Tuesday, February 23, 2021

COVID Misery Feeds the Beast but STARVES WORKING PEOPLE

Words by Charles Brooks

The American pandemic has created a public health and economic crisis felt widely and deeply across the nation. The most recent statistics reveal the crisis and depth of the despair felt by millions. Nearly 900,000 filed for unemployment just in the last week.  Over the past year, millions lost health insurance, and plunged senselessly into poverty, debt and eviction. Meanwhile the number of cases and death continues to tick upward as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts a dire immediate future with up to 699,000 new cases and up to 559,000 deaths by March 13, 2021.  The current data shows over 28 million affected with Covid-19, and over 500,000 dead.

Despite the number of studies confirming the benefit of direct cash payments, Congress more than half of whom are millionaires, just debated the issue for months.  Questions about socialism, and whether the cost is affordable got most of the public's attention while not nearly enough light was shed on prioritized corporate interests. In the last year alone, we've witnessed a litany of corporate bailouts, the controversial Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), along with $4 trillion in leveraged funds for Wall Street firms.  In March 2020, the CARES Act passed with $1200 stimulus checks but since then Congress could only manage to agree on one additional $600 cash payout.  There was an opportunity last year when Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) proposed a federal “paycheck guarantee covering salaries for three months.  The proposal wasn't included for one of two reasons; Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) says the proposal is too costly while Rep. Pelosi placed blamed on Jayapal's non-compliance with House procedures. 

The new year, 2021 opened with yet another round of debates pushed by Senate Democrats for a $2000 cash payout as Senators prepared to override the presidential veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Senators turned their backs on working people and proceeded to override the veto unleashing $740 billion for military spending and nothing for working folk. 

Bear in mind that defense spending takes up more than half of discretionary spending – that’s $740 billion out of $1.3 trillion. That is considerably less funding available for education, healthcare, infrastructure, and housing, for example.  An amendment was proposed by the new Defense Spending Reduction Caucus to reduce the NDAA bill by just 10% or $74 billion. But the Lee-Pocan amendment failed with 139 Democrats joining 185 Republicans to vote the measure down. 

Consider these costs, an estimated $51.5 billion is spent annually to build and run bases abroad, and more than $150 billion annually to maintain the troops overseas.  The Scientific American says this about military spending: “There are plenty of reasons to cut the Pentagon’s budget, but its track record of profligate spending is among the most obvious. If the Pentagon were a private corporation, gross mismanagement would have forced it into bankruptcy years ago. Dysfunctional internal controls, aided and abetted by years of lax congressional and administration oversight, have enabled it to waste tens of billions of dollars annually, and the last 20 years are littered with a parade of overpriced, botched and bungled projects.

David Vine has written extensively on the pivotal role of military bases to American imperialism with, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World and, The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State.  During an interview, Vine is asked about imperialism: “…U.S. military bases are, in my mind, a largely overlooked tool of U.S. imperial power since World War II. U.S. military bases have, since World War II, occupied dozens of countries and, at times, have actually numbered even more than the 800 today, and they’ve been a major tool by which the United States government has been able to exercise power and control over local governments [and] over local people to advance [the] economic and political interests of … U.S. corporations [and] U.S. elites.”

The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) has been waging a relentless campaign that draws attention to U.S. military intervention, particularly the role of the African Command or AFRICOM, in the affairs of African nations.  Their campaign demands are clear; complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Africa, demilitarization of the African continent, closure of U.S. bases throughout the world, and that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) oppose AFRICOM and conduct hearings on AFRICOM’s impact on the African continent, with the full participation of members of U.S. and African civil society.  BAP’s work also includes abolishing nuclear weapons, drone strikes, economic sanctions and the 1033 program that militarizes US police departments.  They recently co-sponsored a virtual webinar, hosted by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom-U.S. Section, “AFRICOM and Human Rights in Africa addressing US militarism, the $740 billion and its link to the wide disparities suffered by Black working people.  Their webinar reminds us of Congress’ real priorities, as well as the neoliberal forces at work for wealthy and corporate elites.  But more importantly, their campaign continues a tradition in Black Liberation movements that historically critiqued, organized and linked US imperialism, US foreign policy, and inflated military budgets to the daily struggles of the poor and working folk. 

