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

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In The Twilight Of The Social State: Rethinking Walter Benjamin’s Angel Of History

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

Oldspeak: “By eviscerating public services and reducing them to a network of farmed-out private providers, we have begun to dismantle the fabric of the state. As for the dust and powder of individuality: it resembles nothing so much as Hobbes’s war of all against all, in which life for many people has once again become solitary, poor and more than a little nasty.”-Tony Judt

From Henry A Giroux @ Truthout:

Responding in 1940 to the unfolding catastrophes perpetrated by the rise of fascism in Germany, Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish philosopher and literary critic, wrote his now famous “Thesis on the Philosophy of History.” In the ninth thesis, Benjamin comments on Paul Klee’s painting “Angelus Novus.” He writes:

“Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The Angel would like to stay, awaken the dead and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.(2)

The meaning and significance of Benjamin’s angel of history has been the subject of varied interpretations by philosophers, literary critics, and others.(3)Yet, it still offers us a powerful lesson about a set of historical conditions marked by a “catastrophe that keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage.”(4) In this instance, catastrophe both undermined any hope of democracy in Europe and gave rise to the dark forces of a brutal authoritarianism and the industrialization of death. In the midst of such a crisis, Benjamin’s angel is frozen in time, paralyzed by a storm called “progress” that pulls him into the future without being able to “awaken the dead” or mend the catastrophe at his feet.

For Benjamin, the storm of progress was a mode of modernity gone askew and a deceit that made a claim on happiness rather than the horrors of destruction, constituting a set of conditions that unleashed a barrage of unimaginable carnage and suffering in the 1930s and 1940s. The utopian belief in technologically assisted social improvement had given way to a dystopian project of mad violence that would inevitably produce the context for Benjamin to take his own life in 1940. According to Benjamin, the horrors of the past made it difficult to believe in progress as a claim on and history as a narrative of the advancement of human civilization. In fact, as Zygmunt Bauman has pointed out, the overdetermined force of history was not just at stake in Benjamin’s narrative, but also the notion that “we are pulled forward by future happiness – [when] in fact, [as Benjamin noted], we are pushed from behind by the horror of destruction we keep perpetrating on the way.”(5) Within this narrative, Benjamin’s angel of history would be at home today And, yet, even in the darkest times, there were people brave enough to struggle for a more progressive understanding of history and a more promising democratic future, waging that the catastrophes of the past and the false claims of a history propelled by predetermined laws and order building imperatives could be prevented through a kind of memory work and politics in which such atrocities were acknowledged and condemned as part of a larger project of freedom, collective struggle and social justice.

Also Listen: Radio Interview With Henry A. Giroux

Like the angel of history in Benjamin’s rendering of Klee’s painting, the American public is surrounded by another catastrophe of history visibly invisible in the horrible suffering produced by two unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the current economic recession exacerbating already high levels of poverty, homelessness and joblessness now spreading like a poisonous blight across the American landscape. But unlike the forces constricting Benjamin’s angel, the storm that pins the wings of the current diminutive angel of history is more intense, more paralyzing in its hyper-materialistic visions and more privatizing in its definition of agency. The historical forces producing this storm and its accompanying catastrophes are incorrigibly blind to the emergence of a “pulverized, atomized society spattered with the debris of broken inter-human bonds and their eminently frail and breakable substitutes.”(6)This is best exemplified in the now infamous and cruel tenets of a harsh neoliberalism stated without apology by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s in their mutual insistence that “government is the problem not the solution” and “there is no such thing as society.”

