Monday, May 29, 2017

Excessive credit, rentier capital and crises

by Michael Roberts

Steve Keen has a new book out.  It’s called: Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? Steve Keen is professor of economics at Kingston University in the UK.  His earlier book (Debunking economics) is a brilliant expose of the fallacious assumptions and conclusions of mainstream economics, i.e. ‘perfect competition; general equilibrium and ‘rational expectations’ of economic ‘agents’.

The failure of mainstream economics to see the coming of the global financial crash and the ensuing Great Recession is now well documented – see my own coverage here.  This failure has led several mainstream economists to disavow its usefulness.  One such recently was Paul Romer, a former New York university professor and now the chief economist of the World Bank.  Last fall, before taking up his appointment at the World Bank, Romer wrote a paper accusing his fellow macroeconomists of forming a monolithic intellectual community, which deferred to authority, disregarded the opinions of those outside of their group and ignored unwelcome facts. They behaved more like cult members than genuine scientists. Romer compared modern macroeconomics to string theory, famously described as “not even wrong.”

This did not go down well.  And now there has been a rebellion among his 600 economists (yes, 600!) at the World Bank.  They have insisted that he no longer be in charge of managing them, after he demanded that they drop their long-winded economic jargon and adopted a simpler style of prose.  Romer responded ironically to this demotion of his power at the World Bank, “Apparently the word is out that when I asked people to write more clearly, I wasn’t nice. And that I slaughter kittens in my office.”

But I digress.  The point of this Romer story is to show that those who dispute the assumptions and conclusions of mainstream economic apologia are not likely to get much of a hearing.  As I said in my post on Romer’s critique, that he won’t succeed in getting “mainstream economics yanked back into reality”. And so it has proved.

Steve Keen, however, continues his attempt to provide an alternative closer to economic reality.  And his new book also makes a prediction: that another crash is coming and even picks out some likely candidates where it is likely to kick off.  Now readers of this blog know that I think it is the job of economics, if it really sees itself as a science, to not only present theories and test them empirically, but also to make predictions.  That is part of the scientific method.  So Keen’s approach sounds promising.

But all depends, of course, on whether your theory is right.  Keen reiterates his main thesis from his previous work: that, in a modern capitalist economy credit is necessary to ensure investment and growth.  But once credit is in the economic process, there is nothing to stop it mismatching demand and supply.  Crises of excessive credit will appear and we can predict when by adding the level of credit to national income.  In the major capitalist economies leading up to the crisis of 2007, private sector credit reached record levels, over 300% of GDP in the US. That credit bubble was bound to burst and thus caused the Great Recession.  And this will happen again.  “A capitalist economy can no better avoid another financial crisis than a dog can avoid picking up fleas – it’s only a matter of time.”

So what of the next crisis? With his eye on credit growth, Keen sees China as a terminal case. China has expanded credit at an annualized rate of around 25 per cent for years on end. Private-sector debt there exceeds 200% of GDP, making China resemble the over-indebted economies of Ireland and Spain prior to 2008, but obviously far more significant to the global economy. “This bubble has to burst,” writes Keen.

Nor does he have much hope for his native Australia, whose credit and housing bubbles failed to burst in 2008, thanks in part to government measures to support the housing market, lower interest rates and massive mining investment to meet China’s insatiable demand for raw materials. Last year, Australian private-sector credit also nudged above 200% of GDP, up more than 20 percentage points since the global financial crisis. Australia shows, says Keen, that “you can avoid a debt crisis today only by putting it off till later.”

This idea that it is the level of credit and the pace of its rise that is the main criterion for gauging the likelihood of a slump in capitalist production also lies behind the view of another heterodox economist, Michael Hudson in his book Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. Hudson’s main contention that the FIRE economy – finance, insurance, and real estate – cripples the “real” economy and is slowly reducing most of us to debt bondage.

Hudson goes further.  For him, the old system of industrial capitalism – hiring labor, investing in plants and equipment and creating real wealth backed by tangible goods and services – has been eclipsed by the re-emerging dominance of a parasitic neo-feudal class.   It is this elite, not industrial capitalists, who are the foundation of most of our economic woes.  The 2008 crisis was not a typical boom and bust housing crash of capitalism but the logical conclusion of financial parasites slowly bleeding most of us dry. “Today’s neoliberalism turns the [free market’s] original meaning on its head. Neoliberals have redefined ‘free markets’ to mean an economy free for rent-seekers, that is, ‘free’ of government regulation or taxation of unearned rentier income (rents and financial returns).”

I read this to mean that it is not capitalism of the past, competition and the accumulation of capital for investment, that is the problem and cause of crises, but the ‘neoliberal’ world of ‘rentier’ capital, ‘feudal’ parasites and ‘financialisation’.  This would suggest that crises could be solved if capitalism returned to its previous role, as Adam Smith envisaged it, as expanding production through division of labour and competition.

Also, for Hudson, the problem of capitalism is not one of profitability and the striving to extract surplus-value out of the productive labour force but one the extraction of ‘rents’ out of industry by landowners and financiers.  “Labor (‘consumers’) and industry are obliged to pay a rising proportion of their income in the form of rent and interest to the Financial and Property sector for access to property rights, savings and credit. This leaves insufficient wages and profits to sustain market demand for consumer goods and investment in the new means of production (capital goods). The main causes of economic austerity and polarization are rent deflation (payments to landlords and monopolists) and debt deflation (payments to banks, bondholders and other creditors).”  (Hudson)

Thus we have a model of capitalism where crises result from ‘imperfections’ in the capitalist model, either due to a lack of competition and the growth of financial rentiers (Hudson) or due to excessive credit (Keen).  Moreover, crises are the result of a chronic lack of demand caused by squeezing down wages and raising the level of debt for households. The latter thesis is not new – as many mainstream economists have argued similarly and it dominates as the cause of crises on the left.  As Mian and Sufi put it, “Recessions are not inevitable – they are not mysterious acts of nature that we must accept. Instead recessions are a product of a financial system that fosters too much household debt”.

The key omission in this view of crises is any role for profit and profitability – which is after all the core of Marx’s analysis of capitalism – a mode of production for profit not need.  Profit is missing from Keen’s analysis.  Indeed, Keen considers Marx’s theory of value to be wrong or illogical, accepting the standard neo-Ricardian interpretation and Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as being irrelevant to a theory of crises.  Hudson has nothing to say about Marx’s key insights.

The post-Keynesians rely on the Keynes-Kalecki equation
, namely that profits = investment, but it is investment that drives or creates profits, not vice versa, as Marx would have it.  This view recently reached its extreme in another relatively new book, Capitalism as Oligarchy, by Jim O’Reilly, where, similar to the view of leading post-Keynesian, Engelbert Stockhammer, that is rising inequality that is decisive to crises rather than profitability of capital, O’Reilly argues that “inequality isn’t a side-effect of something we happen to call ‘capitalism’ but is rather the core of what the system is”.

According to O’Reilly, profits does not come from the unpaid labour of the working class but are ‘created’ for capitalists by the sale of goods and services to the consumer.  Profits come from exploiting the consumer, not the worker.  “where does profit come from? It can’t be from workers since they can spend no more than the wage received (!! – MR).  Wages are a source of revenue through sales, but they’re also a cost. For the system as a whole, they must net to zero—workers are simply not profitable.”  Only capitalists have more income than they spend, so they create their own profits (hmm… MR).

Apparently, Rosa Luxemburg was on the case… “Her insight that profit had to come from a source beyond the worker was correct but she erred in accepting the conventional monetary wisdom that capitalism’s “aim and goal in life is profit in the form of money and accumulation of capital.”   In this theory, profits are not the driver of capitalism but the result of investment and consumption.

