December 05, 2016

Yanis Varoufakis: After Donald Trump’s awful victory, the left must be more ambitious, The New Statesman 13 Nov 2016





The US election result and Brexit have shown that political revolution is possible, says the former Greek finance minister.

“I had no doubt Donald Trump would win, just like I had no doubt Brexit would happen, so maybe I’m not as shell-shocked as you,” says Yanis Varoufakis. The former Greek finance minister is speaking to me several days after the Republican candidate’s historic victory. He doesn’t sound smug about being so prescient, more resigned, deflated, defeated. The left has been here before.
Over the course of an hour-long conversation, Varoufakis soothed my caffeine-jangled nerves with the thought that there is an alternative, leftist vision for the world. Whether you agree with the viability of his ideas or not, it is at least encouraging to know that someone, somewhere has a plan. His view is that the left has become too fragmented, too focused on single-issue struggles, be it LGBT rights or Black Lives Matter, and will continue to lose elections until it can band together to form a broad electoral consensus. In the meantime, all we can do is hope that Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric proves to be just that.
***

New Statesman: It's an obvious parallel to draw but why do you suggest that Brexit shone a light on a possible Trump victory?

Yanis Varoufakis: Brexit first revealed the shifting plates beneath the political and economic establishment. People who had never voted before turned out and when that happens, it causes problems for the pollsters. This is what we also see now in the US — the xenophobic right made inroads in former social democratic strongholds such as the north of England and states like Pennsylvania which had not elected a Republican to the White House since 1988.

The narrative is already becoming that Trump managed to exploit a feeling of resentment among white working class men, to fuel his victory. Is this “whitelash” comparable to the anti-immigrant sentiment that helped swing the Brexit vote?

This is a prime example of how the left tends to over rationalise its defeats. Trump did mobilise blue collar voters but that was not enough on its own. What I am astounded by is the number of Latinos who voted for him, and the people who switched their political religion from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. Anyone who voted for Obama last time can't be easily dismissed as a racist. The political scene is being shaken to its foundations in a way the world has not experienced since the Thirties.

Comparisons have been drawn between Trump and the fascist leaders of the Thirties such as Hitler. Is he a neo fascist?

Hitler was not a fascist, he was a Nazi. The best comparison with Trump, for me, is the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943. Mussolini and Trump have stylistic similarities in terms of their image and choice of rhetoric, but the connection between them runs much deeper. Mussolini was the man who introduced social security to Italy. He implemented welfare reforms that directly benefited the working class to harness their support to a divisive and ultra nationalist movement. There is nothing comforting about the thought of living under a new Mussolini, but we need to keep our historical comparisons as close to the truth as possible.

Why did Hillary Clinton's campaign end in failure?

Clinton’s loss was caused by her failure to address the collapse of the economic status quo. A global epoch has ended. The period which began with the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, [convened to regulate the post Second World War monetary order], ended with the 2008 financial crash. US hegemony expanded in this era but it was the first time that a superpower got stronger by getting more into debt. The US resembled a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up the net exports of Germany, Holland, Japan and later China. It was increasing its deficit to those economies while, in a Keynesian way, aggregating demand for the global economy. The majority of profits from these Dutch, Japanese and Chinese companies were invested back into Wall Street. In 2008, this system collapsed and with it went the myth of globalisation. Obama promised to address this but he failed miserably in part because he lost control of congress. Today, 81% of US families are worse off than they were in 2004 — the median wages of most US workers have not peaked since 1973. Trump said this couldn’t go on, while Clinton offered continuity — that's why she failed.

How much was it Obama's fault?

He should take a huge amount of responsibility for this defeat. Obama had a window of opportunity when he was first elected in 2008. He was a highly popular president, with control of the Senate, who came to power when Wall Street had collapsed and the banking community was in tatters. He had a real chance to establish a New Deal programme just as Franklin D Roosevelt did in the Thirties. Instead, he employed Larry Summers and Tim Geithner as his economic advisers — the gravediggers of the New Deal institutions. They both served in the Clinton administration which dismantled the last checks and balances on Wall Street, including rendering the Glass-Steagall Act obsolete in 1996. So, those responsible for allowing Wall Street to run riot were brought in to fix the mess. Predictably, all they did was reinstate the privilege of the financial class.

