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Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

Never Again Enough: Goodbye To All That Water; Confronting The New Normal In A Drying American West

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2013 at 5:45 pm

http://azbex.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Colrado-River.jpgOldspeak: “The bottom line… is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around. If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.” -William deBuys

“The resource shock that trumps all other resource shocks is already happening. People are right now in a America fighting via litigation for rapidly dwindling water resources. There’s not enough water for everybody. When farmers go out of business as a result of water shortages, there won’t be enough food for everyone. Coupled with the incomprehensible and probably vastly underestimated predicted costs of climate change (60 TRILLION, 10 trillion short of Global GDP), we can expect there won’t be enough food for significantly more than the 1 in 7 of humans who are currently (and needlessly) going without food. At some point, litigation will give way to actual physical violence over vanishing resources in the supposed “greatest country in the world”  Then what? You can’t beat physics.”  -OSJ

“Martha and the Vandellas would have loved it.  Metaphorically speaking, the New York Times practically swooned over it.  (“An unforgiving heat wave held much of the West in a sweltering embrace over the weekend, tying or breaking temperature records in several cities, grounding flights, sparking forest fires, and contributing to deaths.”) It was a “deadly” heat wave, a “record” one that, in headlines everywhere, left the West and later the rest of the country “sweltering,” and that was, again in multiple headlines, “scary.”  The fire season that accompanied the “blasting,” “blazing” heat had its own set of “record” headlines — and all of this was increasingly seen, in another set of headlines, as the “new normal” in the West. Given that 2012 had already set a heat record for the continental U.S., that the 10 hottest years on record in this country have all occurred since 1997, and that the East had its own sweltering version of heat that wouldn’t leave town, this should have been beyond arresting.

In response, the nightly primetime news came up with its own convenient set of new terms to describe all this: “extreme” or “severe” heat.  Like “extreme” or “severe” weather, these captured the eyeball-gluing sensationalism of our weather moment without having to mention climate change or global warming.  Weather, after all, shouldn’t be “politicized.”  But if you’re out in the middle of the parching West like TomDispatch regular William deBuys, who recently headed down the Colorado River, certain grim realities about the planet we’re planning to hand over to our children and grandchildren can’t help but come to mind — along with a feeling, increasingly shared by those in the sweltering cities, that our particular way of life is in the long run unsustainable.” -Tom

By William deBuys @ Tomsdispatch

Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013 — Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.

One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.

These days, the tides of the Colorado are not lunar but Phoenician. Yes, I’m talking about Phoenix, Arizona.  On this April night, when the air conditioners in America’s least sustainable city merely hum, Glen Canyon Dam, immediately upstream from the canyon, will run about 6,500 cubic feet of water through its turbines every second.

Tomorrow, as the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona, the engineers at Glen Canyon will crank the dam’s maw wider until it sucks down 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). That boost in flow will enable its hydroelectric generators to deliver “peaking power” to several million air conditioners and cooling plants in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun. And the flow of the river will therefore nearly double.

It takes time for these dam-controlled tidal pulses to travel downstream. Where we are now, just above Zoroaster Rapid, the river is roughly in phase with the dam: low at night, high in the daytime. Head a few days down the river and it will be the reverse.

By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F, and power demands will rise to monstrous heights, day and night. The dam will respond: 10,000 cfs will gush through the generators by the light of the moon, 18,000 while an implacable sun rules the sky.

Such are the cycles — driven by heat, comfort, and human necessity — of the river at the bottom of the continent’s grandest canyon.

The crucial question for Phoenix, for the Colorado, and for the greater part of the American West is this: How long will the water hold out?

Major Powell’s Main Point

Every trip down the river — and there are more than 1,000 like ours yearly — partly reenacts the legendary descent of the Colorado by the one-armed explorer and Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. The Major, as he preferred to be known, plunged into the Great Unknown with 10 companions in 1869. They started out in four boats from Green River, Wyoming, but one of the men walked out early after nearly drowning in the stretch of whitewater that Powell named Disaster Falls, and three died in the desert after the expedition fractured in its final miles. That left Powell and six others to reach the Mormon settlements on the Virgin River in the vicinity of present-day Las Vegas, Nevada.

Powell’s exploits on the Colorado brought him fame and celebrity, which he parlayed into a career that turned out to be controversial and illustrious in equal measure. As geologist, geographer, and ethnologist, Powell became one of the nation’s most influential scientists. He also excelled as an institution-builder, bureaucrat, political in-fighter, and national scold.

Most famously, and in bold opposition to the boomers and boosters then cheerleading America’s westward migration, he warned that the defining characteristic of western lands was their aridity. Settlement of the West, he wrote, would have to respect the limits aridity imposed.

He was half right.

The subsequent story of the West can indeed be read as an unending duel between society’s thirst and the dryness of the land, but in downtown Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles you’d hardly know it.

By the middle years of the twentieth century, western Americans had created a kind of miracle in the desert, successfully conjuring abundance from Powell’s aridity. Thanks to reservoirs large and small, and scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, as well as more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels, and diversions, the West has by now been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It has been given the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine, and in the process, its liquid resources have been stretched far beyond anything the Major might have imagined.

Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West’s great waterways, provides water to some 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland. It also touches 22 Indian reservations, seven National Wildlife Reservations, and at least 15 units of the National Park System, including the Grand Canyon.

These achievements come at a cost. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, and down here in the bowels of the canyon, its diminishment is everywhere in evidence. In many places, the riverbanks wear a tutu of tamarisk trees along their edge. They have been able to dress up, now that the river, constrained from major flooding, no longer rips their clothes off.

The daily hydroelectric tides gradually wash away the sandbars and beaches that natural floods used to build with the river’s silt and bed load (the sands and gravels that roll along its bottom). Nowadays, nearly all that cargo is trapped in Lake Powell, the enormous reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam. The water the dam releases is clear and cold (drawn from the depths of the lake), which is just the thing for nonnative trout, but bad news for homegrown chubs and suckers, which evolved, quite literally, in the murk of ages past. Some of the canyon’s native fish species have been extirpated from the canyon; others cling to life by a thread, helped by the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In the last few days, we’ve seen more fisheries biologists along the river and its side-streams than we have tourists.

The Shrinking Cornucopia

In the arid lands of the American West, abundance has a troublesome way of leading back again to scarcity. If you have a lot of something, you find a way to use it up — at least, that’s the history of the “development” of the Colorado Basin.

Until now, the ever-more-complex water delivery systems of that basin have managed to meet the escalating needs of their users. This is true in part because the states of the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) were slower to develop than their downstream cousins. Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Upper and Lower Basins divided the river with the Upper Basin assuring the Lower of an average of 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year delivered to Lees Ferry Arizona, the dividing point between the two. The Upper Basin would use the rest. Until recently, however, it left a large share of its water in the river, which California, and secondarily Arizona and Nevada, happily put to use.

Those days are gone.  The Lower Basin states now get only their annual entitlement and no more. Unfortunately for them, it’s not enough, and never will be.

Currently, the Lower Basin lives beyond its means — to the tune of about 1.3 maf per year, essentially consuming 117% of its allocation.

That 1.3 maf overage consists of evaporation, system losses, and the Lower Basin’s share of the annual U.S. obligation to Mexico of 1.5 maf. As it happens, the region budgets for none of these “costs” of doing business, and if pressed, some of its leaders will argue that the Mexican treaty is actually a federal responsibility, toward which the Lower Basin need not contribute water.

The Lower Basin funds its deficit by drawing on the accumulated water surplus held in the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, which backs up behind Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, with the Lower Basin using more water than it receives, the surplus there can’t last forever, and maybe not for long. In November 2010, the water level of the lake fell to its lowest elevation ever — 1,082 feet above sea level, a foot lower than its previous nadir during the fierce drought of the 1950s.

Had the dry weather held — and increasing doses of such weather are predicted for the region in the future — the reservoir would have soon fallen another seven feet and triggered the threshold for mandatory (but inadequate) cutbacks in water delivery to the Lower Basin states. Instead, heavy snowfall in the northern Rockies bailed out the system by producing a mighty runoff, lifting the reservoir a whopping 52 feet.

Since then, however, weather throughout the Colorado Basin has been relentlessly dry, and the lake has resumed its precipitous fall. It now stands at 1,106 feet, which translates to roughly 47% of capacity.  Lake Powell, Mead’s alter ego, is in about the same condition.

Another dry year or two, and the Colorado system will be back where it was in 2010, staring down a crisis.  There is, however, a consolation — of sorts.  The Colorado is nowhere near as badly off as New Mexico and the Rio Grande.

How Dry I Am This Side of the Pecos

In May, New Mexico marked the close of the driest two-year period in the 120 years since records began to be kept. Its largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, which stores water from the Rio Grande, is effectively dry.

Meanwhile, parched Texas has filed suit against New Mexico in multiple jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court, to force the state to send more water downstream — water it doesn’t have. Texas has already appropriated $5 million to litigate the matter.  If it wins, the hit taken by agriculture in south-central New Mexico could be disastrous.

In eastern New Mexico, the woes of the Pecos River mirror those of the Rio Grande and pit the Pecos basin’s two largest cities, Carlsbad and Roswell, directly against each other. These days, the only thing moving in the irrigation canals of the Carlsbad Irrigation District is dust. The canals are bone dry because upstream groundwater pumping in the Roswell area has deprived the Pecos River of its flow. By pumping heavily from wells that tap the aquifer under the Pecos River, Roswell’s farmers have drawn off water that might otherwise find its way to the surface and flow downstream.

Carlsbad’s water rights are senior to (that is, older than) Roswell’s, so in theory — under the doctrine of Prior Appropriation — Carlsbad is entitled to the water Roswell is using. The dispute pits Carlsbad’s substantial agricultural economy against Roswell’s, which is twice as big. The bottom line, as with Texas’s lawsuit over the Rio Grande, is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around.

If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.

Put on Your Rain-Dancing Shoes

New Mexico’s present struggles, difficult as they may be, will look small-scale indeed when compared to what will eventually befall the Colorado. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects the river’s 40 million water-users to grow to between 49.3 and 76.5 million by 2060. This translates into a thirst for Colorado River water of 18.1 to 20.4 maf — oceans more than its historical yield of 16.4 maf.

And that’s not even the bad news, which is that, compared to the long-term paleo-record, the historical average, compiled since the late nineteenth century, is aberrantly high. Moreover, climate change will undoubtedly take its toll, and perhaps has already begun to do so. One recent study forecasts that the yield of the Colorado will decline 10% by about 2030, and it will keep falling after that.

None of the available remedies inspires much confidence. “Augmentation” — diverting water from another basin into the Colorado system — is politically, if not economically, infeasible. Desalination, which can be effective in specific, local situations, is too expensive and energy-consuming to slake much of the Southwest’s thirst. Weather modification, aka rain-making, isn’t much more effective today than it was in 1956 when Burt Lancaster starred as a water-witching con man in The Rainmaker, and vegetation management (so that trees and brush will consume less water) is a non-starter when climate change and epidemic fires are already reworking the landscape.

Undoubtedly, there will be small successes squeezing water from unlikely sources here and there, but the surest prospect for the West?  That a bumper harvest of lawsuits is approaching. Water lawyers in the region can look forward to full employment for decades to come. Their clients will include irrigation farmers, thirsty cities, and power companies that need water to cool their thermal generators and to drive their hydroelectric generators.

Count on it: the recreation industry, which demands water for boating and other sports, will be filing its briefs, too, as will environmental groups struggling to prevent endangered species and whole ecosystems from blinking out. The people of the West will not only watch them; they — or rather, we — will all in one way or another be among them as they gather before various courts in the legal equivalent of circular firing squads.

Hey, Mister, What’s that Sound?

Here at the bottom of Grand Canyon, with the river rushing by, we listen for the boom of the downstream rapids toward which we are headed. Sometimes they sound like a far-off naval bombardment, sometimes more like the roar of an oncoming freight train, which is entirely appropriate. After all, the river, like a railroad, is a delivery system with a valuable cargo. Think of it as a stream of liquid property, every pint within it already spoken for, every drop owned by someone and obligated somewhere, according to a labyrinth of potentially conflicting contracts.

The owners of those contracts know now that the river can’t supply enough gallons, pints, and drops to satisfy everybody, and so they are bound to live the truth of the old western saying: “Whiskey’s for drinkin’, and water’s for fightin’.”

In the end, Powell was right about at least one thing: aridity bats last.

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, irrigates a small farm in northern New Mexico and is the author of seven books including, most recently, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

And Then There Was One: Imperial Gigantism & The Decline Of Planet Earth

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 8:17 pm

http://yadayadayada.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/deadearth.jpg

Oldspeak:The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature.  The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure.  The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme theweather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure.  The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire?  On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism? Every factor that would normally lead toward “greatness” now also leads toward global decline.” -Tom Engelhardt. We can’t continue to pretend the cannibalistic systems around which we organize our civilization are working. They are is literally destroying us and our planet. We have to change before it’s too late.

By Tom Engelhardt @ TomDispatch:

It stretched from the Caspian to the Baltic Sea, from the middle of Europe to the Kurile Islands in the Pacific, from Siberia to Central Asia.  Its nuclear arsenal held 45,000 warheads, and its military had five million troops under arms.  There had been nothing like it in Eurasia since the Mongols conquered China, took parts of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, and rode into the Middle East, looting Baghdad.  Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, by far the poorer, weaker imperial power disappeared.

And then there was one.  There had never been such a moment: a single nation astride the globe without a competitor in sight.  There wasn’t even a name for such a state (or state of mind).  “Superpower” had already been used when there were two of them.  “Hyperpower” was tried briefly but didn’t stick.  “Sole superpower” stood in for a while but didn’t satisfy.  “Great Power,” once the zenith of appellations, was by then a lesser phrase, left over from the centuries when various European nations and Japan were expanding their empires.  Some started speaking about a “unipolar” world in which all roads led… well, to Washington.

To this day, we’ve never quite taken in that moment when Soviet imperial rot unexpectedly – above all, to Washington — became imperial crash-and-burn.  Left standing, the Cold War’s victor seemed, then, like an empire of everything under the sun.  It was as if humanity had always been traveling toward this spot.  It seemed like the end of the line.

The Last Empire?

After the rise and fall of the Assyrians and the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English, the Germans, and the Japanese, some process seemed over.  The United States was dominant in a previously unimaginable way — except in Hollywood films where villains cackled about their evil plans to dominate the world.