The argument that credit plays a key role in capitalism; and ‘excessive credit’ does so in crises was first explained by Marx.  As Marx wrote in Volume 3 of Capital, “in a system of production where the entire interconnection of reproduction process rests on credit, a crisis must inevitably break out if credit is suddenly withdrawn and only cash payment is accepted…at first glance, therefore the entire crisis presents itself as simply a credit and monetary crisis”.  (p621) But that’s at “first glance”.  Behind the financial crisis lies the law of profitability: “the real crisis can only be deduced from the real movement of capitalist production” (TSV2, p512).

Looking for a cause is scientific. But dialectically there can be causes at different levels, the ultimate (essence) and the proximate (appearance). The ultimate is found from the real events and then provides an explanation for the proximate. The crisis of 2008-9, like other crises, had an underlying cause based on the contradictions between accumulation of capital and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall under capitalism. That contradiction arose because the capitalist mode of production is production for value not for use. Profit is the aim, not production or consumption. Value is created only by the exertion of labour (by brain and brawn). Profit comes from the unpaid value created by labour and appropriated by private owners of the means of production.

The underlying contradiction between the accumulation of capital and falling rate of profit (and then a falling mass of profit) is resolved by crisis, which takes the form of collapse in value, both real value and fictitious. Indeed, wherever the fictitious expansion of capital has developed most is where the crisis begins e.g. tulips, stock markets, housing debt, corporate debt, banking debt, public debt etc. The financial sector is often where the crisis starts; but a problem in the production sector is the cause.

Undoubtedly the rise of excessive credit in the major capitalist economies was a feature of the period before the crisis.  And its very size meant that the crunch would be correspondingly more severe as capitalist sector saw the value of this fictitious capital destroyed.

But is it really right to say that excessive credit is the cause of capitalist crises?  Marx argued that credit gets out of hand because capitalists find that profitability is falling and they look to boost the mass of profits by extending credit.

It is a delusion or a fetish to look at credit as the main or only cause of crisis.  In a capitalist economy, profit rules.  If you deny that, you are denying that capitalism is the right term to describe the modern economy.   Maybe it would be better to talk about a credit economy, and credit providers or creators and not capitalists.  Thinking of credit only, as Keen does, leads him to conclude that China is the most likely trigger of the next global crisis.  But that has already been refuted by the experience of the last year.

We must start with profit, which leads to money, investment and capital accumulation and then to employment and incomes.   And there is a mass of empirical evidence that profitability and profits lead investment, not vice versa.

Moreover, why did debt and financial rents become ‘excessive’ in the so-called neoliberal period?  The Marxist explanation is that the profitability of productive capital declined in most modern economies between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s, and so there was a rise of investment in finance, property and insurance (FIRE), along with other neo-liberal counter measures like anti-trade union legislation, labour laws, privatisation and globalisation.  The aim was to raise profitability of capital, which succeeded to a limited extent up to late 1990s.

But as profitability began to fall back, the credit boom was accelerated in the early 2000s, leading eventually to the global financial crash, credit crunch and the Great Recession.  As profitability in most top capitalist economies has not returned to the levels of the early 2000s, investment in productive sectors and productivity growth remains depressed.  The boom in credit and stock markets has returned instead.  Fictitious capital has expanded again – as Keen shows.  And rentier capital dominates – as Hudson shows.

If excessive credit alone is to blame for capitalist crises and not any flaws in the profit mode of production, then the answer is the control of credit.  If rentier capital is to blame for the poverty of labour and crises, then the answer is to control finance.  Indeed, Keen argues that the best policy prescription is to keep private sector credit at about 50% of GDP in capitalist economies.   Then financial crises could be avoided.  Hudson recommends annulling unpayable debts of households.

And Hudson recommends a nationalized banking system that provides basic credit.
These are undoubtedly important reforms that a pro-labour government or administration should implement if it had such power to do so.  But that alone would not stop crises under capitalism, if the majority of the productive sectors remained privately owned and investing only for profit not need. 

As Hudson says himself: “Just to be clear, ridding ourselves of financial and rentier parasites will not usher in an economic utopia. Even under a purely industrial system, economic problems will abound. Giants such as Apple will continue to offshore profits, companies like Chipotle will keep stealing their workers’ wages, and other big businesses will still gobble up subsidies while fulminating against any kind of government regulation. Class divisions will remain a serious issue.”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Capitalism's Crisis Opens Cracks in the US Ruling Class

The US capitalist class is divided. Whether or not its in turmoil is another matter but it is close.  As we have pointed out on this blog, the US capitalist class, in fact all national capitalists, prefer to govern society through bourgeois democracy or liberal democracy as some call it. This is the most stable and least disruptive structure. With it comes universal suffrage, a relatively cohesive working class with independent organizations, a strong and vibrant middle class and certain freedoms, the  most important being the right of the capitalist class to purchase labor power and the necessity of the working class to sell it to survive.

Lenin pointed out that in order for revolutions to occur, the ruling class has to believe it cannot govern in the same old way and therefore becomes fractured, at war with itself, while the working class feels it cannot continue to be governed in the old way and is moving forward seeking to resolve this crisis, not in a straight line, not without confusion, but in that general direction. How that plays out has a great deal to do with the leadership of the working class.

The capitalist class will, if necessary, resort to military rule if it has to, if its position as ruling class is threatened, if bourgeois democracy falters.  In the former colonial countries, the capitalist class is too weak for bourgeois democracy to be an option. It is dominated by the imperialist countries and its own working class potentially too strong to afford such a luxury. There we see military dictatorships, theocratic regimes and as we are experiencing now, the break up of nation states entirely. The advanced capitalist world is not exempt from this process which is a result of capitalism's decay and inability to advance humanity. In the absence of a democratic socialist transformation globally, a world federation of democratic socialist states, capitalism's future is one of endless regional wars, fragmentation and eventually the destruction of life as we know it through nuclear war, environmental disaster or combinations of such.

It is clear that Trump is a destabilizing factor as far as the US bourgeois is concerned. But they are in a bind. They have to get rid of him, but that has dangers, he remains, that too has dangers. One section of the US ruling class is overconfident, too cocky, they want to drive the US working class further backwards, they don't quite see the potential danger to their governance in its present form. The US working class has been relatively quiet and the leaders of the organized workers are all on the team, therefore, these elements within the US bourgeois do not fear us.  But this is a mistake, Trump and they will raise the whip of the counterrevolution as we have stated before and sometimes that's what it takes to drive the working class to act.

The article below is another example of the cracks that are opening up within the ruling class in the US.  The tragic aspect of this is that the leadership of the potentially powerful organized working class is absent, is an obstacle to a fightback that has to be breached and will at some point. 

Turmoil may be too strong an expression at this point but there is no doubt that the US ruling class is in perhaps its greatest crisis since the US Civil War.  A crisis of leadership is not allowing us to take advantage of such a favorable moment.  This means that the future will be unnecessarily rough to put it mildly. It's fortunate we have free will but we rarely choose the circumstances under which we exercise it and we have to choose to exercise it. The emancipation of the working class and therefore all humanity, must be the act of the working class itself. No one can do it for us. RM

Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal
Trump Faces the Fury of a Scorned Ruling Class

The ‘threat’ that has elites quaking is his serious attempt to curb federal power and cut spending.

President Trump in Brussels, May 25.President Trump in Brussels, May 25. Photo: Getty Images

A lobbyist friend who visited Capitol Hill recently came away horrified. “I now am ready to believe that the partisanship is so unhinged that it’s a threat to the Republic,” she writes in an email.

