9/11 Two Decades On… A Legacy of Horrors and Imperial Defeat
zaterdag 12 september 2020
SEPTEMBER 11, 2020
Viewing the GOP convention seemed a little like binge-watching the last several years’ parade of none-too-subtle signs of incipient fascism. We saw extreme nationalism, scapegoating immigrants and foreigners in general, white supremacy, “strong (narcissistic)-man” government, aggressive foreign policies, and hysterical red-baiting. Those signs reflect how capitalism’s deepening crisis undermines both the center-left (Democrat) and center-right (GOP) and shifts politics further right and further left. Trump represents the anti-center right, Bernie Sanders the anti-center left. Most capitalists want neither; the center worked very well for them over the last 75 years. As that political center implodes, U.S. capitalists favor the right over the left. They see the difference between fascism and socialism very clearly. They are not fooled by the crumbling old center’s self-serving efforts to equate socialism and fascism.
Fascism can indeed “happen here,” but in unique fashion. Fascism, like all other systems, has varying forms. As 20th-century fascisms took shape in Italy, Germany, Japan, and Spain—to take some major examples—the same basic system interacted differently with each country’s particular history and conditions. The fascism where U.S. capitalism is now headed will display unique features as well.
The fascism taking shape here is not primarily the crude political theater that today’s wannabe fascists offer. The Trump regime’s courting of white supremacists and other extreme nationalists, its virulent scapegoating of immigrants, Latinx, and African Americans, and its encouragement of police repression are too often counterproductive. Those symbols are similar enough to many of 20th-century fascism’s horrors that they are too easily recognized as dangerous. Today, the United States moves more quietly and more effectively toward fascism via its fast-evolving credit system. It’s time to expose borrowing as a path to fascism.
Today’s crisis-ridden capitalist economy is more dependent on credit than at any time in the system’s history. More than ever, credit sustains the purchasing power of consumers and of government programs. Capitalists depend on that purchasing power. Corporations now routinely carry more direct debt than at any time in the nation’s history. Zombie corporations—those whose profits no longer suffice to service their direct debts—now figure sizably in U.S. capitalism.
Once it was mostly private entities—rich families, banks, insurance companies, and pension funds—that were the chief lenders to corporations. They bought and held the corporate bonds and IOUs. Now those private lenders increasingly sell their corporate bonds to the Federal Reserve. That happens when the corporate loans get packaged into asset-backed securities sold to the Federal Reserve. More recently, the Fed has undertaken the market purchase of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) composed of corporate bonds and of corporate bonds direct from their private issuers. It has also made “credit facilities” directly available to corporations, tax-exempt entities, and municipalities. As the lender of last (and fast-growing) resort, the state becomes ever more the social basis of credit. The Federal Reserve is thus gathering the means to directly control the allocation of credit in a credit-dependent capitalism deeply threatened by its inherent cyclical instability, a major viral pandemic, accumulated domestic social problems, and growing international competition and isolation.
Key deals and intimate relationships between major non-financial corporations and their banks once drew the special attention of careerist politicians, students of capitalism, and also capitalism’s critics. “Finance capitalism” became an important new concept. As credit proliferated into all aspects of capitalism and grew ever more central to its functioning, another new term emerged, “financialization.” Once mostly private, that is no longer the case.
Perhaps we should call this latest phase: “state financialization.” The state’s central bank has become ever more important in controlling the conditions and pathways of credit in capitalism. That has been increasingly evident as capitalism lurched from the 2000 dot-com crisis to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis and since. Credit provision by the Federal Reserve is now crucial to U.S. capitalism’s passage through the COVID-19 megacrisis and beyond. It is crucial to capitalism’s very survival.
The Federal Reserve now dispenses credit in historically unprecedented dimensions. As they keep their system going, capitalists, the Federal Reserve, and the rest of the government are feeling their way to a U.S.-style fascism. Step by step, they recognize their mutual dependency and sense the possibilities of credit as the cement—and perhaps the only cement—to hold an alliance among them together. Yes, they worry about their newly created mountain of money and how it might veer away from inflating the stock market to inflating and disrupting other markets. But that concern has been eclipsed by the urgency of saving a badly stumbling capitalism today. Capitalists who once bemoaned soaring government deficits and exploding national debts are mostly silent. They know that capitalism’s survival requires massive government, corporate, and household debts and their monetization by the Federal Reserve. The system is teaching its elites about the need for transition now from capitalism to fascism. Only for many of those involved, that transition is not yet quite conscious or visible.
Fascism is what happens in capitalism when employers feel that (1) their system’s accumulated problems exceed its capacity to solve them and (2) strong (often dictatorial) state intervention is needed for the capitalist system to survive. Fascism can also be capitalism’s response when the victims of capitalism’s inequalities (economic, political, and cultural) and instabilities (business cycles) will no longer tolerate them. If and when capitalism’s critics—especially socialists—build a sufficient mass consciousness and mobilize mass organizations that threaten capitalism with major reforms or with revolution, capitalists can seek an alliance with a strong political counterforce to construct a fascism. Such a strong counterforce can be a politician or a political party that captures the imaginations of masses of capitalism’s victims but blames not capitalism but rather immigrants or ethnic or religious minorities. If such politicians or parties attack and oppose socialism and offer capitalists a mass base they need but lack, capitalists will support them. Fascism—a merger of private capitalists and a state that reinforces their system—will have arrived once a fascist party acquires state power. Where socialists advocate system change, fascists advocate nationalism understood as a merger of private capitalism and the state apparatus to exalt some national ideal.
In contrast, socialism is what happens to capitalism when employees feel that capitalism’s accumulated problems exceed the employers’ willingness or the system’s capacity to solve them. Socialists are those victims and critics of capitalism who see it as the problem and system change as the only real solution. By system change, socialists have typically meant combinations of socialized (not private) ownership of means of production, centrally planned (nonmarket) distributions of resources and products, and democratic worker-coop-type (non-hierarchical) organizations of enterprises. Socialists have long been interested in acquiring state power as a means to accomplish system change. Exactly how much and how far system change should extend has been fiercely contested among differing kinds of socialists, and those issues are still hotly debated. Socialists from Marx on to the present have likewise often associated with anarchists around a goal many shared: what Lenin called “the withering away of the state.” Socialists have usually advocated internationalism—“workers of the world unite against capitalism”—as against fascist’s nationalism. These are some key differences separating fascism from socialism.
