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Monday, September 30, 2019

TelephoneGate and its Discontents

Only a person who embraces her or his historical short-sightedness could be aghast at Trump’s self-serving phone call to the president of Ukraine. Actually, it is not  the people in the US who are shocked and appalled by Trump’s heavy-handed, supposedly “unprecedented” attempt to undermine a political rival; it is the cable TV chatterboxes, the Democratic Party hitmen, and their addicted acolytes who self-righteously recoil from Trump’s brazen, ham-fisted corruption. 

How soon they forget Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks in order to hurt his Presidential rival, Hubert Humphrey. Or Reagan’s deal with the Iranians to hold the hostages and deny James Carter in the 1980 election.

Even more recently, our news media shrugged its collective shoulders at the audacious and successful effort of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to derail Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary run. And, of course, the Fusion GPS “research” organization contracted by the Clinton team and targeting Trump drew not only foreign operatives into the effort, but the corrupted leadership of the intelligence agencies.

Trump brought his customary vulgar directness and child-like simplicity to the phone conversation (“...very bad people…). Lacking any finesse, he directly asks President Zelensky to investigate the role of Biden and his son in Ukrainian affairs, offering the sleazy Rudolph Giuliani as an enabler. For his part, Zelensky shows himself to be the fawning puppet of the US: “We are trying to work hard because we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country…You are a great teacher for us.…”
Sharing the spirit of political retribution with Trump, Zelensky asks “the great teacher” to punish the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich: “Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the former president and she was on his side.” Tit for tat! Biden for Yovanovich! 

And don’t forget we need more sanctions and Javelin missiles to combat the evil Russians!

It’s more than curious that the purveyors of fast-food news do not identify Zelensky as an Eastern European Trump wannabe. Their dishonest portrayal of Ukraine as a bastion of democracy will not permit them to read the phone-call transcript as revelatory of the legacy of corruption and US intervention in Ukrainian affairs. Zelensky, like his predecessor, owes his position to a US-engineered coup that brought Ukraine firmly into the US sphere of influence. As adamantly as the media wants to portray Zelensky as “Mr. Smith Goes to Kiev,” the transcript suggests a different interpretation.

Lost in the impeachment flurry is the unsightly, corrupt role of presidential aspirant, Joe Biden. Biden has postured as a modest friend of the working man and woman, a commoner drawn to public service. In fact, Biden is a corporate Democrat through and through, with a nasty history of opposing affirmative action and supporting the militarization of the police and the growth of the incarceration industry. His foreign policy views are taken from the chicken hawks and the generals.

Along with Victoria Nuland, Biden was the leading figure in conducting US intervention in Ukrainian affairs during the Obama administration. His fingerprints are on the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. 

And then a curious thing happened. Two months later, Hunter Biden-- Joe’s ne’er-do-well son-- was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest energy company, Burisma Holdings, at a reported $50,000 per month. The head of Burisma had apparently been impressed with Hunter Biden’s deep experience in business, especially the oil and gas business.

But Hunter had no experience in business, any business. He was fresh from expulsion for cocaine use from a very brief and privileged entry into the Naval Reserve, hardly a sterling qualification for a big-time job on the Burisma board.

Could it have been that Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder of Burisma, saw Biden as a free pass for his being on the wrong side of US-written history? Was Hunter Biden’s appointment a down payment on forgiveness for Zlochevsky’s support of the deposed Yanukovych, given Vice President Joe Biden’s key role in shaping US policy toward its client state? 

Certainly those possibilities never occurred to our then apparently somnambulant media. No one saw a hint of impropriety, a scent of influence peddling, or the stench of corruption in the halcyon days of 2014. 

With one exception: James Risen, writing in The Intercept, claims that he, in fact, anticipated the dust-up about Joe and Hunter way back in 2015 when Risen was a writer for the august New York Times. Risen assures us, however, that Joe Biden’s intervention in Ukraine affairs had nothing but the most noble motives, an assertion that proves that some NYT writers actually found the paper’s editorial line to be credible. 

