"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Oligarchical Capitalism’

Why Good News For The Ozone Layer Is Bad News For The Climate

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2014 at 12:19 am

2014 927 ozone fwOldspeak: “The “good news” arrived via the Associated Press on September 11: Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, atmospheric ozone is recovering. Scientists have been monitoring atmospheric ozone since 1989, the year the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete Ozone (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer) came into effect (it was negotiated in 1987). The scientists released their latest assessment on September 10, the subject of the Associated Press report….According to NASA scientist Paul A. Newman, ozone levels climbed 4 percent in mid-northern latitudes at about 30 miles up from 2000 to 2013… The very slight thickening of the ozone layer is, as claimed, due to the phase-out of CFCs and other bad ozone actors. But it’s also due to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases cool the upper stratosphere. As that region of the heavens cools, ozone is rebuilt. The good ozone news is thus bad climate news….Among the most powerful greenhouse gases are HFCs, the non-ozone-destroying substitute for CFCs. Some HFCs have a global warming potential (GWP) 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide (the most commonly used, R-134a, has a GWP of 1430). The growth in their use is clear… without global action, HFC use is expected to increase significantly over the next three or four decades with dire consequences for the climate…Pretending that miniscule improvement in atmospheric ozone levels is cause for celebration is not that big of a deal. The more serious problem is continuing to suggest that the Montreal Protocol is a model for international action on climate change. Dealing with CFCs and their problematic substitutes was, and is, infinitely easier than confronting climate chaos. Banning gases with especially high global warming potential (GWPs) is necessary, but nowhere near sufficient. Carbon emissions are the lifeblood of the global economy, of affluent life styles lived by the few but aspired to by the many. A vigorous climate convention requires far-reaching shifts in virtually every corner of daily life in the developed world.” -Steven Breyman

“This is what’s it’s come to in our sad state of affairs. Manufacturing a “victory” and “one of the great success stories of international collective action in addressing a global environmental change phenomenon.” out of something that actually signifies defeat and failure in addressing the global environmental change phenomenon. The reality, is the chemicals that were used to replace the chemicals found to deplete the ozone layer, are thousands of times more potent and harmful than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most of our attention is focused on. The use of these chemicals are expected to increase significantly over the next 3 to 4 decades. How can this reality be couched as good news? Only in a reality where words, artfully and duplicitously weaved together, mean their complete opposite. An Orwellian world, where “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength”.  No matter how we choose to perceive reality, Earth’s 6th mass extinction keeps rolling along.” -OSJ

 

By Stephen Breyman @ Truthout:

We live in a world hungry for good environmental news. But that’s no excuse for journalistic or scientific spin passing as an unvarnished victory for the environment, nor for exaggeration of the value of a narrowly focused environmental treaty as a model for a universal agreement.

The “good news” arrived via the Associated Press on September 11: Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, atmospheric ozone is recovering. Scientists have been monitoring atmospheric ozone since 1989, the year the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete Ozone (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer) came into effect (it was negotiated in 1987). The scientists released their latest assessment on September 10, the subject of the Associated Press report.

Some background is in order. The Montreal Protocol is important on its own merits. A world of thinning atmospheric ozone is a world of increased skin cancer, eye problems and reduced agricultural yields and phytoplankton production. Every member state of the United Nations ratified the Protocol. But it is as a model for climate change negotiations and agreement that it takes on greater importance. The successful negotiation of the Montreal Protocol required agreement among policymakers, scientists and corporations, as will the replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.

The original Montreal Protocol achieved iconic status – Kofi Annan called it “perhaps the single most effective international agreement to date” – because it phased out production of five chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) known to destroy atmospheric ozone. CFCs were most widely used as refrigerants, solvents, blowing agents and fire extinguishers, as are their substitutes today. There have been five effectiveness-improving amendments to the original Protocol.

The Protocol and its amendments were possible for five reasons:

First, given the phase-in of the phase-out (zero production and use of the five CFCs was not required until 1996) DuPont, the dominant firm in the business, had time to research and manufacture the economical and less destructive substitute hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and the nondestructive hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), even though it had to be pushed hard to do so. Lacking a chlorine atom, HFCs do not attack the ozone layer. HFCs and HCFCs are also less persistent in the atmosphere than CFCs, from two to 40 years for the former, to up to 150 years for the latter.

Second, CFCs were going off patent, so it was in DuPont’s interest to protect the multibillion-dollar market by developing HCFCs and HFCs.

Third, the science was clear on the Antarctic ozone hole, with but a handful of companies, led by DuPont, working to deny it.

Fourth, other ozone killers – several halons and some other CFCs – were not phased out until 2010.

Fifth, mandated phaseout of HCFCs does not begin until 2015, with zero production and consumption required by 2030.

The Montreal Protocol came to be because it posed a minor challenge to the profits of but a few firms, allowed time for new substitutes to come to market, and permitted use of less dangerous ozone-destroying chemicals, or those posing no threat at all.

Now back to the alleged good news report: According to NASA scientist Paul A. Newman, ozone levels climbed 4 percent in mid-northern latitudes at about 30 miles up from 2000 to 2013. (The tiny change for the better explains why it is hard to see much if any improvement between 1989 and 2010, or between 2006 and 2010, in the photos above.) The Associated Press does not tell us about ozone concentrations at other latitudes or other altitudes (except for 50 miles up, but no specific improvement figure is reported; this probably means the improvement was less than 4 percent elsewhere in the upper atmosphere).

The improvement is a “victory for diplomacy and for science, and for the fact that we were able to work together,” said Nobel Prize chemist Mario Molina, one of the scientists who first made the connection between certain chemicals and ozone depletion. Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, hailed the slight recovery of atmospheric ozone as “one of the great success stories of international collective action in addressing a global environmental change phenomenon.” Political scientist Paul Wapner said the latest findings were “good news in an often-dark landscape.”

The very slight thickening of the ozone layer is, as claimed, due to the phase-out of CFCs and other bad ozone actors. But it’s also due to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases cool the upper stratosphere. As that region of the heavens cools, ozone is rebuilt. The good ozone news is thus bad climate news.

2014 927 chart 1Among the most powerful greenhouse gases are HFCs, the non-ozone-destroying substitute for CFCs. Some HFCs have a global warming potential (GWP) 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide (the most commonly used, R-134a, has a GWP of 1430). The growth in their use is clear in the graph below; without global action, HFC use is expected to increase significantly over the next three or four decades with dire consequences for the climate, according to MIT atmospheric scientist Susan Solomon. (Source: TEAP/EPA/UNEP)

Ready for more double-edged good news? The Obama administration appears intent on phasing out HFCs (just in time for the UN gathering and Peoples Climate March in NYC), and a chemical that is nondestructive to ozone, with only four times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide – the hydrofluoroolefin HFO-1234YF, also known as 2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene – is ready to go as the latest substitute for CFCs.

The plan (as under the Montreal Protocol) is to give giant producers (including DuPont and Honeywell which own most of the patents) and massive users (including, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Target and Kroger’s) time to phase in HFO-1234YF. The European Union directive that automotive air conditioners use refrigerants with global warming potential (GWPs) of 150 or lower had most European car makers begin shifting to HFO-1234YF in 2011 (a total ban on more powerful climate-changing chemicals comes in 2017). General Motors has been using HFO-1234YF in Chevys, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs since 2013. Chrysler reportedly plans to transition to HFO-1234YF as well.

Given the history of CFCs and their substitutes, at least some adverse effects from HFO-1234YF production and use, and some glitches in the transition are likely. German automakers worry that HFO-1234YF is both too expensive and too flammable (they’re investigating the use of carbon dioxide). In case of fire following a collision, HFO-1234YF releases highly corrosive and toxic hydrogen fluoride gas. One report had it that Daimler Benz engineers witnessed combustion in two-thirds of simulated head-on crashes. Considering the requirement that auto repair shops retool their air conditioning service equipment to use HFO-1234YF, it’s likely they’ll stick with the HFC R134a as long as possible. India is so far uninterested in moving toward replacing R134a by HFO-1234YF (China is working with the United States to jointly reduce emissions of HFCs). Canada, Mexico and the United States intend to propose amendments to the Montreal Protocol to command the phase-out of HFC production.

Pretending that miniscule improvement in atmospheric ozone levels is cause for celebration is not that big of a deal. The more serious problem is continuing to suggest that the Montreal Protocol is a model for international action on climate change. Dealing with CFCs and their problematic substitutes was, and is, infinitely easier than confronting climate chaos. Banning gases with especially high global warming potential (GWPs) is necessary, but nowhere near sufficient. Carbon emissions are the lifeblood of the global economy, of affluent life styles lived by the few but aspired to by the many. A vigorous climate convention requires far-reaching shifts in virtually every corner of daily life in the developed world.

Confronting ozone depletion permitted business as usual with but the smallest of tweaks that went unnoticed by most. Overcoming the ozone depletion denial industry was a trivial challenge compared to that posed by the forces arrayed to muddle climate science and stymie strong action.

Again: a climate change agreement that includes robust mitigation, a serious campaign to build resilience against a destabilized climate, and a foundation on the principle of climate justice requires genuine and widespread change.

Preventing catastrophic and irreversible climate change compels conversion of the complex systems of transportation, agriculture, generation of electricity, cooling and heating, waste management, manufacturing, technological innovation and more. It also requires transformation in developed countries’ sense of responsibility for past and future emissions. This is why we have yet to see one. Military budgets must be slashed and war machines stopped to free up the funds necessary for building clean green economies and to stop exacerbating the problem. How likely is that as the United States returns to Iraq for the third time in as many decades?

 

Materialism And Misery

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2014 at 4:47 pm

http://splendidmarbles.com/the_abyss.jpg

Oldspeak:Focus on the material, on self-fulfillment and success places us in competition with one another and strengthens feelings of distrust, alienation and division, all of which run contrary to, and move us away from, our underlying nature, resulting in the inculcation of fear and insecurity.  Mental illness, including anxiety and depression – a worldwide epidemic claiming 5% of the global population – are further consequences of this dysfunctional social model…Those who love material objects are less inclined to love other people and the natural environment…Love of objects strengthens the desire principle, causing fear and dissatisfaction, giving rise to anxiety, stress and unhappiness. Desire entraps: insatiable, it breeds fear and is the underlying cause of discontent and all manner of associated sufferings….The neo-liberal model promotes such short-term artificial goals: goals that strengthen desire, greed and dissatisfaction, pre-requisites for encouraging consumerism and materialism and the perpetual expansion of the ubiquitous ‘market’… Self-centered behavior, motivated by reward, not only erodes any sense of community and social responsibility, it breeds unhappiness…With its focus on the material – including the physical aspect of our-selves – the ‘monetised’ system encourages vanity, selfishness and narcissistic behavior, further strengthening division, separation and aloneness, feelings that are in opposition to the underlying truth of human unity…A materialistic value system with its focus on the individual as opposed to the group, inevitably feeds a consciousness of separation, strengthening what Esotericism calls ‘The Great Illusion.’…rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviors…With reward and punishment come desire and fear, desire for the reward and fear or anxiety over possible punishment if we fail. The effect is individual discontent and collective disharmony. Selfishness is strengthened, and, in opposition to the underlying impulse to be helpful, kindness is sacrificed, creating the conditions for depression and stress….Reward and punishment are major weapons of neoliberalism, which has infiltrated almost every area of contemporary society. The destructive duality is a methodology common in many areas of education, and, of course, it saturates corporate life. Goals, bonuses, commission, perks: these are the language of business, the motivating force for, and of, activity….The present unjust economic model has fostered a value system rooted in materiality that is a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Change is urgently needed; change rooted in justice and the well being of the group and not the individual.” -Graham Peebles

“Behold! The fruits of globalized Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy. Destroyer of  World. Begetting a whole universe of maladaptive thoughts, behaviours and policies which run completely counter to our natural state of being and literally making us and our ecology  terminally ill. Change is coming whether we’re aware of it or not. All the systems and ways of being that we believe to be immutable & sacrosanct will change. Make a concerted effort to prepare. Not materially. (Though it would be wise to practice consuming and doing with less of everything, as we are depleting and destroying most natural material  our species is dependent on at rates faster than it can be replenished.) But spiritually and emotionally. Practice ‘Creative Maladjustment’.  No amount of material wealth, well-being and security will be sufficient to insulate you from the madness to come. Let go of you attachments to objects & things, you’ll feel so much better that you did.” -OSJ
You have an inclination: In the flash of one second, you feel what needs to be done. It is not a product of your education; it is not scientific or logical; you simply pick up on the message. And then you just act: You just do it. That basic human quality of suddenly opening up is the best part of human instinct.” -Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche

 

By Graham Peebles @ Dissident Voice:

We live under the omnipresent shadow of a political/economic system, which promotes materiality, selfishness and individual success over group wellbeing. It is a model of civilisation that is making us miserable and ill. Dependent on continuous consumption, everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and competition and ambition are extolled as virtues. Together with reward and punishment this trinity of division has infiltrated and polluted all areas of contemporary life, including health care and education.

It is a system that denies compassion and social unity.  Unhappiness and mental illness, as well as extreme levels of inequality (income and wealth) flow from the unjust root, causing social tensions, eroding trust and community. Over half the world’s population (3.5 billion people) live in suffocating poverty on under $2 a day (the World Bank’s official poverty line), whilst the wealthiest 10% owns 85% of global household wealth. This level of inequality is growing, is unjust and shameful, and has far reaching consequences. Materialistically obsessed societies such as America (where income and wealth inequality is the highest of any industrialised nation), have higher levels of drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness, crime and incarceration, as well as child pregnancies and homicides, than more equal nations. People in unequal societies are suspicious of ‘the other’ – that’s anyone who looks thinks, and/or acts differently – and generally speaking don’t trust one another. A mere 15% of people in America confessed to trusting their fellow citizens, compared to 60% in less unequal parts of the world. The resulting divisions aggravate social tensions, fueling criminality and a cycle of mistrust and paranoia is set in motion.

