Socialism’s future may be it’s past…

VIA

One hundred years after Lenin’s sealed train arrived at Finland Station and set into motion the events that led to Stalin’s gulags, the idea that we should return to this history for inspiration might sound absurd. But there was good reason that the Bolsheviks once called themselves “social democrats.” They were part of a broad movement of growing parties that aimed to fight for greater political democracy and, using the wealth and the new working class created by capitalism, extend democratic rights into the social and economic spheres, which no capitalist would permit.

The early Communist movement never rejected this broad premise. It was born out of a sense of betrayal by the more moderate left-wing parties of the Second International, the alliance of socialist and labor parties from 20 countries that formed in Paris in 1889. Across Europe, party after party did the unthinkable, abandoned their pledges to working-class solidarity for all nations, and backed their respective governments in World War I. Those that remained loyal to the old ideas called themselves Communists to distance themselves from the socialists who had abetted a slaughter that claimed 16 million lives. (Amid the carnage, the Second International itself fell apart in 1916.)

Of course, the Communists’ noble gambit to stop the war and blaze a humane path to modernity in backward Russia ended up seemingly affirming the Burkean notion that any attempt to upturn an unjust order would end up only creating another.

Most socialists have been chastened by the lessons of 20th-century Communism. Today, many who would have cheered on the October Revolution have less confidence about the prospects for radically transforming the world in a single generation. They put an emphasis instead on political pluralism, dissent and diversity.

Still, the specter of socialism evokes fear of a new totalitarianism. A recent Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation report worries that young people are likely to view socialism favorably and that a “Bernie Sanders bounce” may be contributing to a millennial turn against capitalism. Last year, the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, Thomas J. Donohue, even found it necessary to remind readers that “Socialism Is a Dangerous Path for America.”

The right still denounces socialism as an economic system that will lead to misery and privation, but with less emphasis on the political authoritarianism that often went hand in hand with socialism in power. This may be because elites today do not have democratic rights at the forefront of their minds — perhaps because they know that the societies they run are hard to justify on those terms.

Capitalism is an economic system: a way of organizing production for the market through private ownership and the profit motive. To the extent that it has permitted democracy, it has been with extreme reluctance. That’s why early workers’ movements like Britain’s Chartists in the early 19th century organized, first and foremost, for democratic rights. Capitalist and socialist leaders alike believed that the struggle for universal suffrage would encourage workers to use their votes in the political sphere to demand an economic order that put them in control.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Across the West, workers came to accept a sort of class compromise. Private enterprise would be tamed, not overcome, and a greater share of a growing pie would go to providing universal benefits through generous welfare states. Political rights would be enshrined, too, as capitalism evolved and adapted such that a democratic civil society and an authoritarian economic system made an unlikely, but seemingly successful, pairing.

In 2017, that arrangement is long dead. With working-class movements dormant, capital has run amok, charting a destructive course without even the promise of sustained growth. The anger that led to the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the Brexit vote in Britain is palpable. People feel as if they’re on a runaway train to an unknown destination and, for good reason, want back to familiar miseries.

Amid this turmoil, some fear a return to Finland Station via the avuncular shrugs of avowedly socialist leaders like Mr. Sanders and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France. But the threat to democracy today is coming from the right, not the left. Politics seems to present two ways forward, both decidedly non-Stalinist forms of authoritarian collectivism.

“Singapore Station” is the unacknowledged destination of the neoliberal center’s train. It’s a place where people in all their creeds and colors are respected — so long as they know their place. After all, people are crass and irrational, incapable of governing. Leave running Singapore Station to the experts.

This is a workable vision for elites who look at the rise of an erratic right-wing populism with justified fear. Many of them argue the need for austerity measures to maintain a fragile global economy, and worry that voters won’t take their short-term pain to spare themselves long-term dysfunction. The same goes for the looming threat of climate change: The science is undisputed among scientists, but is still up for debate in the public sphere.