Social progress has ceded the historical stage to individual actions, values, tastes and personal success, just as any notion of the common and public good that once defined the meaning of progress is rendered as pathological, the vestige of a kind of socialist nightmare that squelches any possibility of individual freedom and responsibility. If progress even in its mythic register was once associated, however flawed, with lifting the populace from the bondage of necessity, suffering and exploitation, today it has been stripped of any residual commitment to the collective good and functions largely as a kind of nostalgic relic of a historical period in American history in which a concept of the social state “was not always a term of opprobrium” or a metaphor for state terrorism.(7) The language of progress, however false, has been replaced by the discourse and politics of austerity – which is neoliberal code for making the working and middle classes bear the burden of a financial crisis caused by hedge fund operators, banking and investment houses and the mega-rich.(8)

The catastrophe that marks the current historical moment no longer wraps itself in the mantle of progress. On the contrary, the storm brewing in the United States and other parts of the globe represent a kind of anti-progress, a refusal to think about, invest in or address the shared responsibilities that come with some vision of the future and “the good society.” Composing meaningful visions of the good society that benefit citizens in general, rather than a select few, are now viewed as “a waste of time, since they are irrelevant to individual happiness and a successful life.”(9) Bounded by the narrow, private worlds that make up their everyday lives, the American public has surrendered to the atomizing consequences of a market-driven morality and society and has replaced the call for communal responsibility with the call to further one’s own interests at all costs. The social and its most significant embodiment – the welfare state – is now viewed as an albatross around the neck of neoliberal notions of accumulation (as opposed to “progress”). Society has become hyper-individualized, trapped by the lure of material success and stripped of any obligation to the other. Bauman argues that in such a society:

[I]ndividual men and women are now expected, pushed and pulled to seek and find individual solutions to socially created problems and implement those solutions individually using individual skills and resources. This ideology proclaims the futility (indeed, counter productivity) of solidarity: of joining forces and subordinating individual actions to a “common cause.” It derides the principle of communal responsibility for the well-being of its members, decrying it as a recipe for a debilitating “nanny state” and warning against care for the other leading to an abhorrent and detestable “dependency.”(10)

Our contemporary angel of history has been transformed into a “swarm of angels of biographies – a crowd of loners,”(11) whose wings are stuck in a storm propelled by the hatred of democracy and a contempt for any claim on the future in which the state functions to offer even a modicum of social protection. And while Benjamin’s angel of history rightfully disputes the false claims of an order-building progress, he has been replaced by a multitude of privatizing corporate beholden angles, who cede any notion of society and collective vision – reduced to wingless messengers trapped in their own biographies and individual experiences, cut off from any viable notion of society and its fundamental social solidarities. At the same time, the storm that pins the wings of the contemporary angels of history is fueled by an intense disdain for the social state, which Bauman describes in the following manner:

A state is “social” when it promotes the principle of communally endorsed, collective insurance against individual misfortune and its consequences. It is primarily that principle – declared, set in operation and trusted to be in working order – that recast the otherwise abstract idea of “society” into the experience of felt and lived community through replacing the “order of egoism” (to deploy John Dunn’s terms), bound to generate an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and suspicion, with the “order of equality,” inspiring confidence and solidarity. It is the same principle which lifts members of society to the status of citizens, that is, makes them stakeholders in addition to being stockholders: beneficiaries, but also actors – the wardens as much as the wards of the “social benefits” system, individuals with an acute interest in the common good understood as a network of shared institutions that can be trusted and realistically expected, to guarantee the solidity and reliability of the state-issued “collective insurance policy.”(12)

We no longer live in an age in which history’s “winged messengers” bear witness to the suffering endured by millions and the conditions that allow such suffering to continue. Thinking about past and future has collapsed into a presentism in which the delete button, the utter normalization of a punishing inequality and the atomizing pleasures of instant gratification come together to erase both any notion of historical consciousness and any vestige of social and moral responsibility owed as much to future generations as to the dead. The “winged messengers” have been replaced by a less hallowed breed of anti-public intellectuals, academics, journalists and artists who now cater to the demands of the market and further their careers by becoming cheerleaders for neoliberal capitalism. The legacy now left by too many intellectuals has more to do with establishing a corporate-friendly brand name than fighting economic and social injustices, translating private into public issues, or creating genuine public spheres that promote critical thought and collective action. Whatever “winged messengers” do exist are either banished to the margins of the institutions that house them or excluded by the dominant media that have now become a mouthpiece for corporate culture and the new global rich.