Obama was relatively inexperienced when he first came to power, how much should we judge his legacy on those first few months when he was battling a huge global crisis?

In America almost every president is inexperienced. It’s not like the British system, where for example Winston Churchill was hanging around parliament for decades before he became prime minister. How do we best judge Obama? On his intellectual capacity, which is unquestionable, and also in terms of his politics. He was never a progressive. The problem for Obama was that all the left-wingers projected onto him the image they wanted to see, which was different to who he really was. He is a social climber, who wanted to become a member of the establishment, rather than to challenge it. His efforts to ingratiate himself have led to him handing over the presidency to Trump.

Do you think a more left-wing candidate such as Bernie Sanders would have defeated Trump?

I am convinced that Bernie Sanders would have walked this election. Clinton needs to think about the way in which she and the Democratic party bigwigs conspired to deny Sanders the opportunity to compete on an equal footing. If he had been allowed to do so, he would have the won primaries and walked the presidency. If you think that Trump won because there are lots of racist white Republicans out there, you are mistaken. What clinched it for him were the independents, Democrats —many of whom could not be bothered to get out of bed and vote for Hillary — and others who are not natural Republicans.

What is your view that Bernie would won so easily based on — is his rise the product of the same anti-establishment mood that has propelled Trump to power?

No. That’s like saying the International Brigades who fought in Spain in 1936-38 against the Catholic establishment had shared values with the Nazi supporters of Hitler. The financial collapses of both 1929 and 2008 were caused by capitalism crumbling due to its own excesses. This collapse is then typically followed by a great recession, or a great deflation as we have now, and the result is that the political centre follows the economic equilibrium into crisis. When the political centre crumbles you have an almighty clash between progressives and xenophobic nationalists — to say these two sides have the same genesis is an error of historical judgement.

I was more suggesting that Sanders would be able to reach out to the same disillusioned white working class voters who came out in droves for Trump.

That's true, but it’s not because Trump and Sanders come from the same source — in elections everyone competes for the same voters. You are right in that when people are tired of the status quo they demand change. Democracy can offer them change which will in the end bite them like Brexit or Trump, or it can offer progressive change.

What does Trump’s success mean for Brexit Britain? 

A Trump presidency puts pay to the Brexiteers' belief that removing the UK from the European Union will allow it to forge new trade links with the US and China. Trump’s attitude to China on trade is likely to be antagonistic [among his policy pledges were a 45% tariff on imports from China and a repudiation of the Trans Pacific Partnership]. Trump is opposed to free trade agreements, so that extinguishes any hopes Theresa May might have had of forging a deal to compensate for the loss of the single market. Britain must end this sick joke of a special relationship, which was only window dressing after the Suez Crisis in 1956. 

Putin appears to be delighted with Trump’s victory, can these two strongman leaders really cut a deal? 

Let me be clear, I consider Putin to be a war criminal and have done since he raized the Chechen capital, Grozny to the ground between 1999 and 2000, to help him win the presidency. But, the geopolitical stance of the US towards Russia over the past 15 years has been atrocious. The idiocy with which Nato and the US have promised friendly regimes such as Georgia or Ukraine military support, has given Putin an excuse to tear up all agreements with the west. By adopting an aggressive and imperialistic attitude to Russia, Obama and Clinton have allowed Putin to justify his stranglehold over his own people. Whereas Trump, as a businessman, understands the importance of the deal. He has already said that he won't endorse wars that doesn't think he will win. That’s why he opposed the 2003 Iraq War — it wasn’t on humanitarian grounds. He doesn't want to have a constant love affair with Putin, he just wants to cut a deal with him.

