Is It Time To “Boycott” The USA?

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24

New York, New York: Recently, the esteemed intellectual and activist, Noam Chomsky surprised some of his supporters by questioning the impact of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at boycotting Israel to challenge its apartheid-like policies towards Palestinians.

A longtime and well-known critic of Israel, Chomsky questioned how effective the movement could be at this time, given the lack of public education on the issue, and the problems with the analogy between Israeli practices and South African apartheid.

Anti-Zionists are debating his dissent, but, he went further, arguing that Israel today is worse than South Africa was then, and pitched an alternative idea: Boycott the United States!

What’s significant is that such a de-facto if under-covered boycott seems to be emerging in several sectors, even if it isn’t called that.

•International technology companies, angered at NSA spying and attempts to manipulate the internet are refusing to do business with their American counterparts.

According to press reports and a recent study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: “The National Security Agency surveillance programs aren’t just costing the United States credibility on the world stage — they’re costing domestic tech companies big money.

The recent revelations that the NSA is closely tracking the electronic footprints of foreign citizens could cut as much as $35 billion off the top lines of U.S. cloud computing companies over the next three years. It might also put the nation’s leadership position in the fast growing sector at stake.”

•Russia is spearheading an anti-dollar alliance built around the BRICS States. The Voice of Russia reports: ”Before the crucial visit to Beijing next week, the governor of the Russian Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina met Vladimir Putin to report on the progress of the upcoming ruble-yuan swap deal with the People’s Bank of China and the Kremlin used the meeting to let the world know about the technical details of its international anti-dollar alliance.

“We’ve done a lot of work on the ruble-yuan swap deal in order to facilitate trade financing. I have a meeting next week in Beijing,” she said casually and then dropped the bomb: “We are discussing with China and our BRICS parters the establishment of a system of multilateral swaps that will allow to transfer resources to one or another country, if needed. A part of the currency reserves can be directed to [the new system].” (source of the quote: Prime news agency)’

Even as Putin sent US President Obama a greeting for July 4th, his key aides have been working on a plan to build what’s being called an “anti-dollar alliance.”

In early June, Putin’s economic advisor, Sergey Glaziev called for such an alliance. According to Voice of Russia, “The ultimate goal would be to break the Washington’s money printing machine that is feeding its military-industrial complex and giving the US ample possibilities to spread chaos across the globe, fueling the civil wars in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine. “

There are technical problems in creating such an an alliance, and it is certain not only to enrage the governments of the West, but heavy hitters in the Wall Street run financial system who, until now, have either been silent or encouraging of US financial sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the events in the Ukraine.

Tyler Durden of the Zero Hedge website argues that Russian countermeasures against US pressure have worked. He reports that, “Sergey Glazyev, the same person who in early March was the first to suggest Russia dump US bonds and abandon the dollar in retaliation to US sanctions, a strategy which worked because even as the Kremlin has retained control over Crimea, western sanctions have magically halted (and not only that, but as the Russian central bank just reported, the country’s 2014 current account surplus may be as high as $35 billion, up from $33 billion in 2013, and a far cry from some fabricated “$200+ billion” in Russian capital outflows which Mario Draghi was warning about recently.”

Yves Smith, who edits the authoritative Naked Capitalism blog, adds a cautionary note, arguing: “I think we are inevitably going to go through a rough period as the dollar hegemony fades and no clear successor emerges. But the death of the dollar is nowhere near as imminent as people who are (correctly) fed up with US imperialism would like.”

It’s more important to view all this as a trend, not just in terms of specific deals that often more complex than they appear. Anger at the United States, –what many Americans dismiss as “jealousy” flared globally during the US invasion of Iraq, abated somewhat with Barack Obama’s election and is resurfacing because of few changes in US policy, especially its drone warfare, wars and interventions worldwide and a host of other issues show US big footing on the rest of the world.

While it’s true that American technology and consumer-driven life styles are admired and desired worldwide, protests against the US have fallen off with international tourists still flocking here in droves to shop and sightsee.

The truth is that the problems Americans have with the economy, growing debt, mass incarceration and surveillance do not seem to outrage the world public the way they do US Citizens.

Even as our politicians voice support for globalization and international cooperation, they also draw lines in the sand between Americans and everyone else.

So far, US courts and intelligence oversight bodies continue to say that while domestic spying on Americans is a no-no, spying on the rest of the world is somehow ok.

So much for that line in the US Declaration of Independence, celebrated earlier this month, calling for a “decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”

American media outlets have long gone global along with US brands driven by advertising campaigns that make it harder than ever to mount an effective challenge against US culture and policies globally.

Some years back, when British academics passed a resolution calling for a boycott of educational exchanges with Israeli universities, a journalist friend of mine quipped: “Didn’t they mention Israel’s invasion of Iraq?” The irony was lost.

Unfortunately, it seems to take a high profile war or human rights violation to get public outrage going. In a world in which our media has, in effect, become our politics, you need an easily demonized bad guy or “evil doer,” a Hitler or even a Bush-Chaney to get anger flowing and blood rising.

Nefarious trade deals, massive pollution, invasive spying, and even corporate scheming by vulture industrialists like Paul Singer who is holding Argentina Hostage for financial extortion doesn’t seem to cut it in a world in which the latest World Cup spectacle evokes more emotion that the game of Grand Theft Soccer played by marketers in Brazil or earlier in South Africa where countries are saddled with major debt for a two week party in the sun.

Whoever loses, FIFA wins.

Who do we boycott, and how to do boycott? Where’s the leverage and who will stand up?