Focus on the material, on self-fulfillment and success places us in competition with one another and strengthens feelings of distrust, alienation and division, all of which run contrary to, and move us away from, our underlying nature, resulting in the inculcation of fear and insecurity.  Mental illness, including anxiety and depression – a worldwide epidemic claiming 5% of the global population – are further consequences of this dysfunctional social model. Millions are hooked on pharmaceuticals (legal and illegal), much to the delight of the multi-national drug companies whose yearly profits in America alone nestle comfortably in the trillions of US $. Suicide, according to a major report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the third highest cause of death amongst adolescents (road accidents and HIV are one and two), and the primary cause is depression.

Desire division discontent

Over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught that desire and attachment to the object(s) of desire is the root of all suffering. His message of moderation and balance is more relevant today than perhaps at any other time.

Those who love material objects are less inclined to love other people and the natural environment. So says Tim Kasser of Knox University, Illinois in The High Price of Materialism after various studies. Love of objects strengthens the desire principle, causing fear and dissatisfaction, giving rise to anxiety, stress and unhappiness. Desire entraps: insatiable, it breeds fear and is the underlying cause of discontent and all manner of associated sufferings. “Abandoning all desire and acting free from longing, without any sense of mineness or sense of ego one attains to peace.” [Bhagavad Gita 11, verse 71] Such perennial truths expressed by the Buddha, Christ and other visionary teachers as well as Krishna are ignored in the search for immediate happiness derived from sensory pleasure.

The neo-liberal model promotes such short-term artificial goals: goals that strengthen desire, greed and dissatisfaction, pre-requisites for encouraging consumerism and materialism and the perpetual expansion of the ubiquitous ‘market’. In a detailed study by Baylor University associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Jo-Ann Tsang found that materialistic people “are more likely to focus on what they do not have and are unable to be grateful for what they do have, whether it is their family, a nice house or a good job.” Contentment is the natural enemy of the system; discontent is it’s life-blood, serving well the ‘Masters of Mankind’ as Adam Smith famously tagged the ruling elite and their ‘vile maxim’ – “all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, Graham Music refers to a study at Berkeley University that seems to demonstrate Smith’s truism. “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behaved … consistently those who were less rich showed more empathy and more of a wish to help others.” [The Guardian] Self-centered behavior, motivated by reward, not only erodes any sense of community and social responsibility, it breeds unhappiness. Music, a consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, makes the point that our “monetised western world is going to make us more and more lose touch with our social obligations.”

With its focus on the material – including the physical aspect of our-selves – the ‘monetised’ system encourages vanity, selfishness and narcissistic behavior, further strengthening division, separation and aloneness, feelings that are in opposition to the underlying truth of human unity. “All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.” [Swami Vivekenanda] This is the view repeatedly enunciated by those great men – divine men some would say – who have freed themselves of all limitations and have shared their wisdom with us.

We are one, brothers and sisters of One Humanity. As Mahatma Gandhi famously declared:  “all humanity is one undivided and indivisible family.” Separation from one another, from the natural environment and from that which we call God is an illusion. This is the perennial lesson proclaimed loud and clear by an army of Teachers of the Race, who have sought to guide us.

A materialistic value system with its focus on the individual as opposed to the group, inevitably feeds a consciousness of separation, strengthening what Esotericism calls ‘The Great Illusion.’ If humanity is, in fact, one, it follows that our nature is to be unselfish, socially responsible and helpful. In a series of fascinating behavioral studies The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology observed that 14-month-old babies spontaneously acted with kindness when an adult in the room needed help. Children love helping, and they do not need a reward. Actions, which are inherently selfless, offer an intrinsic reward because they facilitate relationship with our true nature. In fact, when material rewards were introduced the children’s focus shifted, they lost interest in the act of kindness and became fixated on the object of reward. Their action became conditioned and, in a very real sense, polluted. Observing this fact, Graham Music concludes that, “rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviors.” And he adds that, “other studies have shown that toddlers feel happier giving treats than receiving them”. [Mercator Net]

With reward and punishment come desire and fear, desire for the reward and fear or anxiety over possible punishment if we fail. The effect is individual discontent and collective disharmony. Selfishness is strengthened, and, in opposition to the underlying impulse to be helpful, kindness is sacrificed, creating the conditions for depression and stress. Studies undertaken in San Francisco found that those members of the community who “volunteered and engaged in other forms of giving when they were adolescents were much less likely to become depressed, even as they got older. New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good.” [Healthy Living] Serving the needs of others is de-centralising.  It shifts one’s focus away from the self, with its petty, albeit painful anxieties.

Reward and punishment are major weapons of neoliberalism, which has infiltrated almost every area of contemporary society. The destructive duality is a methodology common in many areas of education, and, of course, it saturates corporate life. Goals, bonuses, commission, perks: these are the language of business, the motivating force for, and of, activity.

The present unjust economic model has fostered a value system rooted in materiality that is a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Change is urgently needed; change rooted in justice and the well being of the group and not the individual; change imaginatively designed, which sees the economy as a way of meeting human rights and addressing human need, not one that plays on and inflames human desire.

The materialist may hold that mankind is naturally selfish, and that competition, reward and ambition are necessary and good. Without them we would do nothing and society would grind to a dysfunctional halt, goes the narrow reactionary argument. This conveniently cynical view of man’s nature (usually one held by those who are more or less economically and socially comfortable) is fundamentally wrong and is used to perpetuate the divisive model. The damaging effects of this model are being revealed by a range of studies, which substantiate the ancient message that human kindness, selflessness and community service are not only positive attributes to aspire to, they are the healthy, natural and peaceful way for humanity to live.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He can be reached at: graham@thecreatetrust.org. Read other articles by Graham.

Genuine Leisure Is No More: Modern Day Leisure Is Too Much Like Work

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Leisure in the ancient world did not mean time off, but was an activity in it’s own right. Illustration: Happiness by Harriet Russell http://www.harrietrussell.co.uk

Oldspeak: “Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread! …. How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.” -Edward Skidelsky

“We’ve been so perfectly acclimated to the sick society we’ve created, we actually believe we’re NOT DOiNG ENOUGH. More, more, more, we’re driven to do more, more extremely, faster, harder, louder, bigger, swaggier. There is no connection of the infinite growth model & ever more consumption to the exhaustion of all vital resources and by extension life on earth a.k.a mass extinction. How much is enough ‘stuff’? Ask yourself, why are we being told that idleness is to be avoided at all costs; that if you’re not “productive” you’re not therefore valuable.  We must let go of our emotion-backed obsessions to be productive ALL THE TiME.  We must realize that we are not our “productivity”, or the “value” of it. We must stop trying to profit from our leisure. We must just let it be. We must reduce our slave-like connections to our devices; the new overseers, scheduling every second of our lives with some multitasked, partially comprehended, quickly forgotten activities that absorb and degrade our minds. it would do us well to reclaim our humanity, spontaneity, untethered to the matrix selves.  Don’t freely surrender your YOU time to forces dedicated to draining and profiting from your life energy. Don’t let you’re leisure time be privatized by the vulture capitalist forces that pay you to use your life energy for their gain.  Breath deeply. Meditate.  Do Yoga. Disconnect. Focus on powering down and really building and maintaining your vital life energy. Balance your consumptive activities with non consumptive ones. You will heal yourself.  it’s sooooo much better than pills, energy drinks & self-help books. Reject your subservience to the Cult of Productivity.  Resist the savage inhuman slavery that’s being passed off as “success”.  You’ll live a calmer, longer, less stressed, more balanced life.” -OSJ

By Edward Skidelsky @ The Ecologist:

To be without leisure and do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive, writes Edward Skidelsky.

Conventional wisdom holds that we must work more. The unemployed should be employed. People in part-time jobs should be in full-time jobs. And even those in full-time employment should work harder in order to keep pace with the industrious Indians and Chinese.

I think this is topsy-turvy. The great mystery of our time is not that we don’t work harder: it’s that we continue to work as hard as we do. When I say ‘we’, I refer, of course, to the working population. There are many people in our society – the unemployed and partially employed – who would dearly like to work more. But there are equally many people who would dearly like to work less. This is a deeply irrational state of affairs.

The obvious solution is for all adults to work, but to work shorter hours. It is only our devotion to the principle of the 40-hour week that condemns a large (and growing) sector of the population to the grim fate of unemployment.

Wealthy, but not joyful
We belong, let us recall, to one of the wealthiest societies that has ever existed in human history. Yet we have failed to realise the chief benefit of wealth: leisure. This should surprise us more than it does. In the past it was generally assumed that as people became richer they would work less.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes shared this assumption. In his essay of 1929, entitled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, he predicted that standards of living in the affluent world would rise between four and eight times over the following 100 years, leading to a decline of working time to 15 hours a week, or just 3 hours a day. Liberated from the burden of toil, ordinary people would be able to share in the spontaneous, joyful kind of existence once the privilege of the lucky few.

I see us free”, Keynes wrote, “to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue – that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.

Still working 40 hours a week. Why?
Well, it hasn’t happened like that. Keynes got one thing right though: standards of living in the affluent world have indeed risen about fourfold. But hours of work have not fallen anything like as much. Today in Britain we work on average about 40 hours a week (down from 50 hours in 1930), but nowhere near the 15 hours Keynes foresaw. Why?

My father Robert and I wrote a book last year called How Much is Enough? in which we tried to solve this “Keynes problem”. We considered various explanations: the inequalities of power in the labour market, the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth and incomes, and the power of advertising to kindle dormant passions of envy and vanity.

But according to some of our reviewers, we overlooked the obvious explanation for the failure of Keynes’ prophesy. Human beings, they said, want to work long hours, because they are frightened or nauseated by the prospect of endless leisure.

Here is Alasdair Palmer, writing in The Telegraph: “The Skidelskys have nothing substantial to say about boredom – and it is why their analysis is doomed from the start. The reason why most people keep striving long after they have satisfied all elementary needs is not, as the Skidelskys claim, that they mistakenly think that money is the ultimate value. It is simply that striving for it keeps boredom at bay… Boredom is the serpent in the Skidelskys’ garden of idle delights – and you can be sure that, were we ever to achieve it, that serpent would soon eject us from it.

Modern day leisure is too much like work
Now I don’t deny that many of us would be bored by a life of leisure, and carry on working primarily in order to avoid that prospect. But that is only because we do not know what leisure really is, or might become. We talk, revealingly, of ‘taking a break’ over the weekend or over summer.

Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread!

How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.”

True leisure vs recreation
The Greeks were well aware that slaves and workmen had to rest, perhaps even ‘unwind’ occasionally, but for them that was something altogether distinct from leisure. ‘Recreation’, as we might now call it, was simply the flipside of work, a necessary respite from its pain and constraint. Leisure in the true sense had nothing restorative about it. It took place beyond the work/recreation cycle; it was human activity unleashed from any external purpose.

Leisure could thus be strenuous in the highest degree – far more strenuous than work – without losing its leisure character. The modern identification of leisure with recreation, as embodied in the ‘leisure centre’, simply shows how far the concept has strayed from its original and deeper meaning.

Leisure in the ancient world took many forms. For most Athenians, it was synonymous with athletics and oratory, the conventional occupations of the propertied elite. But for a dissident minority, leisure meant philosophia, love of wisdom – an activity quite unlike the academic discipline that now bears its name. Philosophia was free, open-ended speculation, unconstrained by dogma or money.

Plato contrasted it with litigation, in which the goal is to win one’s case, and win it quickly. (“Law is philosophy on a stopwatch,” said a friend of mine who had recently switched from one occupation to the other.) For Aristotle, philosophy was a celestial activity, the closest we come to the contemplative bliss of the gods.

Not just a Western ideal
Leisure is not just a Western ideal: it crops up wherever a minority is freed from the necessity of earning a living. The Chinese cultivated the arts of leisure with a whimsy absent from the more strenuous Greco-Roman version. Here is Shen Fu, a failed scholar of the early 19th century, reminiscing about happier times: “We would spend the whole day doing nothing but criticising poetry and talking about painting. My friends were like swallows on the rafters, coming and going as they pleased. Yün even sold her hairpins to buy wine without a second thought, because we did not want to give up lightly such a beautiful time and place. But now we are all parted like clouds blown by the wind. The jade is broken, the incense buried! I cannot bear to look back.”

These visions of leisure, Western and Eastern, are in many ways repugnant to us. Aristotle’s gentleman philosophers would have lived on the labour of slaves – “human tools”, as he charmingly calls them – while Shen Fu, a local government secretary, received an income that was almost certainly made up largely of bribes. How can an ideal of life erected upon such murky foundations hold any appeal for us today?

Freedom from drudgery
I share these worries. Yet when all is said and done, what else matters, ultimately, apart from leisure? To be without leisure, to do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive. Imagine a man who works long hours at a boring job to pay the school fees; eats brown rice not because he likes it but because it is good for him; reads books in order to increase his stock of knowledge and culture; and keeps fit for the sake of his ‘erotic capital’.

Such a man is perpetually looking forward to a consummation he can never, in the nature of the case, enjoy. As Keynes put it, “he does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom.” He will die before he has ever really lived.

Nor should we be overly troubled by accusations of elitism. True, some can enjoy leisure only if others dig the coal and wash the dishes, but in a technological age there is no need for those others to be human beings. Mechanical work can, and should, be done by machines. “Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his visionary essay The Soul of Man under Socialism. “On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.” We now have machinery sufficient to free the affluent world from drudgery. It is only our failure of political organisation and ethical imagination that holds us back.