This Washington hysteria comes at a time of full employment, booming stocks, relative peace and technological marvels like an electronic robot named Alexa who fetches and plays for you songs of your choice. What’s the fuss about?

We all know the answer: Donald Trump. The Washington body politic has been invaded by an alien presence and, true to the laws of nature, that body is feverishly trying to expel it. These particular laws of nature demand rejection of anything that threatens the livelihoods and prestige of the permanent governing class.

The “threat” that has Washington quaking is the first serious effort in a long time to curb federal regulatory power, wasteful spending, and a propensity to run up mountainous budget deficits and debt. That’s presumably what the voters wanted when they elected Donald Trump. Democrats—accurately regarded as the party of government—seem to fear that Mr. Trump might actually, against all odds, pull it off.

The Washington Post, the New York Times and other apostles of the Democratic Party have apparently set out to prove that despite their shaky business models they can still ignite an anti-Trump bonfire. A recent headline in the Post. asserted that “Trump’s scandals stoke fear for the 2018 midterms among Republicans nationwide. What scandals would those be? There was of course the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Democrat Hillary Clinton went on TV to claim that Mr. Comey cost her the election. Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey. Did Democrats praise the president? No, they want him impeached. Devious logic, but devious is a good descriptor of much of what goes on in this fight.

Mr. Comey retaliated by leaking a “big scoop” to the Times—notes taken when Mr. Trump allegedly asked him to back off on the investigation of national security adviser Mike Flynn. But let’s recall the circumstances of this “investigation.” The Obama administration—possibly the FBI—tapped a phone conversation between Mr. Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Then Mr. Obama’s minions used the raw data to “unmask” Mr. Flynn and get the retired general fired for not giving a full account of the discussion. Given that sorry record of political involvement, was Mr. Trump so wrong if he asked Mr. Comey to go easy?

Then there was the Post’s “shocking” revelation that the president gave classified information to Russia’s foreign minister. The president is commander in chief of the U.S. military and conducts foreign policy. The intelligence agencies work for him, and he is responsible for using what they provide to further U.S. interests. Is it so unlikely that a friendly tip to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about an ISIS tactic was calculated to earn trust? A more interesting question is who walked out of the room and illegally handed the Post this “scoop.”

Russians aren’t popular in the U.S., for many good reasons. That has its uses for Trump baiters. Democratic claims that Mr. Trump conspired with the Russians to swing the November election led the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, to investigate. But is this claim even slightly plausible? So far all we have are anonymous officials who claim that intelligence agencies know of individuals with connections to the Russian government who supplied WikiLeaks with hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta’s accounts. But these officials are still unwilling to go on the record.

The Washington community knows how to fight back when it feels threatened. Leakers are having a ball, even if it has taken a lot of journalistic imagination to turn the most notorious leaks into “scandals.” Almost everyone in town has a stake in fending off the Trump threat: government workers and the businesses that serve them, public unions, lobbyists and their clients, owners of posh hotels and restaurants that cater to well-heeled visitors seeking government favors, journalists whose prestige derives from the power center they cover, academics who show politicians how to mismanage the economy, real-estate agents feeding on the boom—to name a few. It’s a good living, and few take kindly to a brash outsider who proclaims it is his mission to drain the swamp.

Mr. Trump is on the attack and Washington is fighting back. Is the Republic in danger? Another question is how much danger will it be in if Mr. Trump loses?

Mr. Melloan is a former deputy editor of the Journal editorial page and author of “When the New Deal Came to Town,” (Simon & Schuster, 2016).”

Appeared in the May 26, 2017, print edition.

North Korea: What Americans Don't Know.

A Murderous History of Korea

Bruce Cumings

More than four decades ago I went to lunch with a diplomatic historian who, like me, was going through Korea-related documents at the National Archives in Washington. He happened to remark that he sometimes wondered whether the Korean Demilitarised Zone might be ground zero for the end of the world. This April, Kim In-ryong, a North Korean diplomat at the UN, warned of ‘a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment’. A few days later, President Trump told Reuters that ‘we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.’ American atmospheric scientists have shown that even a relatively contained nuclear war would throw up enough soot and debris to threaten the global population: ‘A regional war between India and Pakistan, for instance, has the potential to dramatically damage Europe, the US and other regions through global ozone loss and climate change.’ How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea.

North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army on 25 April, amid round-the-clock television coverage of parades in Pyongyang and enormous global tension. No journalist seemed interested in asking why it was the 85th anniversary when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was only founded in 1948. What was really being celebrated was the beginning of the Korean guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in north-east China, officially dated to 25 April 1932. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, many Koreans fled across the border, among them the parents of Kim Il-sung, but it wasn’t until Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo in March 1932 that the independence movement turned to armed resistance.

Kim and his comrades launched a campaign that lasted 13 difficult years, until Japan finally relinquished control of Korea as part of the 1945 terms of surrender. This is the source of the North Korean leadership’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people: they are revolutionary nationalists who resisted their country’s coloniser; they resisted again when a massive onslaught by the US air force during the Korean War razed all their cities, driving the population to live, work and study in subterranean shelters; they have continued to resist the US ever since; and they even resisted the collapse of Western communism – as of this September, the DPRK will have been in existence for as long as the Soviet Union. But it is less a communist country than a garrison state, unlike any the world has seen. Drawn from a population of just 25 million, the North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world, with 1.3 million soldiers – just behind the third largest army, with 1.4 million soldiers, which happens to be the American one. Most of the adult Korean population, men and women, have spent many years in this army: its reserves are limited only by the size of the population.

The story of Kim Il-sung’s resistance against the Japanese is surrounded by legend and exaggeration in the North, and general denial in the South. But he was recognisably a hero: he fought for a decade in the harshest winter environment imaginable, with temperatures sometimes falling to 50° below zero. Recent scholarship has shown that Koreans made up the vast majority of guerrillas in Manchukuo, even though many of them were commanded by Chinese officers (Kim was a member of the Chinese Communist Party). Other Korean guerrillas led detachments too – among them Choe Yong-gon, Kim Chaek and Choe Hyon – and when they returned to Pyongyang in 1945 they formed the core of the new regime. Their offspring now constitute a multitudinous elite – the number two man in the government today, Choe Ryong-hae, is Choe Hyon’s son.

Kim’s reputation was inadvertently enhanced by the Japanese, whose newspapers made a splash of the battle between him and the Korean quislings whom the Japanese employed to track down and kill him, all operating under the command of General Nozoe Shotoku, who ran the Imperial Army’s ‘Special Kim Division’. In April 1940 Nozoe’s forces captured Kim Hye-sun, thought to be Kim’s first wife; the Japanese tried in vain to use her to lure Kim out of hiding, and then murdered her. Maeda Takashi headed another Japanese Special Police unit, with many Koreans in it; in March 1940 his forces came under attack from Kim’s guerrillas, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. Maeda pursued Kim for nearly two weeks, before stumbling into a trap. Kim threw 250 guerrillas at 150 soldiers in Maeda’s unit, killing Maeda, 58 Japanese, 17 others attached to the force, and taking 13
prisoners and large quantities of weapons and ammunition.

