Jan 292011

The superrich are doing fine, thank you. 


Posted by “lenin

ABOVE: Ah, la vita e bella.  Fox News puppeteer Rupert Murdoch enjoying life with his considerably younger wife. Few tycoons have done more to crush the ragged remnants of democracy around the world than Murdoch. 

THE ANNUAL Merrill Lynch Cap Gemini World Wealth Report is a serious study of liquid, investable wealth held by the richest people on the planet: the High Net Worth Individuals who have at least $1m liquid wealth, and the Ultra High Net Worth Individuals who have at least $30m, both “excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables”. As such it constitutes an invaluable starting point for understanding who the ruling class are, where they live and how they hold their wealth. This is from the 2010 wealth report (I’m afraid there doesn’t appear to be a working online file):

The world’s population of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) grew 17.1% to 10.0 million in 2009, returning to levels last seen in 2007 despite the contraction in world gross domestic product (GDP). Global HNWI wealth similarly recovered, rising 18.9% to US$39.0 trillion, with HNWI wealth in Asia-Pacific and Latin America actually surpassing levels last seen at the end of 2007.

For the first time ever, the size of the HNWI population in Asia-Pacific was as large as that of Europe (at 3.0 million). This shift in the rankings occurred because HNWI gains in Europe, while sizeable, were far less than those in Asia-Pacific, where the region’s economies saw continued robust growth in both economic and market drivers of wealth.

BELOW: Microsoft’s Bill Gates

The wealth of Asia-Pacific HNWIs stood at US$9.7 trillion by the end of 2009, up 30.9%, and above the US$9.5 trillion in wealth held by Europe’s HNWIs. Among Asia-Pacific markets, Hong Kong and India led the pack, rebounding from mammoth declines in their HNWI bases and wealth in 2008 amid an outsized resurgence in their stock markets.

The global HNWI population nevertheless remains highly concentrated. The U.S., Japan and Germany still accounted for 53.5% of the world’s HNWI population at the end of 2009, down only slightly from 54.0% in 2008. Australia became the tenth largest home to HNWIs, after overtaking Brazil, due to a considerable rebound.

After losing 24.0% in 2008, Ultra-HNWIs saw wealth rebound 21.5% in 2009. At the end of 2009, Ultra-HNWIs accounted for 35.5% of global HNWI wealth, up from 34.7%, while representing only 0.9% of the global HNWI population, the same as in 2008.

The total liquid wealth of the rich in 2009, at $39 trillion, was actually more than two-thirds of world GDP in the same year, almost triple the GDP of the US, and nearly ten times that of China. Another way of looking at it is that the increase in liquid assets from 2008 to 2009 held by the rich was about $6.5 trillion, more than 10% of total GDP in 2009. This was in a year in which world GDP actually shrank by 0.8%.

RIGHT: Entertainment and music mogul David Geffen.

The distinction between “economic and market drivers of wealth” is very important, and very telling. Most of the new wealth held by the rich was, as you can see, not produced by economic growth, but by stock market capitalisation. In other words, market relations, sustained by state intervention, facilitated the transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich at a time when most of the world’s economy was such that the direct exploitation of labour could not sustain high profit rates. That’s what the bail-outs did; it’s what they were intended to do. Another intended consequence is that there were not only more high net worth individuals, 10 million of them globally (0.014% of the world’s population), but the ‘ultras’ did far better at increasing their share of liquid assets than mere millionaires – thus wealth became even more concentrated than it had been, among a mere 36,300 people, or 0.0005% of the population. The corollary of this has been, and will continue to be, a general decline in the living standards of the working class in most of the advanced capitalist economies: at the same time as the wealth of the richest grew, global unemployment rose by 14.4%.

The role of finance-capital in surplus-extraction varies considerably, of course – and here, China’s contribution to the reproduction of the world’s ruling class stands out. While financial bail-outs (temporarily) solved many of the problems of the rich in Europe and North America, growth driven by unprecedented spending commitments in China (and, to a lesser extent, India, whose stimulus actually began before the crisis) kept the rich from the Asia-Pacific region in dough, and contributed to the wealth of the US ruling class. This could happen partly because China’s growth rates were, like those of many ‘newly industrialising countries’, already robust. This meant that China’s per capita stimulus was greater than that of any other country, and as such accounted for 95% of economic growth in the first three quarters of 2009. But it was also in part because state ownership of the financial and banking sector in China has enabled the government to have more control over the coordination of its stimulus and its effects.

RIGHT: ORACLE’S Chief Larry Ellison. 