The Singapore model is not the worst of all possible end points. It’s one where experts are allowed to be experts, capitalists are allowed to accumulate, and ordinary workers are allowed a semblance of stability. But it leaves no room for the train’s passengers to yell “Stop!” and pick a destination of their own choosing.

“Budapest Station,” named after the powerful right-wing parties that dominate Hungary today, is the final stop for the populist right. Budapest allows us to at least feel like we’re back in charge. We get there by decoupling some of the cars hurtling us forward and slowly reversing. We’re all in this together, unless you’re an outsider who doesn’t have a ticket, and then tough luck.

The “Trump train” is headed this way. President Trump can’t offer tangible gains for ordinary people by challenging elites, but he can offer a surface-level valorization of “the worker” and stoke anger at the alleged causes of national decline — migrants, bad trade deals, cosmopolitan globalists. The press, academia and any other noncompliant parts of civil society are under attack. Meanwhile, other than having to adjust to more protectionism and restrictive immigration policies, it’s business as usual for most corporations.

But there is a third alternative: back to “Finland Station,” with all the lessons of the past. This time, people get to vote. Well, debate and deliberate and then vote — and have faith that people can organize together to chart new destinations for humanity.

Stripped down to its essence, and returned to its roots, socialism is an ideology of radical democracy. In an era when liberties are under attack, it seeks to empower civil society to allow participation in the decisions that affect our lives. A huge state bureaucracy, of course, can be just as alienating and undemocratic as corporate boardrooms, so we need to think hard about the new forms that social ownership could take.

Some broad outlines should already be clear: Worker-owned cooperatives, still competing in a regulated market; government services coordinated with the aid of citizen planning; and the provision of the basics necessary to live a good life (education, housing and health care) guaranteed as social rights. In other words, a world where people have the freedom to reach their potentials, whatever the circumstances of their birth.

We can get to this Finland Station only with the support of a majority; that’s one reason that socialists are such energetic advocates of democracy and pluralism. But we can’t ignore socialism’s loss of innocence over the past century. We may reject the version of Lenin and the Bolsheviks as crazed demons and choose to see them as well-intentioned people trying to build a better world out of a crisis, but we must work out how to avoid their failures.

That project entails a return to social democracy. Not the social democracy of François Hollande, but that of the early days of the Second International. This social democracy would involve a commitment to a free civil society, especially for oppositional voices; the need for institutional checks and balances on power; and a vision of a transition to socialism that does not require a “year zero” break with the present.

Our 21st-century Finland Station won’t be a paradise. You might feel heartbreak and misery there. But it will be a place that allows so many now crushed by inequity to participate in the creation of a new world.

“The left-wing views of the alleged shooter might be surprising to some, but they shouldn’t be. The gun industry and the NRA market guns with promises that owning guns will make the customer feel manly and powerful, and that fantasy has a power that can transcend political boundaries”…

VIA

Wednesday’s terrifying assault on a group of Republican congressmen at baseball practice demonstrated that no one is protected from the violence that plagues a country where gun industry profits and culture-war politics have turned guns into fetish objects and have made reasonable gun safety policies nearly impossible to enact. No one is spared, not even those who have done so much to make it easy for any madman with a vendetta to get the weaponry he needs to rain the sort of havoc that was visited on a bucolic park in Alexandria, Virginia, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Early reports indicate that the suspect, who was apparently shot and killed by police, was a 66-year-old Illinois man named James T. Hodgkinson. His social media presence was almost wholly devoted to loathing Donald Trump and exalting Sen. Bernie Sanders, and reports have suggested he worked as a volunteer for Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

The left-wing views of the alleged shooter might be surprising to some, but they shouldn’t be. The gun industry and the NRA market guns with promises that owning guns will make the customer feel manly and powerful, and that fantasy has a power that can transcend political boundaries. And no one knows better than gun industry leaders how feelings of political frustration caused by seeing your preferred candidates lose elections can be channeled into a pitch to buy more guns.

