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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Monday, January 4, 2021

Amid Warnings of Surging Worldwide Poverty, Planet's 500 Richest People Added $1.8 Trillion to Combined Wealth in 2020

Tesla CEO Elon Musk saw the greatest increase in personal wealth in 2020—reported to be the fastest wealth creation in history, according to Bloomberg.(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Bloomberg's year-end report on the wealth of the world's billionaires shows that the richest 500 people on the planet added $1.8 trillion to their combined wealth in 2020, accumulating a total net worth of $7.6 trillion. 

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index recorded its largest annual gain in the list's history last year, with a 31% increase in the wealth of the richest people.

The historic hoarding of wealth came as the world confronted the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding economic crisis, which the United Nations last month warned is a "tipping point" set to send more than 207 million additional people into extreme poverty in the next decade—bringing the number of people living in extreme poverty to one billion by 2030. 

Even in the richest country in the world, the United States, the rapidly widening gap between the richest and poorest people grew especially stark in 2020.

As Dan Price, an entrepreneur and advocate for fair wages, tweeted, the 500 richest people in the world amassed as much wealth in 2020 as "the poorest 165 million Americans have earned in their entire lives."

Nine of the top 10 richest people in the world live in the United States and own more than $1.5 trillion. Meanwhile, with more than half of U.S. adults living in households that lost income due to the pandemic, nearly 26 million Americans reported having insufficient food and other groceries in November—contributing to a rise in shop-lifting of essential goods including diapers and baby formula. About 12 million renters were expected to owe nearly $6,000 in back rent after the new year. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk enjoyed an historic growth in wealth last year, becoming the second richest person in the world and knocking Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates down to third place. Musk's total net worth grew by $142 billion in 2020, to $170 billion—the fastest creation of personal wealth in history, according to Bloomberg. 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is at the top of the list, with a net worth of $190 billion. Bezos added more than $75 billion to his wealth in 2020, as the public grew dependent on online shopping due to Covid-19 restrictions and concern for public health. 

While Bezos and a select few others in the U.S. have amassed historic gains in personal wealth in the last year, the federal government has yet to extend much in the way of meaningful assistance to struggling Americans. The Republican-led Senate on Friday continued to stonewall a vote on legislation that would send $2,000 checks to many American households.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denounced the proposal as "socialism for rich people" even though the plan includes a phaseout structure and individuals making only up to $115,000 per year—not those in the highest tax brackets—would receive checks. 

"Surging billionaire wealth hits a painful nerve for the millions of people who have lost loved ones and experienced declines in their health, wealth, and livelihoods," Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Bloomberg this week. "Worse, it undermines any sense that we are 'in this together'—the solidarity required to weather the difficult months ahead." 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Is Biden’s anti-Trump message enough to win over Black voters?

words by Charles Brooks   

The significance of the Black vote is on full display as both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris make their final case and last push for Black voters, particularly in the battleground states.  The path for Biden to reach the White House runs through these very same battleground states in Black America. The Biden-Harris team needs to reach those areas with large Black voters like Detroit in the battleground state of Michigan, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Cleveland in Ohio.  But the Democratic Party nominee is faced with the daunting task of having to reach the Black vote in numbers unseen since 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama was elected. 

Right now – if you trust the polling numbers - five national polls have Biden ahead by at least 10 points over President Trump even though there’s been just a bit of slippage in these polls in the last month.    The polling in battleground states show a slightly different picture where Biden holds a steady but single-digit lead over Trump.    

While Black America clearly supports the Biden-Harris ticket, there’s still this stubborn lack of enthusiasm that has dogged Candidate Biden since the primaries. Again - if you trust and believe the polling, they point out these same challenges Biden has with Black voters under the age of 30.  The American University Black Swing Voter Project found Black support for Biden for this age group at 47%.  In another poll by CBS/BET found similar numbers in this age group with 42%.  But Biden’s issues for the Black vote doesn’t stop with the lack of voter enthusiasm. There’s still the age-old sentiment about the Black vote being taken for granted that Harris’ addition to the ticket apparently hasn’t resolved. We are seeing this issue particularly in those areas that are absolutely crucial to a Biden upset in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee.  .  

The Biden-Harris campaign’s pursuit of the Black vote includes establishing outreach programs for Black voters like Shop Talk discussing the issues facing Black men, Make it Happen Mondays, where Black businesses and business owners discuss their needs; and there’s their Sister to Sister program dedicated to Black women.  In fact, the 2020 elections will mark the largest ad buy and paid outreach by the Democrats for Black media.  Kamau Marshall, the Director of Strategic Communications for the Biden campaign told Black Enterprise that it’s imperative to show Black Americans the damage Trump has caused to them during his first term. “No I think part of our job is to remind the Black community of this president’s incompetence resulting in a large number of deaths in the Black community related to the coronavirus and the economic effects of the virus for Black Americans. The man has also talked bad about Nelson Mandela and John Lewis and former President Obama, so what we have to do is show people who he is.”

But does the anti-Trump message provide enough motivation to generate the much-needed vote totals to serve Trump his eviction papers via ballot box? Why not highlight features of the Biden plan for Black America like the billions he wants to spend on affordable housing and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)? Or his plan to forgive student loans and have free college tuition? What about the $1.3 trillion he wants to spend on infrastructure and jobs? Or his proposals to finally end the crack versus powder disparity, ending cash bail, or ending the use of private prisons? Despite a plan that covers areas such as healthcare, criminal justice, wealth/income inequality, education, housing/homeownership, voting rights and climate – their campaign message seems to be framed more around an anti-Trump message that includes a much-needed return of normalcy and civility to the White House. But is that enough?

Now in the throes of the last hours of the 2020 election, the Biden-Harris team is making a strong final push for Black voters with drive-in rallies in Flint and Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, with former president Barack Obama joining Biden at a drive-in rally in Miami, Florida.  The Biden-Harris team also made several visits to Florida, with Harris making three visits herself to South Florida including, Miami Gardens  - the city with the largest Black population in Florida, as Biden made visits Fort Lauderdale and Tampa to rally Black voters. 

Well, come election night, we’ll see if their anti-Trump campaign message prove to be just enough to thrust Biden-Harris to the White House or will the aftershocks of defeat bring more contentious debate around the missed opportunities in 2020...and the lessons wasted from 2016. 

Further Reading:

Live Election Results, from the Guardian

Preliminary Exit Polling, from the New York Times

Preliminary Election Results, from CNN

The Black electorate could decide the 2020 election, from The Guardian


Related Posts

Will Trump’s racism crush his strategic appeals for Black voters?

Biden picks Kamala Harris - can she be the difference the Democrats need to win in November?

Who will Biden pick?

Will Biden take Black voters for granted?


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