Much has been made of the regime’s policy of driving up wages. In fact, what has happened is that China’s stimulus enabled an increase in the total amount of surplus value, both by increasing the total employment of labour and by increasing the productivity of labour. Productivity growth has offset wage growth, thus allowing an increase in working class wages and living standards to take place, while continuing the long term strend for wages to decrease as a share of GDP [pdf]. The result is that the top 0.4% of the population controls 70% of the country’s wealth. Chinese growth has actually depended on wages sliding as a share of national wealth, and the world capitalist system would be a lot worse off if that hadn’t continued to happen. Indeed, according to a World Bank economist, China’s stimulus alone contributed 1% to world growth in 2010 – an extraordinary figure. Its GDP by purchasing power parity is already larger than the US by some calculations. China’s growth is enabling its ruling class to dramatically increase its demand for luxury goods, accounting for 49% of luxury market growth as the rich spoil themselves with the usual array of jets, mansions, and yachts. But it has also substantially paid for US growth, through direct investment and sovereign debt purchases.

The role of China’s working class, the largest in the world by far, in the reproduction of the world’s ruling class has, of course, been steadily growing since 1978. The interesting question now is whether this can continue. TheWorld Wealth Report expects future growth to be led by the Asia-Pacific region, “excluding Japan” – despite the latter’s substantial stimulus. This obviously means the rich expect China to continue to drive growth and thus profitability. During the last thirty years, China’s growth rates have been significantly ahead of its record following the 1949 revolution, and more than double the world average. Its share of world manufacturing rose from 2 to 18%, picking up the slack as manufacturing jobs were lost in Europe and the US. Its expansion fuelled a regional growth surge, eg allowing Japanese capital to increase profits by outsourcing to Chinese labour, and was a significant driver of world growth since 1982.

RIGHT: Mexico’s super tycoon Carlos Slim (richer than Gates). 

But the Chinese economy is accumulating tremendous spare capacity as a result of its stimulus package, adding to a global problem and endangering its future ability to produce sustainable growth. It has constantly had to counteract overheating, and may have to substantially reign in growth just when the rest of the world’s economies are doing exactly the same, thus undermining its ability to lead a new phase of capitalist growth. The tendencies toward over-accumulation and declining profitability are already evident. Despite the hype about wage increases, real wages are already so low (manufacturing workers in China get less than 5% of the average in the US) that they can’t go much lower. Even if they could, the effect may be to contribute to global deflation, thus harming the economies on which China depends for its export markets. China may thus be closer to the end of a long-term wave of growth than the beginning – that growth having been predicated on a now expired global wave of neoliberal expansion based on ‘primitive accumulation’ and the subsequent record expansion of the country’s working class.

Whether and however the ruling class succeeds in overcoming the present barriers to further accumulation, it’s hard to see future waves of growth proceeding in this self-same way. Instead, for the foreseeable future, it looks like there will be heightened competition over a diminishing share of surplus value. And Obama has just announced that America’s approach in this will be a revamped ‘open doors’ policy, advised by a new panel headed by the chief executive of General Electric. This will basically involve coercing other economies into accepting US exports at whatever cost to the national or regional economy being thus prised open. It probably presages a new wave of aggression in the global south, especially where popular movements succeed in establishing governments that are interested in independent development based on some concessions for the working class. One would also expect things like this to happen more often, as white supremacy in its various forms is a well-established praxis for weakening the bargaining power of labour and breaking the political threat from the Left. And, especially in a period like this, when growth is thin on the ground and profits have to be wrested through acts of accumulation-by-dispossession, that is how the ruling class makes its money.

Labels: american ruling class, capitalism, china, exploitation, profits, ruling class, the rate of exploitation

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED AT http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/01/global-ruling-class.html

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Jan 292011

By Stephen Lendman


LIKE LAST YEAR, Obama’s address was empty rhetoric, signaling business as usual with a twist – more than ever embracing reactionary extremism, promising harder than ever hard times on Main Street.

Last year, an earlier article discussed his first State of the Union address, accessed through the following link:


Results again this time were predicable. Democrats loved it. Time magazine called the Republican response “frosty,” saying “Stand-up comics call it a tough crowd.” 

Released prior to the address, Rep. Paul Ryan’s response stressed “work(ing) with the President to restrain federal spending,” saying “(o)ur debt is out of control. What was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis.”

His message was clear – reward the rich, soak working Americans, and fund America’s war machine generously, an agenda enjoying bipartisan support, very much so by Obama clearly signaled in rhetoric and policy. 

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s response following Obama was also predictable, saying:

“What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation, and litigation that kills jobs and hurts the middle class….Today the federal government is simply trying to do too much….The circumstances of our time demand that we….restore and proper, limited role of government at every level.”