Edward Skidelsky is a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University, and author, together with his father, Robert, of How Much is Enough: Money and the Good Life (Allen Lane).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multinational Greed Is Threatening The Stability Of Societies Across the Planet

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Oldspeak: “Around the globe, people are getting increasingly frustrated by governments going out of their way to ensure an enabling environment for big business while making drastic cuts in public spending on social welfare. This is fuelling alienation among electorates, spurring protests. Of great concern, is that those seeking to expose the nexus between governments and big business are being subjected to various forms of persecution with state complicity….. while the power of transnational corporations has expanded exponentially, income and wealth disparities are threatening to tear societies apart. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 annual survey of global risks identifies severe income disparity as a key concern likely to manifest itself over the next decade. The International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director has admitted that the top 0.5 percent of the globe’s population holds 35 per cent of its wealth . Civil society group, Oxfam estimated that in 2012, the world’s top 100 billionaires earned enough money to end poverty four times over.  ….But despite the grave warnings from civil society, governments and financial institutions continue to spin arguments about the need to privatise services when they should be focusing on how to make the public sector fit for purpose. Shockingly, during a global economic downturn, political leaders and captains of industry have together managed to subject ordinary people to double jeopardy: having to pay taxes to the state and then having to fork out profit-adjusted higher costs for privatised health, education, public transport, telecommunications, road works, electricity, water supply and so on. These services are indeed governments’ responsibility to provide as part of the social contract between citizens and the state.” -Mandeep Tiwana

“It seems pretty obvious at this point that the people who’ve profited the most from the 2008 global economic collapse, our corporate citizens who’ve been bailed out and are constantly being supported by monthly taxpayer financed subsidies via “Quantitive Easing” policies are driving the current global economic and ecological  downturn. Depressing wages, eliminating workers, stripping worker protections, destroying food and water supplies, taking ownership of all,  replacing jobs with living wages with jobs with slave wages, asserting supra-governmental control via a number of secret laws, directives, policies, treaties and trade agreements.  Logic dictates that fewer workers with less spending power = failing economy.  Yet this logic is ignored. This is happening world wide for the most part. It’s clear that the governments worldwide are no longer representative of their people. They’re serving as facilitators and gatekeepers of a global neo-feudalist control system being emplaced. The people continue to honor the social contract between them and the state while the state has thrown it out, and entered into a new contract with the 0.5%. How else to explain half the world living in poverty, when the 100 people could end it 4 times over. How else to explain GM and Chrysler being bailed out while the city around them, Detroit, is being allowed to go bankrupt, not mentioned ONCE in Obama’s latest rhetorical master speech on the U.S. Economy, even as he crowed about saving the U.S. Auto Industry. How else to explain Citigroup’s profits increasing by 42% as it cuts its workforce and makes more than 50% of its profits outside of the U.S.? We have to have real conversations about the fatal corruption of the capitalist system by greed for money. The system is irreparably corrupted by money and amorality. What do we do when a computer’s system is corrupted? We fix it, or if it’s beyond repair, we replace it with a new system. This is what must be done with our economic system. We must replace it.” – OSJ

By Mandeep Tiwana @ Al Jazzera English:

The people are angry. In Turkey, Brazil, and most recently again, Egypt, thousands have taken to the streets to voice their anger and frustration at the lack of social and economic justice. Political and economic elites, working in tandem, have managed to neutralise the aspirations of ordinary people, in part spurring the disenfranchisement driving the protests.

Whether it is the removal of subsidies  [3]protecting the poor against inflation and price shocks in Egypt, or the enormous cost of hosting high profile sporting events  [4]in Brazil at the expense of social services, or government plans to commercialise  [5]a beloved public park in the heart of Istanbul, the headlong embrace of neoliberal economic policies by governments is likely to cause further dissatisfaction and unrest across the globe.

Neo-liberalism, using a dictionary definition, as a “modern politico-economic theory favouring free trade, privatisation, minimal government intervention, reduced public expenditure on social services etc.,” reduces the responsibility of the state while promoting privatisation to favour those with access to resources and influence. It is playing havoc with the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people.

Despite mainstream perceptions, the sad reality is that free markets don’t automatically regulate themselves nor do they naturally respect individual or community rights. In Indonesia [6], people are choking from fires set by agricultural companies to clear forests to allow mammoth palm oil plantations to flourish. In the United States [7], popular demands for effective gun control are being blocked by congressmen bankrolled by the arms industry. In Ethiopia [8], thousands have been displaced through forced villagisation programmes to make way for agricultural companies that want to make land more “productive.” In Spain  [9]and inGreece [10], public property such as hospitals and airports are being sold to private players to make the economy more “nimble.” In the UK [11], frustration is mounting about tax evasion by transnational corporations whose turnover exceeds the GDP of many countries, while the average citizen continues to dutifully pay their fair share of taxes.

Around the globe, people are getting increasingly frustrated by governments going out of their way to ensure an enabling environment for big business while making drastic cuts in public spending on social welfare. This is fuelling alienation among electorates, spurring protests. Of great concern, is that those seeking to expose the nexus between governments and big business are being subjected to various forms of persecution with state complicity.

In Cambodia [12], land rights activists opposing official plans to forcibly acquire land for big companies have been subjected to brutal attacks by security forces and lengthy prison terms. In Honduras [13], peasant farmers’ groups involved in land disputes with companies have been subjected to murderous attacks.  InIndia [14], peaceful activists ideologically opposed to the government’s economic policy have been charged under draconian laws of being members of outlawed terrorist organisations. In Canada [15], non-profit groups opposed to the conservative government’s policy of loosening environmental restrictions to enable extraction of oil and gas from ecologically sensitive zones have been subjected to surveillance and funding cuts, while being accused of being obstructive of the country’s economic development.

Widening income inequality

Worryingly, while the power of transnational corporations has expanded exponentially, income and wealth disparities are threatening to tear societies apart. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 annual survey of global risks identifies severe income disparity [16] as a key concern likely to manifest itself over the next decade. The International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director has admitted that the top 0.5 percent of the globe’s population holds 35 per cent of its wealth [17]. Civil society group, Oxfam estimated that in 2012, the world’s top 100 billionaires earned enough money to end poverty four times over [18]. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance has argued in its annual report  [19]that the discourse on inequality is becoming commonplace with the 1 percent vs the 99 percent meme entering the mainstream.

But despite the grave warnings from civil society, governments and financial institutions continue to spin arguments about the need to privatise services when they should be focusing on how to make the public sector fit for purpose. Shockingly, during a global economic downturn, political leaders and captains of industry have together managed to subject ordinary people to double jeopardy: having to pay taxes to the state and then having to fork out profit-adjusted higher costs for privatised health, education, public transport, telecommunications, road works, electricity, water supply and so on. These services are indeed governments’ responsibility to provide as part of the social contract between citizens and the state.

In the past, the political and economic elite have erroneously sought to deride the occupy movements,indignados and anti-corruption protestors as fringe elements without clear vision or majority support. But with greater numbers of people taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction against corruption, environmental degradation and top down austerity policies, decision makers have a reality check staring them in the face. But will they right the ship on neo-liberal economic policies when they are privately profiting from it? Perhaps citizen action will help answer that.

See more stories tagged with:


Links:
[1] http://english.aljazeera.net/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/mandeep-tiwana
[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/21/egyptians-held-back-neoliberalism-not-religion
[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/2013619134555233454.html
[5] http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2013/07/20137112549633235.html
[6] http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/Palm-oil-companies-must-come-clean-on-Indonesian-fire-hotspots—Greenpeace/
[7] http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2013/04/18/gun-control-a-congress-of-cowards/
[8] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/16/ethiopia-forced-relocations-bring-hunger-hardship
[9] http://iberosphere.com/2013/06/spain-news-private-sector-moves-into-spains-public-hospitals/8701
[10] http://pathfinderbuzz.com/resilience-makes-greek-ports-attractive/
[11] http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/nov/12/starbucks-tax-avoidance-controversy
[12] https://www.civicus.org/media-centre-129/61-press-releases/1030-cambodia-civicus-calls-for-unconditional-release-of-detained-activists
[13] http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR37/003/2013/en/4fabe3f5-648c-4192-9383-06ae42fa9922/amr370032013en.html
[14] http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/26/india-stop-misuse-counterterrorism-laws
[15] http://socs.civicus.org/?p=3825
[16] http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2013/
[17] http://www.imf.org/external/np/speeches/2013/051513.htm
[18] http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2013-01-19/annual-income-richest-100-people-enough-end-global-poverty-four-times
[19] http://socs.civicus.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/2013StateofCivilSocietyReport_full.pdf
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/neoliberalism
[21] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Eye reflecitng TVOldspeak: ” A popular governemt without popular information of the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives” – James Madison (1798)The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself. -Henry A. Giroux (2013)The founding fathers knew all too well the indispensable importance of an informed citizenry to a vibrant democracy. My how things have changed in the ensuing 215 years. Learned ignorance is ubiquitous. As more and more actions of government, business &  industry are executed in secret (no pun intended), the further democracy recedes from view. The press which had the task of providing a check for the people against government and oligarchical overreach has been co-opted by the omnipresent corptalitarian state, becoming its formidable and highly effective propaganda arm. More information about the workings of government and business is conducted behind closed doors than ever before. Industry friendly lobbyists write entirely too much of the legislation our so-called elected officials pass in to law, that the people who know nothing about said laws must live under. Elected officials don’t have time to educate themselves sufficiently about the laws they pass because they spend most of their time collecting money from corprocrats who direct them what laws to pass and what laws to do away with. At some point the status quo will become untenable to the people. It’s probably why voting rights are being done away with. It’s probably why rights to free speech, free assembly and petitioning the government for grievances are being restricted. It’s probably why freedom from warrantless surveillance, search and seizure has been removed. It’s probably why protest has been designated as “low-level terrorism” and it’s frightfully easy to be labeled a “terrorist”. It’s probably why the Obama Administration refuses to definitively state that it’s claimed the right to assassinate Americans on American soil, that it has conveniently designated as a “battlefield“. The pieces have been put in to lock down this “turnkey totalitarian state“. As conditions deteriorate, it will begin to take a more tangible shape.” “Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

Truthout needs your support to produce grassroots journalism and disseminate conscientious visions for a brighter future. Contribute now by clicking here.

To read more articles by Henry Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

America’s Plunge Into Militarized Madness

How does one account for the lack of public outcry over millions of Americans losing their homes because of corrupt banking practices and millions more becoming unemployed because of the lack of an adequate jobs program in the United States, while at the same time stories abound of colossal greed and corruption on Wall Street? [11] For example, in 2009 alone, hedge fund manager David Tepper made approximately 4 billion dollars.[12] As Michael Yates points out: “This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs 1,096 years! If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000 hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute.”[13] This juxtaposition of robber-baron power and greed is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media in conjunction with the deep suffering and misery now experienced by millions of families, workers, children, jobless public servants and young people. This is especially true of a generation of youth who have become the new precariat[14] – a zero generation relegated to zones of social and economic abandonment and marked by zero jobs, zero future, zero hope and what Zygmunt Bauman has defined as a societal condition which is more “liquid,”less defined, punitive, and, in the end, more death dealing.[15]

Narcissism and unchecked greed have morphed into more than a psychological category that points to a character flaw among a marginal few. Such registers are now symptomatic of a market-driven society in which extremes of violence, militarization, cruelty and inequality are hardly noticed and have become normalized. Avarice and narcissism are not new. What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s.[16] What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society. Not only has the war on terror violated a host of civil liberties, it has further sanctioned a military that has assumed a central role in American society, influencing everything from markets and education to popular culture and fashion. President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, with its pernicious alignment of the defense industry, the military and political power.[17] What he underestimated was the transition from a militarized economy to a militarized society in which the culture itself was shaped by military power, values and interests. What has become clear in contemporary America is that the organization of civil society for the production of violence is about more than producing militarized technologies and weapons; it is also about producing militarized subjects and a permanent war economy. As Aaron B. O’Connell points outs:

Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland”and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas.[18]

The imaginary of war and violence informs every aspect of American society and extends from the celebration of a warrior culture in mainstream media to the use of universities to educate students in the logic of the national security state. Military deployments now protect “free trade” arrangements, provide job programs and drain revenue from public coffers. For instance, Lockheed Martin stands to gain billions of dollars in profits as Washington prepares to buy 2,443 F-35 fighter planes at a cost of $90 million each from the company. The overall cost of the project for a plane that has been called a “one trillion dollar boondoggle” is expected to cost more “than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).”[19] Yet, the American government has no qualms about cutting food programs for the poor, early childhood programs for low-income students and food stamps for those who exist below the poverty line. Such misplaced priorities represent more than a military-industrial complex that is out of control. They also suggest the plunge of American society into the dark abyss of a state that is increasingly punitive, organized around the production of violence and unethical in its policies, priorities and values.

John Hinkson argues that such institutionalized violence is far from a short-lived and aberrant historical moment. In fact, he rightfully asserts that: “we have a new world economy, one crucially that lacks all substantial points of reference and is by implication nihilistic. The point is that this is not a temporary situation because of the imperatives, say, of war: it is a structural break with the past.”[20] Evidence of such a shift is obvious in the massive transfer upward in wealth and income that have not only resulted in the concentration of power in relatively few hands, but have promoted both unprecedented degrees of human suffering and hardship along with what can be called a politics of disimagination.