Fascism merges private capitalism and the state. Political power then enforces capitalism’s basic rules: the economic dominance of the major shareholders and their top directors and managers. In fascism, that dominance extends from economic to also political and cultural realms of social life. It goes well beyond the norm in non-fascist societies based on capitalist economies. For example, labor unions are suppressed or converted into state agencies. All independent labor activity is proscribed. For another example, public education is restructured to serve and feed directly into employment. Monetary policies, exchange rates, and trade balances are managed to achieve nationalist objectives. Cultural institutions are reconfigured and reorganized to celebrate fascism. In the early histories of some fascist parties, socialist criticisms of capitalism were borrowed and repeated to attract working-class adherents. Once those parties made their deals and alliances with capitalists, those early socialist criticisms were silenced and their authors expelled or worse.
In fascism, major shareholders and the boards of directors they elect make all the key private enterprise decisions (what to produce, how, and with which technology and how to use net revenues or profits) as in private capitalism. However, top state officials wield major influences on directors’ decisions or may join them to take seats on the boards. The fascist state typically silences capitalism’s opponents usually on the grounds that their activities constitute treasonous disloyalty. It likewise destroys the political parties of socialists, communists, and other critics of capitalism. For their part, the employers in fascism celebrate and fund the fascist party and the state it runs.
U.S. capitalism’s passage from a private to a state system of credit creation is now viewed as necessary by both of its constituent partners. Private capitalists, on the one hand, and the top political circles in both major parties, on the other, are thus merging into a particular kind of fascism. State financialization facilitates that merger. That some of the partners disagree with Trump and his traditional manipulations of fascist symbols does not change the transition to fascism under way and accepted by the consenting partners.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2020
An Obama-Biden-Clinton Criminal Conspiracy
The scorching desert sun streams through narrow slats in the tiny window. A mouse scurries across the cracked concrete floor, the scuttling of its tiny feet drowned out by the sound of distant voices speaking in Arabic. Their chatter is in a western Libyan dialect distinctive from the eastern dialect favored in Benghazi. Somewhere off in the distance, beyond the shimmering desert horizon, is Tripoli, the jewel of Africa now reduced to perpetual war.
But here, in this cell in a dank old warehouse in Bani Walid, there are no smugglers, no rapists, no thieves or murderers. There are simply Africans captured by traffickers as they made their way from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, or other disparate parts of the continent seeking a life free of war and poverty, the rotten fruit of Anglo-American and European colonialism. The cattle brands on their faces tell a story more tragic than anything produced by Hollywood.
These are slaves: human beings bought and sold for their labor. Some are bound for construction sites while others for the fields. All face the certainty of forced servitude, a waking nightmare that has become their daily reality.
This is Libya, the real Libya. The Libya that has been constructed from the ashes of the US-NATO war that deposed Muammar Gaddafi and the government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The Libya now fractured into warring factions, each backed by a variety of international actors whose interest in the country is anything but humanitarian.
But this Libya was built not by Donald Trump and his gang of degenerate fascist ghouls. No, it was the great humanitarian Barack Obama, along with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and their harmonious peace circle of liberal interventionists who wrought this devastation. With bright-eyed speeches about freedom and self-determination, the First Black President, along with his NATO comrades in France and Britain, unleashed the dogs of war on an African nation seen by much of the world as a paragon of economic and social development.
But this is no mere journalistic exercise to document just one of the innumerable crimes carried out in the name of the American people. No, this is us, the antiwar left in the United States, peering through the cracks in the imperial artifice – crumbling as it is from internal rot and political decay – to shine a light through the gloom named Trump and directly into the heart of darkness.
There are truths that must be made plain lest they be buried like so many bodies in the desert sand.
The War on Libya: A Criminal Conspiracy
To understand the depth of criminality involved in the US-NATO war on Libya, we must unravel a complex story involving actors from both the US and Europe who quite literally conspired to bring about this war, while simultaneously exposing the unconstitutional, imperial presidency as embodied by Mr. Hope and Change himself.
In doing so, a picture emerges that is strikingly at odds with the dominant narrative about good intentions and bad dictators. For although Gaddafi was presented as the villain par excellence in this story told by the Empire’s scribes in corporate media, it is in fact Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, French philosopher-cum-neocolonial adventurist Bernard Henri-Levy, and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who are the real malevolent forces. It was they, not Gaddafi, who waged a blatantly illegal war on false pretenses and for their own aggrandizement. It was they, not Gaddafi, who conspired to plunge Libya into chaos and civil war from which it is yet to emerge. It was they who beat the war drums while proclaiming peace on earth and good will to men.
The US-NATO war on Libya represents perhaps one of the most egregious examples of US military aggression and lawlessness in recent memory. Of course, the US didn’t act alone as a wide cast of characters played a role as the French and British were keen to involve themselves in the reassertion of control over a once lucrative African asset torn from European control by the evil Gaddafi. And this, only a few years after former UK Prime Minister and Iraq war criminal Tony Blair met with Gaddafi to usher in a new era of openness and partnership.
The story begins with Bernard Henri-Lévy, the French philosopher, journalist, and amateur foreign service officer who fancied himself an international spy. Having failed to arrive in Egypt in time to buttress his ego by capitalizing on the uprising against former dictator Hosni Mubarak, he quickly shifted his attention to Libya, where an uprising in the anti-Gaddafi hotbed of Benghazi was underway. As Le Figaro chronicled, Henri-Levy managed to talk his way into a meeting with then head of the National Transition Council (TNC) Mustapha Abdeljalil, a former Gaddafi official who became head of the anti-Gaddafi TNC. But Henri-Levy wasn’t there just for an interview to be published in his French paper, he was there to help overthrow Gaddafi and, in so doing, make himself into an international star.