Like Ryan and Obama, he’s pro-business, pro-elitist, pro-war and anti-populist, but so are most Democrats – together responsible for harder than ever hard times for working Americans they plan to worsen, not ease.

Predictable Media Response

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham said, “There (were) least three moments where (Obama) expressed explicit humility.” He and ABC News host George Stephanopoulos called his speech Reaganesque. NBC’s Matt Lauer and Washington Post columnist Tom Shales also stressed humility, Shales saying, “Obama does have the ability to snatch humility from the jaws of hubris.” He also mentioned his “directness, candor (and) neighborliness.”

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called Obama “seductive” while Rachel Maddow said his address was “more of a CEO-style pep talk/prayer to the free market, to the nation building in our own nation.” She added that he defined the political center “not so much by what’s wrong with both sides, but by what Mr. Obama likes from each party’s wish list.” Other MSNBC hosts and analysts also expressed strong support. 

So did Washington Post columnists Anne Komblut and Scott Wilson headlining, “State of the Union 2011: ‘Win the future,’ Obama says,” adding:

“President Obama sought to rouse the nation from complacency….urging innovation and budget reforms that he said are vital to keep the United States a leader in an increasingly competitive world.”

WP columnist Eugene Robinson headlined, “Hard to argue with Obama’s State of the Union address,” calling it “eloquent, post-partisan, (and) unit(ing)-not….divid(ing).”

A New York Times editorial headlined, “The State of the Union,” saying:

“Mr. Obama’s speech offered a welcome contrast to all of the posturing that passes for business in the new Republican-controlled House….At times, (he) was genuinely inspiring with a vision for the country to move forward with confidence and sense of responsibility. Americans need to hear a lot more like that from him.”

Nation magazine writer John Nichols headlined, “Obama’s ‘One Nation’ Speech: A Little FDR, A Little Reagan, A Lot Like Ike,” saying: 

“While he wasn’t entirely progressive, he was ‘far less deferent to conservative demands than had been predicted just a few days ago,’ stressing “One Nation” unified “behind a ‘winning the future’ agenda.”

In contrast, Fox News hosts and guests panned his address, as well as through Fox Nation’s live chat while he spoke, sharing largely critical Twitter comments.

A Wall Street Journal editorial raised doubts about a business friendly president, saying:

His address “can’t erase the fact that in his first two years (he) has overseen an historic expansion of government,” including increasing federal spending “to as much as 25% of the economy from a modern average between 20% and 21….A better economy requires policies that reward work and innovation, while letting capital flow to the companies and individuals with the best ideas.”

Writer Robert Scheer‘s assessment was accurate, saying:

“What is the state of the union? You certainly couldn’t tell from that platitudinous hogwash (Obama) dished out Tuesday evening….he was mealy-mouthed in avoiding the tough choices that a leader should delineate in a time of trouble….He had the effrontery to condemn ‘a parade of lobbyists’ for rigging government after he appointed (JPMorgan Chase’s) top” one as new chief of staff.”

His speech “was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions” bailout out rogue bankers that caused the economic crisis. Our nation is “divided between those who agree with Obama that ‘the worst of the recession is over,’ and the far greater number in deep pain” he’s ignoring.

A Reality Check

As a candidate, Obama promised change, a new course, progressive reforms, addressing people needs, ending US imperial wars, assuring a better future for working Americans, and much more he reneged on in office. 

As a result, hope became disillusion, frustration, and anger for growing millions facing harder than ever hard times, including lost homes, jobs and futures knowing what pundits and politicians won’t say – that Obama (like most Democrats and Republicans) represents business as usual, a reality speeches can’t change.

State of the Union rhetoric aside, his agenda embraces:

– power and elitism over popular needs;

– austerity and harder than ever hard times for suffering millions, including middle class Americans targeted for destruction;

– the worst of predatory capitalism, including freeing business from regulatory restraints;

– generous tax cuts for corporate America and the rich;

– rewarding Wall Street and other corporate favorites at the expense of Main Street;

– cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social benefits; 

– sacrificing full-time high-paying good benefits jobs for part-time low-paying ones without them;

– increasing unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and despair for growing millions getting little or no government aid;

– crushing unions;

– destroying public education by making it a business profit center;

– letting oil giants and other corporate predators pollute freely;

– continuing America’s imperial wars;

– planning more perhaps to divert public anger from dire economic conditions at home; and

– letting public need reach levels unseen since the Great Depression, pretending he cares when he doesn’t.

That’s the real state of the union. For growing millions, it’s dire, desperate, worsening, and repressive with no public agenda for progressive reforms and promised change because bipartisan support rejects them.

Senior Editor STEPHEN LENDMAN lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.