As a start, the U.S. was an empire of global capital.  With the fall of Soviet-style communism (and the transformation of a communist regime in China into a crew of authoritarian “capitalist roaders”), there was no other model for how to do anything, economically speaking.  There was Washington’s way — and that of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (both controlled by Washington) — or there was the highway, and the Soviet Union had already made it all too clear where that led: to obsolescence and ruin.

In addition, the U.S. had unprecedented military power.  By the time the Soviet Union began to totter, America’s leaders had for nearly a decade been consciously using “the arms race” to spend its opponent into an early grave.  And here was the curious thing after centuries of arms races: when there was no one left to race, the U.S. continued an arms race of one.

In the years that followed, it would outpace all other countries or combinations of countries in military spending by staggering amounts.  It housed the world’s most powerful weapons makers, was technologically light years ahead of any other state, and was continuing to develop future weaponry for 2020, 2040, 2060, even as it established a near monopoly on the global arms trade (and so, control over who would be well-armed and who wouldn’t).

It had an empire of bases abroad, more than 1,000 of them spanning the globe, also an unprecedented phenomenon.  And it was culturally dominant, again in a way that made comparisons with other moments ludicrous.  Like American weapons makers producing things that went boom in the night for an international audience, Hollywood’s action and fantasy films took the world by storm.  From those movies to the golden arches, the swoosh, and the personal computer, there was no other culture that could come close to claiming such a global cachet.

The key non-U.S. economic powerhouses of the moment — Europe and Japan — maintained militaries dependent on Washington, had U.S. bases littering their territories, and continued to nestle under Washington’s “nuclear umbrella.”  No wonder that, in the U.S., the post-Soviet moment was soon proclaimed “the end of history,” and the victory of “liberal democracy” or “freedom” was celebrated as if there really were no tomorrow, except more of what today had to offer.

No wonder that, in the new century, neocons and supporting pundits would begin to claim that the British and Roman empires had been second-raters by comparison.  No wonder that key figures in and around the George W. Bush administration dreamed of establishing a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and possibly over the globe itself (as well as a Pax Republicana at home).  They imagined that they might actually prevent another competitor or bloc of competitors from arising to challenge American power. Ever.

No wonder they had remarkably few hesitations about launching their incomparably powerful military on wars of choice in the Greater Middle East.  What could possibly go wrong?  What could stand in the way of the greatest power history had ever seen?

Assessing the Imperial Moment, Twenty-First-Century-Style

Almost a quarter of a century after the Soviet Union disappeared, what’s remarkable is how much — and how little — has changed.

On the how-much front: Washington’s dreams of military glory ran aground with remarkable speed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Then, in 2007, the transcendent empire of capital came close to imploding as well, as a unipolar financial disaster spread across the planet.  It led people to begin to wonder whether the globe’s greatest power might not, in fact, be too big to fail, and we were suddenly — so everyone said — plunged into a “multipolar world.”

Meanwhile, the Greater Middle East descended into protest, rebellion, civil war, and chaos without a Pax Americana in sight, as a Washington-controlled Cold War system in the region shuddered without (yet) collapsing.  The ability of Washington to impose its will on the planet looked ever more like the wildest of fantasies, while every sign, including the hemorrhaging of national treasure into losing trillion-dollar wars, reflected not ascendancy but possible decline.

And yet, in the how-little category: the Europeans and Japanese remained nestled under that American “umbrella,” their territories still filled with U.S. bases.  In the Euro Zone, governments continued to cut back on their investments in both NATO and their own militaries.  Russia remained a country with a sizeable nuclear arsenal and a reduced but still large military.  Yet it showed no signs of “superpower” pretensions.  Other regional powers challenged unipolarity economically — Turkey and Brazil, to name two — but not militarily, and none showed an urge either singly or in blocs to compete in an imperial sense with the U.S.

Washington’s enemies in the world remained remarkably modest-sized (though blown to enormous proportions in the American media echo-chamber).  They included a couple of rickety regional powers (Iran and North Korea), a minority insurgency or two, and relatively small groups of Islamist “terrorists.”  Otherwise, as one gauge of power on the planet, no more than a handful of other countries had even a handful of military bases outside their territory.

Under the circumstances, nothing could have been stranger than this: in its moment of total ascendancy, the Earth’s sole superpower with a military of staggering destructive potential and technological sophistication couldn’t win a war against minimally armed guerillas.  Even more strikingly, despite having no serious opponents anywhere, it seemed not on the rise but on the decline, its infrastructure rotting out, its populace economically depressed, its wealth ever more unequally divided, its Congress seemingly beyond repair, while the great sucking sound that could be heard was money and power heading toward the national security state.  Sooner or later, all empires fall, but this moment was proving curious indeed.

And then, of course, there was China.  On the planet that humanity has inhabited these last several thousand years, can there be any question that China would have been the obvious pick to challenge, sooner or later, the dominion of the reigning great power of the moment?  Estimates are that it will surpass the U.S. as the globe’s number one economy by perhaps 2030.

Right now, the Obama administration seems to be working on just that assumption.  With its well-publicized “pivot” (or “rebalancing”) to Asia, it has been moving to “contain” what it fears might be the next great power.  However, while the Chinese are indeed expanding their military and challenging their neighbors in the waters of the Pacific, there is no sign that the country’s leadership is ready to embark on anything like a global challenge to the U.S., nor that it could do so in any conceivable future.  Its domestic problems, from pollution to unrest, remain staggering enough that it’s hard to imagine a China not absorbed with domestic issues through 2030 and beyond.

And Then There Was One (Planet)

Militarily, culturally, and even to some extent economically, the U.S. remains surprisingly alone on planet Earth in imperial terms, even if little has worked out as planned in Washington.  The story of the years since the Soviet Union fell may prove to be a tale of how American domination and decline went hand-in-hand, with the decline part of the equation being strikingly self-generated.

And yet here’s a genuine, even confounding, possibility: that moment of “unipolarity” in the 1990s may really have been the end point of history as human beings had known it for millennia — the history, that is, of the rise and fall of empires.  Could the United States actually be the last empire?  Is it possible that there will be no successor because something has profoundly changed in the realm of empire building?  One thing is increasingly clear: whatever the state of imperial America, something significantly more crucial to the fate of humanity (and of empires) is in decline.  I’m talking, of course, about the planet itself.

The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature.  The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure.  The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme theweather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure.  The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire?  On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism?

Every factor that would normally lead toward “greatness” now also leads toward global decline.  This process — which couldn’t be more unfair to countries having their industrial and consumer revolutions late — gives a new meaning to the phrase “disaster capitalism.”

Take the Chinese, whose leaders, on leaving the Maoist model behind, did the most natural thing in the world at the time: they patterned their future economy on the United States — on, that is, success as it was then defined.  Despite both traditional and revolutionary communal traditions, for instance, they decided that to be a power in the world, you needed to make the car (which meant the individual driver) a pillar of any future state-capitalist China.  If it worked for the U.S., it would work for them, and in the short run, it worked like a dream, a capitalist miracle — and China rose.

It was, however, also a formula for massive pollution, environmental degradation, and the pouring of ever more fossil fuels into the atmosphere in record amounts.  And it’s not just China.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about that country’s ravenous energy use, including its possible future “carbon bombs,” or the potential for American decline to be halted by new extreme methods of producing energy (frackingtar-sands extraction, deep-water drilling).  Such methods, however much they hurt local environments, might indeed turn the U.S. into a “new Saudi Arabia.”  Yet that, in turn, would only contribute further to the degradation of the planet, to decline on an ever-larger scale.

What if, in the twenty-first century, going up means declining?  What if the unipolar moment turns out to be a planetary moment in which previously distinct imperial events — the rise and fall of empires — fuse into a single disastrous system?

What if the story of our times is this: And then there was one planet, and it was going down.

 

 

Spinning Out Of Control: Governments, International Banks & Energy Conglomorates Fuelling Climate Change

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2013 at 1:15 pm

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Oldspeak: “Here is a very basic question that no one is asking, not politicians, bankers nor economists.  Even those campaigning about environmental destruction and climate change are not asking it.  Why do we have to have growth? Nothing grows forever, even though it may live for a very long time.  Humans, having reached their maximum height, stop growing.  Either that or they collapse.  Their bones cannot support a body too tall or too fat.  It is the same for anything else that grows.  Everything has limits.  Endless growth is not sustainable.  We cannot grow beyond what this planet can supply, nor should we assume that it can, no matter how much we are persuaded to.  So why is it a given that the ‘economy’ has to grow?  Why can’t it drop back to a level where it might be more sustainable, and maintain a steady position instead? -Lesley Docksey. Why indeed. Nathan Gardels, author, editor and Media Fellow of the World Economic Forum had a pretty good answer when he said: “The big rupture came in the 1800s, with the steam engine, the fossil fuel age, the industrial revolution, This was a great rupture from earlier forms and rhythms of life, which were generally regenerative. What happened after the industrial revolution was that nature was converted to a resource and that resource was seen as, essentially, eternally abundant. This led to the idea, and the conception behind progress which is: limitless growth, limitless expansion.”  We hear “Pro-Growth” mantras repeated incessantly. Perpetual growth is incompatible with natural physical laws and objective reality, yet it’s seen as an essential part of our economic system.  It’s led to all sorts of dangerous, toxic, maladaptive behaviors, that constitute a slow motion extinction level event. We’ve been led to believe that our economic system is the preeminent system on this planet, and that all other systems serve to perpetuate it. That it’s perfectly acceptable to see the commons that give us life as “economically exploitable resources” and “private property”. The reality is the modern human economy is a mere subsystem of the largest and evermost important system on this planet. The Ecosystem. The Dow Jones Industrial average may be at record highs, but ecosystem in which it exists is in extreme peril. The “Market” which dictates much of our behavior as a civilization, cannot exist if the ecosystem collapses. It’s a basic fact we need to understand and change our behaviour as a civilization to account for it. This piece by Lesley Docksey makes very clear that this severe thinking disorder, that we are somehow separate from and have dominion over nature, is a global pandemic. A brilliant documentary produced by Leo DiCaprio provides a look at the state of the global environment including visionary and practical solutions for restoring the planet’s ecosystems. Check it out.

Related Media:
The 11th Hour

By Lesley Docksey @ Dissident Voice:

Being born ‘with a silver spoon in your mouth’ means that you start with an advantage that others don’t have: parents with money, property, influence, business connections and so on, connections that can last for generations.  A silver spoon that appeared recently was the exceedingly generous compensation paid to British slave owners when the UK abolished slavery in 1833, though not one penny went to the freed slaves.  The ancestors of many well-connected people (including David Cameron) benefited.  One way or another, the silver spoon allows you to inherit the best of old boys’ networks and a guaranteed place at all sorts of top tables. These days you also appear to be born with a revolving door.

As I pointed out in Revolving Wars, the door between retiring senior military personnel or ministerial-level politicians and a well-paid position in companies supplying the military revolves at great speed, although sadly not at a fast enough rate as to fire the users into outer space – nor would they go without a profitable contract in place.  But other such doors exist.  And just as the links between government ministers, senior armed forces personnel and the arms trade make it almost impossible to stop our forces from fighting illegal and unnecessary wars, so the links between the government, banks and fossil fuel companies make it impossible to get politicians to take action to mitigate climate change or achieve realistic funding for renewable energy.

The World Development Movement has just published a briefing, Web of Power: the UK government and the energy-finance complex fuelling climate change, and it makes for disheartening reading.  Of the 125 MPs and Lords that make up the UK government, no less than 32% have links with finance and/or fossil fuel companies, while the top 5 banks give financial backing to fossil fuel companies and politicians (the City funded David Cameron’s campaign for the leadership of the Tory Party), and the fossil fuel companies give financial backing to government while lobbying hard for their industry.  There is a merry-go-round of people serving in government and sitting on the boards of financial institutions and energy companies.  It creates a cosy closed shop resulting in a lack of funding for research into and building the infrastructure for renewable energy.

Even worse, despite the noises made by politicians, any effective action to halt climate change is blocked because that would damage business.  It would ‘harm’ the economy – meaning that they, all of them, would lose money.  But they probably think they are the economy.  And, of course their mantra – that climate change is not caused by human activity and we can therefore go on chasing and making money from every scrap of oil or gas to fuel our modern lives – is funded and publicised by some very rich people indeed, many of them with links to… you’ve guessed it… fossil fuels and high finance.  Anything that might puncture that magic bubble of oil, money and power has to be fought (or bought) off by whatever means.

The thought of losing our comfortable lifestyle is challenging, which is why we are persuaded by their spin machine to see that as more of a threat than the destruction of our climate would be.  Even while we are asked to put up with cuts forced upon us by the government, they are proposing to, despite undertaking not to, subsidise companies like EDF with our money, in the hope that they will build nuclear reactors here.  And don’t even mention fracking and the carrot they hold out about ‘cheap’ gas.  It won’t be.  We are also encouraged to allow the bankers to continue paying themselves too much; otherwise they will all go somewhere else.  And, of course, they’d all far rather we worried about the price we pay to fuel our lives than think about a warming world.  Because business as usual means profits as usual.  And also because, whatever else happens, the economy (by which I mean that we remain poor and live economically while the rich grow in riches) must be encouraged to grow.

And here is a very basic question that no one is asking, not politicians, bankers nor economists.  Even those campaigning about environmental destruction and climate change are not asking it.  Why do we have to have growth?

Nothing grows forever, even though it may live for a very long time.  Humans, having reached their maximum height, stop growing.  Either that or they collapse.  Their bones cannot support a body too tall or too fat.  It is the same for anything else that grows.  Everything has limits.  Endless growth is not sustainable.  We cannot grow beyond what this planet can supply, nor should we assume that it can, no matter how much we are persuaded to.  So why is it a given that the ‘economy’ has to grow?  Why can’t it drop back to a level where it might be more sustainable, and maintain a steady position instead?

What most of us want is stability and security, and we have let ourselves be persuaded that these only come if we have more – more money, more possessions, bigger televisions, faster cars – more, more, more.  Yet the majority of humanity has spent not centuries but millennia successfully existing by having sufficient.  We need enough, not more.  And let’s face it, the growth that is demanded by governments and corporations always has and always will go into the pockets of those who are already rich, already have far more than they need and certainly far more than their fair share.