Additional Resources and Reading

"...The Department of Defense is the Federal Government’s largest agency and one of the most complex organizations in the world. With more than 1.3 million active duty service members, 750,000 civilian personnel, and more than 811,000 National Guard and Reserve service members, the DoD is the nation’s largest employer. As one of the nation’s largest health-care providers, DoD’s TRICARE program serves approximately 9.4 million beneficiaries. The DoD, which operated with a base budget of approximately $551 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2017, executes a multibillion-dollar global supply chain and manages a 5 million-item inventory.  DoD is also one of the largest holders of real estate, managing a global portfolio that consists of more than 568,000 assets (buildings and structures), located at nearly 4,800 sites worldwide, covering 27.2 million acres of property..." Defense Department


The Cost of War Project, The Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University,

The Cost of War FACT SHEET, The Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University

Radical Black Peace Activism in the Black Liberation MovementBy Charisse Burden-Stelly February 2018

Black Alliance for Peace campaign

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Monday, February 8, 2021

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies.

Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets. (Photo: Calvin Shen)

Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could "follow the flag" to set up shop and develop new markets. (Photo: Calvin Shen)

In 2004, journalist Ron Suskind quoted a Bush White House advisor, reportedly Karl Rove, as boasting, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” He dismissed Suskind’s assumption that public policy must be rooted in “the reality-based community.” “We’re history’s actors,” the advisor told him, “…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Sixteen years later, the American wars and war crimes launched by the Bush administration have only spread chaos and violence far and wide, and this historic conjunction of criminality and failure has predictably undermined America’s international power and authority. Back in the imperial heartland, the political marketing industry that Rove and his colleagues were part of has had more success dividing and ruling the hearts and minds of Americans than of Iraqis, Russians or Chinese.

The irony of the Bush administration’s imperial pretensions was that America has been an empire from its very founding, and that a White House staffer’s political use of the term “empire” in 2004 was not emblematic of a new and rising empire as he claimed, but of a decadent, declining empire stumbling blindly into an agonizing death spiral.

Americans were not always so ignorant of the imperial nature of their country’s ambitions. George Washington described New York as “the seat of an empire,” and his military campaign against British forces there as the “pathway to empire.” New Yorkers eagerly embraced their state’s identity as the Empire State, which is still enshrined in the Empire State Building and on New York State license plates.

The expansion of America’s territorial sovereignty over Native American lands, the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of northern Mexico in the Mexican-American War built an empire that far outstripped the one that George Washington built. But that imperial expansion was more controversial than most Americans realize. Fourteen out of fifty-two U.S. senators voted against the 1848 treaty to annex most of Mexico, without which Americans might still be visiting California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah and most of Colorado as exotic Mexican travel spots.

In the full flowering of the American empire after the Second World War, its leaders understood the skill and subtlety required to exercise imperial power in a post-colonial world. No country fighting for independence from the U.K. or France was going to welcome imperial invaders from America. So America’s leaders developed a system of neocolonialism through which they exercised overarching imperial sovereignty over much of the world, while scrupulously avoiding terms like “empire” or “imperialism” that would undermine their post-colonial credentials.

It was left to critics like President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to seriously examine the imperial control that wealthy countries still exercised over nominally independent post-colonial countries like his. In his book, Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism, Nkrumah condemned neocolonialism as “the worst form of imperialism.” “For those who practice it,” he wrote, “it means power without responsibility, and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress.” 

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

So post-World War Two Americans grew up in carefully crafted ignorance of the very fact of American empire, and the myths woven to disguise it provide fertile soil for today’s political divisions and disintegration. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Biden’s promise to “restore American leadership” are both appeals to nostalgia for the fruits of American empire.

Past blame games over who lost China or Vietnam or Cuba have come home to roost in an argument over who lost America and who can somehow restore its mythical former greatness or leadership. Even as America leads the world in allowing a pandemic to ravage its people and economy, neither party’s leaders are ready for a more realistic debate over how to redefine and rebuild America as a post-imperial nation in today’s multipolar world.