Exactly a year ago today, in response to the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead, I wrote a piece for Salon that touched on how the gun industry uses political grievances as a hook to convince people to buy more guns. Back then, of course, we had a Democratic president in office. During Barack Obama’s administration, the gun industry was able to move huge numbers of weapons off the shelf by convincing paranoid, resentful white conservatives that the black president was coming to take their guns away.

This is not conjecture. Last year, Smith & Wesson released a report celebrating the effect that having a Democrat in the White House — which provokes feelings of resentment and frustration in conservative voters — had on their gun sales. This is a slide from the company’s own report.

The election of President Trump empowered conservative Americans. That, too, has had an impact on gun sales, dubbed by CNN Money the “Trump slump.” With Trump in office sticking it to the liberals, the main gun customer base, angry reactionaries, has been less inclined to dump thousands of dollars of overcompensation money on deadly hardware.

Gun marketing, particularly through the NRA, is targeted largely at conservatives. That said, the emotional buttons being pushed — that wish to feel powerful, the desire to prove one’s masculinity, the appeal of violence as a political shortcut — cannot be contained by something as pedestrian as political partisanship. Through years of marketing and cultural messaging, guns have been crafted into something totemic, even primal, in their appeal, and that appeal extends to all manner of people who yearn for some kind of cleansing violence to solve their problems.

Around the time of Trump’s inauguration, a debate rose up in leftist circles about the value of political violence, particularly after an anonymous person punched white supremacist Richard Spencer in the face on camera on Inauguration Day. While I strongly relate to the desire to lash out at people who would dismantle our democracy in the name of white nationalism, I’ve been persuaded by friends and allies, especially journalist Dave Neiwert of the Southern Poverty Law Center, that political violence is always a bad idea. Not only is it wrong but it tends to backfire, creating the pretext for the violent suppression of liberal or leftist ideas.

Already there are right-wing street gangs forming, eagerly looking for an excuse to lash out against anyone they perceive as of the left. Already there’s been a shooting of a left-leaning protester, who by all accounts was trying to restore peace, by right-wingers who seemed to be out for blood. Already two men have been killed, and a third badly injured by an unhinged reactionary and white supremacist who claims he was acting in self-defense, because the men tried to interfere with his verbal assault on two women of color. There is every reason to believe that the baying alt-right wolves cannot wait to use this shooting as an excuse to escalate their own efforts at using violence to quell liberal dissent.

As for the Republicans, sadly, there is no reason to believe they will react to this dreadful crime by rethinking their resistance to saner gun control laws that could go a long way towards minimizing the amount of damage that people disposed to violence can do. Despite watching their own friends and colleagues running away from a hail of gunfire, Republican politicians and pundits are sticking with the thoughts-and-prayers narrative, and not even discussing taking steps to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

The socialist writer Upton Sinclair had a saying he liked to trot out at public events: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

That’s why we cannot expect Republican politicians to learn from this event that it’s a bad idea to make it so easy for random individuals to take life at will on a massive scale. It’s not just the money from the gun lobby that blinds them, although that certainly doesn’t help matters. It’s that the cultural anxieties that both fuel gun mania and are fueled by it work to their benefit.

The NRA’s stories about how scary black and brown men are about to bust down your door and kill your family are good for selling guns, but they were the also same narratives that helped propel Trump to the White House. If anything, the fact that a Bernie Sanders supporter apparently went nuts with a gun will increase the paranoia on the right, which in turn will only lead to greater attachment to guns.

Fears of emasculation, racist anxieties about crime, power fantasies about silencing dissent through threats of violence, and a widespread loathing for liberals and their insistence on rational evidence: Those things sell guns. They also get votes out for Republicans. The party cannot give up one without the other. And so we cannot expect that this spate of gun violence, as close to home as this dreadful incident comes for Republican elected lawmakers, will do anything to change their minds.