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Jan 292011

By The World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board

29 January 2011  | [print_link]

Mass demonstrations of workers and youth throughout Egypt shook the regime of US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak on Friday. Hundreds of thousands poured into the streets to demand the president’s resignation, denouncing mass unemployment and poverty, clashing with police, and burning down the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party.

The protests came just two weeks after demonstrations forced another US-backed dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, to flee. Significant demonstrations have spread to other countries in the region, including Yemen, Jordan and Algeria.

Like all revolutionary upheavals, the developments in Egypt are serving to clear away hoary myths and lies, including the American ruling elite’s pretensions of support for democracy around the world. These events are exposing the role of the US government as the lynchpin of reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

From the beginning of the unrest, the Obama administration has made clear its support for Mubarak and the Egyptian regime, a critical US ally.

President Obama devoted his remarks Friday evening to defending Mubarak in the face of the mass popular revolt. On a day in which Mubarak’s police killed at least a dozen people, injured hundreds more and arrested an untold number of demonstrators, Obama cynically proclaimed that the US was “calling upon Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.”

Obama spoke as if he were an innocent observer. But the truncheons, guns, tear gas canisters, water cannons and tanks used by the Egyptian government to suppress the people all bear the stamp, in some cases literally, “Made in the USA.” The US provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year to finance its apparatus of repression, making it the second largest beneficiary of US aid after Israel.

Obama lectured Mubarak about respecting human rights on the very day that WikiLeaks posted US State Department cables showing that his administration was aware of and complicit in Mubarak’s use of torture and assassination against his political opponents.

Obama reiterated the position expressed by other US officials that “those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully,” as if there could be any comparison between the state violence meted out by Mubarak and the attempts by workers and youth to defend themselves.

The main aim of Obama’s remarks was to make clear the administration’s continued backing for Mubarak. Obama spoke shortly after the Egyptian president appeared on television to declare that he would not step down and warn that he would enforce “security” against “chaos.” Mubarak’s announcement that a new cabinet would be formed and his empty promises to make democratic reforms and expand economic opportunity only increased the popular outrage, spurring more people to pour out into the streets in defiance of the military-imposed curfew.

The real attitude of the US to the events in Egypt was revealed in Obama’s statement: “The United States has a close partnership with Egypt, and we have cooperated with each other on many issues.”

In other words, the United States views the Egyptian government, despised by its population, as a key strategic ally. These remarks echo those of Vice President Joseph Biden, who said on Thursday, as Mubarak moved to shut off the Internet and deploy special operations forces, that the president “has been very responsible… relative to (US) geopolitical interests in the region.”

By “geopolitical interests,” the administration means the determination of the United States to maintain its hegemony over the Middle East and North Africa, including the region’s vast oil and gas reserves. With military aid and training, the US has propped up corrupt and dictatorial regimes from Egypt to the sheikhdoms in Saudi Arabia and other oil producing Gulf States.

Through covert and overt military operations, the US has worked systematically to undermine any government that posed a potential challenge to its interests. Over the past ten years alone the United States has launched bloody colonialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Egypt has played a critical role in maintaining US domination, particularly since Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, signed the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978. In 1979, the US lost a key ally with the downfall of the Shah in Iran. Since that time, the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus has worked closely with both the US and Israel in the suppression of the masses throughout the region.

The entire approach of the American government to the events in Egypt is guided by its immense fear that the resurgence of the class struggle in the region will deal a major blow to its geo-strategic interests.

While the administration may be considering whether it can do without Mubarak, replacing him directly by the military or by one or another of the “opposition” figures, it also knows that the fall of Mubarak, coming after the flight of Tunisia’s Ben Ali, threatens to unleash a wave of popular revolt that could sweep through the entire region.

Workers in the Middle East and the Maghreb have demonstrated immense courage and heroism. The struggle, however, is still in its initial stages. The critical question facing the working class is the development of a new revolutionary leadership and program. Absent this, the ruling elite of the region, in alliance with US imperialism, will regroup either to maintain the existing tyrants or impose new governments equally committed to the defense of the existing political order.

To carry forward the struggle, certain basic issues must be clarified. First, absolutely no confidence can be placed in any of the oppositional groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed ElBaradei, who recently returned to Egypt with the express intention of preventing the protests from getting out of hand. All of these forces, as well as the rotten, state-controlled trade unions, are absolutely committed to the defense of Egyptian capitalism and its relationship with imperialism.

Second, the expansion of the struggle requires the independent mobilization of the entire working class, leading behind it all the oppressed masses of the region. The form of the initial upheavals has already demonstrated that class, not religion, nationality, race or ethnicity, is the fundamental social division in every country.