Every successful empire has expanded, ruled and exploited its far-flung territories through a combination of economic and military power. Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets.

But now U.S. militarism and America’s economic interests have diverged. Apart from a few military contractors, American businesses have not followed the flag into the ruins of Iraq or America’s other current war-zones in any lasting way. Eighteen years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq’s largest trading partner is China, while Afghanistan’s is Pakistan, Somalia’s is the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Libya’s is the European Union (EU).

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies, closing doors to economic opportunity instead of opening them, diverting resources from real needs at home, and damaging America’s international standing instead of enhancing it.

When President Eisenhower warned against the “unwarranted influence” of America’s military-industrial complex, he was predicting precisely this kind of dangerous dichotomy between the real economic and social needs of the American people and a war machine that costs more than the next ten militaries in the world put together but cannot win a war or vanquish a virus, let alone reconquer a lost empire.

China and the EU have become the major trading partners of most countries in the world. The United States is still a regional economic power, but even in South America, most countries now trade more with China. America’s militarism has accelerated these trends by squandering our resources on weapons and wars, while China and the EU have invested in peaceful economic development and 21st century infrastructure.

For example, China has built the largest high-speed rail network in the world in just 10 years (2008-2018), and Europe has been building and expanding its high-speed network since the 1990s, but high-speed rail is still only on the drawing board in America.

China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while America’s poverty rate has barely budged in 50 years and child poverty has increased. America still has the weakest social safety net of any developed country and no universal healthcare system, and the inequalities of wealth and power caused by extreme neoliberalism have left half of Americans with little or no savings to live on in retirement or to weather any disruption in their lives.

Our leaders’ insistence on siphoning off 66% of U.S. federal discretionary spending to preserve and expand a war machine that has long outlived any useful role in America’s declining economic empire is a debilitating waste of resources that jeopardizes our future.

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

As our government debates whether we can "afford" COVID relief, a Green New Deal and universal healthcare, we would be wise to recognize that our only hope of transforming this decadent, declining empire into a dynamic and prosperous post-imperial nation is to rapidly and profoundly shift our national priorities from irrelevant, destructive militarism to the programs of social uplift that Dr. King called for.

Nicolas J.S. Davies

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of "Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq" (2010). He also wrote the chapters on "Obama at War" in "Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader" (2012).

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on February 3rd, 2021. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Pandemic Crisis and What Got Us Here...

We Still Here: Pandemic, Policing, Protest & Possibility
By Marc Lamont Hill
Edited by Frank Barat
Foreword by Keeanga Y. Taylor
Haymarket Books: 117 pages

Book Review by Charles Brooks

The world is different now.  The nation is different now. There is no returning back to normal.  The corona pandemic unleashed waves of misery, suffering and indescribable loss of jobs, healthcare, businesses, and life.  A public health crisis of unforeseen magnitude triggered a crisis in the national economy that set-in motion a series of events affecting the entire country in one way or another. In the midst of this pandemic, the nation witnessed regular working-class folks forced to shelter in place and social distance or compelled to work due to their “essential worker” status. We also witnessed their response to the broken systems, failed institutions and meaningless slogans that failed them, miserably. And then George Floyd was killed by the police sparking massive protests in the US and around the world.  The protests revealed there was more than just an appetite for activism but a deeper virulent hunger for radicalism when the people saw change but sought transformation instead.

Marc Lamont Hill writes a book that helps us to make sense about what is going on and what is needed to realize what he calls the abolitionist vision.  A vision sustained by the possibilities and hope for the future with what he describes as transformative solutions.  We Still Here explores the themes of pandemic, policing, protests and possibilities through a lens of a radicalism that links his analysis of white supremacy, racial capitalism and neoliberalism with race, class, and gender identities.

The book starts and end with essays by Hill; the first - his own personal journey navigating around Covid-19, his father and the protests, and the second, an essay on the abolitionist future.  In between, Hill is joined by French activist Frank Barat in a question/answer format where Barat asks a number of questions around the pandemic, policing, and the massive public uprising. 