The Rise of the “Disimagination Machine”

Borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman’s use of the term, “disimagination machine,” I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

Examples of the “disimagination machine” abound. A few will suffice. For instance, the Texas State Board of Education and other conservative boards of education throughout the United States are rewriting American textbooks to promote and impose on America’s public school students what Katherine Stewart calls “a Christian nationalist version of US history” in which Jesus is implored to “invade” public schools.[22] In this version of history, the term “slavery” is removed from textbooks and replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade,” the earth is 6,000 years old, and the Enlightenment is the enemy of education. Historical figures such as Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, considered to have suspect religious views, “are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program.”[23] Currently, 46 percent of the American population believes in the creationist view of evolution and increasingly rejects scientific evidence, research and rationality as either ‘academic’ or irreligious.[24]

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life. Moreover, this message is also promoted by conservative groups such as The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) which has “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing ‘model bills’ mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.”[25] The climate-change-denial machine is also promoted by powerful conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute. Ignorance is never too far from repression, as was recently demonstrated in Arizona, where State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Republican freshman Tea Party member, introduced a new bill requiring students to take a loyalty oath in order to receive a graduation diploma.[26]

The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

As John Atcheson has pointed out, we are “witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.”[27] We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignorance. Mark Slouka is right in arguing that, “Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath…. Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect.”[28] The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

Toward a Radical Imagination

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation. At stake here is a notion of pedagogy that both informs the mind and creates the conditions for modes of agency that are critical, informed, engaged and socially responsible. The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism. Stanley Aronowitz and Peter Bratsis point to such a project in their manifesto on the radical imagination. They write:

This Manifesto looks forward to the creation of a new political Left formation that can overcome fragmentation, and provide a solid basis for many-side interventions in the current economic, political and social crises that afflict people in all walks of life. The Left must once again offer to young people, people of color, women, workers, activists, intellectuals and newly-arrived immigrants places to learn how the capitalist system works in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic. We need to reconstruct a platform to oppose Capital. It must ask in this moment of US global hegemony what are the alternatives to its cruel power over our lives, and those of large portions of the world’s peoples. And the Left formation is needed to offer proposals on how to rebuild a militant, democratic labor movement, strengthen and transform the social movements; and, more generally, provide the opportunity to obtain a broad education that is denied to them by official institutions. We need a political formation dedicated to the proposition that radical theory and practice are inextricably linked, that knowledge without action is impotent, but action without knowledge is blind.[29]

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish. While the institutions and practices of a civil society and an aspiring democracy are essential in this project, what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each other. Such a pedagogy is not about methods or prepping students to learn how to take tests. Nor is such an education about imposing harsh disciplinary behaviors in the service of a pedagogy of oppression. On the contrary, it is about a moral and political practice capable of enabling students and others to become more knowledgeable while creating the conditions for generating a new vision of the future in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the desires, dreams and hopes of those who are willing to fight for a radical democracy. Americans need to develop a new understanding of civic literacy, education and engagement, one capable of developing a new conversation and a new political project about democracy, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth and power, and how such a discourse can offer the conditions for democratically inspired visions, modes of governance and policymaking. Americans need to embrace and develop modes of civic literacy, critical education and democratic social movements that view the public good as a utopian imaginary, one that harbors a trace and vision of what it means to defend old and new public spheres that offer spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful and critical thought embraced as a noble ideal.

Elements of such a utopian imaginary can be found in James Baldwin’s “Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” in which he points out that “we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.”[30] The utopian imaginary is also on full display in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King states under the weight and harshness of incarceration that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … [and asks whether we will] be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”[31] According to King, “we must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.”[32] We hear it in the words of former Harvard University President James B. Conant, who makes an impassioned call for “the need for the American radical – the missing political link between the past and future of this great democratic land.” [33] We hear it in the voices of young people all across the United States – the new American radicals – who are fighting for a society in which justice matters, social protections are guaranteed, equality is insured, and education becomes a right and not an entitlement. The radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

Endnotes

1.
David Theo Goldberg, “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,”in Enrique Jezik: Obstruct, destroy, conceal, ed. Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011), 183-198.

2.
See, for example, Colin Leys, Market Driven Politics (London: Verso, 2001); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Pierre Bourdieu, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. Trans. Loic Wacquant (New York: The New Press, 2003); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Gerad Dumenil and Dominique Levy, The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Henry A. Giroux, Twilight of the Social (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013); Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011). online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/12/march-of-the-neoliberals

3.
See most recently  Kelly V. Vlahos, “Boots on Campus,” Anti War.com (February 26, 2013). On line: http://original.antiwar.com/vlahos/2013/02/25/boots-on-campus/ and David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).

3A. Greg Bishop, “A Company that Runs Prisons Will Have its Name on a Stadium,” New York Times (February 19, 2013). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/sports/ncaafootball/a-company-that-runs-prisons-will-have-its-name-on-a-stadium.html?_r=0

4.
Ibid. Goldberg, pp. 197-198.

5.
Jonathan Schell, “Cruel America”, The Nation, (September 28, 2011) online: http://www.thenation.com/article/163690/cruel-america

6.
Suzi Parker, “Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School,” Take Part, (January 18, 2013). Online: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/01/18/cops-nab-five-year-old-wearing-wrong-color-shoes-school

7.
Susan Saulny, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” The New York Times, (December 18, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/us/since-recession-more-young-americans-are-homeless.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

8.
Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur, “Guns Kill Young Children Daily In The U.S.,” Huffington Post (December 24, 2012). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/24/guns-children_n_2359661.html

9.
John le Carre, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” CommonDreams (January 15, 2003). Online: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0115-01.htm

10.
Eric Mann Interviews Mumbia Abu Jamal, “Mumia Abu Jamal: On his biggest political influences and the political ‘mentacide’ of today’s youth.” Voices from the Frontlines Radio (April 9, 2012).

11.
See, for example, Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Random House, 2012).

12.
Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).

13.
Ibid.

14.
Guy Standing, The New Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

15.
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

16.
This issue is taken up brilliantly in Irving Howe, “Reaganism: The Spirit of the Times,” Selected Writings 1950-1990 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), pp. 410-423.

17.
I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

18.
Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, (November 4, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

19.
Dominic Tierney, “The F-35: A Weapon that Costs More Than Australia,” The Atlantic (February 13, 2013). Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/the-f-35-a-weapon-that-costs-more-than-australia/72454/

20.
John Hinkson, “The GFC Has Just Begun,”Arena Magazine 122 (March 2013), p. 51.

21.
Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

22.
Katherine Stewart, “Is Texas Waging War on History?”AlterNet (May 21, 2012). Online: http://www.alternet.org/story/155515/is_texas_waging_war_on_history

23.
Ibid.

24.
See, for instance, Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality (New York: Wiley, 2012).

25.
Steve Horn, “Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teachng Climate Change Denial in Schools,”Desmogblog.com (January 31, 2013). Online: www.desmogblog.com/2013/01/31/three-states-pushing-alec-bill-climate-change-denial-schools

26.
Igor Volsky, “Arizona Bill to Force Students to Take a Loyalty Oath,” AlterNet (January 26, 2013).

27.
John Atcheson, “Dark ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment,” CommonDreams (June 18, 2012). Online: https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/18-2

28.
Mark Slouka, “A Quibble,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2009).

29.
Manifesto, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, (N.Y.: The Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), pp. 4-5.

30.
James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis,” The New York Review of Books, (January 7, 1971). Online: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/jan/07/an-open-letter-to-my-sister-miss-angela-davis/?pagination=false

31.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963), in James M. Washington, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp.290, 298.

32.
Ibid, 296.

33.
James B. Conant, “Wanted: American Radicals”, The Atlantic, May 1943.

Henry A Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His most recent books include: Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009); Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (Paradigm, 2010); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Paradigm, 2010); The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence (co-authored with Grace Pollock, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2011); Henry Giroux on Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011). His newest books:   Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang) and Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm Publishers) will be published in 2012). Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His web site is http://www.henryagiroux.com.

 

Billionaires For Austerity: With Cuts Looming, Wall Street Roots of “Fix the Debt” Campaign Exposed

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm

http://www.sourcewatch.org/images/5/5f/FixTheDebtFlat.pngOldspeak:The tried and true Problem Reaction Solution method is being used to attempt to manufacture consent for austerity measures favored only by the fabulously wealthy. The problem is the across the board government spending cuts soon to take effect and the major political parties inability to compromise to avoid them. The reaction courtesy of corporate controlled media broadcasting certain doom is a panicked populace, fearful of job losses, insecurity and instability in their daily lives. The solution is cutting spending on social programs, public services  and the military while preserving tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations that pay negative tax rates.  We are told that entitlements are the biggest drivers of our deficits (when in fact social security is solvent, and medicaid/aid has been shown to be less costly that privatized heath care) The reality is deficits are being driven by massive waste, fraud in government and the private sector, particularly banking  & the many trillions of  taxpayer dollars dollars being printed by Federal Reserve and shipped to banksters, foreign and domestic to keep up the illusion of a functioning financial system. The oligarchy that pay our government are controlling the range of “the sequester” debate.  It’s just as The Oracle Dr. Chomsky said : “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow a very lively debate within that spectrum“.

Related Stories:

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AARON MATÉ: We begin with the Capitol Hill showdown over the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts taking effect this Friday. The White House and analysts fear the so-called “sequester” could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree the cuts are ill-advised, they are far from reaching any sort of agreement. President Obama wants Republicans to end tax breaks, mostly for the wealthy; Republicans are insisting government spending be cut first. This is House Speaker John Boehner.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: The president says we have to have another tax increase in order to avoid the sequester. Well, Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It’s time to cut spending here in Washington. Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious, he’d sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems. The House has acted twice. We shouldn’t have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.

AMY GOODMAN: Today President Obama plans to travel to a major military community in Newport News, Virginia, to highlight the impact of Pentagon cuts on a shipbuilding facility. On Monday, Obama urged a gathering of governors to push Congress into action to avert the looming sequester showdown.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, these impacts will not all be felt on day one, but rest assured, the uncertainty is already having an effect. Companies are preparing layoff notices. Families are preparing to cut back on expenses. And the longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become. So, while you are in town, I hope that you speak with your congressional delegation and remind them, in no uncertain terms, exactly what is at stake and exactly who is at risk, because here’s the thing: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, joining us now are two guests who have uncovered how billionaire investors such as Pete Peterson have helped reshape the national debate on economy, the debt and social spending. Between 2007 and 2011, Peterson personally contributed nearly $500 million to his Peter G. Peterson Foundation to push for Congress to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while providing tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. Peterson served as secretary of commerce under Richard Nixon and went on to serve as chair and CEO of Lehman Brothers. He co-founded the private equity firm The Blackstone Group.

Joining us from Madison, Wisconsin, is John Nichols, The Nation magazine’s political correspondent. His latest piece is “The Austerity Agenda: An Electoral Loser.” It’s part of a major exposé based on a new website called “Pete Peterson Pyramid.” Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy is editor of the site, which links billionaires like Peterson to the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! John Nichols, why don’t you lay out who Pete Peterson is and how he fits into this picture of sequester that we look like we’re about to see by the end of the week?

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. Pete Peterson is an old-school moderate Republican. He’s not some sort of hard-line conservative. He’s a very expensive suit, private jet, mineral water kind of guy. And he has been obsessed, for a number of years, with restructuring the U.S. economy, and particularly restructuring U.S. fiscal policy. This is an important thing to understand. Pete Peterson and the people around him do not want—or aren’t, I would suggest, particularly interested in fixing the debt or dealing with deficits. What they’re really interested in is taking advantage of a moment when the United States is looking at these issues to establish a very different approach to a host of issues. And at the core of this is changing the way that we look at retirement in this country, definitely undermining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, changing those earned benefit programs into something very different than what they’ve been and something far less reliable, but also making an awfully lot of other cuts in programs that serve the great mass of Americans, while at the same time continuing and even advancing the tax breaks for billionaires and corporations that have helped to make Pete Peterson a very, very wealthy man.

He sold this idea to around 125 other CEOs and very wealthy people. They’ve all chipped in a whole bunch of money, millions and millions, perhaps as much as $60 million for the current campaign, to this “Fix the Debt” group. And this Fix the Debt group is the primary proponent in the United States today of austerity. They want to, quote-unquote, “cut our way to progress,” as President Obama suggested, but in reality, it’s cutting the way toward progress for them and cutting the way toward a real hard hit for the average working American and potentially a slowing of the economy that begins with the sequester but does not end there.

AARON MATÉ: Well, let’s turn to Pete Peterson in his own words. This is from a video posted on the YouTube page of his foundation.

PETE PETERSON: We live in a society of special interests of various kinds. The organizations that are lobbying for expanding benefits and making the problems worse are unbelievably powerful. But who’s representing you? And why don’t you then get organized in young organizations? And I’ve had a dream. And my little dream is that one day there’d be 100,000 young people and their parents parading in Washington, saying, “I’m madder than hell, and I don’t intend to take it anymore.”

AARON MATÉ: That’s billionaire Pete Peterson talking about his dream of a revolt in favor of austerity. Lisa Graves, you’ve come up with the Peterson Pyramid.

LISA GRAVES: That’s right. We—our team at the Center for Media and Democracy has worked hard to expose the conflicts of interest by a number of the people who are leaders of the Fix the Debt operation. When Pete Peterson talks about the bevy of special interests in Washington, he’s one of them, and he has helped—he’s helped seed an organization that’s filled with special interests. And so, what we’ve done at PetersonPyramid.org is document that. So we talk about how Erskine Bowles, who’s famous for the Bowles-Simpson plan, which is the—another version of the austerity plan, how he’s on the board of Morgan Stanley and gets paid over $300,000 a year for a couple hours of work on that board, how he’s been paid over $600,000 on the board of Facebook, which recently had a huge tax giveaway. And so, that’s just one example that’s the tip of the iceberg, and we document it on our site because the people of the United States need to know that this is sort of a Pied Piper operation by Pete Peterson and his buddies to try to claim that the real crisis is the debt, when in fact the real crisis is our economy and the lack of focus on jobs. And as Dean Baker, the great economist, said, you can’t cut your way to prosperity. And, in fact, it’s like saying, when a house is on fire, stop putting so much water on the fire to put it out.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us more about who Pete Peterson is, Lisa Graves. And also, have they responded? Has he or his organization responded to Peterson’s Pyramid, what you have just laid out?

LISA GRAVES: Well, I think Pete Peterson has an unhealthy obsession with Social Security—and, you know, as a man who’s never actually going to really need it. But most Americans in fact do need Social Security. One of the things you see with the Pete Peterson organizations that he has seeded or created over time is this obsession with Social Security. In fact, Social Security is solvent. It’s solvent for at least the next 20 years. It’s more solvent than you or I or probably anyone who’s watching this show. And yet they want to make sure that cuts to Social Security, changes to Social Security, the retirement age and the benefits, having those decrease over time as people age, is part of a so-called balanced deal or a package. That’s a terrible idea. And that’s part of the Pete Peterson legacy.