It is necessary to reject all those who counsel restraint and seek some deal within the existing anti-democratic social and political structure, and who make their appeals to US and world imperialism. The aim must be to replace the existing state with a workers’ government, controlled by new institutions of popular democracy. Such a government will be the basis for carrying through socialist measures, including the nationalization of all major corporations and banks.

Finally, the struggle of the Egyptian workers must be consciously linked to the struggles of workers throughout the region and internationally. As Trotsky explained in his theory of permanent revolution, there can be no solution to even the most basic democratic demands, including an end to dictatorship, within the framework the nation-state system and the rule of the national bourgeoisie. The downfall in the past century of so many popular movements throughout the Middle East, including Egypt, was their subordination, often through the betrayals of the Stalinist organizations, to the national bourgeoisie.

The social conditions that have set off these protests are universal: the accumulated anger over mass unemployment and poverty, disgust over the corruption and obscene wealth of a narrow ruling elite, pent-up rage against a repressive political system unresponsive to the basic needs of the population as a whole. These conditions prevail not only in the Middle East and former colonial countries, but in the major capitalist countries as well.

The bourgeoisie in every country—first and foremost the United States—is responding to the global breakdown of capitalism by ruthlessly attacking its “own” working class. This means the objective conditions exist as never before to unite the workers and oppressed in the former colonial countries with their class brother in the imperialist centers.

The role of the United States in buttressing the Mubarak government underscores the fact that any resolution of the struggles of the Egyptian masses is not possible without the defeat of imperialism itself. In this task, the greatest ally of the Egyptian people is the American working class.

The speed with which the mass revolts have developed, calling into question the viability of pillars of US imperialism for decades, is testament to the explosive state of social and class tensions all over the world. The crisis of world capitalism that erupted in 2008 is deepening, and it is already clear that 2011 will usher in a new period of revolutionary upheavals.

To carry forward these struggles, a new leadership must be built, consciously rooted in the lessons of the twentieth century and the perspective of international socialist revolution—a perspective defended today only by the International Committee of the Fourth International. We call on all those seeking to put an end to dictatorship, unemployment and exploitation in Egypt, Tunisia and throughout the region to take up the fight to build sections of the ICFI today.

World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board

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Jan 292011

The sordid record of the US, always in cahoots with dictators and henchmen supporting  puny superrish minorities at the expense of the masses, has been well known to leftists here and abroad for generations. 

By Tom Eley   [print_link]
29 January 2011
On Friday, WikiLeaks released dozens of diplomatic cables that together reveal the US has long been aware of the criminality of the Mubarak regime in Egypt and its savage abuses, including torture, random arrest, and extra-judicial killings. The documents also reveal that plans for the military-supervised transfer of power from Hosni Mubarak to his son, Gamal, were presented to Washington.

The document release, which coincided with mass demonstrations and clashes with police in Cairo, Suez, and other cities, will only serve to further discredit Mubarak, and is a major embarrassment to the Obama administration, whose leading representatives, including President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have continued to insist that the Mubarak regime is not a dictatorship, while hypocritically calling for “restraint.”

The documents, diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Cairo from 2009 and 2010, make clear that the Obama administration was well aware that the Mubarak regime held onto power by terrorizing the population. But Washington tacitly supported the dictatorship and its crimes because Egypt is considered the most important component to US strategy for a wide region encompassing the Middle East, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa.

Perhaps the most damning cable is from Ambassador Margaret Scobey, dated January 15, 2009. The letter calls police brutality “routine and pervasive” and states that “police using force to extract confessions from criminals [is] a daily event.” Embassy informants “estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone.”

The rampant abuse of alleged criminals extends to political opponents, the cable notes. One activist, part of what the embassy referred to as “the April 6 Facebook strike,” was arrested on November 20, 2008. “[T]he GOE [government of Egypt] is probably torturing him to scare other ‘April 6’ members into abandoning their political activities,” it adds. The cable also refers to the “sexual molestation of a female ‘April 6 activist.” Scobey reported that another blogger said security forces stopped torturing him only “when he began cooperating.”

The same cable refers to “standing orders from the Interior Ministry between 2000 and 2006 for the police to shoot, beat and humiliate judges in order to undermine judicial independence.”

The Mubarak regime arrests journalists, even poets. A July 28, 2009 letter from the Cairo embassy notes that “a recent series of selective [government] actions against journalists, bloggers and even an amateur poet illustrates the variety of methods available to the GOE to suppress critical opinion, including an array of investigative authorities and public and private legal actions.”