Henri-Levy quickly pressed his contacts and got on the phone with French President Nicholas Sarkozy to ask him, rather bluntly, if he’d agree to meet with Abdeljalil and the leadership of the TNC. Just a few days later, Henri-Levy and his colleagues arrived at the Élysée Palace with TNC leadership at their side. To the utter shock of the Libyans present, Sarkozy tells them that he plans to recognize the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya. Henri-Levy and Sarkozy have now, at least in theory, deposed the Gaddafi government.
But the little problem of Gaddafi’s military victories and the very real possibility that he might emerge victorious from the conflict complicated matters as the French public had become aware of the scheme and was rightly lambasting Sarkozy. Henri-Levy, ever the opportunist, stoked the patriotic fervor by announcing that without French intervention, the tricolor flag flying over five-star hotels in Benghazi would be stained with blood. The PR campaign worked as Sarkozy quickly came around to the idea of military intervention.
However, Henri-Levy had a still more critical role to play: bringing the US military juggernaut into the plot. Henri-Levy organized the first of what would be several high-level talks between US officials from the Obama Administration and the Libyans of the TNC. Most importantly, Henri-Levy set up the meeting between Abdeljalil and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While Clinton was skeptical at the time of the meeting, it would be a matter of months before she and Joe Biden, along with the likes of Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and others would be planning the political, diplomatic, and military route to regime change in Libya.
The Americans Enter the Fray
There would have been no war in Libya were it not for the US political, diplomatic, and military machine. In this sense, despite the relatively meager US military involvement, the war in Libya was an American war. That is to say, it was a war that could not have happened were it not for the active collaboration of the Obama Administration with its French and British counterparts.
As Jo Becker of the NY Times explained in 2016, Hillary Clinton met with Mahmoud Jibril, a prominent Libyan politician who would go on to become the new Prime Minister of post-Gaddafi Libya, and his associates, in order to assess the faction now garnering US support. Clinton’s job, according to Becker, was “to take measure of the rebels we supported” – a fancy way of saying that Clinton attended the meeting to determine whether this group of politicians speaking on behalf of a diverse group of anti-Gaddafi voices (ranging from pro-democracy activists to outright terrorists affiliated with global terror networks) should be supported with US money and covert arms.
The answer, ultimately, was a resounding yes.
But of course, as with all America’s warmongering misadventures, there was no consensus on military intervention. As Becker reported, some in the Obama Administration were skeptical of the easy victory and post-conflict political calculus. One prominent voice of dissent, at least according to Becker, was former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Himself no dove, Gates was concerned that Clinton and Biden’s hawkish attitude toward Libya would ultimately lead to an Iraq-style political nightmare that would undoubtedly end with the US having created and then abandoned a failed state – exactly what happened.
It is important to note that Clinton and Biden were two of the principal voices for aggression and war. Both were supportive of the No-Fly Zone from early on, and both advocated for military intervention. Indeed, the two have been simpatico in nearly every war crime committed by the US in the last 30 years, including perhaps most egregiously in support of Bush’s crime against humanity that we call the second Iraq War.
As former Clinton lackey (Deputy Director of Secretary of State Clinton’s Policy Planning staff) Derek Chollet explained, “[Libya] seemed like an easy case.” Chollet, a principal participant in the American conspiracy to make war on Libya who later went on to serve directly under Obama and at the National Security Council, inadvertently illustrates in stark relief the imperial arrogance of the Obama-Clinton-Biden liberal interventionist camp. In calling Libya an “easy case” he of course means that Libya was a perfect candidate for a regime change operation whose primary benefit would be to boost politically those who supported it.
Chollet, like many strategic planners at the time, saw Libya as a slam dunk opportunity to turn the demonstrations and uprisings of 2010-2011, which quickly became known as the Arab Spring, into political capital from the Democratic camp of the US ruling class. This rapidly became Clinton’s position. And soon, the consensus of the entire Obama Administration.
Obama’s War Off the Books
One of the more pernicious myths of the US war on Libya was the notion – propagated dutifully by the defense lobbyists-cum-journalists at major corporate media outlets – that the war was a cheap little war that cost the US almost nothing. There were no American lives lost in the war itself (Benghazi is another mythology to be unraveled later), and very little cost in terms of “treasure”, to use that despicable imperialist phrase.
But while the total cost of the war paled in comparison to the monumental-scale crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the means by which it was funded has cost the US far more than dollars; the war on Libya was a criminal and unconstitutional endeavor that has further laid the groundwork for the imperial presidency and unconstrained executive power. As the Washington Post reported at the time:
Noting that Obama had said the mission could be paid for with money already appropriated to the Pentagon, [former House Speaker] Boehner pressed the president on whether supplemental funding would be requested from Congress.
Unforeseen military operations that require expenditures such as those being made for the Libyan effort normally require supplemental appropriations since they are outside the core Pentagon budget. That is why funds for Afghanistan and Iraq are separate from the regular Defense Department budget. The added costs for some of the operations in Libya are minimal…But the expenditures for weapons, fuel and lost equipment are something else.
Because the Obama Administration did not seek congressional appropriations to fund the war, there is very little in the way of paper trail to do a proper accounting of the costs of the war. As the cost of each bomb, fighter jet, and logistical support vehicle disappeared into the abyss of Pentagon accounting oblivion, so too did any semblance of constitutional legality. In essence, Obama helped establish a lawless presidency that not only has little respect for constitutionally mandated checks and balances, but completely ignores the rule of law. Indeed, some of the crimes that Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr are guilty of have their direct corollary in the Obama Administration’s prosecution of the Libya war.
So where did the money come from and where did it go? It’s anybody’s guess really, unless you’re one of those rubes who likes taking the Pentagon’s word for it. As a Pentagon spokesperson toldCNN in 2011, “The price tag for U.S. Defense Department operations in Libya as of September 30 [was] $1.1 billion. This included daily military operations, munitions, the drawdown of supplies and humanitarian assistance.” However, to illustrate the downright Orwellian impossibility of discerning the truth, Vice President Joe Biden doubled that number when speaking on CNN, suggesting that “NATO alliance worked like it was designed to do, burden-sharing. In total, it cost us $2 billion, no American lives lost.”