How should the left respond to this latest blow?

We must stop explaining away our political failures as the result of a conspiracy among the establishment and the media. It is nothing but a litany of excuses. We don't win because we can’t appeal to a substantial segment of the electorate. The entire American establishment was against Trump, even Fox News and the Koch brothers who have always in the past funded the worst right wing candidates. What Trump, and Nigel Farage, know is that political revolution is possible. Brexit proved it, here in Greece for a short five months the Syriza government proved it before the leadership caved in. The silver lining of Trump’s awful victory is that we must become more ambitious. 

Why has the notion of the liberal, or progressive, elite become so reviled?

In the past 30 years, we have allowed progressive values to become fragmented — there’s the LGBT struggle, the feminist struggle, the civil rights struggle. The moment a feminist accepts that having more women in the boardroom means a women migrant will do more menial jobs in the home for below the minimum wage, the connection between feminism and humanism is lost. When the gay movement adopted consumerism as its mantra with slogans like “shop till you drop”, which took the place of confrontations with bigotry and the police, it too became part of the liberal elite. The solution has to be a progressive movement that is international and humanist. It’s a tall order but it’s what is needed to oppose both the liberal establishment and Trump. They pretend to be enemies but in reality they are accomplies, feeding off each the other.

How worried should the world really be about a Trump presidency?


He will have his finger on the nuclear bomb, which is not a greatly comforting thought, it certainly doesn't help me sleep well at night. The best we can realistically hope for is another Ronald Reagan. When Reagan was elected, the left was deeply troubled — he was advocating for trickle down economics and reviving the tensions of the Cold War. He was also a buffon in my mind — a third rate actor, although I don’t know if that is better or worse than a rogue property developer. In the end, although Reagan did contribute to global macroeconomic instability, he turned out to be a Keynesian president who struck a good deal with the Russians on nuclear disarmament. So, there is that possibility too.

December 03, 2016

Nov 19, 2016 by Robert Kagan: Neocon Kagan mourns Trump's antipathy to ordering the globe

Trump marks the end of America as world’s ‘indispensable nation’ - the President-elect has little interest in shouldering the burden of global order



For those who hope that Donald Trump has no views on foreign policy, forget it. Not only does he have a view about America’s role in the world, but it is one shared by many Americans. He may or may not cosy up to Vladimir Putin, have a trade war with China or even build his wall. But on the biggest question of all, from which everything else flows, the question of US responsibility for global order, he clearly has little interest in continuing to shoulder that burden. He aims to put America First, which means we are closer to the end of the 70-year-old US world order

Mr Trump, in this respect, is no anomaly. Pat Buchanan rode “America First” a long way against George HW Bush of New World Order fame in 1992; and after the Iraq and Afghan wars and the financial crisis, it became a national phenomenon. Internationalists such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio went nowhere this year; Bernie Sanders joined Mr Trump in attacking global involvement; and Hillary Clinton was hit from all sides for being too internationalist and too wedded to the idea of the US as the “indispensable nation”, the Bill Clinton phrase that encapsulated the thinking of every president from Harry Truman to George W Bush. President Barack Obama was the transitional figure away from that tradition, and Mr Trump’s election is the decisive break. The US is, for now, out of the world order business.

This does not mean a “return” to a mythical American isolationism. This powerful, commercially minded nation has never cut itself off from the rest of the world, not even in the 1930s. What it does mean is a return to national solipsism, with a much narrower definition of American interests and a reluctance to act in the world except to protect those narrow interests. To put it another way, America may once again start behaving like a normal nation.

A hypercritical Europe, with its own solipsism, has often taken for granted just how abnormally unselfish American behaviour has been since the second world war. No people ever took on such far-flung responsibilities for so little obvious pay-off. The US kept troops in Europe and Asia for 70 years, not to protect itself from immediate attack but to protect its allies. With half the world’s gross domestic product in 1945, it created an open economic order that let others prosper and compete. It helped spread democracy even though democratic allies proved more independent than the dictatorships they replaced.
All this was profoundly in US interests, but only when viewed from a most enlightened perspective. Americans came to that enlightenment only after a world war, followed by the rise of Soviet communism, which persuaded them to define their interests broadly and accept responsibility for a liberal world order that benefited others as much as, sometimes more than, it benefited them.