A cable from the Cairo embassy dated January 12, 2009 gives the lie to Obama administration’s claim that the Mubarak regime is not a dictatorship. It refers to the quasi-legal basis of the government, which has ruled through “emergency powers” for decades: “Egypt’s State of Emergency, in effect almost continuously since 1967, allows for the application of the 1958 Emergency Law, which grants the GOE broad powers to arrest individuals without charge and to detain them indefinitely.” It adds that the regime “has also used the Emergency Law in some recent cases to target bloggers and labor demonstrators.”

The cable describes the law. “The Emergency Law creates state security courts, which issue verdicts that cannot be appealed, and can only be modified by the president,” the note explains. “[It] allows the president broad powers to ‘place restrictions’ on freedom of assembly. Separately, the penal code criminalizes the assembly of 5 or more people in a gathering that could ‘threaten public order.’”

US diplomats appear to have been most preoccupied with “succession” after the death of the elderly Mubarak. A cable dated July 30, 2009, entitled “Military will ensure transfer of power,” reveals that the State Department was banking on Egypt’s army overseeing a stable transition of power, most likely to Mubarak’s son, Gamal.

“NDP [National Democratic Party] insider and former minister Dr. Ali El Deen Hilal Dessouki dismissed public and media speculation about succession,” in discussions with embassy officials, the cable notes. “He said Egyptian military and security services would ensure a smooth transfer of power, even to a civilian… His assurances that the Egyptian military and security services would ensure a smooth succession to a civilian [by implication Gamal Mubarak] were unusually straightforward and blunt.”

“Dr. Dessouki’s most important message, he said was to always keep in mind that ‘the real center of power in Egypt is the military,’ a reference he said included all security forces,” the cable concluded. In the same conversation Dessouki called opposition parties and democracy “a long term goal.”

A number of the cables deal with an easing of tensions between Egypt and the US in the wake of Obama assuming the presidency.

A May 19, 2009 letter explains that Mubarak had been “encouraged” by Obama and Clinton and that he was anxious to demonstrate Egypt remained the central US ally in the region. Mubarak “railed” against the US invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, which he viewed to be a disaster not because it destroyed more than a million lives and an entire society, but because he believes it strengthened Iran’s position. The dictator also blames the US for the strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine’s Gaza Strip.

The cables suggest that Mubarak has an almost pathological fear of Iran, that he opposes negotiations over its nuclear energy program, and favors “confrontation through isolation.” One cable suggests this fear dates to the 1979 Iranian revolution. “He can harken back to the Shah of Iran: the U.S. encouraged him to accept reforms, only to watch the country fall into the hands of revolutionary religious extremists.”

A March 30, 2009, cable reveals the Mubarak regime’s preoccupation with the dangers posed to it by the Internet. The government “has arrested and jailed bloggers who have” insulted either “President Mubarak or Islam.” The cable observed that “Egypt has an estimated 160,000 bloggers who write in Arabic, and sometimes in English, about a wide variety of topics, from social life to politics to literature… [A] solid majority of bloggers are between 20 and 35 years old, and that about 30 percent of blogs focus on politics. Blogs have spread throughout the population to become vehicles for a wide range of activists, students, journalists and ordinary citizens to express their views on almost any issue they choose. As such, the blogs have significantly broadened the range of topics that Egyptians are able to discuss publicly.”

There was a dim awareness in the US embassy in Egypt that the economic crisis was destabilizing the Mubarak regime. “[E]conomic problems have frustrated many Egyptians. Egypt’s per capita GDP was on par with South Korea’s 30 years ago; today it is comparable to Indonesia’s. There were bread riots in 2008 for the first time since 1977. Political reforms have stalled and the GOE has resorted to heavy-handed tactics against individuals and groups,” a March 30, 2009 cable notes.

The cables demonstrate the courage of the Egyptian demonstrators in the face of the brutality of the Mubarak regime, as WikiLeaks editor Maria Luisa Rivera notes in introducing them. “As an Internet blackout imposed by the state covers the country, every citizen and grassroots organization will now be exposed to arbitrary police forces,” she writes. “As secret documents from US prove, during the demonstrations today, authorities might use physical threats, legal threats and extraordinary laws such the Emergency Law as an excuse to persecute and prosecute activists during the pacific demonstrations taking place in Cairo and other cities.”

She continues, “Excessive use of force by police during the protests [has already] led to arbitrary executions and detentions in a vast array of abuses, a situation that is known and acknowledged in the past by US diplomats based in Egypt. It is important to bear in mind the long record of police abuse and torture by Egyptian police forces.”

TOM ELEY is a regular contributor to the World Socialist Web Site.

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Jan 292011

Still wrapped in multiple layers of hypocrisy, Washington’s policy in the Middle East unravels

From the Editors, Middle East Report Online

January 29, 2011


        Every US administration has its mouthpiece in Washington’s think tank world, its courtier that will slavishly praise its every utterance. For the blessedly bygone Bush administration, that echo chamber was the American Enterprise Institute and the neo-conservative broadsheets in its orbit. For the Obama administration, it is the National Security Network, an operation founded in 2006 to bring “strategic focus to the progressive national security community.”