As is painfully evident, there is no clear way to know how much was spent other than to take the word of those who prosecuted the war. With no congressional oversight, and no clear documentary record, the war on Libya disappears down the memory hole, and with it the idea that there is a separation of powers, Congressional authority to make war, or a functioning Constitution.
America’s Dirty War in Libya
While the enduring memory of Libya for most Americans is the political theater that resulted from the attack on the US facility in Benghazi that killed several Americans, including US Ambassador Stevens, it is not nearly the most consequential. Rather, America’s use of terrorist groups (and the insurgents who emerged from them) as military proxies may perhaps be the real legacy from a strategic perspective. For while the corporate media presented the narrative of spontaneous protests and uprisings to overthrow Gaddafi, it was in fact a loose network of terror groups that did the dirty work.
While much of this recent history has been buried by bad reporting, establishment mythmaking, and conspiracist muddying of the truth, it was surprisingly well reported at the time. For example, as the New York Times wrote of one of the primary US-backed forces on the ground during the war in 2011:
“The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was formed in 1995 with the goal of ousting Colonel Qaddafi. Driven into the mountains or exile by Libyan security forces, the group’s members were among the first to join the fight against Qaddafi security forces… Officially the fighting group does not exist any longer, but the former members are fighting largely under the leadership of Abu Abdullah Sadik [aka Abdelhakim Belhadj].”
Even at the time, there was considerable unease among Washington’s strategic planners that the Obama Adminstration’s embrace of a terror group with known links to al-Qaeda could prove to be a major blunder. “American, European and Arab intelligence services acknowledge that they are worried about the influence that the former group’s members might exert over Libya after Colonel Qaddafi is gone, and they are trying to assess their influence and any lingering links to Al Qaeda,” the Times noted.
Of course, those in the know at the various US intelligence agencies already had a pretty good sense of who they were backing, or at least the elements likely to be involved in any US operation. Specifically, the US knew that the areas from which it was drawing anti-Gaddafi opposition forces was a hotbed of criminal and terrorist activity.
In a 2007 study entitled “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records” which examined the origins of various criminal and terrorist groups active in Iraq, the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point concluded that:
“Almost 19 percent of the fighters in the Sinjar Records came from Libya alone. Furthermore, Libya contributed far more fighters per capita than any other nationality in the Sinjar Records, including Saudi Arabia… The apparent surge in Libyan recruits traveling to Iraq may be linked with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s (LIFG) increasingly cooperative relationship with al-Qa’ida which culminated in the LIFG officially joining al-Qa’ida on November 3, 2007…The most common cities that the fighters called home were Darnah [Derna], Libya and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with 52 and 51 fighters respectively. Darnah [Derna] with a population just over 80,000 compared to Riyadh’s 4.3 million, has far and away the largest per capita number of fighters in the Sinjar records.”
It was known at the time that the majority of the anti-Gaddafi forces hailed from the region including Derna, Benghazi, and Tobruk – the “Eastern Libya” so often referred to as anti-Gaddafi – and that the likelihood that al-Qaeda and other terror groups were among the ranks of the US recruits was very high. Nevertheless, they persisted.
Take the case of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, charged by the US with guarding the CIA facility in Benghazi at which Ambassador Stevens was murdered. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2012:
“Over the last year, while assigned by their militia to help protect the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the pair had been drilled by American security personnel in using their weapons, securing entrances, climbing walls and waging hand-to-hand combat…The militiamen flatly deny supporting the assailants but acknowledge that their large, government-allied force, known as the Feb. 17 Martyrs Brigade, could include anti-American elements…The Feb. 17 brigade is regarded as one of the more capable militias in eastern Libya.”
But it wasn’t just LIFG and al-Qaeda affiliated criminal groups entering the fray thanks to Washington rolling out the blood-stained red carpet.
A longtime asset of the US, General Khalifa Hifter and his so-called Libyan National Army have been on the ground in Libya since 2011, and have emerged as one of the primary forces vying for power in post-war Libya. Hifter has a long and sordid history working for the CIA in its attempts to overthrow Gaddafi in the 1980s before being resettled conveniently near Langley, Virginia. As the New York Times reported in 1991:
The secret paramilitary operation, set in motion in the final months of the Reagan Administration, provided military aid and training to about 600 Libyan soldiers who were among those captured during border fighting between Libya and Chad in 1988…They were trained by American intelligence officials in sabotage and other guerrilla skills, officials said, at a base near Ndjamena, the Chadian capital. The plan to use the exiles fit neatly into the Reagan Administration’s eagerness to topple Colonel Qaddafi.
Hifter, leader of these failed efforts, became known as the CIA’s “Libya point man,” having taken part in numerous regime change efforts, including the aborted attempt to overthrow Gaddafi in 1996. So, his arrival in 2011 at the height of the uprising signaled an escalation of the conflict from an armed uprising to an international operation. Whether Hifter was directly working with US intelligence or simply complimenting US efforts by continuing his decades-long personal war against Gaddafi is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is that Hifter and the Libyan National Army, like LIFG and other groups, became part of the broader destabilization effort which successfully toppled Gaddafi and created the chaotic hellscape that is modern Libya.
Such is the legacy of the US dirty war on Libya.
The Past is Prologue
It is September 2020. Americans are focused on an election between an Orange Fascist criminal and an old-school right-wing Democrat war criminal. Where Donald Trump projects chaos and disorder, Biden projects stability, order, and a return to normalcy. If Trump is the virus, then surely Biden is the cure.
It is September 2020. Libya prepares to enter its eighth year of civil war. Slave markets like the one in Bani Walid are as common as youth literacy centers were in Gaddafi’s Libya. Armed gangs and militias wield power even in areas nominally under government control. A warlord regroups in the East as he looks to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates for support.
It is September 2020 and the US-NATO war on Libya has faded to a distant memory as other issues like Black Lives Matter and police murder of Black youth have captured the public imagination and discourse.