He’s also seeding these groups to have this sort of youth group element to it, which is really—it would be funny if it weren’t so worrisome, where they have put a lot of money into this notion that the youth of America are having this uprising, the dream that he said in that video, when in fact most American students are deeply concerned about the jobs in this country. And cutting our—cutting our government budget in the ways that Peterson and his buddies propose will make that job climate even worse for those students. Those students are far more concerned about their own personal debt and student loans than the debt that is supposedly being levied on them by Social Security, which does not actually contribute to the debt.

AMY GOODMAN: Has Peterson responded, Lisa, to Peterson’s Pyramid?

LISA GRAVES: Fix the Debt’s communications director has responded. He called our office to claim that their organization never claimed that they were trying to raise $60 million, he said. Their vice president of communications said that they were trying to raise any amount, not just $60 million. I pointed out we had it on their letterhead, in fact, that they were marking out a campaign worth $60 million to push these issues this year. He basically said that wasn’t true. We’ve got it on paper. You know, I said, you know, that’s why we don’t really quote the press secretaries, because they’re not obligated to tell the truth. We’ve got the documentary evidence.

And so, they pushed back a little, but, quite frankly, we have them—we have the goods on them. And that’s why this material is just streaming through the Internet, to show these conflicts of interest; to show the Democrats who are former members of Congress who have left and cashed out and work as lobbyists for some of these big firms; to show the Republicans that continue to do the bidding of some of the big firms that they’ve joined since leaving office; to show the conflicts of some of these huge firms that are part of Fix the Debt who have a negative tax rate—who have a negative tax rate—not 35 percent like you or me, not 20 percent, not 10 percent, not 5 percent, but a negative tax rate. And on top of that—

AMY GOODMAN: Like which ones?

LISA GRAVES: —we show how many of these firms are underfunding their pension programs.

AMY GOODMAN: Like which ones?

LISA GRAVES: Oh, sure. So we have documented how General Electric is one of those firms that has had a negative—a negative tax rate. A number of the firms that are part of the Fix the Debt operation have negative tax rates. We’ve got about a dozen of them that we document on the site, including, you know, major defense contractor General Electric. We have other firms that, we have documented, are underfunding their pension programs. And we also show how much they’re—how well they’re funding their CEO pensions, while underfunding their worker pensions, and pushing this operation of Fix the Debt, which is trying to underfund every other Americans retirement, basically, pension programs through Social Security.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t the head of GE President Obama’s job czar?

LISA GRAVES: Yes, that is in fact the case. And so, you know, we do think that this is a huge, important part of this exposé, is to show how this bipartisan—this bipartisan pitch from these guys, from these CEOs, and from Democrats and Republicans, is unfortunately not a grand bargain, but really a grand swindle.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Lisa, speaking of bipartisan, of course, we had the Simpson-Bowles Commission. In December, former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss his budget proposal.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Our corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. And so—

JON STEWART: But not actually.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Well, 36 percent is where we’re at. What we did, we took away all of these tax expenditures, all of these deductions, all of this stuff. This is just earmarks by any other name, and it’s spending by any name, and it’s at one trillion one hundred billion bucks a year. And only 20 percent of the American people use 80 percent of the stuff in that tax code. Does that give you the wake-up call of who’s gimme-ing the system?

JON STEWART: Right.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: OK.

JON STEWART: But see, that brings up an interesting point.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: And so we got rid of all of that—

JON STEWART: Yeah, mm-hmm.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: —and we say now give the American people from zero to 70 grand, they pay 8 percent; from 70 grand to $210,000, they pay 14; anything over that, 23. Take the corporate rate to 26 from 36 and not tax them twice when they bring it back. And when they bring it back, the Democrats, as Erskine says, a Democrat, the Democrats will say, “Well, they’ll just use it for dividends and to buy stock.” And he said, “Well, hell, at least they’ll be using it in the United States of America instead of sticking it over there and leaving it.”

AARON MATÉ: That was former Senator Alan Simpson of the Simpson-Bowles Commission speaking on The Daily Show in December. John Nichols, if you could talk about Alan Simpson and the Simpson-Bowles Commission and how they fit into this Campaign to Fix the Debt.

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. I think the best way for folks to understand the Simpson-Bowles Commission is that it is a classic example of how, if you have wealthy people behind you, you can fail miserably and still continue to be at the center of the debate. The Simpson-Bowles Commission was established by President Obama with the purpose of coming up with some debt and deficit solution ideas. I think it was a bad idea from the start, and I think it was an example of President Obama bowing to arguments of the austerity caucus, if you will, in Washington, which includes both Democrats and Republicans.

But they were put in charge of this. They came up with a plan. It was such an unpopular and unappealing plan that the commission itself did not recommend its report. Only Simpson and Bowles came out with their proposal. Then they tried to peddle it in Congress. They could only find 38 members of the House who would actually vote for their ideas. Then they went out into the November elections. They actually started endorsing candidates. The candidates that Simpson and Bowles endorsed, not only did they lose, but often you could tie the defeats of the candidates they endorsed to the fact that they were linked to Simpson and Bowles. So, if you want to see an example of two figures in American politics, career political types, who have been absolutely rejected by the American people, it’s Simpson and Bowles. And yet, interestingly enough, they’re back at the center of the debate, getting huge amounts of media coverage now. And one of the reasons for it is they’re tied to Fix the Debt.

When Fix the Debt was launched last summer, it wasn’t launched at a kitchen table of some working family or in an abandoned factory; it was launched in Sun Valley, Idaho, at a retreat for CEOs and billionaires. And Simpson and Bowles said, “We’re going to go out and launch a grassroots campaign to get the American people to force Congress to act on the ideas that we’ve put forward,” which are an American austerity agenda. And they said they were going to get 10 million signatures on petitions to do this. Amazingly enough, for this big grassroots campaign, all this millions and millions in spending, they still only got about 300,000 signatures. And most of those signatures appear to be tied to either bought lists or people who work for companies allied with the Fix the Debt operation. So the bottom line is, Simpson and Bowles are arguing for austerity and being held up by much of the media as legitimate players, when in fact they are advocating for zombie ideas, ideas that have been slain by the voters and, frankly, even by Congress, and yet they walk among us.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another clip, this one uploaded to YouTube by a new group called “The Can Kicks Back.” It features Alan Simpson addressing, quote, “the youth.”

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Stop Instagraming your breakfast and tweeting your first-world problems and getting on YouTube so you can see “Gangnam Style.” And start using those precious social media skills and go out and sign people up on this, baby. Three people a week. Let it grow. And don’t forget: Take part or get taken apart. Boy, these old coots will clean out the Treasury before you get there.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alan Simpson of the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Lisa Graves, what is this Can Kicks Back group?

LISA GRAVES: Well, it’s interesting. Simpson has talked about the Can Kicks Back as if it was some sort of grassroots operation that emerged on college campuses nationwide. In fact, it operates out of the Fix the Debt offices in Washington, and it is another arm of their operation. Internally, in essence, they call it the “millennial” part of their operation. This is a well-funded, very slick, glossy campaign with T-shirts and videos, featuring people like Simpson and others, claiming that your grandparents are ruining your future. It’s quite an audacious set of claims by these guys, especially when Social Security actually isn’t contributing to the debt currently and could easily be fixed 20 years from now by cutting out the loophole for all—for Social Security taxes on income above $110,000. And so, it’s quite a scam. It’s a gimmick. It’s part of the gimmick of their campaign. And it’s something that I think people ought to be very wary of.

AARON MATÉ: And quickly, John Nichols, the cuts are supposed to take effect on Friday. Their potential effect on working people?

JOHN NICHOLS: Their potential effect on working people is severe. First off, there are the direct effects. You have an across-the-board austerity cut in federal programs, and that will have service impacts right away, things like flying, just traveling in this country. Also, there are very credible estimates that this will lead to at a base line of 700,000 job losses. And so we’re talking, over the coming months, if this sequester goes forward, of a significant slowing of the U.S. economy.

This is classic austerity: cuts at a time when the economy is weak, followed by job losses. And the tragedy of it, the really significant thing to be conscious of, is that Simpson and Bowles and Fix the Debt are waiting on the sidelines here to jump in and say, “Well, this is so disorderly. You know, we don’t want to have across-the-board cuts.” And what they are really arguing for is a systematized austerity, one where you have very, very wealthy people deciding what sort of fixes we will have for our economy. And at the end of the day, invariably, the fix will be to lower their tax rates while at the same time taking deep cuts out of the earned benefit programs that Americans desperately need.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’re going to continue to follow this, of course. John Nichols, political writer for The Nation; his latest piece for The Nation is “The Austerity Agenda: An Electoral Loser.” And thanks to Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy and editor of “Pete Peterson Pyramid,” a new website that connects the dots between billionaire Pete Peterson and the Campaign to Fix the Debt campaign. The website is PetersonPyramid.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Plutonomy & The Precariat: On The History Of The U.S. Economy In Decline

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Oldspeak:”We’re really regressing back to the dark ages. It’s not a joke.  And if that’s happening in the most powerful, richest country in history, then this catastrophe isn’t going to be averted — and in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter. Something has to be done about it very soon in a dedicated, sustained way.” -Dr. Noam Chomsky
Empires in decline follow the same general pattern. High debt, unsound economic policies, intransigent political corruption, perpetual war and increases in war funding to the detriment of all else , privatized military, environmental degradation, looting of resources from throughout the empire rather than producing  things, systems deplete their resource base beyond levels that are ultimately sustainable. All these conditions exist in the American Empire. Something has to be done about fundamentally changing these conditions before it’s too late.

By Tom Engelhardt & Noam Chomsky @ TomsDispatch:

By Tom Engelhardt:

If you had followed May Day protests in New York City in the mainstream media, you might hardly have noticed that they happened at all.  The stories were generally tucked away, minimalist, focused on a few arrests, and spoke of “hundreds” of protesters in the streets, or maybe, if a reporter was feeling especially generous, a vague “thousands.”  I did my own rough count on the largest of the Occupy protests that day. It left Union Square in the evening heading for the Wall Street area.  I walked through the march front to back, figuring a couple of thousand loosely packed protesters to a block, and came up with a conservative estimate of 15,000 people.  Maybe it wasn’t the biggest protest of all time, but sizeable enough given that Occupy, an organization without strong structures but once strongly located, had been (quite literally) pushed or even beaten out of its camps in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere across the country and toward oblivion.

It’s true that if you were checking out the Nation or Mother Jones, you would have gotten a more accurate sense of what was going on.  Still, didn’t the great protest movement of our American moment (on a planet still in upheaval) deserve better that day? And no matter what you read in the mainstream, here’s what you would have known nothing about: this country is increasingly an armed camp and those marchers, remarkably relaxed and peaceable, were heading out into a concentration of police that was staggering and should have been startling.

Cops on motor scooters patroled the edges of the march, which was hemmed in by the usual moveable metal barricades.  Police helicopters buzzed us at rooftop level.  The police managed to alter the actual path of the marchers partway along and the police turnout — I estimated up to 75 cops, three deep on some street corners doing nothing but collecting overtime — was little short of incomprehensible.

Though Occupy marchers used to chant, “Whose streets, our streets!” it was never so.  The streets belong to the police.  If this is the democracy and freedom to dissent that American officials constantly proclaim to the world as one of our core values, then pinch me.  If most of it is even legal, I’d be surprised.  But when it comes to legality, we’re past all that.  So any march on a sunny day is instantly imprisoned, and the protesters turned into a captive audience.  When young people break out of the barricades and the serried ranks of cops and head in unexpected directions, it has the unmistakable feel of a jailbreak.

The fact is that, in a country whose security forces are up-armored to the teeth from the Mexican border to Union Square, just behind any set of marchers, you can feel the unease of those in power, edging up to fear.  And no wonder.  We remain in a “recovery” that’s spinning on a dime.  Let the Eurozone falter and begin to fall, the Chinese housing bubble pop, or the Persian Gulf go up in flames, and hold onto your signs.  Like Bloomberg in the Big Apple, many mayors sent in their paramilitaries (with a helping hand from the Department of Homeland Security) to get rid of the “troublemakers.”  Only problem: their real problems run so much deeper and when the next “moment” comes, Occupy could look like a march in the park (which, in many inspirational ways, it largely was).  In the meantime, the streets increasingly belong to the weaponized.  Americans who protest blur into the “terrorists” who, since 9/11, have been the obsession of what passes for law enforcement.

If you want some sense of just what’s lurking under the surface of all the police drones and helicopters and tanks and even mini-drone submarines, what underpins our fragile, edgy moment, then check out this talk TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky gave.  It’s excerpted from his new book Occupy, with special thanks to its publisher Zuccotti Park Press. Tom

By Noam Chomsky:

The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There’s never been anything like it that I can think of.  If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead — because victory won’t come quickly — it could prove a significant moment in American history.

The fact that the Occupy movement is unprecedented is quite appropriate. After all, it’s an unprecedented era and has been so since the 1970s, which marked a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society, and not always in very pretty ways. That’s another story, but the general progress was toward wealth, industrialization, development, and hope. There was a pretty constant expectation that it was going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.

I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s — although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today — nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that “we’re gonna get out of it,” even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that “it will get better.”

There was militant labor union organizing going on, especially from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are frightening to the business world — you could see it in the business press at the time — because a sit-down strike is just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. The idea of worker takeovers is something which is, incidentally, very much on the agenda today, and we should keep it in mind. Also New Deal legislation was beginning to come in as a result of popular pressure. Despite the hard times, there was a sense that, somehow, “we’re gonna get out of it.”

It’s quite different now. For many people in the United States, there’s a pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it’s quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis.

On the Working Class

In the 1930s, unemployed working people could anticipate that their jobs would come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today — the current level of unemployment there is approximately like the Depression — and current tendencies persist, those jobs aren’t going to come back.