As history is erased and economics becomes the driving force for all aspects of political, cultural and social life, those institutional and political forces that hold the reins of power now become the purveyors of social death, comfortably ensconced in a political imaginary that wreaks human misery on the planet as the rich and powerful reap huge financial gains for themselves. The principal players of casino capitalism live in the highly circumscribed time of short-term investments and financial gains and are more than willing to close their eyes to the carnage and suffering all around them, while they are sucked into the black hole of the future. As the social state is eviscerated by an all-embracing market fundamentalism, society increasingly becomes a machine for destroying the power of civic culture and civic life, proliferating the ideologies and technologies of what is increasingly and unequivocally becoming a punishing state. And, paraphrasing, Achille Mbembe, politics becomes a form of social death in which “the future is collapsed into the present.”(13)

Though helpless to control what he saw, Benjamin’s angel of history recognized that the past, present and future were inextricably linked in a constellation of ideas, events, social practices and relations of power that mutually inform each other. History offered no guarantees, and while it could often paralyze and punish, the potentially revolutionary ideal that gave it mythic status was organized around an understanding of social improvement that was partly connected to the unfinished business of human possibility and betterment. Of course, Benjamin rejected such a view. His angel of history is caught up in a storm that paralyzed human agency while putting the myth of the inevitability of progress to rest. But storms pass, and hope as a condition for conceptualizing a future of sustainable progress can offer space and time for reflection, for developing modes of individual critique and collective agency capable of addressing and dismantling those sites of agony and wretchedness made visible in the afterglow of historical consciousness. The problems confronting Americans today are very different from what Benjamin faced in the years before his suicide in 1940, but they share with the past a dangerous and threatening element of authoritarianism evident in the force and power of their ability to eliminate from public discussion what Judt has called the social question and what I have referred to as the punishing state.(14)

In an age when personal and political rights are undermined by the lack of economic rights, the utter reliance upon a stripped-down notion of individual freedom and choice coupled with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility turns people away from those larger forces that nonetheless determine (but not over determine) their varied daily experiences. Moreover, the ongoing privatization, commodification, militarization and deregulation that now shape American society produce a range of crises and problems that extend far beyond the reach of the isolated and atomized individual. Within this dystopian neoliberal economic order, “the language of rights has changed: citizens have become ‘customers’; passengers and hospital patients have become ‘clients’; poverty has become criminalized and ‘extreme poverty’ has become a ‘pathological condition’ rather than a reflection of structural injustice – a ‘pathological dysfunction’ of those who are poor, rather than the structural dysfunction of an economic system that generates and reproduces inequality.”(15) How else to explain increasing numbers of people being thrown in jail because they have failed to pay their debts or young people being booked and jailed because they violated a trivial rule such as breaking a school dress code.(16) But there is more at work here than a society without social protections, there is also a cruel and deadly ideology of privatization and punishment in which the importance of the social responsibility, public goods and public values is completely erased from a language derived from ideas based in marketing, commodification and brand loyalty.

As the United States moves, in Bauman’s terms, from a society of producers to a society of consumers, the state increasingly becomes an “executor of market sovereignty” and is further transformed as the much needed protections of the social state are replaced by its policing functions.(17) If Benjamin’s angel of history were to serve, once again, as an insightful witness to the multiple catastrophes facing the United States today, it would be stuck in an equally dangerous storm being produced by casino capitalism. But rather than looking down on such catastrophes, the angel would be blindfolded and its arms would be handcuffed behind its back while its wings remained paralyzed. Caught in the winds of a society in which the global corporation abandoned all to the Darwinian shark tank, the angel of history cannot bear witness to this new culture of cruelty – so ubiquitous is it that one fails to notice – nor can it alert us to the new threats facing democracy itself. On the contrary, it now symbolizes how society functions to make all elements for bearing witness and hope, however problematic, fodder for the age of excess and the new politics of disposability. This is a kind of politics in which the only value that matters is the bottom line, and the most revered political practice is what David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession” – the ruthless appropriation of the few resources that allow the downtrodden to survive in order to augment capitalist class power.(18) The angel of history has been transformed into a symbol of death, a symbol that could only emerge from a society that no longer has any ethical consciousness and incessantly expands its politics of disposability to those elements of the population who are now regarded as failed consumers, workers and critics.