In September 1939, when Hitler was invading Poland, the Japanese mobilised what the scholar Dae-Sook Suh has described as a ‘massive punitive expedition’ consisting of six battalions of the Japanese Kwantung Army and twenty thousand men of the Manchurian Army and police force in a six-month suppression campaign against the guerrillas led by Kim and Ch’oe Hyon. In September 1940 an even larger force embarked on a counterinsurgency campaign against Chinese and Korean guerrillas: ‘The punitive operation was conducted for one year and eight months until the end of March 1941,’ Suh writes, ‘and the bandits, excluding those led by Kim Il-sung, were completely annihilated. The bandit leaders were shot to death or forced to submit.’ A vital figure in the long Japanese counterinsurgency effort was Kishi Nobusuke, who made a name for himself running munitions factories. Labelled a Class A war criminal during the US occupation, Kishi avoided incarceration and became one of the founding fathers of postwar Japan and its longtime ruling organ, the Liberal Democratic Party; he was prime minister twice between 1957 and 1960. The current Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo, is Kishi’s grandson and reveres him above all other Japanese leaders. Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Abe on 11 February when a pointed message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: it had just successfully tested a new, solid-fuel missile, fired from a mobile launcher. Kim Il-sung and Kishi are meeting again through their grandsons. Eight decades have passed, and the baleful, irreconcilable hostility between North Korea and Japan still hangs in the air.

In the West, treatment of North Korea is one-sided and ahistorical. No one even gets the names straight. During Abe’s Florida visit, Trump referred to him as ‘Prime Minister Shinzo’. On 29 April, Ana Navarro, a prominent commentator on CNN, said: ‘Little boy Un is a maniac.’ The demonisation of North Korea transcends party lines, drawing on a host of subliminal racist and Orientalist imagery; no one is willing to accept that North Koreans may have valid reasons for not accepting the American definition of reality. Their rejection of the American worldview – generally perceived as indifference, even insolence in the face of overwhelming US power – makes North Korea appear irrational, impossible to control, and therefore fundamentally dangerous.

But if American commentators and politicians are ignorant of Korea’s history, they ought at least to be aware of their own. US involvement in Korea began towards the end of the Second World War, when State Department planners feared that Soviet soldiers, who were entering the northern part of the peninsula, would bring with them as many as thirty thousand Korean guerrillas who had been fighting the Japanese in north-east China. They began to consider a full military occupation that would assure America had the strongest voice in postwar Korean affairs. It might be a short occupation or, as a briefing paper put it, it might be one of ‘considerable duration’; the main point was that no other power should have a role in Korea such that ‘the proportionate strength of the US’ would be reduced to ‘a point where its effectiveness would be weakened’. Congress and the

American people knew nothing about this. Several of the planners were Japanophiles who had never challenged Japan’s colonial claims in Korea and now hoped to reconstruct a peaceable and amenable postwar Japan. They worried that a Soviet occupation of Korea would thwart that goal and harm the postwar security of the Pacific. Following this logic, on the day after Nagasaki was obliterated, John J. McCloy of the War Department asked Dean Rusk and a colleague to go into a spare office and think about how to divide Korea. They chose the 38th parallel, and three weeks later 25,000 American combat troops entered southern Korea to establish a military government.

It lasted three years. To shore up their occupation, the Americans employed every last hireling of the Japanese they could find, including former officers in the Japanese military like Park Chung Hee and Kim Chae-gyu, both of whom graduated from the American military academy in Seoul in 1946. (After a military takeover in 1961 Park became president of South Korea, lasting a decade and a half until his ex-classmate Kim, by then head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, shot him dead over dinner one night.) After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950. Inside the South itself – whose leaders felt insecure and conscious of the threat from what they called ‘the north wind’ – there was an orgy of state violence against anyone who might somehow be associated with the left or with communism. The historian Hun Joon Kim found that at least 300,000 people were detained and executed or simply disappeared by the South Korean government in the first few months after conventional war began. My own work and that of John Merrill indicates that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people died as a result of political violence before June 1950, at the hands either of the South Korean government or the US occupation forces.

In her recent book Korea’s Grievous War, which combines archival research, records of mass graves and interviews with relatives of the dead and escapees who fled to Osaka, Su-kyoung Hwang documents the mass killings in villages around the southern coast.[*] In short, the Republic of Korea was one of the bloodiest dictatorships of the early Cold War period; many of the perpetrators of the massacres had served the Japanese in their dirty work – and were then put back into power by the Americans.

Americans like to see themselves as mere bystanders in postwar Korean history. It’s always described in the passive voice: ‘Korea was divided in 1945,’ with no mention of the fact that McCloy and Rusk, two of the most influential men in postwar foreign policy, drew their line without consulting anyone. There were two military coups in the South while the US had operational control of the Korean army, in 1961 and 1980; the Americans stood idly by lest they be accused of interfering in Korean politics. South Korea’s stable democracy and vibrant economy from 1988 onwards seem to have overridden any need to acknowledge the previous forty years of history, during which the North could reasonably claim that its own autocracy was necessary to counter military rule in Seoul. It’s only in the present context that the North looks at best like a walking anachronism, at worst like a vicious tyranny.

For 25 years now the world has been treated to scaremongering about North Korean nuclear weapons, but hardly anyone points out that it was the US that introduced nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula, in 1958; hundreds were kept there until a worldwide pullback of tactical nukes occurred under George H.W. Bush. But every US administration since 1991 has challenged North Korea with frequent flights of nuclear-capable bombers in South Korean airspace, and any day of the week an Ohio-class submarine could demolish the North in a few hours. Today there are 28,000 US troops stationed in Korea, perpetuating an unwinnable stand-off with the nuclear-capable North. The occupation did indeed turn out to be one of ‘considerable duration’, but it’s also the result of a colossal strategic failure, now entering its eighth decade. It’s common for pundits to say that Washington just can’t take North Korea seriously, but North Korea has taken its measure more than once. And it doesn’t know how to respond.

To hear Trump and his national security team tell it, the current crisis has come about because North Korea is on the verge of developing an ICBM that can hit the American heartland. Most experts think that it will take four or five years to become operational – but really, what difference does it make? North Korea tested its first long-range rocket in 1998, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the DPRK’s founding. The first medium-range missile was tested in 1992: it flew several hundred miles down range and banged the target right on the nose. North Korea now has more sophisticated mobile medium-range missiles that use solid fuel, making them hard to locate and easy to fire. Some two hundred million people in Korea and Japan are within range of these missiles, not to mention hundreds of millions of Chinese, not to mention the only US Marine division permanently stationed abroad, in Okinawa. It isn’t clear that North Korea can actually fit a nuclear warhead to any of its missiles – but if it happened, and if it was fired in anger, the country would immediately be turned into what Colin Powell memorably called ‘a charcoal briquette’.

But then, as General Powell well knew, we had already turned North Korea into a charcoal briquette. The filmmaker Chris Marker visited the country in 1957, four years after US carpet-bombing ended, and wrote: ‘Extermination passed over this land. Who could count what burned with the houses? … When a country is split in two by an artificial border and irreconcilable propaganda is exercised on each side, it’s naive to ask where the war comes from: the border is the war.’ Having recognised the primary truth of that war, one still alien to the American telling of it (even though Americans drew the border), he remarked: ‘The idea that North Koreans generally have of Americans may be strange, but I must say, having lived in the USA around the end of the Korean War, that nothing can equal the stupidity and sadism of the combat imagery that went into circulation at the time. “The Reds burn, roast and toast.”’

Since the very beginning, American policy has cycled through a menu of options to try and control the DPRK: sanctions, in place since 1950, with no evidence of positive results; non-recognition, in place since 1948, again with no positive results; regime change, attempted late in 1950 when US forces invaded the North, only to end up in a war with China; and direct talks, the only method that has ever worked, which produced an eight-year freeze – between 1994 and 2002 – on all the North’s plutonium facilities, and nearly succeeded in retiring their missiles. On 1 May, Donald Trump told Bloomberg News: ‘If it would be appropriate for me to meet with [Kim Jong-un], I would absolutely; I would be honoured to do it.’ There’s no telling whether this was serious, or just another Trump attempt to grab headlines. But whatever else he might be, he is unquestionably a maverick, the first president since 1945 not beholden to the Beltway. Maybe he can sit down with Mr Kim and save the planet.

