informed by white supremacy. The police still enforce them through the same hierarchy of violence. The media still kowtows to the powered elite's depiction of violent oppression. And we the oppressed are still fighting for our liberation. Thus by now we ought to know that police, as the Gangs of the State tasked with the preservation of white supremacy and capitalism, can only be abolished by a movement which has correctly identified and been equipped with the tools to dismantle the hierarchy of violence.