The change took place in the 1970s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying factors, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Brenner, was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing. There were other factors. It led to major changes in the economy — a reversal of several hundred years of progress towards industrialization and development that turned into a process of de-industrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued overseas very profitably, but it’s no good for the work force.

Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise — producing things people need or could use — to financial manipulation. The financialization of the economy really took off at that time.

On Banks

Before the 1970s, banks were banks. They did what banks were supposed to do in a state capitalist economy: they took unused funds from your bank account, for example, and transferred them to some potentially useful purpose like helping a family buy a home or send a kid to college. That changed dramatically in the 1970s. Until then, there had been no financial crises since the Great Depression. The 1950s and 1960s had been a period of enormous growth, the highest in American history, maybe in economic history.

And it was egalitarian.  The lowest quintile did about as well as the highest quintile. Lots of people moved into reasonable lifestyles — what’s called the “middle class” here, the “working class” in other countries — but it was real.  And the 1960s accelerated it. The activism of those years, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent.

When the 1970s came along, there were sudden and sharp changes: de-industrialization, the off-shoring of production, and the shift to financial institutions, which grew enormously. I should say that, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was also the development of what several decades later became the high-tech economy: computers, the Internet, the IT Revolution developed substantially in the state sector.

The developments that took place during the 1970s set off a vicious cycle. It led to the concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector. This doesn’t benefit the economy — it probably harms it and society — but it did lead to a tremendous concentration of wealth.

On Politics and Money

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. The legislation, essentially bipartisan, drives new fiscal policies and tax changes, as well as the rules of corporate governance and deregulation. Alongside this began a sharp rise in the costs of elections, which drove the political parties even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector.

The parties dissolved in many ways. It used to be that if a person in Congress hoped for a position such as a committee chair, he or she got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, they started having to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead, a topic studied mainly by Tom Ferguson. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector (increasingly the financial sector).

This cycle resulted in a tremendous concentration of wealth, mainly in the top tenth of one percent of the population. Meanwhile, it opened a period of stagnation or even decline for the majority of the population. People got by, but by artificial means such as longer working hours, high rates of borrowing and debt, and reliance on asset inflation like the recent housing bubble. Pretty soon those working hours were much higher in the United States than in other industrial countries like Japan and various places in Europe. So there was a period of stagnation and decline for the majority alongside a period of sharp concentration of wealth. The political system began to dissolve.

There has always been a gap between public policy and public will, but it just grew astronomically. You can see it right now, in fact.  Take a look at the big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on: the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not regarded as much of an issue. And it isn’t really much of an issue. The issue is joblessness. There’s a deficit commission but no joblessness commission. As far as the deficit is concerned, the public has opinions. Take a look at the polls. The public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, which have declined sharply in this period of stagnation and decline, and the preservation of limited social benefits.

The outcome of the deficit commission is probably going to be the opposite. The Occupy movements could provide a mass base for trying to avert what amounts to a dagger pointed at the heart of the country.

Plutonomy and the Precariat

For the general population, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movement, it’s been pretty harsh — and it could get worse. This could be a period of irreversible decline. For the 1% and even less — the .1% — it’s just fine. They are richer than ever, more powerful than ever, controlling the political system, disregarding the public. And if it can continue, as far as they’re concerned, sure, why not?

Take, for example, Citigroup. For decades, Citigroup has been one of the most corrupt of the major investment banking corporations, repeatedly bailed out by the taxpayer, starting in the early Reagan years and now once again. I won’t run through the corruption, but it’s pretty astonishing.

In 2005, Citigroup came out with a brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” It urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs — the Plutonomy and the rest.”

Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is. They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” — people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” — hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) — was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired.

So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.

If it does, the historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long, hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories. And there are a lot of things that can be done.

Toward Worker Takeover

I mentioned before that, in the 1930s, one of the most effective actions was the sit-down strike. And the reason is simple: that’s just a step before the takeover of an industry.

Through the 1970s, as the decline was setting in, there were some important events that took place.  In 1977, U.S. Steel decided to close one of its major facilities in Youngstown, Ohio. Instead of just walking away, the workforce and the community decided to get together and buy it from the company, hand it over to the work force, and turn it into a worker-run, worker-managed facility. They didn’t win. But with enough popular support, they could have won.  It’s a topic that Gar Alperovitz and Staughton Lynd, the lawyer for the workers and community, have discussed in detail.

It was a partial victory because, even though they lost, it set off other efforts. And now, throughout Ohio, and in other places, there’s a scattering of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sometimes not-so-small worker/community-owned industries that could become worker-managed. And that’s the basis for a real revolution. That’s how it takes place.

In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, something similar happened. A multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. Evidently, it just wasn’t profitable enough for them. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.

And there are other things going on like that. In fact, some of them are major. Not long ago, President Barack Obama took over the auto industry, which was basically owned by the public. And there were a number of things that could have been done. One was what was done: reconstitute it so that it could be handed back to the ownership, or very similar ownership, and continue on its traditional path.

The other possibility was to hand it over to the workforce — which owned it anyway — turn it into a worker-owned, worker-managed major industrial system that’s a big part of the economy, and have it produce things that people need. And there’s a lot that we need.

We all know or should know that the United States is extremely backward globally in high-speed transportation, and it’s very serious. It not only affects people’s lives, but the economy.  In that regard, here’s a personal story. I happened to be giving talks in France a couple of months ago and had to take a train from Avignon in southern France to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, the same distance as from Washington, DC, to Boston. It took two hours.  I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the train from Washington to Boston, but it’s operating at about the same speed it was 60 years ago when my wife and I first took it. It’s a scandal.

It could be done here as it’s been done in Europe. They had the capacity to do it, the skilled work force. It would have taken a little popular support, but it could have made a major change in the economy.

Just to make it more surreal, while this option was being avoided, the Obama administration was sending its transportation secretary to Spain to get contracts for developing high-speed rail for the United States, which could have been done right in the rust belt, which is being closed down. There are no economic reasons why this can’t happen. These are class reasons, and reflect the lack of popular political mobilization. Things like this continue.

Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons

I’ve kept to domestic issues, but there are two dangerous developments in the international arena, which are a kind of shadow that hangs over everything we’ve discussed. There are, for the first time in human history, real threats to the decent survival of the species.

One has been hanging around since 1945. It’s kind of a miracle that we’ve escaped it. That’s the threat of nuclear war and nuclear weapons. Though it isn’t being much discussed, that threat is, in fact, being escalated by the policies of this administration and its allies. And something has to be done about that or we’re in real trouble.

The other, of course, is environmental catastrophe. Practically every country in the world is taking at least halting steps towards trying to do something about it. The United States is also taking steps, mainly to accelerate the threat.  It is the only major country that is not only not doing something constructive to protect the environment, it’s not even climbing on the train. In some ways, it’s pulling it backwards.

And this is connected to a huge propaganda system, proudly and openly declared by the business world, to try to convince people that climate change is just a liberal hoax. “Why pay attention to these scientists?”

We’re really regressing back to the dark ages. It’s not a joke.  And if that’s happening in the most powerful, richest country in history, then this catastrophe isn’t going to be averted — and in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter. Something has to be done about it very soon in a dedicated, sustained way.

It’s not going to be easy to proceed. There are going to be barriers, difficulties, hardships, failures.  It’s inevitable. But unless the spirit of the last year, here and elsewhere in the country and around the globe, continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.  A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of numerous best-selling political works, most recently, Hopes and Prospects, Making the Future, and Occupy, published by Zuccotti Park Press, from which this speech, given last October, is excerpted and adapted. His web site is www.chomsky.info.

Oligarchy In The U.S.A.- How The Wealth Defense Industry Protects The Ultra-Rich: The .0001%

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Oldspeak:A small fraction of wealthy Americans constitute a powerful donor class that provides the vast majority of candidates’ funds. Long before ordinary citizens get to vote, they say, their choices are reduced to politicians deemed acceptable by the richest Americans via a “wealth primary,” in which candidates straying from a narrow economic agenda are shut out of campaign funding.“For all their influence at the polls, guys like Joe the Plumber aren’t typically campaign contributors,” explains Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “You’re more likely to see John the Bond Trader bankrolling these campaigns.” And she’s right: Of the roughly 1.4 million individual contributions of $200 or more during the 2008 elections, three-fourths of the money came from a mere one-fifth of the donors, who in turn comprised one-tenth of 1 percent of American adults.”-Jeffery A. Winters Today in America, being ‘merely-rich’ is not enough to live ‘comfortably’ and be represented by government. Apparently living comfortably involves avoiding taxation by paying untold sums and devoting whole industries of lawyers, accountants, and wealth management agents to defrauding the government. A government by virtue of their extreme wealth and inherent political power resources, 400 men run. Democracy’s gone, Oligarchical Capitalism reigns.

By Jeffery A. Winters @ In These Times:

In 2005, Citigroup offered its high net-worth clients in the United States a concise statement of the threats they and their money faced.

The report told them they were the leaders of a “plutonomy,” an economy driven by the spending of its ultra-rich citizens. “At the heart of plutonomy is income inequality,” which is made possible by “capitalist-friendly governments and tax regimes.”

The danger, according to Citigroup’s analysts, is that “personal taxation rates could rise – dividends, capital gains, and inheritance taxes would hurt the plutonomy.”

But the ultra-rich already knew that. In fact, even as America’s income distribution has skewed to favor the upper classes, the very richest have successfully managed to reduce their overall tax burden. Look no further than Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who in 2010 paid 13.9 percent of his $21.6 million income in taxes that year, the same tax rate as an individual who earned a mere $8,500 to $34,500.

How is that possible? How can a country make so much progress toward equality on other fronts – race, gender, sexual orientation and disability – but run the opposite way in its policy on taxing the rich?

In 2004, the American Political Science Association (APSA) tried to answer that very question. The explanation they came up with viewed the problem as a classic case of democratic participation: While the poor have overwhelming numbers, the wealthy have higher rates of political participation, more advanced skills and greater access to resources and information. In short, APSA said, the wealthy use their social capital to offset their minority status at the ballot box.

But this explanation has one major flaw. Regardless of the Occupy movement’s rhetoric, most of the growth in the wealth gap has actually gone to a tiny sliver of the 1% – one-tenth of it, or even one-one-hundredth.

Even more shockingly, that 1 percent of the 1% has shifted its tax burden not to the middle class or poor, but to rich households in the 85th to 99th percentile range. In 2007, the effective income tax rate for the richest 400 Americans was below 17 percent, while the “mass affluent” 1% paid nearly 24 percent. Disparities in Social Security taxes were even greater, with the merely rich paying 12.4 percent of their income, while the super-rich paid only one-one-thousandth of a percent.

It’s one thing for the poor to lose the democratic participation game, but APSA has no explanation for why the majority of the upper class – which has no shortage of government-influencing social capital – should fall so far behind the very top earners. (Of course, relative to middle- and lower-class earners, they’ve done just fine.)

For a better explanation, we need to look more closely at the relationship between wealth and political power. I propose an updated theory of “oligarchy,” the same lens developed by Plato and Aristotle when they studied the same problem in their own times.

Who are the oligarchs?

How much wealth does it take to make someone an oligarch in the United States?

Not just any rich person is an oligarch. Oligarchs are those rich enough to buy the professional firepower of the WDI to defend their wealth. Pulitzer Prize-winning economics reporter David Cay Johnston says that “this can sometimes be an outlay of $10 million to avoid $30 million in taxes, and other times spending only $1 million to save the same amount.”

For some perspective, look at the income chart above, which breaks down the extent of material inequality in the United States. Pay special attention to the last column, the Material Power Index (MPI), which defines each income level as a multiple of the average income among the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers.

Even at more than 30 times the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans, an average annual income of $1 million for those in the top one-half of one percent is still too modest to make them oligarchs. These citizens are certainly rich. But they don’t have enough material power to hire anything beyond the cheapest foot soldiers of the WDI.

Starting with the next threshold, however — the top one-tenth of 1 percent of incomes — the MPI suddenly quadruples from 32 to 124, and then leaps another six-fold to 819 for those with incomes in the top one-one-hundredth of one percent. In 2007, about 150,000 Americans had average annual incomes of $4 million and above. This is the threshold at which oligarchs begin to dominate the landscape.

A quick review

First, let’s review what we think we know about power in America.

We begin with a theory of “democratic pluralism,” which posits that democracy is basically a tug-of-war with different interest groups trying to pull government policy toward an outcome. In this framework, the rich are just one group among many competing “special interests.”

Of course, it’s hard not to notice that some groups can tug better than others. So in the 1950s, social scientists, like C. Wright Mills, author of The Power Elite, developed another theory of “elites” – those who wield more pull thanks to factors like education, social networks and ethnicity. In this view, wealth is just one of many factors that might help someone become the leader of a major business or gain a government position, thereby joining the elite.

But neither theory explains how the super-rich are turning public policy to their benefit even at the expense of the moderately rich. The mass affluent vastly outnumber the super-rich, and the super-rich aren’t necessarily better-educated, more skilled or more able to participate in politics; nor do the super-rich dominate the top posts of American government – our representatives tend to be among the slightly lower rungs of the upper class who are losing the tax battle.

Also, neither theory takes into account the unique power that comes with enormous wealth – the kind found in that one-tenth of the 1%. Whether or not the super-rich hold any official position in business or government, they remain powerful.

Only when we separate wealth from all other kinds of power can we begin to understand why our tax system looks the way it does – and, by extension, how the top one-tenth of 1% of the income distribution has distorted American democracy.

Enormous wealth is the heart of oligarchy.

So what’s an oligarchy?

Across all political spectrums, oligarchs are people (never corporations or other organizations) who command massive concentrations of material resources (that is, wealth) that can be deployed to defend or enhance their own property and interests, even if they don’t own those resources personally. Without this massive concentration of wealth, there are no oligarchs.

In any society, of course, an extremely unequal wealth distribution provokes conflict. Oligarchy is the politics of the defense of this wealth, propagated by the richest members of society.