© Norman G. Finkelstein 2017 - Designed by

Iran: Hassan Rouhani Not So Moderate

We share this article from The Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists
At a time when the Trump administration’s bellicose language about Iran is raising serious concerns, it is important not to equate opposition to U.S. imperialism with support for Iran’s repressive regime and its own regional imperialist wars. There is an Other Iran that needs to be defended.

Although the media coverage of the May 19, 2017 Iranian presidential election has focused on the high voter turnout for Hassan Rouhani, it is important to emphasize that many Iranians voted for Rouhani because they saw him as the only alternative to the “principalists” who are on the far right of the religious fundamentalist spectrum.  Furthermore, many chose not to vote.  

The reasons which this part of the Iranian population gave for its decision included the following:  1. All the candidates had to be approved by the Islamic Republic’s Council of Guardians. 2. Many of those who challenged the fraudulent election results in 2009 were imprisoned and killed. 3. The number of executions and political prisoners had increased under Hassan Rouhani’s administration  4. Although Rouhani’s being in favor of the July 2015 nuclear agreement with the world powers was positive, he could not get credit for the agreement because that decision had been made by the Supreme Leader Khamenei, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the regime as a whole. 5. The main difference between Rouhani and his leading opponent Ebrahim Raisi, was that Rouhani was more open to investments by businesses from the West. While Raisi called for increasing state subsidies for his electoral base, and Rouhani supported more neoliberal reforms, both were equally involved in corruption. Neither really cared about the increasing impoverishment of the majority of Iranians. 6. Both Rouhani and Raisi strongly support Iran’s military intervention in Syria to preserve Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

Furthermore, let us also not forget that there are still hundreds of political prisoners in Iran who include student youth, women’s rights activists, labor activists, teachers, Kurdish, Azari, and Arab activists who demand self-determination for Iran’s national minorities, Baha’i activists whose religion is banned in Iran. Currently, Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist and women’s rights activist, Athena Daemi, a feminist and human rights activist, and Esmail Abdi, a leader of the Iranian Teacher’s Union are on hunger strike at the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.   Labor activists, Jafar Azimzadeh and Shapur Ehsani Rad from the Free Union of Workers [formerly Unemployed Workers’ Union] are involved in court proceedings to fight eleven-year prison sentences issued against them on charges of “sedition and anti-regime propaganda.”

Mineworkers in Yurt

Let us not forget that following a mine explosion that killed more than 40 workers and injured tens of others on May 3,   mineworkers protested against Rouhani’s campaign appearance outside the Yurt mine in Golestan province on May 7, 2017. They prevented him from giving his campaign speech, banged on and jumped on his car and expressed their anger and frustration with unbearable working conditions, the lack of the most basic workplace health and safety standards, and the nonpayment of their wages and benefits.

One worker said: “Mr. President, none of you knows what it means to be a mineworker. You only remember us now that we have lost 40 miners, 170 children have lost their fathers and 40 women are widowed. Why don’t we have safe working conditions?”   Another mineworker said: “I swear to the Holy Koran that we don’t have bread to eat. I am in pain. . . Do you even know what a mineworker is? We work but we don’t have any insurance.”

Please see this video of mineworkers stopping Rouhani’s campaign speech and encircling his car:

Iranian Feminist Political Prisoner:
On May 15, Golrokh Ebrahimi-Iraee who has been sentenced to six years in prison for writing an unpublished story about the barbaric practice of stoning women, issued a letter from the Evin prison. She wrote:  “Isn’t it true that Rouhani had promised the release of political prisoners but his minister of foreign affairs at the United Nations denied the existence of political prisoners? Isn’t it true that the number of executions under the Rouhani administration have doubled in comparison to Ahmadinejad’s administration?. . . The arrests, heavy sentences and frightful detention centers of the ministry of intelligence under the reformists’ administration are not any better than the detention centers of the principalists’ administration . . . What about the safe houses of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? In what administration have we not had arrests, humiliation and executions?”  

Ebrahimi-Iraee concluded: “ The vortex that we are immersed in has been brought about by our own imprudence. The only way to free ourselves from it is to open our eyes and review the history which we have not been determined to read.”
The full text of her letter in Persian is available at

Iranian Journalist in Exile:
In a recent issue of Manjanigh, an Iranian leftist magazine published in Europe, Hamid Mafi, an experienced journalist now in exile challenges Iranians not to believe the regime’s lies about the nature of its military intervention in Syria. He emphasizes that Rouhani’s rise to presidency in 2013 was simultaneous with the increased military presence of Iran in Syria in support of Basahr al-Assad. In criticizing those Iranian opposition activists who have now become supporters of Rouhani, he writes: “A group of those who protested against the results of the 2009 presidential election, considered Ahmadinejad’s victory to be a coup, and hoped that the regional developments would force the Iranian regime to yield. Now they point to the fate of Syria and Libya without paying attention to Iran’s role in the war in Syria. They have adopted the path of ‘reconciliation with the system’ in order to avert ‘the danger of war and partition’ of Iran.”

Instead, he argues that the danger of war and partition of Iran can only be averted if Iranian progressives simultaneously oppose any military intervention in Iran by any state, oppose any military intervention by Iran anywhere in the region, and oppose the “alliance of Iranian nationalism and Shi’ism” which is promoting the repression of progressive dissidents and oppressed minorities.

For the full text of Mafi’s article in Persian, please see

Young socialist activist:
Majid Arianne, a young socialist activist and intellectual calls on workers to not separate their struggle from those of women fighting for full human rights, or the struggles of Iran’s oppressed national minorities, such as the Kurds, Arabs and Lurs. He writes: “It is crude and mechanistic to define the working class simply as those from whom surplus value is extracted, and without considering the subjective factor, the world view, the perspective concerning the aesthetics of work and life.”

Arianne’s article in Persian can be found at
In an upcoming article, I will further examine the discussions among Iranian progressives concerning alternatives, and will critically analyze the views of some Iranian economists.

Frieda Afary May 27, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Remember Pat Tillman on Memorial Day

The Tillman Story: Was He Assassinated?
by Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired

I wrote this five years ago  after seeing this film. This Memorial Day let's not let them airbrush Pat Tillman from History. We owe it to Tillman to remember him and give him the place in history he deserves. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bush, they all loved him. They used him. But Tillman was not a person that could be bought off easily. He was a leader. He came from strong family; above all, he had principles and a person who has principles can change their views when the objective facts demand it.

If the reader hasn't seen this film you should. You might not draw the same conclusions as this writer when it comes to the issue of who fired the shot that killed him. But you will come to admire him for what he was-----a heroic figure. We don't need the spin doctors picking hero's for us.

The Tillman Story
Most Americans would know who Pat Tillman was and why he is so controversial, but for those readers abroad that might be hearing the name for the first time, he was a young professional football star, who, along with his brother, gave up a multi-million dollar sports future and enlisted in the US army. The Bush Administration and the capitalist media made Tillman the poster boy for their propaganda machine, he was a popular, modest figure respected by those that knew him; a perfect example of what a real patriotic American should be; having him be a spokesperson for their murderous foreign policy was a gift from above. Tillman, on the other hand, never explained his reason for enlisting keeping his views private. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

The official US government explanation for Tillman’s death was that he was killed in action, dying amid a hail of gunfire defending his troops against Taliban militia. But from the beginning things didn’t seem right. The Tillman Story describes the now famous cover up that came to light only through the dogged persistence of Tillman’s mother and family. Much of it is already known but this powerful documentary directed by Amir Bar Lev strengthens my belief that Tillman was probably assassinated although the film doesn’t draw this conclusion, or, in my recollection even suggest it.