“Donald Trump is not against the so-called deep state. He is against it being used against himself and his cohorts”

The deep state IS the state

The deep state is not some enigmatic entity that operates outside the US government. It is the US state itself. Like all elements of that state, the so-called deep state exists to enforce the economic supremacy of US capitalism. It does so primarily via the secret domestic and international police forces like the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies. The operations of these agencies run the gamut from surveillance to propaganda to covert and overt military actions. Naturally, this so-called deep state operates according to their own rules; rules which ultimately insure its continued existence and relevance. Although it can be argued that it was the 1950 National Security Directive known as NSC-68 along with the Congressional Bill creating the Central Intelligence Agency that launched the “deep state” as we understand it, a broader understanding of the “deep state” places its genesis perhaps a century prior to that date. In other words, a structure designed to maintain the economic and political domination of certain powerful US capitalists existed well back into the nineteenth century. However, the centralization of that power began in earnest in the years following World War Two.

For those who don’t know what the NSC-68 actually was, it is essentially a directive that militarized the conflict between US capitalism and Soviet communism. It was based on the correct understanding that US capitalism required open access to the resources and markets of the entire planet and that the Soviet Union represented the greatest threat to that access. Not only did this mean the US military would grow in size, it also ensured that the power of the intelligence sector would expand both in terms of its reach and its budget. When one recalls that this period in US history was also a period when the FBI and the US Congress were going after leftists and progressives in the name of a certain right-wing ideological purity, the power of the US secret police becomes quite apparent.

As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, the so-called deep state’s power continued to grow. Some of its better known manifestations include the failed attempt to invade revolutionary Cuba that became known as the Bay of Pigs, the use of psychoactive drugs on unsuspecting individuals as part of a mind control study, and numerous attempts to subvert governments considered anti-American. Among the latter actions one can include covert operations against the Vietnamese independence forces and the murder of the Congolese president Patrice Lumumba. In terms of the “deep state’s” domestic operations, this period saw the intensification of spying on and disrupting various groups involved in the civil rights and antiwar organizing. Many elements of the domestic operation would become known as COINTELPRO and were directed by the FBI.

Although the agencies of the so-called deep state operate as part of the US state, this does not mean that those agencies are of one mind. Indeed, like any power structure, there are various factions represented. This means that there are disagreements over policies, priorities, direction, and personnel. The only certainty is that all of its members agree on the need to maintain the supremacy of US capital in the world. At times, the seemingly absolute power of the CIA and FBI have caused the US Executive Branch to try and set up other means and methods in order to circumvent that power. Two examples of this that come quickly to mind are the establishment of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) by the Kennedy administration in 1961-1962 and the failed attempt (known as the Huston plan after its creator Tom Huston) by the Nixon White House to centralize the direction of all US government intelligence operations in the White House.

There is no soft coup taking place in DC. The entire government has been owned by big business and the banking industry for more than a century, if not since its inception. That ownership has been dominated by the military-industrial complex since about the same time as when the aforementioned agencies were created. That is no coincidence. However, their role in the current uproar over Russia and Michael Flynn is not because they are taking over the government. It is because their current leadership represents the factions of the US establishment that were removed from power in November 2016.

Donald Trump is not against the so-called deep state. He is against it being used against himself and his cohorts. . In the world of capitalist power, the factions Trump represents are not the same factions represented by the presidents former FBI director Comey served—the factions represented by Bush and Obama. He understands that if he can install individuals in key positions at the FBI, CIA, DHS and other security and military agencies, he and his allies will be more than happy to use the power of these agencies against their opponents. Indeed, he would most likely greatly enhance those agencies’ power, making a further mockery of the US Constitution. If Trump is able to get the agencies of the deep state to work for the factions he represents—either by replacing those loyal to others not named Trump or by cajoling and coercing them to change their loyalty—he will think the deep state is a great thing. In this way he is no different than every other US president. He understands that whoever controls the deep state controls the US. The struggle we are witnessing between the FBI and the Trump White House is part of a power struggle between US power elites.