But these issues are, in fact, united by the bond of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. The Libya once known as the “Jewel of Africa,” a country that provided refuge for many sub-Saharan African migrant workers while maintaining independence from the US and the former colonial powers of Europe, is no more. In its place is a failed state that now reflects the kind of vicious anti-Black racism forcefully suppressed by the Gaddafi government.
Libya as the global exemplar of the exploitation and disposability of the black body.
Squint a little and you can see President Joe Biden getting the old band back together. Hillary Clinton welcomed into the Oval Office as an influential voice, someone to give words to the demented thoughts of the living corpse serving as Commander-in-Chief. Derek Chollet and Ben Rhodes laughing together as they buy another round at their favorite DC hangout, toasting to the re-establishment of order in Washington. Barack Obama as the éminence grise behind the political resurgence of the liberal-conservative dominant structure.
But in Libya, there is no going back, no fixing the past to escape the present.
Perhaps the same might be true of the United States.
Eric Draitser is an independent political analyst and host of CounterPunch Radio. You can find his exclusive content including articles, podcasts, audio commentaries, poetry and more at patreon.com/ericdraitser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As 26 million Americans lose their jobs, the billionaire class has added $308 billion to its wealth.
Never let a good crisis go to waste: as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, America’s 1% have taken profitable advantage of the old saying.
Some of the richest people in the US have been at the front of the queue as the government has handed out trillions of dollars to prop up an economy it shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the billionaire class has added $308 billion to its wealth in four weeks — even as a record 26 million people lost their jobs.
According to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive thinktank, between 18 March and 22 April the wealth of America’s plutocrats grew 10.5%. After the last recession (2008 svh), it took over two years for total billionaire wealth to get back to the levels they enjoyed in 2007.
Eight of those billionaires have seen their net worth surge by over $1bn each, including the Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos, and his ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos; Eric Yuan, founder of Zoom; the former Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer; and Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX technocrat.
The billionaire bonanza comes as a flotilla of big businesses, millionaires and billionaires sail through loopholes in a $349bn bailout meant to save hard-hit small businesses. About 150 public companies managed to bag more than $600 million in forgivable loans before the funds ran out. Among them was Shake Shack, a company with 6,000 employees valued at $2 billion. It has since given the cash back but others have not.
Fisher Island, a members-only location off the coast of Miami where the average income of residents is $2.2m and the beaches are made from imported Bahamian sand, has received $2m in aid.
Its residents seemed to be doing fine even before the bailout. This month, the island purchased thousands of rapid Covid-19 blood test kits for all residents and workers. The rest of Florida is struggling. About 1% of Florida’s population has been tested for the coronavirus, behind the national figure of 4%. The state is also in the midst of an unemployment claims crisis, with its underfunded benefits system unable to cope with the volume of people filing.
The banks that were the largest recipients of bailout cash in the last recession have also done well, raking in $10 billion in fees from the government loans, according to an analysis by National Public Radio.
‘Heads we win, tails you lose,’ said Chuck Collins, director of the program on inequality and the common good at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the new report.
Collins said the pandemic had further exposed fault lines in the US body politic that have been widening the gap between the really rich and the rest over decades.
‘The rules of the economy have been tipped in favor of asset owners against everyone else,’ said Collins.
By 2016 — seven years after the end of the last recession — the bottom 90% of households in the US had still not recovered from the last downturn while the top 10% had more wealth than they had in 2007.
Throughout the recovery, stock market gains disproportionately favored the wealthy. The top 1% of households own nearly 38% of all stock, according to research by the New York University economist Edward Wolff. Even before the coronavirus hit, homeownership in the US — a traditional source of wealth growth — was well below its 2004 peak.
Nor did Americans earn more. Wage growth remained sluggish during the decade-long record-breaking growth in the jobs market that came after the last recession.
For black and Latin Americans, the situation is worse. The black-white wage gaps are larger today than they were in 1979.
Meanwhile, billionaires have been unable to put a well-heeled foot wrong. Billionaire wealth soared 1,130% in 2020 dollars between 1990 and 2020, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. That increase is more than 200 times greater than the 5.37% growth of median (gemiddelde. svh) wealth in the US over this same period. And the tax obligations of America’s billionaires, measured as a percentage of their wealth, decreased 79% between 1980 and 2018.
So when the pandemic struck, those at the apex (top. svh) of the wealth pyramid were better positioned than ever to take advantage of the chaos. The rest, not so much.
Collins has been studying income inequality for 25 years and has seen the really rich win victory after victory. But even he was surprised by how quickly America’s billionaires have turned pandemic into profit. ‘I still get shocked,’ he said.
Dat deze ontwikkeling het resultaat is van het neoliberalisme interesseert ‘journalisten’ als Chris Kijne niet. Tijdens de kredietcrisis van 2008 schreef hij in het personeelsblad van omroepmedewerkers:
Voor ons journalisten was het natuurlijk niet nieuw dat Wouter Bos ons niet altijd de waarheid vertelde. Wel is het nieuw dat ik op dit moment even niet meer weet of ik wel even hard als vroeger mijn best moet doen om hem die waarheid te laten vertellen. Of er inderdaad niet even een hoger belang is dan ‘de waarheid, niets dan de waarheid.’
Dat ‘hoger belang’ was de bescherming van het neoliberale ‘belang’ van de elite, dat sinds eind jaren zeventig door de radicale politiek van deregulering en privatisering, de automatisering én het exporteren van arbeid naar loge-lonen-landen de politiek van het collectieve belang had verdrongen. Het individuele belang heeft het belang van de samenleving verdrongen, waardoor een mentaliteit is ontstaan van ieder voor zich en niets voor ons allen, met andere woorden: de ‘selfie’ maatschappij. In 2017 verscheen over dit onderwerp het boek Selfie. How the West became self-obsessed van de Britse auteur en journalist Will Storr. De egocentrische houding van de postmoderne westerling — die de wereld verdeelt in ‘winners and losers’ — heeft ondermeer ertoe geleid dat, aldus Storr:
Prescription numbers have rocketed since the early 2000s. Today, over a twelve-month period, between 8 and 10 per cent of the entire adult population of the US and UK uses antidepressants. There exists the strong possibility that our suicide statistics might look considerably worse if the millions suffering from serious psychological maladies hadn’t been offered this help.