After his death the government continued to use him, as it did when he was alive; as war propaganda. The media spread the government’s line and there were memorials held and events honoring Tillman as a war hero, from his former college team Arizona, to a huge memorial a month after his death in San Jose's Municipal Rose Garden.

But, as the film shows, Tillman’s mother and entire family weren’t buying it. The film describes how it comes to light that the US destroyed all his belongings, even his clothes were burned; and more importantly his diary. Why would the military burn the diary of a war hero? His fellow Army rangers were instructed not to talk to anyone about the details of his death. One of them, Russell Baer, attended his funeral and initially went along with the lies as instructed by his superiors. It is Baer and another Ranger, Bryan O’Neal, who stood out for me as honest and brave people who helped get the truth out there.

O’Neil was standing next to Tillman when he was shot by his own troops in what the US government describes now as “friendly fire” or Fratricide. Baer also explains how so many of the young people that joined did it to get an education or to “blow things up and shoot guns”. Initially, Tillman’s mother believed that it was simply terrified young men shooting wildly in panic after being attacked, but given the evidence it was more like gross negligence she explains.

But I cannot help drawing the conclusion from the detailed description of the events that day that those that shot Tillman knew who they were shooting at. Tillman was shot, sniper style with a bullet to the Head. At one point, O'neil describes Tillman standing up shouting “I’m Pat Tillman”. At this point the assailants (this was a half of the troop that were a half mile behind Tillman’s section) had moved to within 40 yards of Tillman and O’Neil, they had purposefully moved closer which doesn't sound like a frantic, uncontrollable melee. O’Neil said that he started to pray and Tillman told him to stop praying and deal with the here and now or words to that effect. O’Neil described it as Tillman preventing him from going in to some “La la land”, O’Neil, described as a devout Mormon, commands a lot of respect in this documentary.

This raises another issue, Tillman’s politics and his religious views, or lack of them There is a clip from his funeral that shows Tillman’s youngest brother getting up to speak right after the preferred war hero, John McCain. I have never seen this shown in the thousands of hours of media coverage. He’s dressed in a tee shirt and has a beer in his hand that he takes a quick swig from. He cusses a fair bit which is the only “official” reason the film got an R rating, but it was more likely to reduce attendance by young people. He counters McCain’s previous remarks that his brother is “with God” because Pat "wasn’t religious”. “He isn’t with God—he’s fuckin’ dead” he adds.

Tillman was no idiot. He read political literature and was interested in Chomsky. He was also an atheist. In one scene a military investigator claims in a radio interview that the reason Tillman’s family won’t give up on the case is that they’re atheists and that they don’t understand about duty. What scum these people are. Imagine how they treat their adversaries in foreign lands.

I am sickened by patriotism and all the phony nationalism that accompanies their propaganda efforts to get support for wars that no worker benefits from. But throughout this film I felt such admiration and respect for Pat Tillman and his family. I was transfixed as I watched the family, including Tillman’s wife, at an Arizona game honoring Pat. His mother was looking around at all the flag waving and circus atmosphere surrounding her son’s death and you could see she was sad and sickened by it.

Due to the Tillman’s family persistence, at one point, Tillman’s father wrote a letter to military bigwigs recounting all the lies the family had been told and concluded it with ”Fuck You” and “Fuck Yours” the government was forced to address the issue and held a congressional investigation where the mass murderer Donald Rumsfeld and the generals were dragged before Congress. Prior to this, they had made a retired three star general the fall guy but the Tillman’s wouldn’t have it. As the father said about the military, “You don’t piss unless you’re told to” and are we to believe this cover up didn’t go to the top? The documentary reveals that a memo from Gen Stanley McCrystal had been sent to the entire chain of command informing them of the real sequence of events long before these thugs admitted it.

I don’t subscribe to the view that all that happens is the result of a conspiracy. But apart from the description of the events of that day that strengthen for me, the possibility that he was murdered, we should consider the threat the Tillman represented to them. They had hung their hopes on this “All American” white football star being the front man for their foreign policy. But after returning from Iraq, Tillman was disillusioned with this foreign policy. He didn’t like what he saw and he was not a person who was afraid to speak his mind. Tillman was an honest, dedicated and independent thinker from a family that treasured such qualities; this comes across quite clearly in this film. The opportunity to return to football was there after his Iraq tours but he committed for three years and he believed in fulfilling his commitment.

Who knows what was in his diaries and we can only guess what he said privately to his fellow Army Rangers or the extent of his influence among them. There is not a shadow of a doubt that on returning to the civilian life, Tillman would not play the role they had mapped out for him; he was a real threat.

The weakness in the movie for me is the weakness all of these expose type films have; there is no alternative put forward. In response to the Congressional hearings Tillman’s mother said that she felt there was not “much else that could be done”. Her husband refused to talk to a Congressman so disgusted he was at the whole charade; “None of these actors are held responsible” he says. Tillman’s brother said that his mother “Hit the ball out of the park but the government kept moving the fence back.”

Because no alternative is even hinted at, the need to build a mass party of the working class as opposed to the two Wall Street parties for example, this film can re-enforce the mistaken view that we have to overcome in this country that there is nothing that we can do; that you “Can’t fight City Hall”. It can have a demoralizing effect as the control exercised by an “all powerful” state and its flunkies seem insurmountable. It would have been good had someone mentioned that given the lies around Tillman’s death, we can only imagine the lies and propaganda about the need to go to war in the first place. It would have been nice to have some mention that these wars were not about democracy or hunting terrorists or freedom, but a struggle for control of the world’s resources; they are wars conducted in the interests of US corporations

Perhaps, others will argue, a documentary would not get any distribution at all were this the case, or would not even me made,  but I would like to think this seed could have been sown in some form or fashion

Nevertheless, this is a very powerful indictment of the US government and the politicians in Washington. It exposes the rotten ruthless nature of US capitalism.  After watching it I wanted to meet the Tillman’s and shake their hands. Their actions alone are an encouragement to us all that it is better to fight than to not and it does show that their actions forced the mighty US government machine to defend itself. Unfortunately, no one will pay for the murder of their son.

See this movie and take the kids. The Tillman Story

Friday, May 26, 2017

Melania Trump on Fire?

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Yahoo news is fake news. It reports today that "Melania Trump Smolders in Cocktail Dress Next to Hijab-Clad Emine Erdogan" Now anyone knows that this is grossly unfair to Ermine Erdogan as Slovenian women are more prone to spontaneous combustion than Turkish women. This is a proven fact and was revealed on the Bill Maher show. Yet Yahoo continues to make a deal of it as if Emine Erdogan has a chance in the spontaneous combustion competition held in Brussels yesterday. As for the Iceland candidate, how could she expect to win, it's laughable. You can''t spontaneous combust in Iceland.
It is important to also point out that Melanie had another advantage, she was standing next to the woman who had pigs blood splattered over her dress and it is also a well known fact that pigs blood increases the chance of spontaneous combustion, especially  among Slovenian women. So Yahoo's glowing report about Ms Trump's "smoldering" is nothing but sensationalism and fake news.