Enlightenment doesn’t last for ever, however, and with Mr Trump’s election Americans have chosen, as in 1920, a return to normalcy. So what does the normal solipsistic superpower do? It looks for immediate threats to the homeland and finds only one: radical Islamist terrorism. Its foreign policy becomes primarily a counterterrorism strategy. Nations are judged not by whether they are allies or nominal adversaries, democracies or autocracies, only by their willingness to fight Islamists. Mr Putin’s Russia, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Israel: all are equal partners in the fight and all are rewarded with control, spheres of influence and defence against critics within and without. Most countries, by this calculus, are irrelevant.

The rest is a matter of money. Foreign policy should serve US economic interests, and where it doesn’t should be changed. Trade deals should be about making money, not strengthening the global order or providing reassurance to allies living in the shadows of great powers. The US is no longer in the reassurance business. For decades an abnormal US foreign policy has aimed at denying Russia and China spheres of interest. That made sense when upholding an order to avoid a breakdown like that of the first half of the 20th century. But a narrower reading of US interests does not require it. What interest is it of the US who exercises hegemony in east Asia and in eastern and central Europe? Existing alliances need not be re­nounced — that would be messy — but, if allies have to adjust to new realities, that is to be welcomed rather than resisted.

As for the projection of US military power abroad, there should be no need. No foreign army threatens the homeland. Nuclear powers can be deterred by America’s nuclear arsenal. (Note to US hawks: there will be no bombing of Iran under a Trump administration.) Almost every intervention of the past 70 years was primarily to defend someone else or to uphold some principle of global order. They were “wars of choice”, not required by a narrow definition of US interests. The war against radical Islamist terror can be fought by drone strikes a few special forces and by our partners on the ground.

None of this should sound far-fetched. This narrow, interest-based approach to foreign policy was dominant in the 1920s and 1930s. It is the preferred strategy of many American academics today. More importantly, it plays well with an American public that has come to believe the US has been taken to the cleaners. Mr Trump promises they will not be taken for suckers any more.

How long can this new era last? Who knows? Americans after 1920 managed to avoid global responsibility for two decades. As the world collapsed around them, they told themselves it was not their problem. Americans will probably do the same today. And for a while they will be right. Because of their wealth, power and geography they will be the last to suffer the consequences of their own failures. Eventually they will discover, again, that there is no escape. The question is how much damage is done in the meantime and whether, unlike in the past, it will be too late to recover.


The writer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of ‘The World America Made’

December 02, 2016

Madeline Albright pushes for massive war effort to topple Syrian state



Wed Nov 30, 2016 | REUTERS By Arshad Mohammed | WASHINGTON


The United States should prepare to use greater military power and covert action in Syria to help forge a political settlement to end the country's civil war, according to a bipartisan report to be released on Wednesday.

Produced by a task force led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Democrat, and former U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, a Republican, the report amounts to a bipartisan rejection of President Barack Obama's decision to limit U.S. military engagement in the nearly six-year civil war.

Largely drafted before Republican Donald Trump's victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, the paper, which has not been presented to Trump, makes a case for deeper U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

"Isolationism is a dangerous illusion," said the report, which was obtained by Reuters on Tuesday. It calls for outside nations to help wind down conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Yemen and back home-grown reform throughout the region.
Its key recommendation for Syria may be moot when Trump takes office on Jan. 20 if government forces seize eastern Aleppo, the opposition's most important urban stronghold. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been dramatically strengthened by Russian military support over the past 14 months.
"The United States should be prepared to employ air power, stand-off weapons, covert measures and enhanced support for opposition forces to break the current siege of Aleppo and frustrate Assad's attempts to consolidate control over western Syria's population centers," the report said.
It is unclear what policy Trump will pursue on Syria. In an Oct. 26 interview, he told Reuters a more aggressive military policy advocated by Clinton could "lead to World War Three," because of the potential for conflict with Russian forces.