The survival-of-the-fittest ethic and its mantra of doing just about anything to increase profits now reach into every aspect of society and are widely dispersed as a form of public pedagogy in the dominant and new media. Disposability and social death replace civic life with a culture of greed and cruel spectacles, which have become a register of how difficult it is for American society to make any claims on the ideal or even promise of a democracy to come. As the realm of democratic politics shrinks and is turned over to market forces, social bonds crumble and any representation of communal cohesion is treated with disdain. Under the reign of casino capitalism, freedom is stripped of its social responsibilities and moral considerations are banished from politics. As the realm of the social disappears, public values and any consideration of the common good are erased from politics, while the social state and responsible modes of governing are replaced by a punishing state. Evidence of such a transformation is evident as social problems are increasingly criminalized; a war is waged on the poor rather than on poverty; debtor prisons reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ novels emerge to torment impoverished Americans ;(19) social welfare agencies are increasingly modeled after prisons; young people are more than ever being warehoused in schools that inflict dead time upon their minds and bodies; unprecedented mass racialized incarceration continues unabated; and the punishment apparatus increasingly inserts itself into every sphere of American society while derailing the project of democracy in multiple ways.(20) The rise of the punishing state merges the former functions of the welfare state with crime control, incarcerates over 2.3 million people considered disposable factions of the working class and underprivileged and legitimates punishment and crime control as a mode of governance and cultural practice.(21)

As shared responsibilities give way to individual fears, human suffering and hardship disappear behind the disparaging discourse of individual responsibility in which the poor, unemployed, homeless and hungry bear the ultimate blame for their own misfortune. The neoliberal appeal to self-responsibility and the politics of shame now function as a kind of parlor magic in making disappear any trace of the larger social and systemic forces wreaking havoc on American society. In this discourse of privatization, there are no public or systemic problems, only individual troubles with no trace or connection to larger social forces. Market infatuation with profits and self-interest not only erodes public values and the moral dimensions of the larger social order, but also creates the conditions for a state whose governance is now outsourced to corporate interests. And as the corporate state replaces the democratic state, however minimal its current form, there is nothing to bind ordinary citizens to the notion of democratic governance and a social state. Instead, the state becomes an object of both disdain and fear.

Rage, vengeance, fear, insecurity and state violence increasingly give rise to a culture of cruelty, producing an ugly moral crisis that extends far beyond the walls of the prison, courts and criminal justice system. Within the larger apparatuses of cultural representation, we increasingly are confronted by images, discourses and signs that reveal punishment and cruelty as practices moving through the American landscape and serve as both commentary and entertainment, normalizing the domestic terrorism, massive human suffering and moral irresponsibility that have come to define American society. This should not be surprising in a society in which politics are entirely driven by a Darwinian corporate ideology and a militaristic mind set that atomize the individual, celebrate the survival of the fittest and legitimate “privatization, gross inequalities and an obsession with wealth,” regardless of the collective moral depravity and individual and social impoverishment produced by such inequities.(22)

The collapse of the social state with its state protections, public values and democratic governance can be seen in how the Bush and Obama administrations embraced the logic of the market, and farmed out government responsibilities to private contractors, who undercut the power of the welfare state while waging a war on human dignity, moral compassion, social responsibility and life itself. Everything is up for sale under this form of economic Darwinism, including prisons, schools, military forces and the temporary faculty hired to fill the ranks of a depleted academy. Evidence of such a Darwinian ideology and militaristic mind set is visible in the attack on working people and labor unions, the waging of two unnecessary wars and the destruction of the nation’s safety net; it is also well-illustrated in images so cruel and inhuman that they serve as flashpoints signaling not only a rupture from the ideals of democracy, but also an embrace of anti-democratic tendencies that testify to an emerging authoritarianism in the United States.