Melania's shoes: cost $1995
Now, the other issue is this. That Ms Trump was smoldering and wearing these heels to accentuate her height, does not mean she is a good lover or a more intelligent and gracious women than Ms Erdogan.  I want to add a little bit of my own experience here. I was in London last year and got to talking to two women with heavy cockney accents. They were both Muslims. They were both dressed in black and one was comletely covered except the eyes and the other I could see her entire face. I got to talking to the one with the eyes only exposed and apart from the lovely cockney accent she had beautiful eyes and it made me wonder what the rest of her looked like under there. I was not put off by the garb although I am not sure I would want it 24/7. But I am not wearing it.
I found the mystery of it it quite titillating. After I explained to her that we weren't all like the Predator in Chief here in the US she began to womansplain me about why she wore this attire. She was not shy.
It was her choice outside of the home she said. It was cultural and in the present climate I guessed it might be more important for her than ever. This was my impression because I remember when I lived in this small village in England I was pretty much the only Catholic. I went to a Catholic school in the nearest town about 12 miles away and I have this memory of standing at a bus stop wearing the uniform of Blessed George Napier Roman Catholic Secondary Modern and feeling very proud of it. It's sort of like being the sole representative of a dying language. One has to defend it. The more Muslims are demonized, the more they will defend their faith and culture.
Anyway, as they walked off I turned to them and, being as the only Muslims I know are Arabs  I said "mas salama" or goodbye. Immediately I heard this "Oy, we're not Arabs we're Bengalis." A lesson learned.
Emine Erdogan.
Now the important thing is that I do find it odd and repressive that a woman dresses like that and yet a Muslim man can wander around uncovered. But who are we to talk. We have 10 year old children dressing like 25 year old women with makeup and lipstick and parading around like models. They are not behaving like children should.

The main thing is that no one should be told what they should or should not wear (young children excepted). Madison Avenue tells us what to wear. We have young people walking around with pants with lots of holes in them that cost a lot of money. Millions are spent convincing women especially to dress and look a certain, way.  I remember reading Malcom X's autobiography and he talked of wearing his hair in a way that made him appear more like a European, a white man. The capitalists don't spend billions on advertising because it doesn't work. The media can convince us of anything.  
As for Melania Trump's spontaneous combustion in Brussels. From reports I read in the media, the last time she smoldered like that was when her husband admitted to the world that he grabs women's crotches whether they like it or not, so there is evidence that sponataneous combustion and anger are connected.

I sort of fancy Ms Erdogan.

Jared Kushner and the Slumlord Business

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The FBI considers Trump’s son-in law, the slumlord Jared Kushner, a “person of interest”. So he should be, his life activity, his time spent on this earth, causes untold misery for thousands of people. Kushner, like Trump, has never done a productive days work in his life, and is in charge of a slumlord regime left to him by his dad.   But it is not this anti-social activity that is being investigated. There’s nothing illegal about exploiting people’s need for shelter.  They are investigating Kushner’s possible ties with Russia and the Trump campaign. The US bourgeois are looking for a reason to rid themselves of Trump, and it must be a reason that can be justified in the mind of a significant portion of the US population. Trump is bad for business and he cannot be tolerated for much longer.

The activity of Kushner the slumlord causes far more pain and suffering to the American people than Putin or the Russians. He owns thousands of housing units of mostly working class and poor people and is known as a ruthless landlord. In 2011 and 2012, Kushner and his parasitic partners were “seeking a stable source of revenue” (money without working or unearned income) according to reports. One source they landed on is people’s housing in Baltimore County Maryland where they own 15 complexes that “house up to 20,000 people in total.” see:  Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire.

Then in 2013 they got another bunch of buildings in the East Village for $130 million and three years after that they spent $750 million on a bunch of buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses on “prime land” in Brooklyn.

To think that all forces in US society, the media, the religious institutions, the strategists of the labor movement all champion the so-called free market as having the answer to all things. They complain about the excess, but they never demand an end to it. Social housing is the alternative to predators like Kushner and other like him. It is far more efficient and humane. Social housing brings permanence and security free from the grubby clutches of the big landlords. Society can provide decent housing but the profiteers and the capitalists like Kushner though their control of politicil life, the media and all institutions of learning, wage a continuous propaganda war against anything public. Here is a video I shot at a rally in London last year. The second woman speaking explains why social housing is so important as it is under attack in the UK too. Thatcher helped destroy it. Corbyn, the Labor Party leader is calling for more social housing. It's about nine minutes long and the woman I am referring to in in the image and starts at 2.33.

Having such close ties to the US president offers Kushner and his gang more opportunity for capital. Business Weeks’s May 15th issue pointed out that Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer has been “pitching the family business” to potential Chinese investors enticing them with the possibility of a US visa in return. This will all be explained away as job creation no doubt.

Jared Kushner is a middleman between the Chinese and the White House and he was also in Iraq on Trump’s behalf and is an advisor on Israel/Palestine relations. Kushner also invests in the illegal settlements in Israel where Jewish extremists from around the world are brought in as the front line in the Zionists expansionary policies that requires the expulsion of the Palestinians whose land the settlers’ appropriate.  Trump was accompanied on his visit to Israel, by another US Zionist Jason Greenblatt. They are optimistic a peace deal can be reached.  Such a blatant slap in the face to the Palestinians and Muslims as a whole wouldn’t increase support for Islamic extremist groups would it?

Assaulting reporters has become the norm for Trump’s political and business colleagues. At one of the Kushner events in Beijing where, Nicole Kushner Meyer was drumming up business, the China correspondent from the Washington Post was manhandled and forced to delete some of her phone’s contents by security. See here tweets here.

Kushner’s dad Charles taught him the slumlord business. Charles Kushner spent some time in prison for “….18 counts of tax evasion witness tampering and illegal campaign donations.”.

Writing in Slate Magazine Jamelle Bouie touches on Kushner’s rapacious desire for wealth and the misery it brings to his victims, he quotes the above piece from the NYT:

Kushner’s company is relentless in its pursuit of “virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease—even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side.” Residents are slapped with thousands of dollars in fees and penalties, even if they had previously won permission to terminate a lease. All of this is compounded by poor upkeep of facilities. MacGillis describes one family that has had to deal with mold, broken appliances, and physical damage to their unit—even after paying the management company for repairs. In one complex, a resident “had a mouse infestation that was severe enough that her 12-year-old daughter recently found one in her bed.” In another, raw sewage flowed into the apartment.
Kushner’s anti-social activity here is not an exception in the landlord business, it is the general rule. Most of the largest owners of human housing in the US are hedge funds and other parasitic outfits. The investors don’t have to look their victims in the eye, don’t have to see the little children or elderly people whose lives they wreck.

There is no doubt that the Russians, just like the US interfere as much as they possibly can in the political life of competing nations.  When they don’t do it covertly they do it though military means.  The US invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, Grenada and the overthrow of governments in Iran and Guatemala (1953) as well as the assassination of obstacles to US economic penetration, (Allende, Rene Schneider in Chile, Lumumba, in The Congo) are well documented.

As I pointed out in an earlier commentary, the main problem for the US ruling class is not Trump’s crude behavior, that’s a detail. Nor is Kushner’s terrorism as a slumlord a problem. It is their activity that damages the so-called legitimacy of bourgeois democracy that worries them. Their system of governance is in jeopardy, that’s the problem. Not only the system itself but the office of the president. We have to “respect” that office more than the person is the claim.  They art obsessed with this charade for the same reason that the feudal aristocracy pointed to divine right for their rule and the slave owner racial superiority for theirs. If the people lose faith in the system they will inevitably at some point attempt to replace it.