Years ago manufacturers made things that could be serviced and repaired, things that we went on using until they fell to pieces.  Then what we bought came with ‘built-in obsolescence’.  It wasn’t a question of buying something new when the old had collapsed.  The new was designed to collapse and be replaced.  Then we were treated to ‘the latest model’ and encouraged to throw away anything that was out of date.  But students at Brighton University are now being asked to design a toaster that the buyer would want to keep!  On the Today programme Professor Jonathon Chapman explained: “It’s actually very easy to design and manufacture a toaster that will last 20 years; that can be done. What’s not so easy is to design and manufacture a toaster that someone will want to keep for 20 years, because as people, as consumers, we haven’t been trained to do that.”

No.  We’ve been trained to always think there is something better out there, and that we both want and need it.  And in the same way the people with their revolving doors are doing their best to train us into thinking that, as consumers, our behaviour has absolutely nothing to do with climate change and we can carry on as usual while the government ‘fixes’ the problem, the banks lend our money to companies we wouldn’t give the time of day to, and the energy companies dig up our back gardens while they frack for gas.

Well, you know what?  As a ‘consumer’ I have decided that governments, banks and fossil fuels also have built-in obsolescence.  They have reached the point of collapse and I want to bin the lot.  I don’t want their ‘latest model’ either because it always turns out to be more of the same with a different coat of paint.  I want to try something new – or rather, something both radical and reactionary – radical because the idea would be considered ‘impossible’, and reactionary because I want to turn back the clock.  I want to return to an old way of life that was sustainable and sufficient to our needs.  And, I suspect, far more satisfying than the constant hunger of consumerism.   Whether climate change will allow me to do that I don’t know.  My time may run out before the toaster fails.

Dangerous Pedagogy In The Age Of Casino Capitalism & Religious Fundamentalism

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Oldspeak:The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures… it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education.” -Henry A. Giroux   When education is utterly commodified and privatized, democracy dies; corporatocracy rules. “Ignorance Is Strength.” “Freedom Is Slavery.”Profit Is Paramount.”

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

All over the world, the forces of neoliberalism are on the march, dismantling the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making and market freedoms as the essence of democracy while diminishing civil liberties as part of the alleged “war” against terrorism. Secure in its dystopian vision that there are no alternatives to a market society, free-market fundamentalism eliminates issues of contingency, struggle and social agency by celebrating the inevitability of economic laws in which the ethical ideal of intervening in the world gives way to the idea that we “have no choice but to adapt both our hopes and our abilities to the new global market.”[1] Coupled with an ever-expanding culture of fear, market freedoms seem securely grounded in a defense of national security and the institutions of finance capital. Under such circumstances, a neoliberal model now bears down on American society, threatening to turn it into an authoritarian state. The script is now familiar: there is no such thing as the common good; market values become the template for shaping all aspects of society; the free, possessive individual has no obligations to anything other than his or her self-interest; profit-making is the essence of democracy; the government, and particularly the welfare state, is the arch-enemy of freedom; private interests trump public values; consumerism is the essence of citizenship; privatization is the essence of freedom; law and order is the new language for mobilizing shared fears rather than shared responsibilities;  war is the new organizing principle for organizing society and the economy; theocracy now becomes the legitimating code for punishing women, young people, the elderly, and those groups marginalized by class, race and ethnicity when religious moralism is needed to shore up the war against all social order.[2]

Given this current crisis, educators need a new political and pedagogical language for addressing the changing contexts and issues facing a world in which capital draws upon an unprecedented convergence of resources – financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military and technological – to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control. If educators and others are to counter global capitalism’s increased ability to separate the traditional nation-state-based space of politics from the transnational reach of power, it is crucial to develop educational approaches that reject a collapse of the distinction between market liberties and civil liberties, a market economy and a market society. This suggests developing forms of critical pedagogy capable of challenging neoliberalism and other anti-democratic traditions, such as the emerging religious fundamentalism in the United States, while resurrecting a radical democratic project that provides the basis for imagining a life beyond the “dream world” of capitalism.  Under such circumstances, education becomes more than testing, an obsession with accountability schemes, zero-tolerance policies and a site for simply training students for the workforce. At stake here is recognizing the power of education in creating the formative culture necessary to both challenge the various threats being mobilized against the very idea of justice and democracy while also fighting for those public spheres and formative cultures that offer alternative modes of identity, social relations and politics.

The search for a new politics and a new critical language that crosses a range of theoretical divides must reinvigorate the relationship between democracy, ethics, and political agency by expanding the meaning of the pedagogical as a political practice while at the same time making the political more pedagogical. In the first instance, it is crucial to recognize that pedagogy has less to do with the language of technique and methodology than it does with issues of politics and power. Pedagogy is a moral and political practice that is always implicated in power relations and must be understood as a cultural politics that offers both a particular version and vision of civic life, the future, and how we might construct representations of ourselves, others, and our physical and social environment. As Roger Simon observes:

As an introduction to, preparation for, and legitimation of particular forms of social life, education always presupposes a vision of the future. In this respect a curriculum and its supporting pedagogy are a version of our own dreams for ourselves, our children, and our communities. But such dreams are never neutral; they are always someone’s dreams and to the degree that they are implicated in organizing the future for others they always have a moral and political dimension. It is in this respect that any discussion of pedagogy must begin with a discussion of educational practice as a form of cultural politics, as a particular way in which a sense of identity, place, worth, and above all value is – informed by practices which organize knowledge and meaning.[3]

An oppositional cultural politics can take many forms, but given the current assault by neoliberalism on all aspects of democratic public life, it seems imperative that educators revitalize the struggles to create conditions in which learning would be linked to social change in a wide variety of social sites, and pedagogy would take on the task of regenerating both a renewed sense of social and political agency and a critical subversion of dominant power itself. Making the political more pedagogical rests on the assumption that education takes place a variety of sites outside of the school. Under such circumstances, agency becomes the site through which power is not transcended but reworked, replayed and restaged in productive ways. Central to my argument is the assumption that politics is not only about power, but also, as Cornelius Castoriadis points out, “has to do with political judgements and value choices,”[4] indicating that questions of civic education and critical pedagogy (learning how to become a skilled citizen) are central to the struggle over political agency and democracy. In this instance, critical pedagogy emphasizes critical reflexivity, bridging the gap between learning and everyday life, understanding the connection between power and knowledge, and extending democratic rights and identities by using the resources of history. However, among many educators and social theorists, there is a widespread refusal to recognize that this form of education is not only the foundation for expanding and enabling political agency, but also that it takes place across a wide variety of public spheres mediated through the very force of culture itself.

One of the central tasks of any viable critical pedagogy would be to make visible alternative models of radical democratic relations in a wide variety of sites. These spaces can make the pedagogical more political by raising fundamental questions such as: what is the relationship between social justice and the distribution of public resources and goods? What are the conditions, knowledge and skills that are a prerequisite for civic literacy, political agency and social change? What kinds of identities, desires and social relations are being produced and legitimated in diverse sites of teaching and learning? How might the latter prepare or undermine the ability of students to be self-reflective, exercise judgment, engage in critical dialogues, and assume some responsibility for addressing the challenges to democracy at a national and global level? At the very least, such a project involves understanding and critically engaging dominant public transcripts and values within a broader set of historical and institutional contexts. Making the political more pedagogical in this instance suggests producing modes of knowledge and social practices in a variety of sites that not only affirm oppositional thinking, dissent and cultural work, but also offer opportunities to mobilize instances of collective outrage and collective action. Such mobilization opposes glaring material inequities and the growing cynical belief that today’s culture of investment and finance makes it impossible to address many of the major social problems facing both the United States and the larger world. Most importantly, such work points to the link between civic education, critical pedagogy and modes of oppositional political agency that are pivotal to creating a politics that promotes democratic values, relations,  autonomy and social change. Hints of such a politics is already evident in the various approaches the Occupy movement has taken in reclaiming the discourse of democracy and in collectively challenging the values and practices of finance capital. Borrowing a line from Rachel Donadio, the Occupy movement protesters are raising questions about “what happens to democracy when banks become more powerful than political institutions?”[5] What kind of education does it take, both in and out of schools, to recognize the dissolution of democracy and the emergence of an authoritarian state?

In taking up these questions and the challenges they pose, critical pedagogy proposes that education is a form of political intervention in the world and is capable of creating the possibilities for social transformation. Rather than viewing teaching as technical practice, pedagogy, in the broadest critical sense, is premised on the assumption that learning is not about processing received knowledge, but actually transforming knowledge as part of a more expansive struggle for individual rights and social justice. This implies that any viable notion of pedagogy and resistance should illustrate how knowledge, values, desire and social relations are always implicated in relations of power, and how such an understanding can be used pedagogically and politically by students to further expand and deepen the imperatives of economic and political democracy. The fundamental challenge facing educators within the current age of neoliberalism, militarism and religious fundamentalism is to provide the conditions for students to address how knowledge is related to the power of both self-definition and social agency. In part, this means providing students with the skills, knowledge and authority they need to inquire and act upon what it means to live in a substantive democracy, to recognize anti-democratic forms of power, and to fight deeply rooted injustices in a society and world founded on systemic economic, racial and gendered inequalities.

The Responsibility of Teachers as Public Intellectuals

In the age of irresponsible privatization, it is difficult to recognize that educators and other cultural workers bear an enormous responsibility in opposing the current threat to the planet and everyday life by bringing democratic political culture back to life. While liberal democracy offers an important discourse around issues of “rights, freedoms, participation, self-rule, and citizenship,” it has been mediated historically through the “damaged and burdened tradition” of racial and gender exclusions, economic injustice and a formalistic, ritualized democracy, which substituted the swindle for the promise of democratic participation.[6] At the same time, liberal and republican traditions of Western democratic thought have given rise to forms of social and political criticism that at least contained a “referent” for addressing the deep gap between the promise of a radical democracy and the existing reality. With the rise of neoliberalism, referents for imagining even a weak democracy, or, for that matter, for understanding the tensions between capitalism and democracy, which animated political discourse for the first half of the 20th century, appear to be overwhelmed by market discourses, identities and practices, on the one hand, or a corrosive cynicism on the other. And, of course, at the present moment a kind of political lunacy that testifies to the rise of extremism in America. Democracy has now been reduced to a metaphor for the alleged “free” market and, in some cases, to the image of a theocratic state. It is not that a genuine democratic public space once existed in some ideal form and has now been corrupted by the values of the market, but that these democratic public spheres, even in limited forms, seem to no longer be animating concepts for making visible the contradiction and tension between the reality of existing democracy and the promise of a more fully realized, substantive democracy. Part of the challenge of linking critical pedagogy with the process of democratization suggests constructing new locations of struggle, vocabularies and subject positions that allow people in a wide variety of public spheres to become more than they are now, to question what it is they have become within existing institutional and social formations, and to give some thought to what it might mean to transform existing relations of subordination and oppression.

Critical Pedagogy as a Project of Intervention

If educators are to revitalize the language of civic education as part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world, they will have to consider grounding such a pedagogy in a defense of what I have called in the past, “educated hope.”[7] Such hope is built upon recognizing pedagogy as part of a broader attempt to revitalize the conditions for individual and social agency while simultaneously addressing critical pedagogy as a project informed by a democratic political vision while conscious of the diverse ways such a vision gets mediated in different contexts. Such a project also suggests recasting the relationship between the pedagogical and political as a project that is indeterminate, open to constant revision and constantly in dialogue with its own assumptions. The concept of the project in this sense speaks to the directive nature of pedagogy, the recognition that any pedagogical practice presupposes some notion of the future, prioritizes some forms of identification over others and upholds selective modes of social relations. At the same time, the normative nature of such a pedagogy does not offer guarantees as much as it recognizes that its own position is grounded in modes of authority, values and ethical considerations that must be constantly debated for the ways in which they both open up and close down democratic relations, values and identities. Central to both keeping any notion of critical pedagogy alive is the recognition that it must address real social needs, be imbued with a passion for democracy and provide the conditions for expanding democratic forms of political and social agency.

Critical Pedagogy as a Matter of Context, Ethics and Politics

In opposition to the increasingly dominant views of education and cultural politics, I want to argue for a transformative pedagogy rooted in the project of resurgent democracy, one that relentlessly questions the kinds of labor, practices and forms of production that are enacted in public and higher education. Such an analysis should be relational and contextual, as well as self-reflective and theoretically rigorous. By relational, I mean that the current crisis of schooling must be understood in relation to the broader assault that is being waged against all aspects of democratic public life. As Jeffrey Williams has recently pointed out, “the current restructuring of higher education is only one facet of the restructuring of civic life in the US whereby previously assured public entitlements such as healthcare, welfare, and social security have evaporated or been ‘privatized,’ so no solution can be separated from a larger vision of what it means to enfranchise citizens or our republic.”[8] But as important as such articulations are in understanding the challenges that public and higher education face in the current historical conjuncture, they do not go far enough. Any critical comprehension of those wider forces that shape public and higher education must also be supplemented by an attentiveness to the conditional nature of pedagogy itself. This suggests that pedagogy can never be treated as a fixed set of principles and practices that can be applied indiscriminately across a variety of pedagogical sites. Pedagogy is not some recipe that can be imposed on all classrooms. On the contrary, it must always be contextually defined, allowing it to respond specifically to the conditions, formations and problems that arise in various sites in which education takes place. Schools differ in their financing, quality of teachers, resources, histories and cultural capital. Recognizing this, educators can both address the meaning and purpose that schools might play in their relationship to the demands of the broader society while simultaneously being sensitive to the distinctive nature of the issues educators address within the shifting contexts in which they interact with a diverse body of students, texts and institutional formations.

Ethically, critical pedagogy requires an ongoing indictment “of those forms of truth-seeking which imagined themselves to be eternally and placelessly valid.” [9] Simply put, educators need to cast a critical eye on those forms of knowledge and social relations that define themselves through a conceptual purity and political innocence that not only clouds how they come into being, but also ignores that the alleged neutrality on which they stand is already grounded in ethico-political choices. Neutral, objective education is an oxymoron. It does not exist outside of relations of power, values and politics. Thomas Keenan rightly argues that ethics on the pedagogical front demands an openness to the other, a willingness to engage a “politics of possibility” through a continual critical engagement with texts, images events, and other registers of meaning as they are transformed into public pedagogies.[10] One consequence of linking pedagogy to the specificity of place is that it foregrounds the need for educators to rethink the cultural and political baggage they bring to each educational encounter; it also highlights the necessity of making educators ethically and politically accountable for the stories they produce, the claims they make upon public memory and the images of the future they deem legitimate. Pedagogy is never innocent, and if it is to be understood and problematized as a form of academic labor, educators must not only critically question and register their own subjective involvement in how and what they teach, they must also resist all calls to depoliticize pedagogy through appeals to either scientific objectivity or ideological dogmatism. Far from being disinterested or ideologically frozen, critical pedagogy is concerned about the articulation of knowledge to social effects and succeeds to the degree in which educators encourage critical reflection and moral and civic agency, rather than simply mold it. Crucial to the latter position is the necessity for critical educators to be attentive to the ethical dimensions of their own practice.