One such frightening image appeared recently in the national media when, in rural Tennessee, firefighters “looked on as a house burned because the family who lived in it had not paid the $75 annual fire-protection fee. Their home was destroyed – along with three puppies that were inside.”(23) The owner of the home, Gene Cranick, claimed that he had simply forgot to pay the $75 dollar annual fee for fire protection, and when the firefighting team finally arrived – because it threatened the surrounding homes of people who had paid the fee – he offered to pay the subscription fee. The firemen not only refused to take the fee, but they stood by and joked as the family pleaded for their help and the home burned to the ground.(24) Such acts of cruelty are not limited to a specific moronic group of alleged public servants. This horrendous act of moral negligence was also echoed among many conservative commentators. For example, one of the most prominent conservative television and radio hosts, Glenn Beck, defended the cruel actions of the firefighters claiming it was necessary to prevent people from “‘sponging off’ their neighbors…. while Beck defended the firefighters, an on-air sidekick made fun of Mr. Cranick for trying to get the fire put out – and mocked his southern accent.”(25) Such events seem unimaginable in a country that defines itself as democratic society and pridefully presents to the world its legacy of “shared purpose and common institutions.”(26) Even after the gross display of government irresponsibility surrounding the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and its needless death and destruction – all of which might have served as a wake-up call – the flight from social responsibility and the demands of the ethical imagination continues. This is amply evident in the ongoing refusal on the part of the American public to remember the consequences of turning state power over to corporations and privatized interests. It just may be that the cult of privatization and the worship of corporate power have not only eviscerated public services, but also engulfed a large number of Americans in a kind of moral coma, allowing them and “state-run agencies [to abandon] the care and responsibility of individuals.”(27)

A similar example of the neoliberal culture of cruelty was on full display when the conservative Gov. of Arizona, Jan Brewer, cut funding for certain organ transplants from the state’s Medicaid program. Many patients who had been on a donor list for more than a year were notified by the state that they were no longer on the list and that the only way they could get a life-saving transplant would be to pay for it themselves. Transplants that had been authorized for nearly 100 people were revoked as a cost-cutting measure. As Marc Lacey pointed out in The New York Times, “Many doctors say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients, who have little chance of survival without transplants and lack the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for them.”(28) Most of the people on the list are too poor to pay for the procedure and, as such, are now victims of a law that truly made them disposable by imposing a death sentence on them. What is especially disturbing about this case is that the cuts were justified on the grounds that patients who receive certain transplants do not live very long, and yet the statistics used to justify the state legislators’ decision were based on incomplete data.(29) Neoliberalism’s disdain for social protections and its embrace of a politics of disposability become even more obvious when it was reported that “the same state whose representatives filed a lawsuit challenging [Obama’s] new health care law because it requires people to purchase health insurance … decided to cut the health insurance of heart transplant patients.”(30) Advocates of neoliberal austerity measures, given their hatred of Obama’s health plan, were more than willing to mandate a life sentence to the ailing poor rather than give them an option to get health insurance that might have saved their lives. It gets worse. Governor Brewer claimed the state will save $4.5 million by enacting the law, while the same legislature that enacted Brewer’s death law “decided to spend $1.2 million to ‘build bridges for endangered squirrels over a mountain road so they don’t become roadkill.'”(31) As one commentator put it, “Yes, they are willing to spend more than a million dollars to save five squirrels a year, but not to give someone a new heart. Now that’s a heartless death panel.”(32) The promise of a collective identity and common purpose is upended in these examples and far too many others to record here. Undoubtedly, these examples raise the question of what kind of society we have become. The question left unasked by the proponents of a ruthless neoliberal agenda, but demanding an answer from the rest of us, is what kind of future we want our children to inherit.

At a frightening speed, Americans are abandoning public values, public goods and a sense of common purpose that are integral to the social state and were expressed historically in its noble struggle for human rights, social services and public provisions during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. We seem to have given up on social policies that lend protections and exhibit compassion to those crippled by the misfortune of bad health, poverty and the lack of the most basic necessities for survival. It seems unimaginable in the current cutthroat climate to remember or once again hear President Roosevelt’s call for all Americans to support an economic Bill of Rights in his fourth State of the Union address:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.(33) [Emphasis added.]