And those statistics are pretty dire already. Today more people die by suicide than in all the wars, terrorist attacks, murders and government executions combined. According to the World Health Organisation, in 2012, 11.4 people out of every 100,000 died by self-harm versus 8.8 people as a result of interpersonal violence, collective violence and legal intervention. Its projections indicate things are going to get worse. By 2030, it estimates that that difference will have increased to 12 versus 7. In the UK, in 2000, 3.8 per cent of adults reported suicidal thoughts — a figure that had jumped to 5.4 per cent by 2014. In the US, suicide rates recently hit a thirty-year high. Between 2008 and 2015, the number of American adolescents and children receiving hospital treatment after considering suicide or self harm doubled.
And as alarming as these figures are they do, in fact, heavily disguise the problem’s true weight. The data varies, but one respectable set has it there are twenty times more attempted than completed suicides every year. That’s a massive amount of people whose supposedly self-interested selves are, for some reason, turning against them. This is deeply strange. What is it that holds such incredible power it can make the human psychological mechanism go dark? That’s so energetically harmful it can cause it to want to destroy itself? Could it be, I began to wonder, something to do with that pattern I’d detected, in myself and others? Something about high expectations and then disappointment and then a terrible, gathering loathing of the self?
Storr wijst erop dat ‘As it is, men make up around 80 percent of all suicides in the English-speaking nations,’ en dat als men vatbaar is ‘to social perfectionism, your self-esteem will be dangerously dependent on keeping the roles and responsibilities you believe you have.’ Deze mentaliteit bepaalt de geesteshouding van mensen als Chris Kijne. Zelf verklaarde hij dat zijn belangrijkste drijfveer ‘een diepe behoefte’ is ‘om gehóórd te worden, die ik herken uit mijn vroegste jeugd: als iemand niet naar mijn kinderverhalen wilde luisteren, werd ik razend. Misschien komt het wel door mijn vader, die dominee was.’ Hij moet op zijn oude dag nog steeds bevestigd worden. Net als een ieder die zijn of haar gevoel van eigenwaarde ontleend aan de goedkeuring van de massa, ziet hij zichzelf door de ogen van de Ander. In feite is hier sprake van een ‘escape from the self,’ zoals de eminente sociaal-psycholoog, professor Roy Baumeister eens opmerkte. Hij wijst erop dat de prijs die de neoliberale ideologie van de westerling eist voor velen te hoog is. Zij ervaren de neoliberale ‘ratrace’ als een psychologische druk, mede omdat zij hun bestaanszekerheid in toenemende mate bedreigd zien, en aangezien:
een zinvolle bijdrage te kunnen leveren aan de samenleving en om te werken aan ontwikkeling is bestaanszekerheid essentieel. Bestaanszekerheid is niet alleen de zekerheid van voldoende en voorspelbaar inkomen. Ook zekerheid om betaalbaar te wonen, toegang tot betaalbare zorg en de mogelijkheid om een financiële buffer op te bouwen voor onverwachte uitgaven zijn noodzakelijke voorwaarden om de rust en ruimte te vinden die nodig is om je als mens te ontwikkelen en mee te doen in de samenleving.
Die bestaanszekerheid loopt gevaar sinds de komst van het neoliberalisme met zijn ’jobless growth,’ zijn groeiende kloof tussen ‘winners and losers,’ en het feit dat steeds meer burgers overtollig zijn omdat werk is overgeheveld naar de lage-lonen-landen en de dienstensector geautomatiseerd wordt. Aangezien nagenoeg alles, dus ook waardering, uitgedrukt wordt in geld voelen tallozen zich niet erkend door de samenleving. Will Storr wijst er op dat er tegelijkertijd een ‘narcissistic perfectionism’ is ontstaan:
in which people believe they’re absolutely capable of reaching the highest heights but become vulnerable when they finally realize that, actually, they’re not. And then there’s ‘neurotic perfectionism,’ the category into which both Debbie and I probably fit. These people suffer from low self-esteem and ‘just feel like they never measure up.’ They’re worried and anxious people who have a ‘massive discrepancy’ between who they are and who they want to be. They make sweeping generalizations about themselves, so if they’re ‘not efficient’ at a particular thing, they experience it as a failure of the entire self. ‘It’s this all or nothing thinking,’ he says. ‘With that comes a lot of self-loathing.’ Often, it begins with a simple belief that they don’t matter, ‘but if they just achieve at a certain level, they will matter. Being perfect will either compensate for these defects or fool others into thinking they don’t have them.’
Het gevolg is ondermeer dat:
in 2018, a major new study added significant empirical weight to the hunch I’d been pursuing for years. Psychologists analyzed data from over 40,000 university students across the US, UK and Canada and found levels of perfectionism, between 1989 and 2016, had risen substantially. Over that period, the extent to which people attached ‘an irrational importance to being perfect’ had gone up by 10 per cent. Meanwhile, the extent to which they felt they had to ‘display perfection to secure approval’ had grown by a startling 33 per cent. These findings, the researchers concluded, indicated that ‘recent generations of young people perceive that others are more demanding of them, are more demanding of others, and are more demanding of themselves.’ It wasn't only our environment that was changing. We were, too.
We’re living in an age of perfectionism, and perfection is the idea that kills. Whether it’s social media or pressure to be the impossibly ‘perfect’ twenty-first-century iterations of ourselves, or pressure to have the perfect body, or pressure to be successful in our careers, or any of the other myriad ways in which we place overly high expectations on ourselves and other people, we’re creating a psychological environment that’s toxic.