Critical Pedagogy and the Promise of Democratization

But as an act of intervention, critical pedagogy needs to be grounded in a project that not only problematizes its own location, mechanisms of transmission and effects, but also functions as part of a larger project to contest various forms of domination and to help students think more critically about how existing social, political and economic arrangements might be better suited to address the promise of a radical democracy as an anticipatory rather than messianic goal. The late Jacques Derrida suggested that the social function of intellectuals, as well as any viable notion of education, should be grounded in a vibrant politics which makes the promise of democracy a matter of concrete urgency. For Derrida, making visible a “democracy” which is to come, as opposed to that which presents itself in its name, provides a referent for both criticizing everywhere what parades as democracy – “the current state of all so-called democracy” – and for critically assessing the conditions and possibilities for democratic transformation.[11] Derrida sees the promise of democracy as the proper articulation of a political ethics and by implication suggests that when higher education is engaged and articulated through the project of democratic social transformation, it can function as a vital public sphere for critical learning, ethical deliberation and civic engagement. Moreover, the utopian dimension of pedagogy articulated through the project of radical democracy offers the possibility of resistance to the increasing depoliticization of the citizenry, provides a language to challenge the politics of accommodation that connects education to the logic of privatization, commodification, religious dogma, and instrumental knowledge. Such a pedagogy refuses to define the citizen as simply a consuming subject and actively opposes the view of teaching as market-driven practice and learning as a form of training. Utopianism in this sense is not an antidote to politics, a nostalgic yearning for a better time, or for some “inconceivably alternative future.” But, by contrast, it is an “attempt to find a bridge between the present and future in those forces within the present which are potentially able to transform it.”[12]

In opposition to dominant forms of education and pedagogy that simply reinvent the future in the interest of a present in which ethical principles are scorned and the essence of democracy is reduced to the imperatives of the bottom line, critical pedagogy must address the challenge of providing students with the competencies they need to cultivate the capacity for critical judgment, thoughtfully connect politics to social responsibility, and expand their own sense of agency in order to curb the excesses of dominant power, revitalize a sense of public commitment, and expand democratic relations. Animated by a sense of critique and possibility, critical pedagogy at its best attempts to provoke students to deliberate, resist and cultivate a range of capacities that enable them to move beyond the world they already know without insisting on a fixed set of meanings.

Against the current onslaught to privatize public schools and corporatize higher education, educators need to defend public and higher education as a resource vital to the democratic and civic life of the nation. Central to such a task is the challenge of academics, young people, the Occupy movement and labor unions to find ways to join together in broad-based social movements and oppose the transformation of the public schools and higher education into commercial spheres, to resist what Bill Readings has called a consumer-oriented corporation more concerned about accounting than accountability.[13] The crisis of public schooling and higher education – while having  different registers – needs to be analyzed in terms of wider configurations of economic, political and social forces that exacerbate tensions between those who value such institutions as public goods and those advocates of neoliberalism who see market culture as a master design for all human affairs. The threat corporate power poses can be seen in the ongoing attempts by neoliberals and other hypercapitalists to subject all forms of public life, including public and higher education, to the dictates of the market while simultaneously working to empty democracy itself of any vestige of ethical, political and social considerations. What educators must challenge is the attempt on the part of neoliberals to either define democracy exclusively as a liability, or to enervate its substantive ideals by reducing it to the imperatives and freedoms of the marketplace. This requires that educators consider the political and pedagogical importance of struggling over the meaning and definition of democracy and situate such a debate within an expansive notion of human rights, social provisions, civil liberties, equity and economic justice. What must be challenged at all costs is the increasingly dominant view, propagated by neoliberal gurus such as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, that selfishness is the supreme value in shaping human agency, profit-making is the most important practice in a democracy and accumulating material goods the essence of the good life.

Defending public and higher education as vital democratic spheres is necessary to develop and nourish the proper balance between public values and commercial power, between identities founded on democratic principles and identities steeped in forms of competitive, self-interested individualism that celebrate selfishness, profit-making and greed. Educators also must reconsider the critical roles they might take up within public and higher education so as to enable them to oppose those approaches to schooling that corporatize, privatize and bureaucratize the teaching process. A critical pedagogy should, in part, be premised on the assumption that educators vigorously resist any attempt on the part of liberals and conservatives to reduce their role in schools to either that of technicians or corporate pawns. Instead, educators might redefine their roles as engaged public intellectuals capable of teaching students the language of critique and possibility as a precondition for social agency. Such a redefinition of purpose, meaning and politics suggests that educators critically interrogate the fundamental link between knowledge and power, pedagogical practices and social consequences, and authority and civic responsibility. It also means eliminating those modes of corporate governance in the public schools and higher education that reduce teachers to the status of clerks, technicians, and, with respect to higher education, to a subaltern class of part-time workers, with little power, few benefits and excessive teaching loads.

By redefining the purpose and meaning of schooling as part of a broader attempt to struggle for a radical democratic social order, educators can begin to vigorously challenge a number of dominant assumptions and policies currently structuring public and higher education, including but not limited to: ongoing attempts by corporate culture to define educators as multinational operatives; escalating efforts by colleges and universities to deny students the loans, resources and public support they need to have access to a quality education; the mounting influence of corporate interests in pressuring universities to reward forms of scholarship that generate corporate profits; increasing attempts to deny women and students of color access to higher education through the reversal of affirmative action policies, the raising of tuition costs, and a growing emphasis on classroom pedagogies designed to create marketable products and active consumers. Rather than providing students with an opportunity to learn how to shape and govern public life, education is increasingly being vocationalized, reduced to a commodity that provides privileges for a few students  and low-skill industrial training for the rest, especially those who are marginalized by reason of their class and race. Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Santorum has recently argued that public education is a form of government intrusion and that higher education is simply irrelevant because it is doing the work of Satan by allowing leftist educators to indoctrinate students.[14] That such ideological and political idiocy passes as a legitimate discourse in a presidential race tells us something about the devalued state of public and higher education, not to mention how vulnerable it is to the most extreme authoritarian pressures and policies.

What has become clear in this current climate of religious fundamentalism and casino capitalism is that the corporatization of education functions so as to cancel out the democratic values,  impulses and practices of a civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market. Educators need a critical language to address these challenges to public and higher education. But they also need to join with other groups outside of the spheres of public and higher education in order to create a national movement that links the defense of noncommodified education with a broader struggle to deepen the imperatives of democratic public life. The quality of educational reform can, in part, be gauged by the caliber of public discourse concerning the role that education plays in furthering not the market-driven agenda of corporate interests, but the imperatives of critical agency, social justice and an operational democracy. In this capacity, educators need to develop a language of possibility for raising critical questions about the aim of schooling and about the purpose and meaning of what and how educators teach. In doing so, pedagogy draws attention to engaging classroom practice as a moral and political consideration animated by a fierce sense of commitment to expanding the range of individual capacities that enable students to become critical agents capable of linking knowledge, responsibility and democratic social transformation.

Approaching pedagogy as a critical and political practice suggests that educators refuse all attempts to reduce classroom teaching exclusively to matters of technique and method. In opposition to such approaches, educators can highlight the performative character of education as an act of intervention in the world – focusing on the work that pedagogy does as a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge and experiences are produced within particular sets of classroom relations. Within this perspective, critical pedagogy foregrounds the diverse conditions under which authority, knowledge, values and subject positions are produced and interact within unequal relations of power; it also problematizes the ideologically laden and often contradictory roles and social functions that educators assume within the classroom. Pedagogy in this view can also be reclaimed as a form of academic labor that bridges the gap between individual considerations and public concerns, affirms bonds of sociality and reciprocity, and interrogates the relationship between individual freedom and privatized notions of the good life and the social obligations and collective structures necessary to support a vibrant democracy.

Classroom Authority and Pedagogy as the Outcome of Struggles

The question of what educators teach is inseparable from what it means to locate oneself in public discourses and invest in public commitments. Implicit in this argument is the assumption that the responsibility of critical educators cannot be separated from the consequences of the subject positions they have been assigned, the knowledge they produce, the social relations they legitimate and the ideologies they disseminate to students. Educational work at its best represents a response to questions and issues posed by the tensions and contradictions of the broader society; it is an attempt to understand and intervene in specific problems that emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and actually live out in their lives and everyday existence. Teaching in this sense becomes performative and contextual, and it highlights considerations of power, politics and ethics fundamental to any form of teacher-student-text interaction.

It is crucial to reiterate that any pedagogy that is alive to its own democratic implications is always cautious of its need to resist totalizing certainties and answers. Refusing the pull of dogmatism, ideological purity and imperious authority, educators must at the same time grasp the complexity and contradictions that inform the conditions under which they produce and disseminate knowledge. Recognizing that pedagogy is the outgrowth of struggles that are historically specific, as are the problems that govern the questions and issues that guide what and how we teach, should not suggest that educators renounce their authority. On the contrary, it is precisely by recognizing that teaching is always an act of intervention inextricably mediated through particular forms of authority that teachers can offer students a variety of analytic tools, diverse historical traditions, and a wide-ranging knowledge of dominant and subaltern cultures and how they influence each other – for whatever use students wish to make of these tools and knowledge.  This is a far cry from suggesting that critical pedagogy define itself either within the grip of a self-righteous mode of authority or completely remove itself from any sense of commitment whatsoever. On the contrary, at stake here is the need to insist on modes of authority that are directive but not imperious, linking knowledge to power in the service of self-production, and encouraging students to go beyond the world they already know to expand their range of human possibilities.

Academics must deliberate, make decisions, and take positions, and, in doing so, recognize that authority “is the very condition for intellectual work” and pedagogical interventions.[15] Authority in this perspective in not simply on the side of oppression, but is used to intervene and shape the space of teaching and learning to provide students with a range of possibilities for challenging a society’s commonsense assumptions, and for analyzing the interface between its members’ own everyday lives and those broader social formations that bear down on them. Authority, at best, becomes both a referent for legitimating a commitment to a particular vision of pedagogy and a critical referent for a kind of auto-critique. It demands consideration of how authority functions within specific relations of power regarding its own promise to provide students with a public space where they can learn, debate and engage critical traditions in order to imagine otherwise and develop discourses that are crucial  for defending vital social institutions as a public good.

While pedagogy can be understood performatively as an event where many things can happen in the service of learning, it is crucial to stress the importance of democratic classroom relations that encourage dialogue, deliberation and the power of students to raise questions. Moreover, such relations don’t signal a retreat from teacher authority as much as they suggest using authority reflexively to provide the conditions for students to exercise intellectual rigor, theoretical competence and informed judgments. Thus, students can think critically about the knowledge they gain and what it means to act on such knowledge in order to expand their sense of agency as part of a broader project of increasing both “the scope of their freedoms” and “the operations of democracy.”[16] What students learn and how they learn should amplify what it means to experience democracy from a position of possibility, affirmation and critical engagement. In part, this suggests that educators develop pedagogical practices that open up the terrain of the political while simultaneously encouraging students to “think better about how arrangements might be otherwise.”[17]

At its best, critical pedagogy must be interdisciplinary,  contextual, engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and focus on how students can engage the imperatives of critical social citizenship. Education is not simply about the transmission of knowledge; it is about the producing of subjects, identities and desires – no small matter when recognizing what such a struggle suggests about preparing students for the future. Once again, critical pedagogy must be self-reflexive about its aims and practices, conscious of its ongoing project of democratic transformation, but openly committed to a politics that does not offer any guarantees. But refusing dogmatism does not suggest that educators descend into a laissez-faire pluralism or an appeal to methodologies designed to “teach the conflicts.” On the contrary, it suggests that, in order to make the pedagogical more political, educators afford students with diverse opportunities to understand and experience how politics, power, commitment and responsibility work on and through them both within and outside of schools. This, in turn, enables students to locate themselves, within an interrelated confluence of ideological and material forces, as critical agents who can both influence such forces and simultaneously be held responsible for their own views and actions. Within this perspective, relations between institutional forms and pedagogical practices are acknowledged as complex, open and contradictory – though always situated within unequal relations of power.[18]

To read more article by Henry A. Giroux and other writers in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Making the Pedagogical More Meaningful

Any analysis of critical pedagogy must stress the importance of addressing the role that affect and emotion play in the formation of individual identity and social agency. Any viable approach to critical pedagogy suggests taking seriously those maps of meaning, affective investments and sedimented desires that enable students to connect their own lives and everyday experiences to what they learn. Pedagogy in this sense becomes more than a mere transfer of received knowledge, an inscription of a unified and static identity, or a rigid methodology; it presupposes that students are moved by their passions and motivated, in part, by the affective investments they bring to the learning process. This suggests, as Paulo Freire points out, the need for a theory of pedagogy willing to develop a “critical comprehension of the value of sentiments, emotions, and desire as part of the learning process.”[19] Not only do students need to understand the ideological, economic and political interests that shape the nature of their educational experiences, they must also address the strong emotional investments they may bring to such beliefs. For Emory University professor Shoshana Felman, this suggests that educators take seriously the role of desire in both ignorance and learning. “Teaching,” she explains, “has to deal not so much with lack of knowledge as with resistances to knowledge. Ignorance, suggests Jacques Lacan, is a ‘passion.’ Inasmuch as traditional pedagogy postulated a desire for knowledge, an analytically informed pedagogy has to reckon with the passion for ignorance.”[20] Felman elaborates further on the productive nature of ignorance, arguing. “Ignorance is nothing other than a desire to ignore: its nature is less cognitive than performative … it is not a simple lack of information but the incapacity – or the refusal – to acknowledge one’s own implication in the information.”[21] If students are to move beyond the issue of understanding to an engagement with the deeper affective investments that make them complicitous with oppressive ideologies, they must be positioned to address and formulate strategies of transformation through which their individualized beliefs and affective investments can be articulated with broader public discourses that extend the imperatives of democratic public life. An unsettling pedagogy in this instance would engage student identities and resistances from unexpected vantage points and articulate how they connect to existing material relations of power. At stake here is not only a pedagogical practice that recalls how knowledge, identifications, and subject positions are produced, unfolded and remembered, but also how they become part of an ongoing process, more strategic, so to speak, of mediating and challenging existing relations of power.