Benjamin’s angel of history has now been blinded and can no longer see the destruction beneath its feet or the storm clouds paralyzing its wings. It is now stuck in a storm without a past and lacking any consideration of the future. Concern with the social good has been replaced by an obsessive investment with self-interest; combative relations have replaced any shared sense of purpose; and a desire to prevent injustice has been superseded by a desire for instant fame and the sordid glamor of celebrity culture. The new age of precariousness has been downsized in importance as the new Gilded Age and those it privileges take center stage. The task of continually creating a democracy has been replaced by the struggle to continually create new markets that offer the promise of nearly unimaginable financial gain. As Bauman points out, morality has become painless, “stripped of obligations and executive sanctions, ‘adapted to the Ego-priority.'”(34) Under such circumstances, democratic politics, if not politics itself, is held hostage to the rapacious greed of the ultra-rich and mega corporations as inequality in wealth and income spread through the country like a raging wildfire.

As we move into the second Gilded Age with its reproduction of massive inequalities and a life of privilege for the few, we are confronted with a level of suffering that is unprecedented. While the following statistics cannot portray the level of existential pain caused by the inequalities that produce so much unnecessary suffering, they do provide snapshots of those structural forces and institutions that increasingly make life difficult for millions of Americans under a ruthless form of economic Darwinism. Such statistics also bring home the importance of going beyond just criticizing in the abstract the values and rationality that drive neoliberal market fundamentalism. As Slavoj Zizek has rightly pointed out, when it comes to the neoliberal-driven crisis, the social and economic problem that must be addressed forcefully is the growing gap and antagonism between the included and the excluded.(35) And this gap must not only be made visible, but it must be confronted with pedagogical care around the question of whether democracy is still an appropriate name for the United States’ political system given the gulf, if not chasm, between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged.(36)

One measure of how the economic elite is destroying America and waging a war on the poor, working class and middle class can be seen in the fact that, despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the United States has the highest poverty rate in the industrialized world. Over 44 million people or one in seven Americans live below the poverty line.(37) In recent years, the steepest rise in poverty has taken place among children, with some experts predicting that six million kids will be living in poverty in next decade.(38) In addition, over 50 million people cannot eat without food stamps, and a stunning 50 percent of US children will use food stamps to eat at some point in their childhood. Regarding health insurance, a staggering 50 million have none, a figure that becomes even more disturbing when a runaway unemployment rate of 20 percent is factored into the equation. If we count all the “uncounted workers – ‘involuntary part-time’ and ‘discouraged workers’ – the unemployment rate rises from 9.7 percent to over 20 percent.”(39) On top of this, we have three million people who are homeless, while over five million have lost their homes; by 2014, it has been predicted that this last figure will rise to 13 million. The standard of living for the average American plummeted during the economic crisis – “the median American household net worth was $102,500 in 2007 and went down to $65,400 in 2009.”(40) Meanwhile, against such staggering poverty, loss, human despair and massive inequality in wealth and income, the top 1 percent of the population has massively increased its wealth and power. For instance, Matt Tiabbi claims that the top 1 percent has seen its share of the nation’s overall wealth jump from 34.6 percent before the crisis in 2007 to over 37.1 percent in 2009. The top corporate executives collect a salary that gives them $500 for every $1 earned by the average worker. The wages of the 75 wealthiest Americans “increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!”(41) As Robert Reich points out, “The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.”(42) In addition, the top 1 percent owns 70 percent of all financial assets, an all-time record. In light of these trends, it is hardly surprising to read that “the 400 richest families have a combined wealth of $1.57 trillion more than the combined wealth of 50% of U.S. population”(43) and that “the top 1% took in 23.5% of nation’s pretax income in 2007 – up from less than 9 percent in 1976.”(44) In spite of the fact that every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar,(45) Wall Street handed out $150 billion to its executives.(46) As David McGraw points out, “100% of these bonuses are a direct result of our tax dollars, so if we used this money to create jobs, instead of giving them to a handful of top executives, we could have paid an annual salary of $30,000 to 5 million people.”(47) And as the “‘bonus culture’ of greed, ambition and excess”(48) continues, middle- and working-class families are ending up in food pantries, homeless shelters or worse. Yet, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, claims that the “bonus culture” produced by the current crop of financial zombies is “doing God’s work.”(49) Without any irony intended, Blankfein publicly asserts this arrogant comment knowing full well that, under the grip of the recession caused by those “doing God’s work,” teachers are experiencing massive layoffs; public servants are taking salary and benefit cuts; schools are hemorrhaging under a lack of resources; and the war in Afghanistan endlessly siphons off financial resources needed by the federal and state governments to address the nation’s housing, employment and economic crises.