When the ruling class is in crisis, as it is now, the job of the left is not to choose one side or the other. Nor is it to accept the narrative provided by one or other faction of the rulers, especially when that narrative supports the police state. Instead, it is the Left’s job to go to the root of the crisis and organize resistance to the ruling class itself.

Manchester bomber was product of West’s Libya/Syria intervention…

VIA

Here’s what the media and politicians don’t want you to know about the Manchester, UK, suicide attack: Salman Abedi, the 22 year old who killed nearly two dozen concert-goers in Manchester, UK, was the product of the US and UK overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya and “regime change” policy in Syria. He was a radicalized Libyan whose family fled Gaddafi’s secular Libya, and later he trained to be an armed “rebel” in Syria, fighting for the US and UK “regime change” policy toward the secular Assad government.

The suicide attacker was the direct product of US and UK interventions in the greater Middle East.

According to the London Telegraph, Abedi, a son of Libyan immigrants living in a radicalized Muslim neighborhood in Manchester had returned to Libya several times after the overthrow of Muamar Gaddafi, most recently just weeks ago. After the US/UK and allied “liberation” of Libya, all manner of previously outlawed and fiercely suppressed radical jihadist groups suddenly found they had free rein to operate in Libya. This is the Libya that Abedi returned to and where he likely prepared for his suicide attack on pop concert attendees. Before the US-led attack on Libya in 2011, there was no al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other related terrorist organization operating (at least with impunity) on Libyan soil.

Gaddafi himself warned Europe in January 2011 that if they overthrew his government the result would be radical Islamist attacks on Europe, but European governments paid no heed to the warnings. Post-Gaddafi Libya became an incubator of Islamist terrorists and terrorism, including prime recruiting ground for extremists to fight jihad in Syria against the also-secular Bashar Assad.

In Salman Abedi we have the convergence of both these disastrous US/UK and allied interventions, however: it turns out that not only did Abedi make trips to Libya to radicalize and train for terror, but he also travelled to Syria to become one of the “Syria rebels” fighting on the same side as the US and UK to overthrow the Assad government. Was he perhaps even trained in a CIA program? We don’t know, but it certainly is possible.

While the mainstream media and opportunistic politicians will argue that the only solution is more western intervention in the Middle East, the plain truth is that at least partial responsibility for this attack lies at the feet of those who pushed and pursued western intervention in Libya and Syria.

There would have been no jihadist training camps in Libya had Gaddafi not been overthrown by the US/UK and allies. There would have been no explosion of ISIS or al-Qaeda in Syria had it not been for the US/UK and allied policy of “regime change” in that country.

When thinking about Abedi’s guilt for this heinous act of murder, do not forget those interventionists who lit the fuse that started this conflagration. The guilt rests squarely on their shoulders as well.

Pizza delivery to stalled Amtrak train…

Public transportation is so bad here in the US that people are now ordering food on their commute
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A veteran pizza delivery man in Delaware got an order from an unusual address: a stalled Amtrak train from New York on its way to Washington.

A passenger posted a video of the delivery man walking up to the train Sunday as it sat on the tracks.

Dominic Philingera is the owner of Dom’s Pizza in Newport, Delaware. He tells The Associated Press that his driver cut through a backyard, stepped down a steep embankment and over a water-filled ditch to bring the pie to the hungry passengers. Philingera says the driver has delivered pizza in 18 states, but “this was a first for him.”

Amtrak said on Twitter that a mechanical issue was to blame for the delay.

Amtrak didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

“Trump’s firing of James Comey yesterday proves that even those who carry water for the president are not safe.. After all, Trump and his cronies are investigable for so very many things”

VIA WWW

Trump’s firing of James Comey yesterday proves that even those who carry water for the president are not safe. Trump is in greater peril, it seems, by the hour. And in response, the long knives are out for anyone who is less than 100 percent dependable.

He needs unquestioned loyalists around him — especially in the office that could send almost anyone to prison.