Responding to questioning about social distancing and sheltering in place, Hill brings a race/class perspective as he makes the argument that “economic power enables social distance”. He describes the emergence of corona capitalism as an “aggressive articulation” of Naomi Klein’s thesis on disaster capitalism in her book, Shock Doctrine; The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Hill says, “Human crises are exploited by the by the powerful who coordinate with governments to create policies that enable them to profit during such moments.” Here, Hill frames his response around neoliberalism, racial capitalism and white supremacy outlining the poor financial health of hospitals, the contradictions of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) while individual/corporate wealth exploded. He argues the emergence of corona capitalism has expedited the consolidation of privatized power and uses Amazon as an example. Here, Hill talks about Amazon’s influence and ability to shape public policy and their unique position to maximize profits during the pandemic.

“In the United States, there has always a been a relationship between disposability and confinement. Our willingness to consign people to spaces of confinement is directly related to our assessment of their economic value.  This assessment is informed by the logics of White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism,” says Hill.  His analysis of the pandemic includes what he describes as the spaces of confinement and the politics of disposability.  Hill focuses on the most vulnerable – the imprisoned, the jailed, nursing homes and immigrant detention facilities, highlighting the “callous sacrifice of life that informs attitudes and decisions that render them disposable.”  He also grapples with the use of language, making a critical – and political – distinction comparing the use of rebellion versus riot, and Black Lives Matter versus All Black Lives Matter. 

Although Hill explains the significance of All Black Lives Matter movement, he discussed more about what BLM is not compared to what it is, lamenting on his only concern – cooptation. He does make the argument that it would be a mistake to frame 2013 BLM and 2020 BLM as two different movements or even two iterations of the same movement.  But Hill didn’t extend his response to specify the appropriate frame in which to view 2020 BLM or make a clear distinction between BLM and Movement for Black Lives. This is where the books’ question/answer format limited Hill’s response because here, follow-up questions were needed to expand or clarify Hill’s analysis on BLM.  While this is subjective to the individual reader, the book’s core analysis nevertheless remains intact.

Hill discusses black politics as well as his critique of former president Obama, but Barat asks no questions about the 2020 presidential campaign.  In his opening essay, Hill indicates his focus being on the pandemic, this unprecedented period of immense crisis and despair that compels clarity and analysis.  Hill does exactly that with, We Still Here, “It’s not enough to respond to Donald Trump’s incompetence or the extraordinary grief that people are living with in a time of pandemic.  We must come to understand everything that brought us here.  This is what young organizers in the streets are demanding.  This is what everyone living in the time of pandemic, policing, protest, and possibility must reckon with.”

 

Related Posts:

Book Review: Black Detroit by Herb Boyd, A Conversation about Black Detroit in Black New York 

Book Review: Democracy in Black by Eddie Glaude, American Democracy, White Supremacy and Racism


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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Cori Bush Booed by House GOP for Denouncing White Supremacy

"What does it mean when they boo the Black congresswoman denouncing white supremacy?" asked the freshman Democrat from Missouri.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaking on the House floor in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. (Photo: Screenshot/C-SPAN)

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaking on the House floor in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. (Photo: Screenshot/C-SPAN)

Freshman Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri, who is black, was openly booed by Republican lawmakers Wednesday after she denounced white supremacy on the House floor while explaining why she would vote in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump for inciting a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol building last week.

Watch:

Before being booed on the House floor, Bush said, "If we fail to remove a white supremacist president who incited a white supremacist insurrection, it's communities like Missouri's 1st District that suffer the most. The 117th Congress must understand that we have a mandate to legislate in defense of black lives."

"The first step in that process," Bush continued, "is to root out white supremacy, starting with impeaching the white supremacist-in-chief."

Republicans responded harshly with boos and loud moans, leading Bush to question the underlying significance of the GOP lawmakers' outrage.

"What does it mean when they boo the Black congresswoman denouncing white supremacy?" Bush tweeted moments later.

The Democratic lawmaker—a nurse and activist who participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ferguson following the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014—is a proponent of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and criminal justice reform, progressive policies that would reduce racial and economic inequality.

The Sunrise Movement pointed out that "condemning white supremacy should not be partisan."

"There should be no place in our government," the climate justice advocates added, "for anybody who stands for the values of the Confederacy."


This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on January 14, 2021. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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