Wealth defense can take many forms. In ancient Greece and Rome, the wealthiest citizens cooperated to run institutionalized states that defended their property rights. In Suharto’s Indonesia, a single oligarch led a despotic regime that mostly used state power to support other oligarchs. In medieval Europe, the rich built castles and raised private armies to defend themselves against each other and deter peasants tempted by their masters’ vaults. In all of these cases oligarchs are directly engaged in rule. They literally embody the law and play an active role in coercion as part of their wealth defense strategy.

Contemporary America (along with other capitalist states) instead houses a kind of “civil oligarchy.” The big difference is that property rights are now guaranteed by the impersonal laws of an armed state. Even oligarchs, who can be disarmed for the first time in history and no longer need to rule directly, must submit to the rule of law for this modern “civil” arrangement to work. When oligarchs do enter government, it is more for vanity than to rule as or for oligarchs. Good examples are New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former presidential candidate Ross Perot and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Another feature of American oligarchy is that it allows oligarchs to hire skilled professionals, middle- and upper-class worker bees, to labor year-round as salaried, full-time political advocates and defenders of the oligarchy. Unlike those backing ordinary politicians, the oligarchs’ professional forces require no ideological invigoration to keep going. In other words, they function as a very well-paid mercenary army.

Whatever views and interests may divide the very rich, they are united in being materially focused and materially empowered. The social and political tensions associated with extreme wealth bond oligarchs together even if they never meet, and sets in motion the complex dynamics of wealth defense. Oligarchs do overlap with each other in certain social circles that theorists of the elite worked hard to map. But such networks are not vital to their power and effectiveness. Oligarchic theory requires no conspiracies or backroom deals. It is the minions oligarchs hire who provide structure and continuity to America’s civil oligarchy.

The U.S. Wealth Defense Industry

The threats to wealth that oligarchs face, and want to overcome, create the enormous profit-making opportunities that motivate the wealth defense industry, or WDI. In American oligarchy, it consists of two components.

The first is the mercenary army of professionals – lawyers, accountants, wealth management agencies – who use highly specialized knowledge to navigate 72,000 pages of tax code and generate a range of tax “products” and advice, enabling oligarchs to collectively save scores of billions of dollars, every year, that would otherwise have to be surrendered to the state. While most of us are what I call “TurboTaxpayers,” buying cheap tax software to navigate our returns and make routine deductions, oligarchs purchase complex “tax opinion letters” from professional firms. These letters are drafted to justify enormous nonpayments of taxes if the IRS ever questions how certain transactions produce losses, or how other accounting gymnastics make it appear that no gains or compensation occurred. The letters can cost up to $3 million each, but can save an oligarch tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in a given year.

Written by some of the most high-powered attorneys and firms in the industry, tax letters serve to intimidate the legal department of the IRS even before a prosecution is contemplated.

The Senate is aware of these letters – noting in a 2003 report on the “tax shelter industry” that “respected professional firms are spending substantial resources … to design, market, and implement hundreds of complex tax shelters, some of which are illegal and improperly deny the U.S. Treasury of billions of dollars in tax revenues” – but getting specific information about them is extremely difficult, since the IRS rarely prosecutes oligarchs. When it does, most cases are sealed, and oligarchs who work with tax attorneys can invoke attorney-client privilege. But in 2003, there was a breach of this fortress of secrecy when the Senate published detailed reports about illegal tax shelters created by the accounting firm KPMG.

According to the Senate, the KPMG tax shelters created “phony paper losses for taxpayers, using a series of complex, orchestrated transactions involving shell corporations, structured finance, purported multi-million dollar loans, and deliberately obscure investments” for 350 clients between 1997 and 2001. The fake losses totaled about $8.4 billion, or $24 million per client; applied against their incomes, these losses reduced the taxes of each oligarch by an average of $8.3 million, or $2.9 billion for the group.

One of the reasons this case was exposed is that it was all rather down-market, using cheap cookie-cutter tax opinion letters priced at a mere $350,000 each.

Not only did all the firms and banks conspiring on behalf of these 350 oligarchs – and the oligarchs themselves – know that the investments “had no reasonable potential for profit,” but KPMG calculated that even if it was fined for failing to disclose the shelters, it would still earn far more in fees than it would pay in fines. The firm was fined $456 million. Even more incredibly, more than a dozen KPMG clients sued the firm for the taxes and penalties incurred after being discovered – the suits claim that KPMG bungled its job of creating shelters for tax evasion with zero legal risks for oligarchs. It’s tantamount to suing your hit man for a sloppy murder.

The second component of the WDI is the nitty-gritty legwork that keeps the tax system sufficiently porous, complex and uncertain enough to be manipulated. Some oligarchs do this work themselves, speed dialing public officials to directly complain about laws and regulations, but most do not. Instead, WDI professionals, motivated to earn a share of annual oligarchic gains, constitute a highly coherent and aggressive network for political pressure. These lobbyists fight to insert favorable material into the tax code, cut sections that cause problems, and block threats on the horizon.

Apologists for havens

Discussions about money in politics often begin with campaign finance reform. Advocates argue that a small fraction of wealthy Americans constitute a powerful donor class that provides the vast majority of candidates’ funds. Long before ordinary citizens get to vote, they say, their choices are reduced to politicians deemed acceptable by the richest Americans via a “wealth primary,” in which candidates straying from a narrow economic agenda are shut out of campaign funding.

“For all their influence at the polls, guys like Joe the Plumber aren’t typically campaign contributors,” explains Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “You’re more likely to see John the Bond Trader bankrolling these campaigns.” And she’s right: Of the roughly 1.4 million individual contributions of $200 or more during the 2008 elections, three-fourths of the money came from a mere one-fifth of the donors, who in turn comprised one-tenth of 1 percent of American adults.

But while this fraction does coincide with our approximation of the size of the American oligarchy, campaign donations are not oligarchs’ primary or even most effective strategy for political influence. Academics Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro explain this in their 2005 book, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth.

“Campaign contributions, soft money, spending limits for political candidates and the like have become controversial issues,” they admit, “but they mattered little in the estate tax fight.” The battle was between smaller oligarchs and the biggest players at the top. Believing it unlikely that the elimination of the estate tax could be extended indefinitely, a significant number of wealthy Americans with a net worth between $5 and $15 million wanted the threshold moved up to exempt their estate tax. In exchange, they supported a higher estate tax rate on everyone above the threshold. Big oligarchs took the opposite position. They wanted no estate tax at all. But if Congress was going to bring it back, the ultra-rich supported a lower exemption in exchange for a lower overall rate.

The big oligarchs won again – but not because of campaign finance. “Money mattered more fundamentally in shifting the tectonic plates underlying American tax debates,” Graetz and Shapiro suggest. And this is precisely where oligarchs deploy their resources in the WDI.

Oligarchs’ “three decades of investments in activist, conservative think tanks” has blazed an ideological path that drones in the WDI follow. Activists at institutions like the Heritage Foundation supply “ideological ammunition to the lobbyists and interest groups … who work relentlessly … to keep up the tax-cutting pressure on the Hill.”

This pressure was hard at work in President Obama’s feeble attempt to curtail offshore tax havens in 2009. In the middle of massive public bailouts to the financial system and large bonuses on Wall Street, the president proposed stronger measures to fight against who he called “tax cheats,” the individuals using offshore tax havens to deny the government nearly $70 billion a year – a level equal to about seven cents on every dollar of taxes paid honestly.

But Obama’s proposals were less aggressive than his rhetoric. The president urged Congress to support efforts to sanction nations that maintained secrecy on bank accounts and corporate entities, and sought to hire 800 additional IRS agents “to detect and pursue American tax evaders abroad”; these measures were projected to save a mere $8.7 billion over 10 years – about one percent of the losses from offshore accounts. Despite the timidity, the proposals received only a lukewarm response from Democrats and outright hostility from Republicans, who argued that they would cripple American corporations’ ability to compete globally.

Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow (i.e. mercenary) at the Cato Institute (a think tank financed by American oligarchs), defended tax havens as “outposts of freedom.” If Americans are concerned that “individuals are moving their money to countries with better tax law, that should be a lesson to us that we should fix our tax law.”

In other words: Let’s decrease taxes on the super-rich.

The WDI, arising naturally from the opportunities and risks created by enormous wealth, has spawned its own pile of these opinion-makers, free to spread their ideas through a compliant corporate media while oligarchs themselves are free to look on.

Oligarchy, or Democracy?

To argue that the United States is a thriving oligarchy does not imply that our democracy is a sham: There are many policies about which oligarchs have no shared interests. Their influence in these areas is either small or mutually canceling.

Though it may strike at the heart of elitism, greater democratic participation is not an antidote to oligarchic power. It is merely a potential threat. Only when participation challenges material inequality – when extreme wealth is redistributed – do oligarchy and democracy finally clash.

The answer to the question of inequality, then, is troubling. Wars and revolutions have destroyed oligarchies by forcibly dispersing their wealth, but a democracy never has.

Democracy and the rule of law can, however, tame oligarchs.

A campaign to tame oligarchs is a struggle unlikely to fire the spirits of those outraged by the profound injustices between rich and poor. However, to those enduring the economic and political burdens of living among wild oligarchs, it is an achievement that can improve the absolute welfare of average citizens, even if the relative gap between them and oligarchs widens rather than narrows.

A graduate student in one of my seminars – resisting my terminology – once declared that the “U.S. has rich people, not oligarchs.” More than anything else, that statement claims that somehow American democracy has managed to do something no other political system in history ever has: strip the holders of extreme wealth of their inherent power resources and the political interests linked to protecting those fortunes.

Of course, this hasn’t happened.

But it is endlessly fascinating that we’re now in a moment when Americans are once again asking fundamental questions about how the oligarchic power of wealth distorts and outflanks the democratic power of participation.

Jeffrey A. Winters is an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University. For a more extensive explanation of his theory of oligarchy, read Oligarchy (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

 

Why Is the ACLU Helping The Richest Americans Buy Our Elections?

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Plutocrats come in Red and Blue. Elephantine and Asinine. You can bet your ass Newt Gingrich isn’t the only Presidential candidate with a Billionaire benefactor. Obama has them too, the difference is he’s not being called to account for it, he’s openly talked of raising ONE BILLION dollars to finance his reelection campaign. I ask you What’s democratic about that?  How does someone with the means to raise that sum of money represent the interests of all Americans? He doesn’t.  He represent the interests of his benefactors. As long as unlimited monetary donations from multinational corporations, foreign investors and god knows who else with millions to ‘contribute’ is allowed, plutocracy will be order of the day in the U.S. of A.  Need we any more evidence that the 2 party system has failed, and it hopelessly corrupted with money, greed, and cronyism? ‘The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.’ -Steven Rosenfeld

By Steven Rosenfeld @ Alter Net:

The American Civil Liberties Union has earned its reputation as the nation’s foremost legal opponent of government censorship and defender of First Amendment political speech. But increasingly, this national organization with 500,000 members and a $70 million annual budget has another legacy—helping the wealthiest Americans and institutions spend unlimited sums on elections.

This complex legacy follows a nearly four-decade history of filing briefs in the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, virtually all of them arguing that the door to censorship, via regulation of core political speech, must never be opened. But various forces in the courts, the political world, and inside the ACLU are converging that may prompt the ACLU’s national board to reexamine its hardened stance in a more nuanced light, just as it moderated its policy on public financing of elections soon after the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling.

The pressure went up considerably on Friday, as two U.S. Supreme Court Justices said the Court should reopen Citizens United, as they suspended a Montana Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering. Unlike the ACLU’s national office, which urged the Court to remove restrictions on independent—or non-candidate related—electioneering, the Montana ACLU argued this wasn’t about censorship at all, but preventing corruption and ensuring Montanans’ voices could be heard in elections.

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Justice Stephen Breyer joining. A hearing “will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidate’s allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Two phrases in the justices’ statement may have particular resonance for the ACLU’s national board—the “experience elsewhere” and “corruption or the appearance of corruption,” which suggest constitutional issues apart from censorship. In Citizens United, the ACLU had argued that independent expenditures were the kind of “speech that lies at the heart of the First Amendment” and must not be censored.

According to Burt Neuborne, the ACLU’s former national legal director and now legal director at the Brennan Center for Justice, only one perspective matters to an organization that has weathered criticism for decades for defending unpopular people and causes: whether new facts from current events and recent changes in law demand a reevaluation of their position. As the two justices suggest, the 2012 presidential campaign, in combination with the Court majority’s recent aggressive deregulation of campaign financing, may be that spark.

The presidential campaign has seen what’s left of the nation’s campaign finance laws flouted in a striking way that cannot have gone unnoticed within the ACLU; it has revealed that critical rulings in Citizens United (and the D.C. Circuit Court in a ruling that followed, SpeechNow.org) were at best politically naïve constructions. This is because 2012’s electoral landscape is presenting free speech issues that are not about state censorship—but what American democracy should look like and how big money functions in it.

The ACLU was not responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision to expand Citizens United from a narrow case to one remaking big portions of campaign finance law. But like many times before, it urged deregulation of electioneering—which the Court’s majority did for independent expenditures. Just weeks later, an appeals court in SpeechNow.org drew on this ruling, allowing individuals and corporations to make unlimited contributions to political committees, so long as those groups only make independent expenditures and do not coordinate with candidates. That is how today’s super PACs emerged.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court made a series of remarkable assertions. It declared that independent expenditures could not corrupt candidates, as they would be truly independent and operate apart from the candidates. But neither the Supreme Court nor the Speechnow.org court said how to avoid coordination, assuming the problem away. Everyone on the Court but Justice Clarence Thomas held that disclosure of spending was permissible, not recognizing that current disclosure rules allow donors to operate in the dark behind innocuous stage names. Like coordination, corruption was also dumbed down. Invoking the long-established doctrine that the only legitimate reason for regulating campaign funds is curbing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of it, the majority watered this concept down saying a lot about what corruption was not, namely access, influence and ingratiation of candidates, but next to nothing about what quid pro quo corruption was, apart from buying votes. Against this backdrop, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, made the startling assertion that limitless independent expenditures in elections could not possibly cause the public to lose faith in our democracy.