Astonishing: Risen and others can actually defend Biden’s role in Ukraine without acknowledging that he and other US officials were actively and effectively interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, a despicable sin that has singularly, but one-dimensionally occupied the US media obsessively for the last two years. Interference is only interference when it is alleged against the US or by a self-perceived foe of the US. That's the kind of twisted logic employed by a government intoxicated with its own sense of moral infallibility and sold by a compliant media.

“Still,” Risen assures us, “when Joe Biden went to Ukraine, he was not trying to protect his son — quite the reverse.” Why would anyone think differently? Tell that to the insightful David Rovics: A Biden Ballad.

Would it come as a surprise if the “whistleblower” in this sordid affair turned out to be-- not a disgruntled intelligence officer afraid of retribution-- but the highest echelon of the intelligence apparatus bent on keeping Zelensky securely under its thumb and on board with its anti-Russia program?

Whistleblower protection was supposedly meant to protect the employees, not the employers! It is undoubtedly abused in this case.

An examination of the nine-page “whistleblower” letter and appendix directed to the Senate and the House intelligence committee chairpersons reveals a remarkable access to numerous high-level “officials,” a wealth of intelligence information, and impressive analytical and research resources. The brief would constitute a difficult, herculean task for any low- or mid-level intelligence officer following the lead of hearsay or water-cooler gossip. Likely, the secret service leadership has contrived a composite “whistleblower” to exploit the anonymity guaranteed by existing legislation.

Unlike the Watergate “deep throat” leaker whose identity obsessed the media for decades, news people have a puzzling lack of interest in uncovering the anonymous “whistleblower.” Maybe they know there really isn’t one?

The “whistleblower” document is a point-by-point response to any counter-narrative that some, including many skeptics on the left, might construct to the bi-partisan, “color” revolution, regime-change program of US imperialism. It is, in essence, an expression of US unilateralism and the US’s attempts to isolate its rivals. Trump is the target of the exercise only because his own narrowly focused, personal objectives clash with the ruling class’s perception of its own interests and the calculated mythology of US moral authority; his MAGA vision is at odds with the global vision embraced by most of the ruling class establishment.

For the “news”/entertainment industry, an impeachment process is Christmas come early. The corporate moguls well know the jacked-up ratings that have followed past presidential impeachment hearings and the high drama of political maneuvers that ensue. They have stoked the fires of outrage to pressure a Democratic Party leadership reluctant to follow the impeachment path. 

Like RussiaGate, TelephoneGate is a two-edged sword aimed at the populace. On one edge, it attempts to conjure Trump criminality without suggesting that his behavior represents the general lawlessness of the capitalist class. And on the other edge, it promises to distract US voters from the real crisis facing  most citizens. With impeachment unfolding over the next year, TelephoneGate will accomplish that task.

Even a cursory examination behind the media curtain demonstrates that the sordid affair tarnishes all who have participated: Trump, his team, Biden and his DNC promoters, Biden, the younger, the intelligence establishment, the political cabal, the monopoly media, and the rest of that for which the disingenuous Trump and his junior partner Zelensky use the nonetheless useful term, “the swamp.” For well over a decade, confidence in the swamp and the institutions populated by the swamp rats has sunk in every opinion poll. 

Over the next months, we will be asked to pick sides in a contest with charlatans and scoundrels dominating both sides. There will be no winners beyond the charlatans and the scoundrels. 

If, paraphrasing the oft-quoted Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire, the Nixon impeachment was a tragedy and the Clinton impeachment was a farce, what is the Trump impeachment?

Greg Godels 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Inching Towards Armageddon

Gerald Seib, The Wall Street Journal’s chief political commentator, is right about the attack on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities: “In any case, the timing is deeply suspicious.” But hampered by his ties to officialdom, his suspicions take him only to the Iranians and their allies. Like all those drawing a salary from the monopoly entertainment industry, Seib cannot, by choice or by diktat, color outside the establishment lines.