Conclusion

In the current historical conjuncture, the concept of the social and the common good is being refigured and displaced as a constitutive category for making democracy operational and political agency the condition for social transformation. The notions of the social and the public are not being erased as much as they are being reconstructed under circumstances in which public forums for serious debate, including public education, are being eroded. Within the ongoing logic of neoliberalism, teaching and learning are removed from the discourse of democracy and civic culture – defined as a purely private affair. How else to explain Rick Santorum’s rants against higher education, the elites, and that old phantom, the liberal media.   Divorced from the imperatives of a democratic society, pedagogy is reduced to a matter of taste, individual choice, home schooling and job training. Pedagogy as a mode of witnessing, a public engagement in which students learn to be attentive and responsible to the memories and narratives of others, disappears within a corporate-driven notion of learning in which the logic of market devalues the opportunity for students to make connections with others through social relations which foster a mix of compassion, ethics and hope. The crisis of the social is further amplified by the withdrawal of the state as a guardian of the public trust and its growing lack of investment in those sectors of social life that promote the public good. With the Supreme Court ruling that now makes vouchers constitutional, a deeply conservative government once again will be given full reign to renege on the responsibility of government to provide every child with an education that affirms public life, embraces the need for critical citizens and supports the truism that political agency is central to the possibility of democratic life.

The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education. Within this context, the project(s) of critical pedagogy need to be taken up both within and outside of public and higher education. Pedagogy is not a practice that only takes place in schools; it is also a public mode of teaching, that is, a public pedagogical practice largely defined within a range of cultural apparatuses extending from television networks to print media to the Internet. As a central element of a broad-based cultural politics, critical pedagogy, in its various forms, when linked to the ongoing project of democratization, can provide opportunities for educators and other cultural workers to redefine and transform the connections among language, desire, meaning, everyday life, and material relations of power as part of a broader social movement to reclaim the promise and possibilities of a democratic public life. Pedagogy is dangerous not only because it provides the intellectual capacities and ethical norms for students to fight against poverty, ecological destruction and the dismantling of the social state, but also because it holds the potential for instilling in students a profound desire for a “real democracy based on relationships of equality and freedom.”[22] Given the current economic crisis, the growing authoritarian populism, the rise of religious dogmatism, the emergence of a failed state, and a politics largely controlled by the bankers and corporations, critical pedagogy becomes symptomatic of not only something precious that has been lost under a regime of casino capitalism, but also of a project and practice that needs to be reclaimed, reconfigured and made foundational to any viable notion of politics.

 

Endnotes
1. Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), p. 7
2.   For an excellent analysis of contemporary forms of neoliberalism, see Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011, pp. 705-728; see also David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).
3. Roger Simon, “Empowerment as a Pedagogy of Possibility,” Language Arts 64:4 (April 1987), p. 372.
4. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Institutions and Autonomy.” In Peter Osborne(Ed). “A Critical Sense” (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 8.
5.  Rachel Donadio, “The Failing State of Greece,” New York Times (February 26, 2012), p. 8.
6.  John Brenkman, “Extreme Criticism,” in Judith Butler, John Guillary, and Kendal Thomas, eds. “What’s Left of Theory” (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 123.
7. Henry A. Giroux, “Public Spaces, Private Lives: Democracy Beyond 9/11″ (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).
8. Jeffrey Williams, “Brave New University,” College English 61:6 (1999), p. 749.
9. Paul Gilroy, “Against Race” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 69.
10. For a brilliant discussion of the ethics and politics of deconstruction, see Thomas Keenan, “Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 2.
11. Jacques Derrida, “Intellectual Courage: An Interview,” Trans. Peter Krapp, “Culture Machine” Vol. 2 (2000), p. 9.
12. Terry Eagleton, “The Idea of Culture” (Malden, MA: Basil Blackwell, 2000), p.22.
13. Bill Readings, “The University in Ruins” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,     pp, 11, 18.
14.  Scott Jaschik, “Santorum’s Attack on Higher Education,” Inside Higher Education (February 27, 2012).
15. This expression comes from John Michael, “Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2.
16.  Cornel West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” in Russell Fergusen, Martha Geever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, eds. “Out There” (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), p. 35.
17. Jodi Dean, “The interface of Political Theory and Cultural Studies,” in Jodi Dean, ed. “Cultural Studies and Political Theory” (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 3.
18. Alan O’Shea, “A Special Relationship? Cultural Studies, Academia and Pedagogy,” Cultural Studies 12(4) 1998, pp. 513-527.
19. Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), p. 48.
20. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79. For an extensive analysis of the relationship between schooling, literacy, and desire, see Ursula A. Kelly, “Schooling Desire: Literacy, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy” (New York: Routledge, 1997); Sharon Todd, “Learning Desire: Perspectives on Pedagogy, Culture, and the Unsaid,” (New York: Routledge, 1997).
21. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79.
22. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire,” (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004),  p. 67

Chomsky: Public Education Under Massive Corporate Assault — What’s Next?

In Uncategorized on August 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Oldspeak: “Converting schools and universities into facilities that produce commodities for the job market, privatizing them, slashing their budgets — do we really want this future? People who are in a debt trap have very few options. That is true of social control generally. In a corporate-run culture, the traditional ideal of free and independent thought may be given lip service, but other values tend to rank higher. Defending authentic (academic) institutional freedom is no small task. However, it is not hopeless by any means.” -Noam Chomsky Unfortunately  “The era of affordable four-year public universities heavily subsidized by the state may be over.” When access to free, high quality, education is eliminated and is replaced with pay for the privilege corporate controlled education democracy dies. “Ignorance is Strength”

By Noam Chomsky @ Alter Net:

The following is a partial transcript of a recent speech delivered by Noam Chomsky at the University of Toronto at Scarborough on the rapid privatization process of public higher education in the United States.

A couple of months ago, I went to Mexico to give talks at the National University in Mexico, UNAM. It’s quite an impressive university — hundreds of thousands of students, high-quality and engaged students, excellent faculty. It’s free. And the city — Mexico City — actually, the government ten years ago did try to add a little tuition, but there was a national student strike, and the government backed off. And, in fact, there’s still an administrative building on campus that is still occupied by students and used as a center for activism throughout the city. There’s also, in the city itself, another university, which is not only free but has open admissions. It has compensatory options for those who need them. I was there, too; it’s also quite an impressive level, students, faculty, and so on. That’s Mexico, a poor country.

Right after that I happened to go to California, maybe the richest place in the world. I was giving talks at the universities there. In California, the main universities — Berkeley and UCLA — they’re essentially Ivy League private universities — colossal tuition, tens of thousands of dollars, huge endowment. General assumption is they are pretty soon going to be privatized, and the rest of the system will be, which was a very good system — best public system in the world — that’s probably going to be reduced to technical training or something like that. The privatization, of course, means privatization for the rich [and a] lower level of mostly technical training for the rest. And that is happening across the country. Next year, for the first time ever, the California system, which was a really great system, best anywhere, is getting more funding from tuition than from the state of California. And that is happening across the country. In most states, tuition covers more than half of the college budget. It’s also most of the public research universities. Pretty soon only the community colleges — you know, the lowest level of the system — will be state-financed in any serious sense. And even they’re under attack. And analysts generally agree, I’m quoting, “The era of affordable four-year public universities heavily subsidized by the state may be over.”

Now that’s one important way to implement the policy of indoctrination of the young. People who are in a debt trap have very few options. Now that is true of social control generally; that is also a regular feature of international policy — those of you who study the IMF and the World Bank and others are well aware. As the Mexico-California example illustrates, the reasons for conscious destruction of the greatest public education system in the world are not economic. Economist Doug Henwood points out that it would be quite easy to make higher education completely free. In the U.S., it accounts for less than 2 percent of gross domestic product. The personal share of about 1 percent of gross domestic product is a third of the income of the richest 10,000 households. That’s the same as three months of Pentagon spending. It’s less than four months of wasted administrative costs of the privatized healthcare system, which is an international scandal.

It’s about twice the per capita cost of comparable countries, has some of the worst outcomes, and in fact it’s the basis for the famous deficit. If the U.S. had the same kind of healthcare system as other industrial countries, not only would there be no deficit, but there would be a surplus. However, to introduce these facts into an electoral campaign would be suicidally insane, Henwood points out. Now he’s correct. In a democracy where elections are essentially bought by concentrations of private capital, it doesn’t matter what the public wants. The public has actually been in favor of that for a long of time, but they are irrelevant in a properly run democracy.

We should recall that the great growth period in the economy — the U.S. economy — was in the several decades after WWII, commonly called the “Golden Age” by economists. It was substantially fueled by affordable public education and by university research. Affordable public education includes the GI Bill, which provided free education for veterans — and remember, that was a much poorer country than today. Extremely low tuition was found even at private colleges. Actually, I went to an Ivy League college, and it cost $100 a year; that’s more now, but it’s not that high, it’s not 30 or 40,000, you know?

What about university-based research? Well, as I mentioned, that is the core of the modern high-tech economy. That includes computers, the Internet — in fact, the whole IT revolution — and a whole lot more. The dismantling of this system since the 1970s is among the many moves toward a very sharply two-tiered society, a very narrow concentration of wealth and stagnation for most everyone else. It also has direct economic consequences. Take, say, California. What they are doing to the public education system is going to undermine the economy that relies on a skilled work force and creative innovation, Silicon Valley and so on. Well, apart from the enormous human cost of depriving most people of decent educational opportunities, these policies undermine the U.S. competitive capacity. That’s very harmful to the mass of the population, but it doesn’t matter to the tiny percent of concentrated wealth and power. In fact, in the years since the Pell Memorandum, we’ve entered into a new stage in state capitalism in which the future just doesn’t amount to much. Profit comes increasingly from financial manipulations. The corporate policies are geared toward the short-term profit, and that reduces the concern for loyalty to a firm over a longer stretch. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow, but right now let me talk about the consequences for education, which are quite significant.

Suppose, as is increasingly happening not only in the United States, incidentally, that universities are not funded by the state, meaning the general community. So how are the universities going to survive? Universities are parasitic institutions; they don’t produce commodities for profit, thankfully. They may one of these days. The funding issue raises many troubling questions, which would not arise if fostering independent thought and inquiry were regarded as a public good, having intrinsic value. That’s the traditional ideal of the universities, although there are major efforts to change that. Take Britain. According to the British press, the Arts and Humanities Research Council was just ordered to spend a significant amount of funding on the prime minister’s vision for the country. His so-called “Big Society,” which means big corporate profits, and the rest look out for themselves. The government produced what they call a clarification of the famous Haldane Principle. That’s the century-old principle that barred such government intrusion into academic research. If this stands, which I think is kind of hard to believe, but if it stands, the hand of Big Brother will rest quite heavily on inquiry and innovation in the arts and humanities as the masters of mankind follow the advice of the Pell Memorandum. Of course, defending academic freedom in ways that would receive nods of approval from Those-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, borrowing my grandchildren’s rhetoric. Cameron’s Britain is seeking to take the lead on the assault on public education. The rest of the Western world is not very far behind. In some ways the U.S. is ahead.

More generally, in a corporate-run culture, the traditional ideal of free and independent thought may be given lip service, but other values tend to rank higher. Defending authentic institutional freedom is no small task. However, it is not hopeless by any means. I’ll talk about the case I know best, at my own university. It is a very striking case, because of the nature of its funding. Technically, it’s a private university, but it has vast state funding, overwhelming, particularly since the Second World War. When I adjoined the faculty over 55 years ago, there were military labs. Since then, they’ve been technically severed. The academic programs, too, at that time, the 1950s, were almost entirely funded by the Pentagon. Under student pressure in the time of troubles, the 1960s, there were protests about this and calls for investigation. A faculty-student commission was formed in 1969 to investigate the matter. I was a member, thanks to student pressure. The commission was interesting. It found that despite the funding source, the Pentagon, almost the entire academic program, there was no military-related work on campus, except in the sense that virtually anything can have some military application. Actually, there was an exception to this, the political science department, [which] was deeply engaged in the Vietnam War under the guise of peace research. Since that time, Pentagon funding has been declining, and funding from health-related state institutions — National Institute of Health and so on — that’s been increasing. There’s a reason for that. It’s reflecting changes in the economy.

In the 1950s and 1960s the cutting edge of the economy was electronics-based. The Pentagon was a natural way to steal money from the taxpayers, making them think they’re being protected from the Russians or somebody, and to direct it to eventual corporate profits. That was done very effectively. It includes computers, the Internet, the IT revolution. In fact most of the modern economy comes from that. In more recent years, the economy is becoming more biology based. Therefore state funding is shifting. Fifty years ago, if you looked around MIT, you found small electronics startups from the faculty. They were drawing on Pentagon funding for research, and if they were successful, they were bought up by major corporations. Those of you who know something about the high-tech economy will know that that’s the famous Route 128. That was 50 years ago. Now, if you go around the campus, the startups are biology based, and the same process continues. The genetic engineering, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and the big buildings going up are Novartis and so on. That’s the way the so-called free enterprise economy works. There’s also been a shift to more short-term applied work. The Pentagon and the National Institutes of Health are concerned with the long-term future of the advanced economy. In contrast to a business firm, it typically wants something that it can use — it can use and not its competitors, and tomorrow. I don’t actually know of a careful study, but it seems pretty clear that the shift toward corporate funding is leading towards more short-term applied research and less exploration of what might turn out to be interesting and important down the road.

Another consequence of corporate funding is more secrecy. This surprises a lot of people, but during the period of Pentagon funding, there was no secrecy. There was also no security on campus. You may remember this. You walk into the Pentagon-funded labs 24 hours a day, and no cards to stick into things and so on. No secrecy; it was all entirely open. There is secrecy today. A corporation can’t compel secrecy, but they can make it very clear that you’re not going to get your contract renewed if your work leaks to others. That has happened. In fact, it’s lead to some scandals, some big enough to appear on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Outside funding has other effects on the university, unless it’s free and unconstrained, observing the Haldane Principle. Indeed, it has been true to a significant degree by funding from the Pentagon and the other national institutions. However, any kind of outside funding [has effects], even keeping to the Haldane Principle, supposing it establishes a teaching or research facility. That kind of automatically shifts the balance of academic activity, and that can threaten the independence and integrity of the institution. And in the case of corporate funding, quite severely.