Trump also made clear his priority was fighting Islamic State militants rather than unseating the Syrian president, saying: "Assad is secondary, to me, to ISIS."
The Syrian army and its allies aim to seize all of eastern Aleppo before Trump takes office on Jan. 20, keeping to a Russian-backed timeline after big gains in recent days, a senior official in the military alliance supporting Assad said.
The United States has two main lines of effort in Syria: a covert CIA operation that backs opposition forces trying to oust Assad and a wider military operation that uses air strikes and special forces to target Islamic State and al Qaeda fighters.

The report argues U.S.-backed opposition forces should also be allowed to strike Assad government targets.
Asked whether a greater U.S. military effort might yield a bloodier proxy war rather than a political solution, Hadley told Reuters: "It may not work. But one of the things we know is that what's now going on isn't working."


(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Jeffrey Benkoe)

December 01, 2016

Vladmir Glostein on Russia's state of the nation address 1st december, 2016




CCTV America's Elaine Reyes spoke with Vladimir Golstein, an associate professor of Slavic Studies at Brown University.

William Blum on Cuban Revolution: some call Cuba’s security policies dictatorship, I call it self-defense


Cuba, Fidel, Socialism … Hasta la victoria siempre!
The most frequent comment I’ve read in the mainstream media concerning Fidel Castro’s death is that he was a “dictator”; almost every heading bore that word. Since the 1959 revolution, the American mainstream media has routinely referred to Cuba as a dictatorship. But just what does Cuba do or lack that makes it a dictatorship?
No “free press”? Apart from the question of how free Western media is (see the preceding essays), if that’s to be the standard, what would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control almost all the media worth owning or controlling?
Is it “free elections” that Cuba lacks? They regularly have elections at municipal, regional and national levels. They do not have direct election of the president, but neither do Germany or the United Kingdom and many other countries. The Cuban president is chosen by the parliament, The National Assembly of People’s Power. Money plays virtually no role in these elections; neither does party politics, including the Communist Party, since all candidates run as individuals. Again, what is the standard by which Cuban elections are to be judged? Is it that they don’t have private corporations to pour in a billion dollars? Most Americans, if they gave it any thought, might find it difficult to even imagine what a free and democratic election, without great concentrations of corporate money, would look like, or how it would operate. Would Ralph Nader finally be able to get on all 50 state ballots, take part in national television debates, and be able to match the two monopoly parties in media advertising? If that were the case, I think he’d probably win; which is why it’s not the case.
Or perhaps what Cuba lacks is our marvelous “electoral college” system, where the presidential candidate with the most votes is not necessarily the winner. Did we need the latest example of this travesty of democracy to convince us to finally get rid of it? If we really think this system is a good example of democracy why don’t we use it for local and state elections as well?
Is Cuba a dictatorship because it arrests dissidents? Many thousands of anti-war and other protesters have been arrested in the United States in recent years, as in every period in American history. During the Occupy Movement of five years ago more than 7,000 people were arrested, many beaten by police and mistreated while in custody. And remember: The United States is to the Cuban government like al Qaeda is to Washington, only much more powerful and much closer; virtually without exception, Cuban dissidents have been financed by and aided in other ways by the United States.
Would Washington ignore a group of Americans receiving funds from al Qaeda and engaging in repeated meetings with known members of that organization? In recent years the United States has arrested a great many people in the US and abroad solely on the basis of alleged ties to al Qaeda, with a lot less evidence to go by than Cuba has had with its dissidents’ ties to the United States. Virtually all of Cuba’s “political prisoners” are such dissidents. While others may call Cuba’s security policies dictatorship, I call it self-defense.