Of course Seib is not alone in pointing fingers at the Iranians; the entire US foreign policy/intelligence cabal can only see Iran’s hand in the attack. They are determined to gin up enthusiasm for some kind of military adventure against Iran. That unanimity alone is cause to be “deeply suspicious.”

As for timing, what sense does it make for the Iranians to stir up trouble when Trump had just fired John Bolton, the most violently anti-Iranian policy maker in his administration, when Trump had alluded to a possible deal with Iran and dangled $15 billion bait before the Iranian leadership? Little sense indeed-- and “deeply suspicious timing.”

While liberals will choke before applauding any of Trump’s foreign policy initiatives, his bizarre confidence in “deal-making” has pulled the US back from more than one bloodletting venture planned by the policy hawks and the generals. Certainly the attack on Saudi Arabia played into the hands of the belligerent factions that stood with Bolton (and Pompeo) on the road to war. They benefit from the attack.

With a close election and a history of crying “Iran is evil!” at every opportunity, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would have sought to benefit from the attack. 

And the US domestic oil industry-- now the largest producer in the world-- definitely benefits from the attack. Violence and instability in the Middle East, the traditional oil spigot, only makes the US a more attractive source, as Trump has bluntly advertised. With the Strait of Hormuz a risky bottleneck and Saudi Arabian facilities ablaze, cautious customers might be well advised to buy US energy resources guaranteed by a trillion-dollar military. 

At the same time, energy insiders have exposed the explosive crisis facing the fracking-driven US oil industry. Caught in the scissors of massive overproduction and collapsing earnings, the industry is facing a cold, calculating Wall Street, calling in the enormous debt accumulated over the years. Wall Street financing allowed the industry to survive the 2014 Saudi Arabian attack on the US shale revolution, but now finance capital wants to see a return. The unprecedented rise in oil prices in the aftermath of the attack certainly helps the US industry, as a back page article in The Wall Street Journal concedes: “Frackers Seek to Profit on Saudi Oil Attack” (9-17-19).

For over two years, I have been arguing that US imperialism is shaped more and more by the explosive growth of US energy production. New and greater markets for oil and liquified natural gas play a larger role in shaping US foreign policy. Rather than using US might to dominate and safeguard energy production, US foreign conduct is today directed toward disrupting competing sources. The chaos in the Middle East (and the intervention in Venezuela) certainly further that agenda.

Apparently, the Russians stand to benefit as well. President Putin suggests that maybe Saudi Arabia, with the third largest defense budget in the world, should spend some money on Russian air-defense systems like their touted S-400. Clearly, the Saudi defense system, based on the most sophisticated and costly US defense systems, failed to stop the attack, a great embarrassment to the US and the Saudis. 

US officials, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, scrambled to explain the failure. They argued that the multi-billion-dollar systems were focused on threats from the Houthis in Yemen. Of course that claim contradicts the long-standing, fundamental charge that Iran is the principal danger to the region. To deflect attention from the defense failure, the US and the Saudis must instead maintain that they were bushwhacked by the Iranians. Any alternative explanation would point to an enormous intelligence and military-hardware failure. Surely the poor, backward Houthis could not outsmart the best and brightest of the Western defense establishment. The illusion must be maintained.

Liberals, and even many on the left, have failed to grasp the current imperialist paradigm. We witness the clash and competition of big and little imperialist powers. The Cold War paradigm is now obsolete. And in its place are postures, maneuvers, and actions by many rivals to gain advantage over or escape the dominance of others; we live in an era of escalating inter-imperialist conflict between capitalist countries of every size and political persuasion. 

We have to go back over a hundred years to find a real, existing parallel to the events transpiring on and around the Arabian peninsula.

Like the events in Sarajevo in 1914, we may never clearly identify a “villain.” Nor will it really matter. It may soon be overshadowed by the war and destruction that comes in its wake.

Greg Godels