After all, Trump and his cronies are investigable for so very many things, from questionable business dealings and conflicts of interest to tax matters to allegedly colluding with the Russian government.

Comey, under criticism for his own actions, faced significant public pressure to demonstrate that the FBI does its job. That could not have sounded good to Trump.

As it happened, just hours before the Comey news broke, WhoWhatWhy had published a lengthy investigation into the back story to Comey’s most famous — or infamous — act. It chronicled how Trump’s close surrogates and media allies pressured the FBI director to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Evidence strongly suggests that this surprising move days before the election was decisive in Trump’s unexpected victory.

Overall, having Comey at the Bureau was a blessing for Trump. Besides damaging Clinton, he also aided Trump by withholding information about the Bureau’s potentially much more serious probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.

The incoming president knew he had a good thing going. In early January, during a reception for top law-enforcement officials, an obviously grateful Trump singled Comey out for special praise and even a hug. But he soon cooled on the FBI director — as he so often does with people.

Also, Comey’s life was growing increasingly complicated, and he himself appeared to have lost his footing. In recent days, he looked incompetent in front of Congress, even bungling key testimony, such as exponentially overstating the quantity of Clinton emails forwarded to Anthony Weiner’s computer. Trump, who if anything is about appearances, could not have enjoyed watching this televised spectacle.

But the real problem was, as they say in mafia movies, you’re either with us or you’re….out.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Trump said in a letter dated Tuesday.

Comey is only the second FBI director ever to be fired. He joins William Sessions, who was dismissed by Bill Clinton in 1993.

Ostensibly, the reason for Comey being sacked was his “handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” according to a May 9th memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. That reasoning rings hollow, however, as the alleged fireable offense took place more than six months ago.

It is much more likely that Comey’s revelation that Trump’s campaign is being investigated for its Russia ties as well as his testimony before the Senate last week were the real reason for his dismissal.

Trump and his team are desperately seeking to stifle Russiagate. Matters continue to heat up on that front. As we write, CNN is reporting that prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas. Firing one of the people in government who knows most about that sensitive topic would serve that aim twofold.

The FBI is itself entwined in the matter and urgently needs to clear the air. As WhoWhatWhy reported in another major investigation, published in late March, the Bureau maintained a long and close informant relationship with a Trump business associate working out of Trump Tower. The president may have been worried about where that thread could lead, as it includes hints as to Trump receiving long-term financing from oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin and organized crime.

Comey now can’t make any trouble on the matter; and it serves to put any other determined federal appointees — planning to rigorously follow Russiagate even if it leads to the Oval Office — on notice that such conduct will mean the end of their career.

Not surprisingly, Trump acolytes are presenting the firing as long in coming. As the veteran Trump strategist and hatchet man Roger Stone, himself under scrutiny in Russiagate, tweeted yesterday:

Puerto Rico’s payday loans: The shocking story behind Wall Street’s role in debt crisis

Via DN

On June 30, President Obama signed into law the PROMESA bill, which will establish a federally appointed control board with sweeping powers to run Puerto Rico’s economy. While the legislation’s supporters say the bill will help the island cope with its debt crisis by allowing an orderly restructuring of its $72 billion in bond debt, critics say it is a reversion to old-style colonialism that removes democratic control from the people of Puerto Rico. But does Puerto Rico really owe $72 billion in bond debt—and to whom? A stunning new report by ReFund America Project reveals nearly half the debt owed by Puerto Rico is not actually money that the island borrowed, but instead interest owed to investors on bonds underwritten by Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. While the Puerto Rican people are facing massive austerity cuts, bondholders are set to make mind-boggling profits in what has been compared to a payday lending scheme. For more, we speak in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with Carlos Gallisá, an attorney, politician and independence movement leader. And in New York, we speak with Saqib Bhatti, director of the ReFund America Project and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He is co-author of the new report, “Puerto Rico’s Payday Loans.”