Needless to say, his prediction has not been borne out by events. Recent nationwide polling has found 55 percent of Americans oppose the decision, and bigger numbers believe that their voices are diminished compared to big donors and lobbyists. It is not hard to see why the public is upset and discouraged. Presidential candidates’ former campaign staffers are managing the supposedly independent committees, mocking that supposed independence. By uniformly taking the low road, they complement the official campaign’s positive messaging showing further coordination. The top donors use the fiction of independence to ignore federal contribution limits and write million-dollar checks, including to political non-profits that do not disclose their names. To suggest that an individual or corporation writing six- or seven-figure checks to back candidates or parties does not expect payback is naïve, former political consultants say. Meanwhile, a voluminous record discussing independent expenditures, coordination and corruption was before the Court during its deliberations. Citing this record, Justice John Paul Stevens in his Citizens United dissent wondered how the majority could be so indifferent.

“On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is being spent from exerting an ‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’ and from creating ‘the appearance of such influence,’” he wrote. “Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.”

These developments raise specific First Amendment issues that are not about state censorship of political speech, but about corruption and distortions of the democratic process. These issues have been noted not only on editorial pages and parodied on late-night TV, but from within the ACLU itself. The Montana ACLU affiliate weighed in before the recent Montana Supreme Court decision, taking the opposite view of the national ACLU office. And New Mexico’s ACLU chapter did not interfere this month as that state’s legislature passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Moreover, in recent weeks, a respected Second Circuit judge took issue with Citizens United in a concurring opinion in a case involving New York City’s public financing system. “All is not well with this law, and I believe it appropriate to state in a judicial opinion why I think this is so,” wrote Guido Calabresi, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former Yale Law School dean, in comments to late 2011 ruling. Calabresi’s remarks address the majority’s contention in Citizens United—which echoes the national ACLU’s view—that unfettered political speech regardless of the speaker is paramount. He began by quoting Luke 21:1-4.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Like Luke, Calabresi noted that the wealthy will drown out the political speech of poorer people by virtue of spending more to send a message—having a larger megaphone. Additionally, he said that such domination of the airwaves also “obscures the depth of each speaker’s views,” as one cannot tell if the voice being eclipsed is whispering, crying or yelling—conveying the intensity of their opinions. “And that is a problem of profound First Amendment significance.”

“There is perhaps no greater a distortive influence on the intensity of expression than wealth differences,” he wrote. “The wider the economic disparities in a democratic society, the more difficult it becomes to convey, with financial donations, the intensity of an ordinary citizen’s political beliefs. People who care a little, if they are rich, still give a lot. People who care a lot must, if they are poor, give only a little. Jesus’ comment about the rich donors and the poor widow says it all.”

In other words, in 2012, when supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits are raising millions from wealthy individuals and corporations whose actions are coordinated in all but name only with the candidates, and disclosure by those political entities is untimely or non-existent, the nation is facing serious First Amendment issues that do not neatly fit the ACLU’s anti-censorship line.

Convincing the ACLU

The ACLU is a nationwide organization with independent affiliates in every state and Washington, DC, and a headquarters and national legal department in New York. Its board of directors has representatives from every state and from its 500,000 members. As such, it is one of the most powerful legal advocacy organizations in the country.

For decades, people inside and outside the ACLU have tried to get its board to moderate its campaign finance views. Since 1970, it has taken up the issue two dozen times. The key question, according to Neuborne, its former national legal director, is whether today’s rising calls to restrict the wealthiest Americans and institutions from spending unlimited money ‘independent’ of campaigns is just today’s version of censoring society’s latest villain, as the federal government once tried to do with Communists, Nazis, gays, minorities and pornographers—or is something constitutionally different going on in today’s deregulated campaign finance environment?

One of the ACLU board’s long-held assumptions, which was affirmed in the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, is that candidates and independent groups who spend their own money in elections constitute a form of free speech that must not be regulated. In Buckley, the Court held that a new congressional law’s limits on campaign spending by office seekers and independent groups were unconstitutional. It ruled, however, that campaign contribution limits were constitutionally permissible in the interest of preventing corruption or its appearance with candidates, an interest that candidate and independent expenditures did not prevent. Buckley’s framework has led to today’s billionaires writing million-dollar checks to the supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits, and in turn, voters in 2012’s early presidential contests hearing their views dominate the airwaves and debate.

The ACLU includes Buckley on its list of its most important 20th-century victories. Moreover, in the 36 years since that case, with few exceptions, the Court and the ACLU board both have treated spending money in elections as the purest form of protected constitutional speech there is—not conduct that can be regulated. That is a key legal distinction. Other areas of First Amendment law are not this clear-cut and all kinds of speech are regulated without seeing censorship issues. That raises the question of why should political speech in elections be so black and white, or can it be balanced with other democratic interests?

The ACLU’s assertion that political messaging is pure speech whose regulation amounts to censorship infuriates not just state and federal judges but many democracy advocates, particularly those who believe big money distorts the process and acts to suppress the speech of people of lesser means.

“It’s not speech itself and it never has been,” said John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. “It is conduct not speech, and any regulation of spending of campaign money in elections is the regulation of the manner of speech, to ensure that anyone who has a 1000-megawatt bullhorn is not able to drown out anybody else’s speech.”

A series of former top national ACLU officials have tried to get the national board to change its position. In fairness, the board did change its policy in April 2010 after Citizens Unitedsaying that spending limits were permissible for candidates that took public financing. And its board, noting this was unprecedented in ACLU history, agreed that “reasonable” contribution limits were acceptable, although that has been settled law since Buckley. But these changes re-enforced laws established decades earlier. And on the key holdings in Citizens United, the board did not budge.

“You can be furious at guys like that, especially when they win,” said Neuborne, who now believes the ACLU national policy is on the wrong side of history and the Constitution. He went before the board to make that case after Citizens United came out, debating Floyd Abrams, a famous First Amendment attorney whose legal career has spanned defending the New York Times to shielding major tobacco companies from federal health regulations.

“Their trumping legal argument is that you have to make an overwhelming showing of need before they will sit still for censorship. And they say your overwhelming showing of need is that rich people have too much power in the society, and they are distorting the democratic process. Their argument is, ‘Look, there are a lot of rich people and a lot of them disagree. So if the rich people cancel each other out, what’s the big deal? All they do is fund democracy. People get more speech and the rich folks pay for it.”

That’s not all the ACLU’s board says, said Neuborne. “Second thing they say [is that] if you think that rich folk’s speech is skewed, you have to show me facts to demonstrate that. You just can’t tell me it’s a problem. Show me which election it has happened in. Show me where one side blew out the other side to the point where the other side wasn’t able to make its case to the electorate. You know what, I can’t make that showing. The closest it happened interestingly was Florida, when Romney outspent Gingrich five to one. I think it demonstrably changed the outcome of the election. But you cannot argue that national elections are shifted that way, because in national elections that parties are relatively equally balanced in terms of money.”

Indeed, 2012 is turning into exactly that kind of political arms race. While most of the early independent spending has been in the Republican presidential race, the Democrats are quickly falling in line. The Obama re-election campaign has said it would refer donors to a super-PAC run by a top ex-Obama campaign staffer—another instance of admitting that these PACs were anything but “independent” of the campaigns, the concern that Justice Kennedy turned a blind eye to Citizens United. In liberal circles, Credo Mobile, a phone company that has raised millions for progressive causes, said it too would form a super-PAC for the 2012 election. So has ActBlue, which has a traditional PAC that can donate to candidates and an independent super-PAC.

Neuborne knows American elections do not benefit from this spiral—which only elevates the role of wealthier participants at the expense of Americans of more modest means. The question is how to convince the ACLU board. It may have debated its response to Citizens United too soon, he said, noting that Abrams argued the organization would look foolish after siding with the Court majority in the case and winning—only to reverse its position. That, however, was a political argument, not a constitutional one. Neuborne said 40 percent or more of the board believe it is time to take a more nuanced view.

“Where the ACLU goes off the rails is that it forgets at some point that spending massive amounts of money ceases to be analogous to just pure speech and becomes an exercise in power,” Neuborne said. “I think that the ACLU is forgetting that the First Amendment is democracy’s friend, not democracy’s enemy.  And when it demonstrably hurts democracy there has to be something wrong with a policy that just digs in and says, ‘Sorry, the First Amendment made us do it.’”

The ACLU’s national press office declined to comment or make any attorneys available for this article. Calls and emails to ACLU litigators, current and former, who litigated many of its political speech cases before the Court also were not returned.

However, Neuborne is hardly alone in his analysis of how First Amendment fundamentalism can fray the fabric of political speech and democracy. Supreme Court Justices, starting with Byron White’s dissent at the start of the Court’s modern deregulatory regime in Buckley, and John Paul Stevens, whose 2010 dissent in Citizens United, catalogued the dangers of unregulated big money in elections.

“While it is true that we have not always spoken about corruption in a clear or consistent voice, the approach taken by the majority cannot be right, in my judgment, “Stevens wrote. “It disregards our constitutional history and the fundamental demands of a democratic society.”

Unlike the 1976 Buckley decision, which slowly transformed America’s campaign finance landscape over many years, the impact from Citizen United has come in barely two years. The Court’s majority in Citizens United did not anticipate these consequences. It puts those who argued with the majority—such as the ACLU’s national office—in an awkward place, because as new facts have emerged, so have nuanced political speech issues that cannot be adequately answered by saying censorship is the most important First Amendment issue.

And Citizens United may be headed back to the Supreme Court. On Friday, the Court issued a stay in a suit challenging Montana’s 1912 ban on corporate campaigning. The Court could overrule Montana without a hearing—citing the supremacy of the nation’s highest court over state courts. Or it could hold a hearing to re-evaluate parts of it in light of new facts and public perceptions.

Should the Court hear the Montana case, the ACLU board may be pushed to re-evaluate its policy. Whether it will remains to be seen. The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154184/

Former JPMorgan Banker: Exploiting Consumers As ‘Income Streams’ Is ‘The Purpose Of The Banking Organization’

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

Oldspeak:”Commercial bankers tend to see consumers as customers who can be exploited by layering on more fees.  The consumer is simply an income stream and exploiting that is the purpose of the banking organization.” David Mooney, Former JP Morgan Chase Employee. Industrial psychology like this makes it possible for exorbitant fees to be charged to people withdrawing unemployment benefits, food stamps, or their own money. Foreclosing on homes that weren’t in foreclosure or  where there was no proof of ownership. Making shoddy deals designed to fail and selling them to investors anyway. Spending millions to prevent real financial reform that could have reigned in rampant criminality. And still, no one is in Jail. It’s business as usually on Wall Street. Technocratic bankers have taken over Greece and Italy, with more euro zone countries to follow. The next great global economic crash is happening right before our eyes and no one is doing anything to stop it. The Great Vampire Squid that is the financial services industry will keep sucking the planets’ lifeblood until there is no more left to suck.  This industrial ethos also speaks to larger, structural problem with the dominant institution of our time, the corporation. They all operate in this fashion. JP Morgan Chase is but a widget in the Transnational Corporate Network that is literally feeding off of and destroying everything it comes into contact with.  Externalizing cost and internalizing profit with little to no regard for much anything else. This is the sociopathic and anti-humanist network we’ve tied our fate to. Enslaving billions, and gaining control of the commons with fiat ‘debt’. mortgaging the future of the planet for profit. “Profit Is Paramount” The Ferengi would be proud.

By Travis Waldron @ Think Progress:

Wall Street banks, largely spared from the economic ruin felt by millions of Americans since the financial crisis of 2008, have returned to profitability, generating higher profits in the two-and-a-half years since the crisis than they did in nearly eight years preceding it. But that hasn’t stopped them from seeking new ways to generate revenue — like Bank of America’s proposed $5-a-month debit card fee or the millions banks have made from charging consumers to receive unemployment benefits or food stamps.

If all this makes Americans feel like Wall Street banks only view them as money-making tools, well, that’s because the banks apparently do. According to David Mooney, a former JPMorgan Chase employee, Wall Street banks see consumers as an “income stream” to exploit for profit-making purposes, Reuters reports:

David Mooney, chief executive officer of Alliant Credit Union in Chicago, one of the nation’s larger credit unions, used to work at a one of Wall Street’s top banks, JPMorgan Chase. There’s a vast cultural gap between Wall Street and his new world, he says: Old friends from the Street, he says, now jokingly refer to him as a “socialist.” A credit union is supposed to be run in the interests of all members, he says, while commercial bankers tend to see consumers as customers who can be “exploited” by layering on more fees.

Says Mooney: “I don’t say this lightly, but the consumer is simply an income stream and exploiting that is the purpose of the banking organization.”

Mooney’s bluntness may seem shocking, but his assessment shouldn’t. Wall Street banks made millions profiting off shoddy mortgage lending practices, setting the stage for the housing collapse that plunged millions of Americans into foreclosure. They made a mess of the foreclosure process, using robo-signers to speed foreclosures and foreclosing on homes they either didn’t own or that weren’t even in foreclosure. They sold deals to investors that they knew would fail, and took advantage of customers with outrageous overdraft, credit card, and other fees.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and the horrors it exposed, Wall Street banks spent millions to prevent the passage of financial regulatory reform. Once the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed, they spent just as much trying to shape its rules. They opposed the formation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the agency tasked with protecting consumers from predatory banking practices, and in concert with their Republican friends in Congress, have fought to shape who will lead the bureau and how it will work.

Unfortunately for Wall Street, it didn’t take blunt assessments like Mooney’s for Americans to take action. In October, 650,000 Americans joined credit unions, which, as Mooney noted, are “supposed to be run in the interests of all members.” 40,000 more joined them on Bank Transfer Day earlier this month.

Wall Street, meanwhile, continues to ignore America’s anger at it, sipping champagne from rooftops while protesters march below.

Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 405 other followers