Corporatization can have considerable influence in other ways. Corporate managers have a duty. They have to focus on profit making and seeking to convert as much of life as possible into commodities. It’s not because they’re bad people; it’s their task. Under Anglo-American law, it’s their legal obligation as well. There’s a lot to say about this topic, but one element of it concerns the universities and much else. One particular consequence is the focus on what’s called efficiency. It’s an interesting concept. It’s not strictly an economic concept. It has crucial ideological dimensions. If a business reduces personnel, it might become more efficient by standard measures with lower costs. Typically, that shifts the burden to the public, a very familiar phenomenon we see all the time. Costs to the public are not counted, and they’re colossal. That’s a choice that’s not based on economic theory. That’s based on an ideological decision, which applies directly to the “business models,” as they’re called, of the universities. Increasing class-size or employing cheap temporary labor, say graduate students instead of full-time faculty, may look good on a university budget, but there are significant costs. They’re transferred and not measured. They’re transferred to students and to the society generally as the quality of education, the quality of instruction is lowered.

There’s, furthermore, no way to measure the human and social costs of converting schools and universities into facilities that produce commodities for the job market, abandoning the traditional ideal of the universities. Creating creative and independent thought and inquiry, challenging perceived beliefs, exploring new horizons and forgetting external constraints. That’s an ideal that’s no doubt been flawed in practice, but to the extent that it’s realized is a good measure of the level of civilization achieved.

That idea is being challenged very openly by Adam Smith’s Principal Architects of Policy in the State Corporate Complex, the direct attack on the Haldane Principle in Britain. That’s an extreme case; in fact so extreme I assume it may be beaten back. There are less blatant examples. Many of them are just inherent in the reliance on outside funding, state or private. These are two sources that are not easy to distinguish given the control of the state by private interest. So what’s the right reaction to outside funding that threatens the ideal of a free university? Well one choice is just to reject it in principle, in which case the university would go down the tubes. It’s a parasitic institution. Another choice is just to recognize it as a fact of life that when I’m at work, I have to walk past the Lockheed Martin Lecture Hall, and I have to look out my office window at the Koch building, which is named after the multibillionaires who are the major funders of the Tea Party and a leading force in ongoing campaigns to wipe out the remnants of the labor movement and to institute a kind-of corporate tyranny.

Now, if that outside funding seeks to [influence] teaching, research and other activities, then there’s a strong argument that it should simply be resisted or rejected outright no matter what the costs. Such influences are not inevitable, and that’s worth bearing in mind.

For Sale: The Desperate States Of America

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

Oldspeak:” The U.S. economy is being restructured in a way that will largely benefit wealthy elites and be detrimental to the rest. Everything public: Government, Schools, Prisons, Energy, Services, Parks, Lands, Housing Health Care, etc. if the free-market ideologues in government have their way, is to be privatized. The usual result of  privatization: significant increases in costs to customers; reduction in quality of and access to service. When dealing with organizations whose prime directives are to Internalize and maximize ever-increasing profit while externalizing and minimizing as much cost as possible this is the only logical outcome. We’ve seen it played out time and time again in the gutting of America. “The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.” -Rania Khalek.  Meanwhile, the “Defense” budget continues to grow. Why is our “civilization” predicated on “owning” everything, hoarding “wealth” and “power”? Why are a few deranged people, Bohemian Grove Members willing to sacrifice our entire planet for their own personal gain?

By Rania Khalek @ Common Dreams

While we have been frantically playing defense against relentless assaults on multiple fronts, from anti-union legislation to draconian anti-choice laws to the attempted privatization of Medicare, the selling off of public assets to the private sector has received little attention.

As states face a budget shortfall of $125 billion dollars for fiscal year 2012, leaders are searching for creative ways to fill budget gaps, while refusing to consider the one legitimate solution: forcing tax-dodging corporations and the rich to pay their fair share in taxes.  Rather than upset the moneyed interests who bought their seats in office, politicians of all stripes prefer to cut pensions, close schools, slash child nutrition programs, and most importantly privatize, privatize, privatize!

In 2008, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley auctioned off the city’s 36,000 parking meters to a Morgan-Stanley lead partnership, for a lump sum of $1.15 billion.  According to Bloomberg, Chicago drivers will pay Morgan Stanley at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what the system was sold for.  The Mayor used millions from the deal to help balance the budget, but since then, Morgan Stanley has raised parking fees 42%.  It now plans on stuffing more cars into fewer metered spaces by getting rid of marking lines, raising the number of metered slots and expanding the hours that require fees.  Chicago gave up billions of dollars in revenue for a short-term fix and now, if the city faces another fiscal crisis, it will be left with an asset that generates revenue for Morgan Stanley.  Despite the controversy in Chicago, the Associated Press reports that New York is exploring private options for its parking spaces as well.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, has suggested that one way to help close the nation’s budget deficit is to “start liquidating” public lands in Utah by privatizing large parts of the state, 70 percent of which is owned by the federal government.  Soon after, Utah Governor Gary Herbert hopped on board, agreeing that Ross’s idea was “worth exploring.”  He even went so far as to claim that the land would be better in private hands because private owners maintained Indian artifacts and burial grounds better.  Apparently his position is quite popular, since it has been embraced by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ), who proposed a bill which would sell off land in Utah and other western states.

The most insidious privatization scheme so far this year was in Wisconsin, the center of the state budget battles.  A provision in Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill would have empowered politicians to sell any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, including those located in prisons and the University of Wisconsin campuses, to anyone for any price at any time, without public approval or a call for bids.  Although the provision was ultimately removed from the budget bill just before it passed, it is expected to be taken up again later this year.

In an effort to offset an $8 billion budget deficit, Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has proposed privatizing five prisons, a sale expected to bring in an estimated $200 million.  Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature is set to require the state to privatize prisons in South Florida, home to one-fifth of the statewide inmate population of 101,000.  Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal plans to sell three state prisons to private operators.  Similar bills have sprung up in other states, nevermind that evidence showing that private prisons actually save any money is seriously lacking.

In more desperate and bizarre attempts to fill in budget gaps the City Council in Naperville, IL is considering giving corporations exclusive rights to plaster their logos on city property.  One proposed municipal sponsorship deal would allow Kentucky Fried Chicken to repair potholes in exchange for stamping the fresh asphalt with the chicken chain’s logo.

It would be foolish to assume that the push for privatization is isolated to the GOP or the states.  The “liberal” Obama administration has proposed legislation that would establish a presidentially appointed, seven-member Civilian Property Realignment Board, tasked with evaluating excess federal properties.  The surplus includes 12,000 buildings, pieces of land and other property nationwide that the federal government wants to get rid of.

According to McClatchy, the White House claims it would see savings of as much as $15 billion by no longer having to maintain or pay for utilities at some of the underused or unused facilities.  The government in 2009 reported spending $134 million to maintain buildings that have been declared excess.  It costs an estimated $1.3 billion a year to maintain federal buildings that aren’t yet declared surplus but that go underused.  However, it remains unclear if and how this strategy would result in a significant enough amount of savings to make a dent in a trillion dollar deficit.

Ironically, the list includes land where the dorms in Daniel Boone National Forest are located, which once served as a camp for workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression work program.  Rather than invest in jobs programs to put the unemployed back to work like FDR did during the Great Depression — an idea that the Obama administration has all but abandoned — the President has instead chosen the path of austerity and privatization, tactics that have historically been detrimental to society.

It’s no secret that corporate behemoths, backed by their free-market think tanks and foundations have long dreamed of privatizing everything public.  Thus far, they have been largely successful in hollowing out the defense department by outsourcing computer, intelligence, and even combat operations to for-profit companies like Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and Blackwater, to name a few.  We now know that this was done intentionally, strategically planned by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who profited magnificently as a result.  The terrorist attacks on 9-11 presented the Bush administration with the opportunity to accelerate the outsourcing of war.

In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein thoroughly documents how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests.  She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

While catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, are difficult to predict, economic disasters are not.  With this in mind, it’s difficult to deny that the economic crisis has been somewhat manufactured to serve as a pretext for draconian cuts into social programs that the corporate state has long been eyeing.  On it’s face, this theory seems conspiratorial, however a brief review of recent history demonstrates a trend of intentional crisis generation.

Paul Krugman understood this concept in 2003, during the implementation of the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy, when he wrote the following:

“the gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry an official price tag of only $320 billion are a joke, yet the cost without the gimmicks is so large that the nation can’t possibly afford it while keeping its other promises.

But then maybe that’s the point. The Financial Times suggests that ”more extreme Republicans” actually want a fiscal train wreck: ”Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door.”

It’s no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration’s policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.”

As the free-market ideologues in government continue to neglect America’s aging infrastructure while making deep cuts into education funding and borrowing upwards of a trillion dollars for two failed wars, they reaffirm the perception that the government is inefficient and incapable of providing what they believe private enterprise can do better.

The fact of the matter is that those now shrieking about big government debts and deficits have spent the last decade maximizing government spending with unaffordable wars, financial deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, which they knew would cost trillions of dollars.  Today, the consequences of their actions, which they were warned about, are the ploy these very same people are using to justifythe accelerated demise of welfare programs, and the incremental destruction of the meager social safety net that guarantees Americans won’t starve in their old age.

The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.

Rania Khalek is a young, progressive activist with a passionate dedication to social justice. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at raniakhalek@gmail.com.


U.S. Multinational Corporations Increase Hiring Abroad, While Cutting Hiring In The U.S.

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm

A General Electric worker in Belfort, France, examines a component for a gas turbine. These days, GE gets about 60% of its business overseas.

Oldspeak:”Behold! The bitter fruits of Globalization. It really doesn’t matter that GE, Wal-Mart, Cisco, Oracle etc, pay little to no corporate taxes in the U.S. . Corporations do business where they can extract the most profit and incur the lowest costs. ‘The companies cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show.’-David Wessel  With the top 1% hoarding wealth, resources, and commodifying everything, while the other 99%’s buying power shrinks as they struggle to survive, multinationals see the writing on the wall.  With crumbling infrastructure, a failing eduction system, a draconian immigration system that discourages import of skilled workers, more and more service jobs replacing skilled jobs, the U.S. and it’s economy is slowly and surely collapsing as it’s government stands idly by.”

By David Wessel @ The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. multinational corporations, the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers, have been hiring abroad while cutting back at home, sharpening the debate over globalization’s effect on the U.S. economy.

The companies cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show. That’s a big switch from the 1990s, when they added jobs everywhere: 4.4 million in the U.S. and 2.7 million abroad.

The downside of economic globalization: U.S. multinational corporations, that employ 20% of all U.S. workers, are increasingly hiring overseas workers

In all, U.S. multinationals employed 21.1 million people at home in 2009 and 10.3 million elsewhere, including increasing numbers of higher-skilled foreign workers.

The trend highlights the growing importance of other economies, particularly in rapidly growing Asia, to big U.S. businesses such as General Electric Co., Caterpillar Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The data also underscore the vulnerability of the U.S. economy, particularly at a time when unemployment is high and wages aren’t rising. Jobs at multinationals tend to pay above-average wages and, for decades, sustained the American middle class.

Some on the left view the job trend as reason for the U.S. government to keep companies from easily exporting work overseas and importing products back to the U.S. or to more aggressively match job-creating policies used in some foreign markets. More business-friendly analysts view the same data as the sign that the U.S. may be losing its appeal as a place for big companies to invest and hire.

„It’s definitely something to worry about,“ says economist Matthew Slaughter, who served as an adviser to former president George W. Bush. Mr. Slaughter, now at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, is among those who think the U.S. has lost some allure.

A decade ago, Mr. Slaughter, who consults for several big companies and trade associations, drew attention with his observation that „for every one job that U.S. multinationals created abroad…they created nearly two U.S. jobs in their [U.S.-based] parents.“ That was true in the 1990s, he says. It is no longer.

The Commerce Department’s summary of its latest annual survey shows that in 2009, a recession year in which multinationals’ sales and capital spending fell, the companies cut 1.2 million, or 5.3%, of their workers in the U.S. and 100,000, or 1.5%, of those abroad.

The growth of their overseas work forces is a sensitive point for U.S. companies. Many of them don’t disclose how many of their workers are abroad. And some who do won’t talk about it. „We will decline to comment on future hiring or head-count numbers,“ says Kimberly Pineda, director of corporate public relations for Oracle Corp.

Those who will talk say the trend, in some instances, reflects the rising productivity of U.S. factories and, in general, a world in which the U.S. represents a smaller piece of a bigger whole. „As a greater percentage of our sales have been outside the U.S., we have seen our work force outside the U.S. grow,“ says Jim Dugan, spokesman for construction-equipment maker Caterpillar, which has added jobs more rapidly abroad than in the U.S.

The Commerce Department’s totals mask significant differences among the big companies. Some are shrinking employment at home and abroad while increasing productivity. Others are hiring everywhere. Still others are cutting jobs at home while adding them abroad.

At some companies, hiring to sell or make products abroad means more research or design jobs in the U.S. At others, overseas hiring simply shifts production away from the U.S. The government plans to release details about various industries and countries in November.

While hiring, firing, acquiring and divesting in recent years, GE has been reducing the overall size of its work force both domestically and internationally. Between 2005 and 2010, the industrial conglomerate cut 1,000 workers overseas and 28,000 in the U.S.

Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s chief executive, says these cuts don’t reflect a relentless search for the lowest wages, or at least they don’t any longer. „We’ve globalized around markets, not cheap labor. The era of globalization around cheap labor is over,“ he said in a speech in Washington last month. „Today we go to Brazil, we go to China, we go to India, because that’s where the customers are.“

In 2000, 30% of GE’s business was overseas; today, 60% is. In 2000, 46% of GE employees were overseas; today, 54% are.

Mr. Immelt says GE did or will add 16,000 U.S. jobs in manufacturing or high-tech services in 2010 and 2011, including 150 in Erie, Pa., making locomotives for China, and 400 at a smart-grid technology center in Atlanta.

Caterpillar increasingly relies on foreign markets for its sales. It has been adding workers world-wide—except for global layoffs in 2009, amid the recession—but is hiring much faster abroad. Between 2005 and 2010, its work force grew by 3,400 workers, or 7.8%, in the U.S. and 15,900, or nearly 39%, overseas.

Mr. Dugan, the company spokesman, says Caterpillar still does most of its research and development in Peoria, Ill., where it is based, and that „a little over half“ of its planned $3 billion in capital spending this year is earmarked for facilities in the U.S.

Several high-tech companies have been expanding their work forces both domestically and abroad, but doing much more of their hiring outside the U.S.

Oracle, which makes business hardware and software, added twice as many workers overseas over the past five years as in the U.S. At the beginning of the 2000s, it had more workers at home than abroad; at the end of 2010, 63% of its employees were overseas. The company says it still does 80% of its R&D in the U.S.