That other political arm of the US ruling class, the Democratic Party has the same concerns. Their obsession is with Trump and Trumpism. Get rid of Trump and all will be well. They are the anti-Trump party.  It is impossible not to see the difference when we compare Trump to Obama for example. Obama is cultured, educated, smart and has class. But while recognizing what an incredible event it has been for black folks in America to have a black family in the White House given the brutal racist history of this country, Obama didn’t get where he is without being trusted by the overwhelmingly white ruling class in this country.

He spoke yesterday of the Manchester bombing: "As the father of two daughters, I am heartbroken by this extraordinary tragedy that has occurred in Manchester. To all the families that have been affected, to those that are still recovering, to those who lost loved ones, it is unimaginable to think about the cruelty and the violence the city of Manchester has suffered.”

'This is a reminder that there great danger….” Obama added, “…terrorism and people who will do great harm to others just because they are different'  

Obama, as the leading world representative of US capitalism oversaw the deaths of countless numbers of children as the US continued its bombing of seven or so former colonial countries. He continued the drone killings and assassinations of his predecessor Bush and increased them. Oh, wouldn’t they wish he was there now. Obama was good for them and he is over in Germany campaigning for Merkel and the CDU, Germany’s dominant capitalist party.

Trump is a reflection of the serious political crisis of US capitalism. Its two main parties are in disarray and neither were able to find acceptable candidates in the 2016 elections. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were frequently labeled the two most unpopular candidates in US history and Trump so unpopular that even staunch Republicans, and many a misogynist among them, supported Clinton.

With the next economic recession or slump not too far on the horizon, it will exacerbate the political crisis facing US capitalism and add fuel to the anger that for the most part lies beneath the surface of US society. Still, there have been many opportunities for the US working class to rise to the occasion over the past period and we are seeing numerous struggles taking place around different issues, Standing Rock, poisoned drinking water in urban centers, housing, police brutality, environmental destruction and more. At some point, this anger will rise to the surface and these movements will begin to come together.

Opportunities have been missed and the present situation ripened to the extent that it has due to the role played by the hierarchy atop organized labor that have resources and a huge apparatus at their disposal and refuse to use it. As the 1% face a crisis of a decaying system and dysfunctional political parties, workers, the poor and middle class have been denied a movement and most importantly a political party of our own due to the labor leaderships deathly embrace with the democratic Party and worship of the market.

This won’t go on forever.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump: "Isis Targets Jewish Neighborhoods"

The glorious apex of human civilization
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I never read 1984 but perhaps I should. I’m sure, for those that have read it; they feel they are now living it. We were living it before Trump of course, but Trump really drives home the crisis that US capitalism is in and the dangers that arise from it.

Trump’s chat with the controversial Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte was interesting, not unlike two pimps discussing the territory they control and how they deal with rivals. Reports claim Duterte has killed some 6000 drug dealers and users over the past 6 months and this impresses Trump. Trump congratulated Duerte on his killings but not to be outdone, the US Predator in Chief boasted about the incredible firepower the US has when the subject of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un came up.  "We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines—the best in the world—we have two nuclear submarines—not that we want to use them at all," Trump told Duterte, according to the published transcript. "I've never seen anything like they are, but we don't have to use this, but he could be crazy, so we will see what happens."

The Philippines are somewhat important to Trump as his name is on the $150 million 57-floor tower in Manila, a licensing deal has brought him and his company millions of dollars.  But here we have a meeting of two diabolic minds. Kim Jong-Un would not be out of place here.

It would be difficult to write some farcical pantomime or play better than this, a sort of The Mouse That Roared except we have rats and they’re dangerous although I don’t want to insult rats. The best bet is not to compare Trump to any life form on our wonderful planet.

Trump says whatever he feels like saying at the moment. He boasted in Israel that he will resolve the Arab Israeli conflict. This is not only impossible within the framework of capitalism, so it is certainly beyond the powers of the imbecile Trump, “ I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace” he told an audience at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  The problem is that the Zionist regime in intent by its very nature in driving every Palestinian off their land. It is intent on being 100% successful in its ethnic cleansing program. The Zionists feel this way because their philosophy dictates it, this land is there’s given to them by god.  Like all religious doctrines of course, the Israeli ruling class doesn’t really believe it themselves, it is important that the masses do though.

Trump was accompanied in Israel by two powerful US Zionists, Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner. Greenblatt is a lawyer that represents Trump and is also an advisor on Israel. Kushner is the heir to the family real estate and media business. He is a married to Trump's daughter Ivanka and for most of his life a Democrat until the Trump campaign and presidency offered more opportunity. He's a sort of spoiled rich kid that Trump has thrust in to a position of power that affects the daily lives of millions of us; these guys remind us of the days of the Roman Empire. Kushner owns major real estate ventures including residential property and according to reports, is somewhat of a slumlord. On hearing that Kushner got an important position in the Trump administration Mary Ann Siwek, one of Kushner’s tenants for 30 years at one of his buildings in NYC was astounded, “It’s disgusting. It’s insane. It’s ludicrous,” she told the Village Voice, “I don’t know how to tell you how despicable this man is.”

Kushner also sued many of his tenants in Baltimore, "The President's son-in-law, sues his Baltimore tenants for thousands of dollars in bogus debts, on which he also gets judgments allowing him to garnish their wages and drain their bank accounts.”, writes one blogger.  More on Kushner the slumlord here.  Kushner  also finances some of the illegal settlements in Israel occupied by right wing religious fanatics operating as the front line in the Zionists' efforts to ethnic cleanse the area of Palestinians. 

Greenblatt has stated that “West Bank settlements are not an obstacle to peace" which is a vicious lie, they are a major obstacle to peace, but most Americans, certainly those that voted for Trump, wouldn’t know about that. So with these two as important advisors on the Israel Palestinian question it is safe to say that the Palestinians are f%#ked.

Trump, and by all accounts, US Middle East foreign policy, is now in a team effort with “Sunni Arab states to fight terrorism” the Financial Times reports today.  The nation that is responsible for world terrorism is Iran now. Yet trump meets with the world’s leading promoter of Islamic extremist groups, Saudi Arabia, a nation where atheism is classed as terrorism and women can be whipped for leaving the home without a male relative. And it is the Sunni Moslems and the particular Wahhabi Saudi brand of it that has a huge influence on extremism and Islamic terrorist groups.We're in Bizzarro world.

So Trump and the US is now condemning the Iranians despite the victory of the reformer, Hassan Rouhani, over the conservative hard liner in last week's election. Rouhani campaigned for better relations with the west and attacked the conservative old guard.  How far Rouhani can go though is debatable given his own role in the persecution and suppression of dissent in Iran under the Mullah's.

But Trump supposedly forming a bloc with Apartheid Israel and the savage Saudi’s and other Sunni Arab states is not a workable situation I would think. Madness indeed.  But perhaps the most bizarre statement from Trump I read today is his claim that, “Isis targets Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues and store fronts.”

Where did he get that from? Isis kills more Muslims than any other group. But Jews, hardly, and certainly not Israelis if that’s what he meant. Isis is an asset for the Zionists, just like Anti-Semitism, they thrive on it.

The world and the fate of humanity is in the hands of madmen, the products of a decaying social system. Marx pointed out that no social system leaves the stage of history without exhausting all the potential within it. But capitalism will not leave voluntarily, it will have to be driven in to extinction and it is the task of the working class internationally to do that. But there are no guarantees, the fundamental difference between capitalism and other social system is the existence of nuclear weapons. They don’t make all these weapons never to use them. As we have said many times, capitalism will destroy life as we know it if we do not stop it. There is no place to hide.