De ‘vrijheid’ waarover een mainstream-opiniemaker als Ian Buruma spreekt wanneer hij ervan uitgaat dat ‘we are right to impose democracy,’ door ‘economic, diplomatic, or even, if necessary, military means,’ is in werkelijkheid de ‘vrijheid’ om mee te marcheren in de neoliberale massamaatschappij, en anderen te dwingen hetzelfde te doen. En wie niet kan of wil gehoorzamen aan de kadaverdiscipline, wordt gestraft met marginalisering en zelfs uitstoting. Terwijl Buruma de VS een ‘free society,’ noemt en ‘a force for good,’ gekenmerkt door ’openheid en democratie’ -- zijn in werkelijkheid ‘Millions of Americans one pay check away from the street’ en zegt ‘Just 39% of Americans they have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit or car repair.’ Daarnaast blijkt uit onderzoek dat ‘Millions of Americans are already struggling with student loans ($1.4 trillion and counting), house and auto bills, and other debts.’
Hoe kan de VS, waar ’40%' van de bevolking 'is only one missed paycheck away from poverty’ voor de polderjournalist Chris Kijne toch een ‘altijd inspirerende democratie’ zijn, terwijl onder andere de gezaghebbende Amerikaanse geleerde Noam Chomsky in 2016 constateerde dat:
The state-corporate programs of the past 35 or so years have had devastating effects on the majority of the population, with stagnation, decline and sharply enhanced inequality being the most direct outcomes. This has created fear and has left people feeling isolated, helpless, victims of powerful forces they can neither understand or influence. The breakdown is not caused by economic laws. They are policies, a kind of class war initiated by the rich and powerful against the working population and the poor. This is what defines the neoliberalism period, not only in the US but in Europe and elsewhere. Trump is appealing to those who sense and experience the breakdown of American society — to deep feelings of anger, fear, frustration, hopelessness, probably among sectors of the population that are seeing an increase in mortality, something unheard of apart from war.
Ik vrees dat voor een antwoord op Kijne’s meningen toch gezocht moet worden op het gebied van de sociaal-psychologie, te weten zijn dwangmatige drijfveer om — zoals hij zelf zegt — ‘gehóórd’ te worden, om mee te tellen, om bevestigd te worden door zowel de massa als door de macht. Storr:
When people feel like failures, they’re comparing their own self to an ideal of what a self should be like and then concluding they somehow come up short. It’s our culture that largely (although not entirely) defines who this ideal self is and what it looks like. It assails us with this perfect self that we’re all supposed to want to be like, in films, books, shop windows, newspapers, advertising, on the television and the internet — everywhere it can. Most of us feel pressured, in some way, into living up to this cultural model of perfection.
Het lijkt mij plausibel te denken dat Kijne’s ‘diepe behoefte om gehóórd te worden,’ die al in zijn ‘vroegste jeugd’ ertoe leidde dat ‘als iemand niet naar mijn kinderverhalen wilde luisteren,’ hij ‘razend’ werd, inderdaad ‘misschien wel’ komt door zijn 'vader, die dominee was.’ Hij bleef voor zijn zoon het ‘model van perfectie.’ Omdat de hele gelovige gemeente naar hem luisterde, verlangde ook Chris Kijne ‘gehóórd’ te worden, zoals hijzelf suggereert.
Wat mij al lang opvalt aan mainstream-opiniemakers als Chris Kijne, Geert Mak, Bas Heijne, Ian Buruma, die ik al decennialang van nabij volg, is hun onverzadigbare behoefte aan waardering, erkenning, ergens bij te horen, kortom: ‘gehóórd’ te worden. Zij willen in een zielloze massamaatschappij door zoveel mogelijk mensen ook gezien worden. Het paradoxale is dat sinds het individualisme wordt verheerlijkt, het conformisme van de opiniemakers afgedwongen wordt. Als broodschrijvers zijn zij niet bij machte tegen de stroom in te gaan, zij dienen de macht uit angst een ‘loser’ te zijn, en kunnen niet anders dan in de dissident een verliezer te zien. Daarom kon Geert Mak in zijn in 2012 verschenen bestseller Reizen zonder John. Op zoek naar Amerika zonder enige gêne over John Steinbeck beweren dat:
Tijdens zijn reis met Charley werd hij voor het eerst ongenadig geconfronteerd met degene die hij in werkelijkheid was: een oudere man die zichzelf overschreeuwde, die zijn leeftijd niet kon accepteren, zijn jeugd niet kon loslaten.
Mak ergerde zich als domineeszoon, die niet ‘zonder hoop’ kon, aan Steinbeck’s scherpzinnige blik op de corrupte Amerikaanse Coca-Cola beschaving. Zo had Steinbeck, wiens werk nog steeds gelezen wordt, zijn vriend en presidentskandidaat Adlai Stevenson al 60 jaar geleden attent gemaakt op de 'nervous restlessness,' in de VS, en op ‘the cynical immorality of my country,’ waardoor zijn land op ‘elk niveau corrupt’ was geworden.
Mak duldde de ontmaskering niet van het land waarvoor hij volgens eigen zeggen zo’n langdurige ‘geheime liefde’ koesterde. En dus moest de waarschuwing van Steinbeck voor het verval van zijn land de grond in worden geboord. Pas in 2019, twee jaar na het aantreden van president Trump, en zes decennia na Steinbeck’s profetische analyse, besefte Geert Mak dat er iets niet deugde in de Verenigde Staten, en sprak hij in zijn boek Grote verwachtingen In Europa 1999-2019 van ‘het straatarme Amerika’ van al die ‘niet-geziene families.’ Dat wil zeggen: de ‘families’ waarop ik hem als oude vriend al veel eerder had gewezen, maar die hij destijds domweg niet wilde zien. De reden was simpel. Januari 2012 schreef hij mij: 'Ik kan niet zonder hoop, Stan, dat klinkt misschien wat pathetisch, maar het is toch zo.’ Desalniettemin was in 2019 zijn ‘hoop’ vervlogen en besefte het orakel van Jorwerd ineens dat er ‘niets terecht’ was gekomen van de ‘Amerikaanse droom die zoveel had beloofd,’ en dat de ‘kaalslag,’ die Steinbeck lang geleden had voorzien, inmiddels Geert's droomwereld had ingehaald. Mak ziet nu in dat de neoliberale vernietiging van de oude samenleving een onvermijdelijk onderdeel is van hetgeen hij zelf de ‘globalisering’ noemt. En zo sjokt een schaamteloze polder-propagandist achter de voldongen feiten aan. Niet de grote Steinbeck bleek ‘ongenadig geconfronteerd’ te zijn geweest ‘met degene die hij in werkelijkheid was: een oudere man die zichzelf overschreeuwde, die zijn leeftijd niet kon accepteren, zijn jeugd niet kon loslaten,’ maar juist de kleine Geert Mak, die vanwege zijn bezeten verlangen naar ‘hoop’ decennialang blind was voor de werkelijkheid. Alleen in Nederland komt een ‘snake oil peddler’ met dergelijke brutale humbug weg; in de VS was hij allang met pek en veren de stad uitgejaagd.