Similarly, Cisco Systems Inc., which makes networking gear, has been creating jobs much more rapidly abroad. Over the past five years, it has added 10,900 employees in the U.S. and 21,350 outside it. At the beginning of the decade, 26% of its work force was abroad; at the end, 46% was.

Microsoft is an exception. It cut its head count globally last year, but over the past five years, the software giant has added more jobs in the U.S. (15,300) than abroad (13,000). About 60% of Microsoft’s employees are in the U.S.

While small, young companies are vital to U.S. economic growth, big multinationals remain a major force. A report by McKinsey Global Institute, the think-tank arm of the big consulting firm, estimates that multinationals account for 23% of the nation’s private-sector output and 48% of its exports of goods.

These companies are more exposed to global competition than many smaller ones, but also more capable of taking advantage of globalization by shifting production, and thus can be a harbinger of things to come.

The economists who advised McKinsey on its report dubbed multinationals „canaries in the coal mine.“ They include Mr. Slaughter and Clinton White House veterans Laura Tyson, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Martin Baily, of the Brookings Institution.

They warn that a combination of the U.S. tax code, the declining state of U.S. infrastructure, the quality of the country’s education system and barriers to the immigration of skilled workers may be making the U.S. less attractive to multinationals. „We can excoriate them“ and also listen to them, Mr. Slaughter says of the multinationals. „But we can’t just excoriate them.“

Other observers see the trend as a failure of U.S. policies to counter aggressive foreign governments. „All the incentives in the global economy—an overvalued U.S. dollar, lower corporate taxes abroad, very aggressive investment incentives abroad, government pressure abroad versus none at home—are such as to steadily move the production of tradable goods and the provision of tradable services out of the U.S.,“ says Clyde Prestowitz, a former trade negotiator turned critic of U.S. trade policy. „That has been having, and will continue to have, a negative impact on U.S. employment and wages.“

—Scott L. Greenberg contributed to this article


Unmanned Drones Fly Through Congress To Patrol U.S. Skies

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Oldspeak:”The unmanned chickens come home to roost. The death dealing spybots deployed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and god knows where else will be deployed right here in the U.S.A. in a “security” and “law enforcement” role.  Indeed, Skynet is effect. As the surveillance state expands under the guise of ‘national security’, law enforcement and job creation; privacy, civil liberties, and air safety are compromised. Behold in all it’s splendor, the powerful workings of the military-industrial complex. Offense industry lobbyists throws hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions” at democrat and republican politicians alike. Those politicians then perform their yearly debt exploding ritual of passing an ever larger “Defense Authorization Act”. The Offense Industry continues to build more and more machines for death and destruction and exports them at great profit to as many countries as will buy them. At the same time, the U.S. spends more on weapons than the next 19 nations COMBINED. The Military Industrial complex Eisenhower warned of is now self-aware, self-perpetuating and ever expanding. With its devastating drain on taxpayer resources that could be used domestically for infrastructure, education, job creation, green energy development, etc etc etc…. The offense industry not teachers, not unions, or public workers/programs/services/ is a large part of the reason the U.S. is hurtling toward imminent collapse.”

By Nick Mottern @ Truthout:

Within weeks and possibly days, President Obama is likely to sign into law a bill that will bring unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – into US general airspace, crisscrossing the country in company with passenger planes and other human-carrying aircraft.

The story of how planes without on-board pilots will gain entry into our crowded airspace, where birds are life threatening, possibly within the next three years, is one involving campaign contributions, jobs and fear. As we will see, safety appears not to be the top priority.

I became aware of the pro-drone legislation from a February 10, 2011, Syracuse Post Standard report that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) was supporting an amendment to the pending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill (S. 223) that would create test zones for the introduction of drones into general airspace.

Senator Schumer was interested in the pro-drone amendment because MQ-9 Reaper drones, killer drones that are flying over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, are stationed at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse. However, FAA safety restrictions have limited drone flights out of Hancock.

“If Schumer’s legislative move succeeds this week,” said the Post Standard, “it would help ensure the future of 1,215 jobs at the (air) base in Mattydale (New York) and potentially lead to millions of dollars in radar research contracts for local defense companies.”

Bad Drones – Good Drones?

Drones have a grisly war history of misidentification. For example, on April 11, 2011, The Los Angeles Times carried a story of how a failure of US Air Force drone operators at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to accurately identify the enemy led to the deaths in February 2010 of at least 15 non-combatant Afghani men, the wounding of 12 more and the deaths of a woman and three children.

“Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything,” said Air Force Major Gen. James O. Poss, who oversaw the Air Force investigation, according to the Times. “I really do think we have learned from this.”

The newspaper said that survivors were compensated with $2,900 and families of the dead got $4,800.

Drones like the Reaper are also used for assassination, killing people without trial or conviction, a violation of international law, compounded by the problem of misidentification.

The Reaper can also be used strictly for surveillance and there are a variety of drones that can perform either killer or surveillance functions. Drones are also being produced for commercial uses, which include scanning land and oceans for agricultural, mining and fishing enterprises.

Given the deadly record of drones, I and others in New York State and elsewhere, moved to lobby Senator Schumer to end his support of the drone amendment.

Drone Envy

We knew we were starting very late. On February 15, we presented a letter (appearing at the end of this article) at Senator Schumer’s Peekskill, New York, office urging him to abandon the drone amendment. He did not respond and his staff did not provide any information to us until well after the FAA reauthorization bill, with the pro-drone language embodied in an omnibus amendment, cleared the Senate on February 17.

According to Open Secrets.org, Senator Schumer received $10,000 for his 2010 re-election campaign from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is one of at least 50 companies making drones of various sizes and types and it produces Hellfire missiles, used by drones and other aircraft. Lockheed employs 2,200 in Syracuse.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also supported the drone amendment, saying in a press release: “This bill is about making southwest Ohio a critical part of this high-growth initiative. UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) could be used for a host of important purposes, from patrolling the border, to surveying Kandahar province, to combating drug smuggling and it’s critical that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base plays a key role in their development and testing. I’ve worked on a bipartisan basis – first with (former) Sen. (George) Voinovich and now with Sen. (Rob) Portman – to enable the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson and the Springfield National Guard to test unmanned aerial systems in Southwest Ohio.”

Among other Senate supporters of the drone amendment were Sens. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) and John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), whose state seeks to be a center of drone development and where the University of North Dakota claims to be the first in offering a four-year degree program for drone pilots “hoping to take the sticks in a field expected to swell to a $20 billion industry over the next decade.”

Senator Hoeven said on the Senate floor, in support of the amendment:

“We’re already flying UAVs in airspace all over the world. Now we need to open the skies for them at home to make our nation more secure, our communities safer and our economy more dynamic, creating jobs and opportunities in our country. If we don’t you can be sure other nations will.”

(Note: Open Secrets shows no major aerospace companies contributing to Senators Brown or Hoeven in 2010; Senator Conrad received $22,600 in 2010 from Carlyle Group, which owns ARINC, a company with drone business.)

With Senate approval of the FAA bill, our anti-drone lobbying shifted to the House of Representatives where the FAA reauthorization (H.R. 658) containing pro-drone amendments similar to those in the Senate was still under consideration. While the senate drone legislation did not set a deadline for drone entry into general US skyways; a House amendment, which was ultimately approved, sets a deadline of September 30, 2015, for integration of commercial drones.

Gliding on Zephyrs of Cash

I thought that it might be possible to strip the drone amendments from reauthorization bill with last-minute floor action by one or two House allies. However, as I watched the House action on the FAA bill on C-Span on March 31, it became clear that the Republican leadership was determined to win every amendment that it put forward and to crush amendments put forward by Democrats. None of the members of Congress we hoped would act, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), Brian Higgins (D-New York) and John Tierney (D-Massachusetts), wished to make a comment, much less a fight, over the amendments and it may have been they felt is was not worth the effort.

Had there been more time for contacting Congressional aides and identifying drone supporters, it would also have been clear that there was strong aerospace industry activity in both houses of Congress for the drone amendments.

The drone amendments that ended up in the House bill came from Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), chair of the House transportation Committee, and Rep. Candice Miller (R-Michigan), a member of the transportation and homeland security committees and also a member of the Congressional Unmanned Systems (drone) Caucus, comprised of 43 members of the House.

Congressman Mica did not speak in any detail on the floor of the House about his drone amendment, referring to it only as being included in an omnibus amendment package. He introduced into the record a letter from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group, saying: “Without a doubt, UAS (unmanned aerial systems) will have a tremendous impact on the aerospace industry and aid in driving economic development in many regions across the country. How quickly new job creation and economic benefits become a reality however depends on the progress and timeliness of UAS integration efforts.” The Mica amendment package was approved 251-168.

Congresswoman Miller’s remarks in support of her amendment, which was approved by a voice vote, focused on the use of drones for law enforcement and border security:

“My amendment is designed to help expedite and to improve the process by which FAA works with government agencies to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs as they’re commonly called, into the National Airspace System. Currently, Mr. Chairman, law enforcement agencies across the country, from Customs and Border Protection to local police departments, et cetera, are ready to embrace the new technology and to start utilizing UAVs in the pursuit of enforcing the law and protecting our border as well.

“However, the FAA has been very hesitant to give authorization to these UAVs due to limited air space and restrictions that they have. I certainly can appreciate those concerns; but when we’re talking about Customs and Border Protection or the FBI, what have you, we are talking about missions of national security. And certainly there’s nothing more important than that. It was a very, very lengthy exercise to get the FAA to authorize the use of UAVs on the southern border. While they’re finally being utilized down there, we are certainly a long way from fully utilizing these technologies.”

After the pro-drone amendments passed the House, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-California) chair of the Congressional drone caucus, released a statement saying that the House FAA bill “promotes the safe integration of unmanned systems into national airspace. Carefully integrating these systems by 2015 will improve our border defenses, public safety and emergency response systems.

“Although this bill is a step in the right direction, I have concerns with the FAA’s languid Certification of Authorization requirement for public unmanned systems.”

Congressman Mica received the following contributions for his 2010 re-election campaign from these companies involved with drones, according Open Secrets:

Boeing – $10,000
Honeywell – $10,000 (makes engines for the Reaper and Predator drones)
Lockheed Martin – $10,000
Raytheon – $10,000

And for Congresswoman Miller in her 2010 race:

Honeywell – $10,000
General Dynamics – $8,500
Ford – $10,000 (Ford engines are used in a Boeing drone, although as a Michigan representative if is likely she would get Ford money in any case)

Congressman McKeon received the following contributions among those for his 2010 campaign:

Lockheed Martin – $52,000
Northrop Grumman – $50,500
Boeing – $28,900

His combined contributions from “defense aerospace” and “defense electronics” were $232,900.

We were hoping that Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-New York) might assist in opposing the drone amendments given his opposition to our wars, in spite of his membership on the drone caucus. But we found that his aide wanted to talk only about Hinchey’s opposition to the wars, not about drones. In 2010, the following contractors with interests in drones were among his major contributors:

Lockheed Martin – $10,000
Boeing – $10,000
Honeywell – $10,000
L-3 Communications – $9,500

All the biggest aerospace contractors have an interest of one kind or another in drone manufacture. The top Congressional aerospace campaign contributor in 2009-2010 was Boeing, $2.57 million, followed by Lockheed Martin, $2.4 million, according to Open Secrets.org [4].

A Department of Defense summary of the 2012 Obama military budget notes:

“The fiscal 2012 budget continues strong funding for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that enhance intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The base budget includes $4.8 billion to develop and procure additional Global Hawk Class (RQ-4), Predator Class (MQ 1/9) and other less expensive, low-altitude systems.” [Emphasis added.]

Time magazine reported in 2008 that Barack Obama’s campaign “pocketed $870,165 from defense contractor sources, 34% more than the $647,313 in contributions McCain’s campaign received from the same sector.”

At this writing, the Senate and House versions of the FAA reauthorization bill, which cover a wide range of aviation concerns, will be submitted soon to a conference committee made up of members of both houses of Congress. A compromise bill will be presented to both houses for a vote and then sent to the White House for signature. The conference committee could meet as early as the week beginning April 18, if not before. Action should be completed at the latest by May 30, when the current FAA authorization expires.

Observations

1. Safety

It is obvious that many in Congress have embraced drones of all kinds for money, for themselves and their constituents, willfully ignoring what drones are doing in war or the real dangers they will bring with them into the skies over the US.

In March 2010, Congressman Tierney held drone hearings and heard testimony that addressed ways in which the US use of killer drones has violated international law.

Ideally, Congress would by now have banned the use of drones for assassination and limited their battlefield use to situations in which troops on the ground can make visual identification of enemy forces. This is presuming that the US is involved in wars that do not violate international law, unlike the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As for use of drones over the United States, at this writing, the FAA restricts drone flights to specific zones where they can be carefully segregated from general air traffic. As suggested above, the military, some law enforcement officials and drone manufacturers have been pushing the FAA to move fast to allow drones to fly much more freely. The FAA has resisted quick introduction for safety reasons, as indicated in the following testimony by Henry Krakowski, chief operating officer of the FAA air traffic organization before Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation Operations in September 2010:

“As the most complex airspace in the world, the NAS (National Airspace System) encompasses an average of over 100,000 aviation operations per day, including commercial air traffic, cargo operations, business jets, etc. Additionally, there are over 238,000 general aviation aircraft that represent a wide range of sophistication and capabilities that may enter the system at any time. There are over 500 air traffic control facilities, more than 12,000 air navigation facilities and over 19,000 airports, not to mention the thousands of other communications, surveillance, weather reporting and other aviation support facilities. With this volume of traffic and high degree of complexity, the FAA maintains an extremely safe airspace through diligent oversight and the strong commitment to our safety mission …

“While UASs (unmanned aerial systems) offer a promising new technology, the limited safety and operational data available to date does not support the expedited or full integration in the NAS. Because current available data is insufficient to allow unfettered integration of UASs into the NAS – where the public travels every day – the FAA must continue to move forward deliberately and cautiously, in accordance with our safety mandate.”

At the same time that Congress is pushing the FAA to allow drones to fly everywhere, the House version of the FAA bill would roll back the agency’s budget to 2008 levels, allocating $57.8 billion for a four-year period.The larger issue is whether drone technology can ever be perfected to the point where pilots on the ground are going to be able to look out for danger in the same way pilots in the air can. As Air Force General Poss said in the quote at the beginning of this article, technology can lead to unwarranted confidence. It seems certain that if Congress, the military, law enforcement agencies and the aerospace industry get their way, we will be having drone hits on passenger aircraft just as we are having bird hits now.