China could dump its American debt but could also be wiped out in the process. So many other countries are independent in name only, dependent as they are on bank loans and international financial agencies.

The United States did not build an empire unilaterally; it worked through multilateral agencies and helped invent them, like the UN. The IMF and the World Bank. It built military and economic alliances, tying much of the world together as a web under its hegemony and watchful eye. It now serves the role of a management agency—monitoring and administering these networks.

If there’s a boycott of the US, does this ganglia of international agencies need to be shunned too? What about multi-national corporations or international banks based in the U.S.

Ironically, unnoted and under analyzed, a boycott American values movement has already started in America itself where disaffection and alienation with our institutions, politicians and media have been growing.

Jim Sleeper of Salon thinks there is a public derangement underway, a form of outrage with the system, writing, “Many Americans are adapting to living with variants of force and fraud that erupt in road rage; lethal stampedes by shoppers on sale days; security precautions in their homes against the prospect of armed invasion; gladiatorialization and corruption in sports; nihilism in entertainment that fetishizes violence without context and sex without attachment…”

No wonder, news ratings and voting are down and anger and vituperation are up with political polarization leading to a legislative log jam, and making it impossible for many Americans of different political perspectives even to be able to talk to each other without acrimony, much less work together.

The LBN news service reports, that a new Pew Center study released over July 4th weekend, found that only 28 percent of all Americans now believe that the U.S. “stands above all other countries in the world.” 12 percent said that there are other countries “that are better.” Writes LBN: “The numbers reveal a big drop in just three years. Pew said that in 2011, 38 percent said the U.S. was No. 1.:

This doesn’t mean we the people won’t eat hotdogs or salute the flag, but some articles of faith seems to be dying as cynicism and a new awareness takes over. Even the 58% of the public that calls the USA, “one of the greatest countries in the world,” adds “along with some others,” hardly a ringing endorsement of the notion recently referenced again by President Obama of American “exceptionalism.”

There seems to be an awareness of an almost structural change, an erosion of belief and a corrosion in the environment of our democracy. Writer Lambert Strether muses about what’s changed on his Corriente blog:

“I believe the Constitutional order in the United States died, in my lifetime, at some point after the mid-70s, but in any case no later than Bush v. Gore. And now there I can’t think of one major social system that I would feel safe become involved in: Not the health care system, not the finance system, not the justice system, not the retirement system, not even the educational system (because I’d be an adjunct, and wages and working conditions are so horrific), and certainly not the employment system (credit check, pissing in cup). And, oh yeah, my every move on the Internet, where of necessity I spend hours a day doing my work, could be carefully monitored, and since it could be — given the unbridled power of our overlords, which I, for one, do not welcome — it is.”

Now, that’s a statement for our times. In a sense, he and the many, many Americans who share parts of his deeper institutional critique, even when they can’t articulate it, or whether or not they are part of any right or left opposition movement see the collapse of our unifying myths as more pervasive than one issue or another.

In some ways, these “dissidents” across the spectrum are already at odds with and in essence boycotting the idea of the USA they grew up with.

Why? Sleeper suggests there us a deep disenchantment underway, arguing: “Without civic wellsprings and narratives deep and compelling enough to strengthen a society’s adhesives and disciplines in the hearts of its young, neither free-market conservatives nor world-is-flat neoliberal cosmopolitans can reconcile their professed commitments to ordered, republican liberty with their knee-jerk obedience to riptides of destructive investment that are dissolving republican virtue and sovereignty before our eyes.”

To sum up with words most Americans would understand: “The shit has hit the fan.”

So, Professor Chomsky, help us find a way to merge all this seething and enraged discontent into a movement that can put the institutional and corporate USA in the bulls eye. Naming is a form of shaming. Its not clear who has the power to checkmate the United States, but an organized campaign using an imaginative social media platform might get the idea out there. You have heard of the #Bring Back Our Girls campaign aimed at rescuing kidnapped Nigerians? How about #Bring Back Our Country” demanding the defense of democracy?

“News Dissector” Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org and blogs daily at Newsdissector.net. His latest book is Madiba A-Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela (Madibabook.com). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org


  1. avatar
    Ed Lytwak July 16, 2014 3:49 pm 

    Arguably, the most effective political action is the strike – general, consumer (boycott), and hunger. Few would doubt that the U.S. needs a lot more of all three. But, we should understand that it is not just the U.S. that we are striking against but the very concept of the nation state. We also need to be clear that our solidarity is with the global 99% not just Americans. One might also ask what a general strike against the U.S. means? In short, it means that we no longer accept the government of the U.S. as legitimate with the goal of creating a crisis of legitimacy.

  2. Richard Bluhm July 16, 2014 2:05 pm 

    “America, the land that never was, yet must be.” Langston Hughes

    I’m not sure there has ever been a preferable time to hail back to. Some have always lived a charmed life while the invisible masses remain “Les Miserable.” We are tribal. We can find the resources to be nice to the ones closest to use and blatantly disregard and distain the homeless slob with snot running down his face as less than human. The Dalai Lama says his religion is simple: “Be kind.” We are not kind.

    I looked at my old 1987 atlas the other day and saw that we have added 2.5 billion people to the planet in 27 years. I, for one, believe futurists who profess that we have exceeded a sustainable population of humans by a factor of six. 7 1/2 billion people is too many to govern. Our economics isn’t just competitive, it’s predatory. We use our environment as a toilet. Our technology is out of control. On balance, where it counts, we a cruel species, and our words are cheap.

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