With one US-backed Arab despot dislodged and dodging Interpol, and another facing an intifada of historic proportions, many eyes looked to Washington, hopeful that President Barack Obama might reprise his ballyhooed Cairo speech of June 2009, showing the restive Arab masses that he felt and, perhaps, really understood their pain. Instead, Arab populations have heard a variation on Washington’s long-standing theme: “The Obama administration seeks to encourage political reforms without destabilizing the region.” That sentence, taken from the National Security Network’s January 27 press release, says it all: Democracy is great in theory, but if it will cause any disruption to business as usual, Washington prefers dictatorship.

        And so it was no surprise, though a deep and indelible blot upon Obama and his “progressive” entourage, when the president took a White House lectern on the evening of January 28 — Egypt’s “Friday of Rage” — and announced his continued backing for the indefensible regime of President Husni Mubarak. In so doing, he ensured that the Arab fury of the winter of 2011 would be directed increasingly toward the United States as well as its regional vassals.

        January 28 in Egypt was a rollercoaster of a day. The mass demonstrations following up on the January 25 Police Day uprising turned out to be larger and more vehement than even optimistic observers expected. Police stations and ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) headquarters burned to the ground in the middle-class Cairo neighborhoods of al-Azbakiyya and Sayyida Zaynab, as well as in poorer quarters, in Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Damietta and Damanhour as well as in Upper Egypt and the Sinai. The NDP’s home base in Cairo’s main Tahrir Square itself went up in flames. Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, was overrun by protesters who had overwhelmed the riot police. Tanks rolled in to the cities; a curfew was declared; but the crowds ignored it and the army (for the most part) did not shoot at them.

        On Al Jazeera, whose live feeds in both English and Arabic have riveted world audiences, the anchors did not quite know what narrative frame to employ, so rapid was the pace of events and so contradictory were the signals coming from the corridors of power. In Washington, outgoing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs held a special briefing to discuss Egypt and, to a direct question, said that Obama had not spoken to Mubarak. Gibbs continued that US aid to Egypt, recipient of the second-largest annual packages since 1979, would be placed “under review.” A Pentagon spokesman added that the Egyptian army’s chief of staff, in Washington for consultations, had cut his trip short and returned home. Had the Obama team abandoned the Egyptian dictator to fate? In Cairo, as midnight approached, the speaker of the Egyptian parliament, Fathi Surour, said that he would have an “important announcement” soon. By the Egyptian constitution, like the Tunisian one, the speaker of Parliament is custodian of state in the case of a vacant presidency. Was Mubarak boarding a plane for exile? On the Arabic-language channel, several of the reporters, commentators and analysts could barely contain their jubilation. Not only did it seem that Mubarak would decamp exactly as Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had done; he would do so with Egyptian protesters having died in fewer numbers than Tunisians.

        Then the 82-year old Mubarak appeared on Egyptian state television himself. Egyptians must have felt as if they had traveled back in time, to the moment of any minor hiccup in the regime’s 30-year reign: Claiming to carry the protesters’ grievances in his heart, Mubarak vowed to speed up his program of political and economic reforms. Clearly, judging by the scenes in the streets, he had chosen the wrong team of ministers to implement the grand vision. That cabinet would be dismissed and a fresh one empaneled, all under his wise executive guidance, of course. In the meantime, he warned, “setting fires in the streets” was not the way to engage in dialogue with his government. The forces of law and order would prevail.

        To this fossil of an oration, this half-debased, half-delusional assurance that all was normal as the capital burned in the wee hours of the morning, Egyptian opposition figures had an immediate, unequivocal response. Amin Iskandar of the Karama Party, a splinter of the Nasserist movement, predicted that Mubarak had delivered his last speech, for the uprising would continue unabated on the morrow. “The Egyptian people will not be fooled again” by droning repetition of past promises unfulfilled, he declared. ‘Isam Sultan, Al Jazeera’s next guest, one-upped Iskandar by saying that the demonstrators would press on without sleep until Mubarak was gone for good. Such, after all, has been the crystal-clear demand of the protests on Police Day and subsequently.

        But apparently the Obama administration did not care to listen. Obama strode to the podium just minutes after Mubarak had finished his remarks, leaving little doubt that the timing of the two speeches had been coordinated in advance. First evincing concern to avoid further bloodshed, he then tacitly equated the heavily armed, habitually brutal Egyptian security forces with the weaponless, repeatedly wounded protesters, calling upon the latter as well to “express themselves peacefully.” He echoed the condescension of Mubarak himself in saying of the protesters that “violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms they seek.” He then added injury to insult, clarifying that America’s “close partnership” with Egypt was in fact with Mubarak, who had “pledged a better democracy” and now must “give meaning” to his words.