In addition, there is no restriction in the FAA reauthorization against drones flying in US airspace carrying weapons, raising the specter of accidental firings at other aircraft and at people and objects on the ground and of mid-air explosions from accidental hits on other aircraft. The Pentagon is also planning drone aircraft that can carry nuclear weapons.

2. Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Drones also present a real threat to personal privacy and safety. Drones are envisioned as eyes in the sky for police departments as well as for border patrols. Although members of Congress touted drones for surveillance, nothing in the FAA legislation discusses when surveillance can be undertaken or any restrictions on use of material gathered in drone surveillance.

This becomes of even greater concern in view of the problems of drone misidentification, demonstrated in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

There is also the possibility, not addressed in the FAA reauthorization, of police arming their drones to fight crime, which raises the fundamental issues of misidentification, due process and collateral damage, among others.

This article is obviously being written at a very late date. How could we have known sooner about the pro-drone amendments and their implications?

3. Citizen Surveillance

At this point, there is no anti-war legislative action office in Washington, DC, that is devoted solely to: (1) providing continuing information to grassroots organizers on weapons and war funding; and (2) building grassroots response organizations in Congressional districts.

Matt Southworth of the Friends Committee on National Legislation was helpful in identifying some Congressional aides who might wish to help address the drone amendments, but he was stretched thin and had only limited time to make calls, much less visits. Ideally grassroots anti-war groups would have the benefit of one or two people in Washington who would follow weapons and war funding legislation, such as the drone amendments, and provide early warning to local anti-war organizers.

A model for this would be Bread for the World, which develops grassroots organizations to lobby Congress on hunger and food policy issues.

This points also to the need for local educational groups that work to inform the public not only on current wars but on business/job alternatives to the military contracting work being done by plants in their areas.

What we need immediately is legislation banning the use of US drones for assassination and banning drones from US general aviation skyways.

*    *    *    *

Senator Charles Schumer February 15, 2011
One Park Place, Suite 100
Peekskill, New York 10566

Dear Senator Schumer:

On February 10, 2011 you issued a press release saying that you want to amend the Federal Aviation Administration law so that air space will be expanded around Syracuse for testing of “cutting edge military drones.” You said this will “unleash millions of investment into the region and create jobs.”

For the reasons outlined in the attached flyer, we the undersigned urge you to reverse course and work to end all drone testing, training and operation in New York State, including drone operations at Fort Drum in Watertown NY.

We want to emphasize here that the atrocities and assassinations being committed by the United States using drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen are unconscionable. The idea that you would use job creation as a reason for encouraging the development and use of these weapons is morally unacceptable.

Every single minute, $300,000 goes into our wars. Because of this spending, the United States cannot meet the educational and employment needs of its citizens. For you to tout job creation from weapons building under these circumstances is astounding.

We would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss these concerns. Please respond to the WESPAC Foundation at (914) 449-6514 orwespacfoundation@gmail.com [5]

Sincerely,

Harriet Ackerman, Hastings on Hudson
Wayne Alt, Buffalo
John Amidon, Albany
Sondra Armer, Croton on Hudson
Kevin Ascher, Mount Kisco
Frank Brodhead, Hastings on Hudson
Brooklyn for Peace
Elaine Brower, World Can’t Wait, Military Families Speak Out, New York City
Russell Brown, Veterans for Peace, Buffalo
Frank Carbone, Newburgh
Joe Catron, Brooklyn
Ben Chitty, Co-cordinator Tappan Zee Brigade, Veterans for Peace Chapt. 61, Yonkers
Martha Conte, White Plains
Andrew Courtney, Croton on Hudson
Pamela Daly, Hartsdale
Don DeBar, Ossining
Sandra Dolman, Peekskill
Gayle Dunkelberger, Katonah
Roger Drew, Greenburgh
Marilyn Ellie, Cortlandt
Gail L. Evans
Sarah Flounders, International Action Center, New York City
Kathryn Joy Fuller, Syracuse
Carol Gable, Gaithersburg, MD (formerly of Mamaroneck)
Felice Gelman, Tarrytown
Mirene Ghossen, New Rochelle
Jack Gilroy, Endwell
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Stoney Point
Dr. Arthur Grant, Chappaqua
Teresa Gutierrez, May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights, New York City
Dennis Hanratty, New Rochelle
Mary Herbst, Grand Island
Judith A. and George E. Homanich, Buffalo
Joan Indusi, Ossining
Dottie Ji, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
Agnes Johnson, Bronx
Mary Johnson, Mt. Kisco
Lorraine and Sam Katen, Mamaroneck
Kathy Kelly, Co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Chicago, IL
Nada Khader, White Plains
Ed Kinane, Syracuse
Charlotte Koons, Women Opposed to the Nuclear Threat, Northport
Cecelia Lavan, New Rochelle
Maxine Lawrence, Ossining
Leila Luvka, Somers
Jeff Mackler, Administrative Committee, United National AntiWar Committee
Kwame Madden, Peekskill
Ann Marwick, Yorktown Heights
Kathryn Mang-Haag, Kenmore
Larry McGovern, Dobbs Ferry
Nick Mottern, Hastings on Hudson
Dan M. Nalven, Ossining
Valerie Niederhoffer, Buffalo
Ardeshir and Ellie Ommani, Co-Founders, American-Iranian Friendship Committee, Armonk
Pepi Powell, Peekskill
Peg Rapp, Washington Heights Counter-recruitment, New York City
Ken Roberts, Yonkers
Joanne Robinson, Yonkers
Enrico Rodrigues, White Plains
Victoria Ross, Buffalo
Meredith Ryan, Mount Vernon
Lisa Savage, Brunswick, ME
Pat Sorbini, Buffalo
David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, Co-founder WarIsACrime.org, Washington, DC
Syracuse Peace Council
United National AntiWar Committee
Roland Van Deusen, Clayton
Rose Viviano, Syracuse
Bennett Weiss, Newburgh



African-Americans Fall In Equality Index

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2011 at 11:55 am

 

African-Americans trail whites the most in economics and social justice, according to the National Urban League

 

Oldspeak:” ‘Don’t believe the HYPE!’ -Flavor Flav. Yeah I know the black folk you see on TV flossin, ballin, dancin, talkin, dunkin and governin are doing just swell. But in the world outside the glowing box, in physical reality, shit is real in the field for a significant majority of black folk. “

By the CNN Wire Staff:

African-Americans are faring slightly worse relative to their white counterparts than they did last year, according to an index released Thursday by the National Urban League.

The group’s 2011 Equality Index stands at 71.5%, compared to a revised index last year of 72.1%, the league said as it released its annual report, called The State of Black America.

An equality index of less than 100% suggests blacks are doing worse relative to whites, while an index greater than 100% suggests blacks are doing better.

The league attributed the 2011 drop to a decline in the economics index, driven by housing and wealth factors, and to a decline in the health index, driven by children’s health.

Economics and social justice continue to be the areas in which blacks trail whites the most, with ratings of 56.9% and 58% respectively. Those are followed by health at 75% and education at 78.9%.

Since the Equality Index was introduced in 2005, researchers have found growing equality between blacks and whites in the unemployment rate, the percentage of uninsured, the incarceration rate, and prisoners as a percentage of arrests, the league said.

The index has also charted growing inequality over that period in rates of poverty, home ownership, school enrollment (both “preprimary” and college), and the level of educational attainment (both high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees).

The index of median household income has remained unchanged, the league said.

In 2010, the index measured Hispanics in America for the first time. This year’s index finds them faring slightly better than last year compared to their white counterparts, at 76.8% compared to a revised 2010 index of 76.6%, the league said.

It attributed the rise to improvements in health and social justice indices, but said those were offset by declines in economics and education.

In the past year, the league said it has observed growing gaps in the relative status of blacks and whites in the areas of loan access, wealth and children’s health.

For Hispanics, there have been growing gaps in the areas of loan access and college enrollment, it said.

The 2011 State of Black America report includes essays from a variety of authors including League President Marc Morial and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

 


The Martin Luther King Legacy And The Global Economic Crisis: Can One Influence The Other?

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Oldspeak: “Martin Luther King was a Champion of poor, disenfranchised, marginalized people. He was anti-militaristic, anti-capitalist, anti-corporatist, anti-poverty, pro-life, pro-love, pro-union, for inclusion, freedom and equality. Today In Obama’s america, young people, poor people, people of color, and the unemployed are being ignored. The U.S. is waging 4 wars. Income inequality is at depression era levels. Workers rights are being usurped. Access to education is being eroded. The food supply is facing existential threats from GMOs and rampant financial speculation. Public spending and services are being cut. More and more public entities and institutions are being commodified and privatized. Meanwhile Obama’s benefactors in Banking, and other sectors of the Oligarchy are doing better than ever. Brother Martin has to be rolling in his grave at seeing his legacy forsaken and trampled upon by one of his own…”

By Danny Schecter @ Truthout:

Before he went over that mountain top in that week in April like this one back in l968, Martin Luther King Jr. said he had already seen the other side as he spent his last days on earth fighting for the garbage men of Memphis, while speaking out about the twin evils of war and poverty.

A few days earlier, a great, black American essayist and historian, Manning Marable, died suddenly just before his new and definitive book on Malcolm X came out showing how America’s best-known Muslim martyr had moved from a focus on the domestic politics of racial confrontation to the international politics of global revolution.

(Among his findings: The US government spied on Malcolm as he globe-trotted, linking up with like-minded activists. This was offered up as a new revelation. I had to smile since I did an investigative report for Ramparts Magazine in 1967 on how the CIA was trying to discredit him in Africa.)

We live in a world of constantly redrawn battle lines where new generations displace the old ones and some of yesterday’s leaders move to higher levels of consciousness, while many others, like Libya’s human rights abusing leader Qaddafi along with some civil rights leaders, years ago, secretly joined Washington’s crusade against Malcolm.

Washington is now crusading against Libya. The war there was first declared a humanitarian intervention before it turned into a military intervention in a civil war, and is on its way to becoming a stalemate. Already NATO has bombed the rebels in one of those mistakes all too common in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US has apparently decided it no longer wants to throw good money after bad – perhaps because it has finally dawned on the White House that we are running out of money. So, we are declaring victory and moving on.

Even imperial projects have to be tempered as our wars abroad turn into follies and our economic turnaround at home is also not what it has been advertised to be.

As the AFL CIO noted while the administration was celebrating a downtick in unemployment:

“While the official unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, it’s 15.7 percent if unemployed, underemployed and those who have given up looking for work are included – more than 24 million people …

“Young people and people of color continue to experience the worst jobless rates which have remained high, with 24.5 percent of teenagers out of work and 15.5 percent of black workers and 11.3 percent of Hispanics jobless. Some 7.9 percent of white workers are jobless, as are 7.1 percent of Asian workers.”

At the same time, better-paid government jobs are being chopped, leaving workers in lower wage, private sector jobs that pay less money for more work. Many of those workers say their salaries don’t cover their expenses. Foreclosures are up even as bank profits (and CEO salaries) soar.

We are just learning the full extent of the Federal Reserve Banks loans to banks the world over, while a promised crackdown on fraud has yet to come. A bailout costing trillions was kept secret until a reporter’s lawsuit just forced a disclosure.

Still hidden is the role government plays in manipulating markets or pumping them up through the Plunge Protection Team, a shadowy agency I discuss in more detail in my book, “The Crime of Our Time” (Disinfo Books).

Wall Street’s “swinging dicks,” as they are called, are back in the saddle. They have neutered financial reform and seem to have silenced the president, who seems to want o cheer up the people rather than inform them about what’s really going on as food and gas prices rise while inflation begins to rear its ugly head.

Veteran investor Jim Rogers told the Daily Bell: “It’s already happening; prices are going higher. Now the blame game starts and the government will blame it on draught or crop failure or whatever. Politicians will do and say anything to avoid explaining that inflation is a monetary problem. Their reactions are always the same and it’s always astonishing to me. As President Ford said, “there is no problem” – and even if there is, it’s not his problem. Well, there are always people who are in denial; then, the problem gets worse not better.

Wall Street’s hedge funds are having a field day. The New York Times reports that wealth among executives in that part of the financial labyrinth is so concentrated that 25 hedge fund managers “pocketed a total of $22.07 billion … At $50,000 a year, it would take the salaries of 441,000 Americans to match the sum.”

Who is speaking out against this? Not the Republicans, for sure. Not many Democrats either. Not even the president or his “more wealth for the wealthy” booster Treasury chief Tim Geithner.

Wall Street is stronger than ever. Its “reforms” are proving to be a joke. No big executives who profited from pervasive mortgage fraud have gone to jail as prosecutions dwindle.

There has been a respite in Wisconsin as a state judge shoots down the GOP’s attempt to outlaw collective bargaining, but similar laws have passed in Ohio and New Hampshire.

In a globalized world, we are all interdependent. What happens to one part of this web affects us all. That’s why we have to pay attention to the falling economic dominoes in Europe, where Portugal may be next to go with Spain and Ireland not far behind. So far, protests by hundreds of thousands in Britain have not dented, much less changed, the government’s cutbacks in the name of austerity.

Serious critics may have the facts on their side, but are still being marginalized. They are considered ranters, not reasonable. Journalist Chris Hedges was honored when he wrote for the New York Times. When he left, and was finally able to speak his own mind, he began challenging the false promises of globalization

He writes, “The refusal by all of our liberal institutions, including the press, universities, labor and the Democratic Party, to challenge the utopian assumptions that the marketplace should determine human behavior permits corporations and investment firms to continue their assault, including speculating on commodities to drive up food prices. It permits coal, oil and natural gas corporations to stymie alternative energy and emit deadly levels of greenhouse gases. It permits agribusinesses to divert corn and soybeans to ethanol production and crush systems of local, sustainable agriculture.

“It permits the war industry to drain half of all state expenditures, generate trillions in deficits and profit from conflicts in the Middle East we have no chance of winning. It permits corporations to evade the most basic controls and regulations to cement into place a global neo-feudalism. The last people who should be in charge of our food supply or our social and political life, not to mention the welfare of sick children, are corporate capitalists and Wall Street speculators.”

So, once again, a gauntlet has been thrown down, but so far activists, advocates, unions and even progressive journalists stay submerged in fighting partisan wars and are not taking on the deeper fight for economic justice.

If we want to walk in the footsteps of Dr. King, we need to broaden our understanding of the scale of what needs changing and target the banksters on Wall Street as well as Republican politicians that do their biding.



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