Dat mijn oude vriend Geert ‘een oudere man’ is ‘die zichzelf overschreeuwde’ bleek ook al in 2004 toen hij in zijn veel geprezen bestseller In Europa orakelde dat ‘Europa als vredesproces een eclatant succes’ was, en ‘Europa als economische eenheid ook een eind op weg’ was. Hij verklaarde dit na de bloedbaden in voormalig Joegoslavië. Vier jaar later stortte ook nog eens de westerse economie ineen als gevolg van de kredietcrisis van 2008. Opnieuw had de bestseller-auteur zichzelf ‘overschreeuwd,’ omdat hij ‘zijn jeugd niet kon loslaten’ en zich vastklampte aan allerlei overleefde mythen en illusies, zoals het geloof in de eeuwige groei. Het is dan ook niet onverklaarbaar dat de domineeszoon Chris Kijne de domineeszoon Geert Mak maar al te graag interviewt zodra de bestsellerauteur weer eens een ‘meesterwerk’ heeft geproduceerd. Ook dit is een typisch voorbeeld van het ons kent ons dat centraal staat in het gecorrumpeerde poldermodel. Maar wat Mak en Kijne ontgaat zijn de oorzaken van wat de auteurs Sander Heijne en Hendrik Noten in hun boek Fantoomgroei Waarom we steeds harder werken voor steeds minder (2020) beschrijven. Kennelijk wist ook de sportverslaggever Bert Wagendorp dit niet, want deze Volkskrant-journalist noemt het boek ‘Een absolute aanrader.’ Het is opmerkelijk dat over de neoliberale fantoomgroei nu pas een boek verschijnt dat is geschreven door twee Nederlanders, terwijl in het buitenland dit fenomeen de afgelopen kwarteeuw al uitgebreid is geanalyseerd. De auteurs — een bestuurskundige en een historicus, die ‘zeven jaar onderzoeksjournalistiek’ verrichtte ‘voor de Volkskrant en de Correspondent’ — laten op de achterflap weten:
Onze economie ontspoorde al ver voor de coronacrisis. Bedrijfswinsten zijn sinds de jaren tachtig geéxplodeerd, maar werkenden zagen de economische groei nauwelijks terug in hun portemonnee. Vitale sectoren als de zorg, het onderwijs en de politie werden ondertussen uitgehold. Hoe kan dat? En waarom accepteren we dat?
Deze al enkele decennia voor de hand liggende vragen worden in de Proloog als volgt ingeleid:
Het is een zonnige lentedag in 2018 als wij ons in een café in Amsterdam-Oost over een onderzoek van economen van RaboResearch buigen. Wij weten dan nog niets over de economische malaise die ons in het voorjaar van 2020 wacht, door de wereldwijde corona-pandemie. Maar zelfs dan, op het hoogtepunt van de economische hoogconjunctuur van die dagen, zien we in het onderzoek bevestigd dat er iets fundamenteels schort aan onze economie. De economen de Rabobank hebben namelijk becijferd dat de Nederlandse economie de afgelopen veertig jaar met tientallen procenten is gegroeid, maar dat de reële gezinsinkomens in diezelfde periode vrijwel niet zijn gestegen. Wie wel van al die economische groei heeft geprofiteerd? Bedrijven, topbestuurders en hun aandeelhouders. Zij hebben hun bonussen dividenden in diezelfde periode zien exploderen.
Wij, Sander en Hendrik, kennen elkaar dan nog nauwelijks, maar onze verontwaardiging over dit ene simpele grafiekje verbindt ons onmiddellijk. Hoe is het in hemelsnaam mogelijk dat we de enorme economische groei die we sinds 1982 als samenleving hebben gecreëerd zo ongelijk verdelen? Waarom accepteren we dit? En wat zegt dit over onze samenleving?
De economen van de Rabobank roepen op tot meer onderzoek naar de oorzaken van de achterblijvende loonontwikkeling, want ze kunnen deze vanuit de gangbare modellen over hoe economieën zich ontwikkelen niet goed verklaren. We hebben op dat moment nog geen idee wat we ons op de hals halen, maar als we het café verlaten, beloven we elkaar één ding. We gaan dit tot op de bodem uitzoeken.
Veelzeggend is dat — in tegenstelling tot het buitenland — zowel de twee Nederlandse auteurs als de Nederlandse economen van de Rabobank veertig jaar nadat westerse volksvertegenwoordigers, door hun beleid van déregulering en privatisering het neoliberale model mogelijk hadden gemaakt, nog steeds de oorzaken van onder andere ‘de achterblijvende loonontwikkeling’ niet begrepen, en dat Sander en Hendrik alles nog moesten ‘uitzoeken,’ en wel ‘tot op de bodem.’ Afgaande op hun eigen uitspraken hadden zij geen benul van wat er zich veertig jaar lang voor hun ogen had afgespeeld. Het doet me denken aan de volgende, apocriefe, uitspraak van Heinrich Heine: ‘Als de wereld vergaat, ga dan naar Nederland, daar gebeurt alles vijftig jaar later.’ En daar hebben ze pas iets door wanneer het te laat is. Daarover later meer.
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