        By all means, the unrest across the region has been occasion for Washington to scold its Arab allies for their unaccountable neglect of the aspirations of youth and their unseemly embezzlement of treasuries. At the Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, held on January 13, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exhorted her audience of Arab elites to “build a future that your young people will believe in, stay for and defend.” Invest in vocational education, she urged. Create jobs. Root out corruption. Hold elections whose outcome is uncertain. Drop the reflexive hostility to civic engagement by regular folks. But the regimes remain the political address of record for her administration; having created the present crises through decades of avarice and contempt for the people they rule, they are now to be trusted to resolve the impasse. Vice President Joe Biden was typically clumsy, but most assuredly not off-message when, in response to a direct question from PBS host Jim Lehrer, he declined to label Mubarak a dictator, saying instead: “I think the time has come for President Mubarak…to be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.”

        No, as the Tunisian example showed, and as the Egyptian experience may yet drive home, the US will stand by its favored authoritarian Arab states until the bitter end. From the January 28 performance on the Potomac, it is not clear that the US can even imagine an alternative course.

        The reasons for this stance have changed little over the decades since the US became the superpower in the Middle East. Strategic interest number one is the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the world economy, unimpeded by a rival hegemon or a regional upstart that might raise prices dramatically or deploy the oil weapon to extract political concessions from the West. Number two is the security of Israel. But third — not to be confused with tertiary — is the stability of satrapies that Washington can trust to safeguard its other interests and initiatives, whether the US-sponsored “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians (and the blockade upon Hamas that Egypt helps to enforce) or the campaign to curtail Islamist movements for which Tunisia’s Ben Ali so eagerly signed up. The US rewards its clients with cash and copious armaments, with scant regard for their records on democratization or human rights. After the Yemeni regime canceled elections in 2009, its aid package was quintupled. There have always been numerous dissenters within the US foreign policy apparatus who know the damage that is being done, but they are resolutely kept out of positions of real authority.

        That roguish Bush administration, as the National Security Network flacks are fond of repeating, “destabilized” the Middle Eastern order, not just with its rash invasion of Iraq but also its swashbuckling talk of “freedom on the march” through the thickets of US-approved autocracy. The “progressive national security community,” like those to its right on Washington’s narrow political spectrum, is keen to be taken seriously by power, and so generally restricts its judgments of policy ventures to the impact on the US interest. The catastrophic loss of Iraqi life is rarely mentioned as a point against the invasion, for instance, and the sincerity of the Bush administration’s “democracy doctrine” is usually granted arguendo, civility being far more important to American politicos than accountability or, for that matter, decency.

        Amidst the hand wringing in the mainstream media over Obama’s “limited options” in Egypt, through whose Suez Canal cruise oil tankers and the warships of the US Fifth Fleet, the truth is that the entire debate over democracy promotion in the Arab world and greater Middle East has been one long, bitterly unfunny joke. The issue has never been whether the US should promote democracy; it has been when the US will stop trying to suppress it. The bargains with tyrants lay a “commitment trap” for Washington, which must solemnly swear allegiance to each strongman lest others in the club have second thoughts about holding up their end. The despots, in turn, assume that the Marines or their equivalents will swoop in to the rescue if need be. Most, like Ben Ali, are mistaken, if nothing else because an ambitious underling is often waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, just as Iranians have not forgotten the Carter administration’s eleventh-hour loyalty to the Shah some 32 years later, neither will Pakistanis soon forgive the US for standing by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

        In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Americans wondered why their country had been targeted. Many, of course, settled upon the solipsistic, emotionally comforting explanation that “they hate us for our values” or resorted to conspiracy theory about Islam and world conquest. Saner sorts looked to the US history of support for Israel in its colonization of Palestine or coziness with certain kingdoms sitting atop vast pools of petroleum. But these factors have never been the whole answer. All who continue to wonder about the rest should ponder this day, January 28, 2011. The words of Obama and his chorus of apologists say it all: When it comes to the aspirations of ordinary Arabs for genuinely participatory politics and true self-determination, those vaunted American values are suspended, even when “special relationships” and hydrocarbon riches are not directly at issue. And the anti-democratic sentiment is bipartisan: On this question, there is less than a dime’s worth of difference between “progressive” Democrats and Republican xenophobes, between pinstriped State Department Arabists and flannel-clad Christian fundamentalists, between oil-first “realists” and Israel-first neo-conservatives. There is none.

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