Under the reign of the punishing state, those experiencing poverty are seen as the problem and become an easy target for mobilizing middle-class fears about not just the poor, the disabled, immigrants and others who may depend on social services, but also the social services themselves and the policies that make them possible. Even as inequality deepens and the ultra-rich wreak havoc on the globe, the dominant media focus on so-called welfare cheaters, while right-wing politicians go out of their way to associate poverty and dependency with a culture of crime and immorality. The social state is portrayed as a “nanny” and those who partake of its services represented as childish, lazy and lacking any sense of individual responsibility. One example of this discourse can be found in a statement by former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who compared people with pre-existing health conditions to burned out houses. In this instance, Huckabee was criticizing Obama’s health care plan, which requires insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions.(50) We also see the attack on the poor and welfare policies being magnified as part of the right-wing call for austerity. Punitive sanctions against the poor combine with a kind of class and racial cleansing as right-wing politicians block legislation for schools to provide free meals to thousands of hungry children, eliminate public transportation systems, lay off thousands of civil servants, cancel school programs that benefit the poor and ask parents to pay for school supplies.(51) The politics of austerity is not about rethinking priorities to benefit the public good. Instead, it has become part of a discourse of shame, one that has little to do with using indignation to imagine a better world. On the contrary, shame is now used to wage a war on the poor rather than poverty, on young people rather than those economic and political forces that undermine their future and on those considered other rather than on the underlying structures and ideologies of various forms of state and individual racism.

We need to return to Benjamin’s angel of history in order to reimagine what it means to reconstruct a social state that invests in people rather than in the rich, mega corporations, the prison-industrial complex and a permanent war economy. We need to imagine how the state can be refigured along with the very nature of politics and economics in order to eliminate structural inequality, racism and militarism. Once again, Americans must recognize that something is “profoundly wrong with the way we live today”(52) and that the obsession with wealth, war and violence is at odds with those democratic ideals often invoked in the name of freedom, justice and equality.

Just as we need a new language for talking about public values, shared responsibilities and the common good, we also need a language for connecting the war at home with the war abroad. War is rarely about real defense or national honor, as the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate. Not only are these two wars draining the public treasury, they are also partly responsible for budget cuts at home that aim at balancing federal and state budgets on the backs of the poor, minority youth, working people and the elderly. Robust war spending is matched by the massive cutting of school budgets at home. The United States spends $1.1 million per year to put a single soldier in Afghanistan, but refuses to bail out public schools, rescue universities that are suffering massive budget cuts or reinvest in its crumbling national infrastructure. We offer paltry aid to support public libraries or to assist students who now absorb massive debts to finance their education, while potentially spending over $1.8 trillion to cover the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other operations associated with the war on terror.(53) Instead of using these funds for crucial domestic programs that could develop jobs, public works programs, health initiatives, housing and education, the punishing state with its permanent war machine spreads death and destruction through the organization and production of violence. The punishing state not only locks up more people than any other country in the world, but also, as Tom Englehardt states, “puts more money into the funding of war, our armed forces and the weaponry of war than the next 25 countries combined. We garrison the planet in a way no empire or nation in history has ever done.”(54) With such a war mentality, economy and values ruling the United States, we see daily the destruction of human lives and the exacerbation of massive inequalities that now permeate every aspect of American life. War has become a poison that legitimates the corporate state, on the one hand and works in tandem with the punishing state on the other. At the same time, it feeds an inequality that rots American society from within as it turns over matters of democratic governance and rule to corporate swindlers, military leaders and right-wing ideologues. Judt gets it right when he argues:

Inequality, then, is not just unattractive in itself; it clearly corresponds to pathological social problems that we cannot hope to address unless we attend to their underlying cause. There is a reason why infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, the prison population, mental illness, unemployment, obesity, malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, illegal drug use, economic insecurity, personal indebtedness and anxiety are so much more marked in the US and the UK than they are in continental Europe…. Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice towards those on the lower ranks of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed.(55)

If we are to imagine another type of society than the one we have, we will have to once again put the social question on the political agenda in order to understand how “the pathologies of inequality and poverty – crime, alcoholism, violence and mental illness – have all multiplied commensurately,”(56) and how we might take up the challenge of addressing the symptoms of social dysfunction through a concerted effort to embrace communal freedom, social investments, social rights, civic duties and a vocabulary for translating private troubles into public issues. The return of the social question necessitates invoking a public language and a new set of questions regarding “What should be done to alleviate the suffering and injustices to which the urban working masses [are] now exposed and how [is] the ruling elite of the day to be brought to see the need for change?”(57) The social question also demands that we make visible what C. Wright Mills calls the forces of “organized irresponsibility [that] prevail everywhere,”(58) which functions to dissolve crucial social solidarities, undermine compassion, disparage mutual responsibility and disband the bonds of social obligation itself.(59) But if we are to put the social question back on the agenda, we will first have to acknowledge, like Benjamin’s angel of history, the “catastrophe that keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage.”(60) That catastrophe lies in a brutal and ruthless form of economic Darwinism that shreds the social fabric of the state, eviscerates the importance of the social question and creates the conditions for a society resembling Thomas Hobbes’ war of all against all, a survival-of-the-fittest social order in which the flight from freedom and responsibility becomes the default mechanism for upholding a machinery of exploitation, cruelty, inequality and militarism.

Not only has the American public lost its ability, perhaps even its will, to talk about public values such as sharing, caring and preserving, but it can no longer distinguish between a market-driven society and a democratic society. As Sheldon Wolin has insisted, the supportive culture for a viable democracy – “a complex of beliefs, values and practices that nurture equality, cooperation and freedom”(61) – is incompatible with the market-driven values of neoliberalism and their emphasis on a crude consumerism, over-the-top materialism, brutal competition, a culture of lying, a possessive individualistic ethic and an aggressive battle to privatize, deregulate and commodify everything.

The promise of democracy and economic justice and social rights necessitates a new language of public purpose, rationality and formative culture embedded in democratic public values, collective struggles and a social movement willing to fight for a new kind of politics, democracy and future. We don’t need privatized utopias, but models of a democratic society and social state in which public values and democratic interests are expressed in a range of economic, political and cultural institutions. We need a new army of critical and passionate winged messengers alert to the need for progressive social solidarities, social agency, collective action and a refusal to stare hopelessly at the rotting corpses, gated communities and the walking dead that turn the promise of democracy into an advertisement for global destruction.

I would like to thank Zygmunt Bauman, Grace Pollock and Susan Giroux for their thoughtful comments on this article. Of course, I am ultimately responsible for the narrative that unfolds.

The GOP’s Ongoing War To Re-Brand Poor People As “Lazy,” “Freeloading”

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Oldspeak: “Yesterday, it was “Welfare Queens” today, it’s “Hobos”. Today, 1 in 6  Americans (many of them elderly) live in poverty.  77% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. ‘The GOP’s blame-the-victim rhetoric and profits-before-people attitude toward Medicaid fit neatly into the party’s decades-long anti-poor agenda.’ No discussion of corporate welfare programs that use public tax money to finance shiny new billion dollar sports stadiums, the taking of public land for private profit (natural gas/oil/mineral wealth), drug/biotech research (for “medicine” or “food” that may or may not kill you), agribusiness subsidies, defense industry subsidies/research…etc etc etc. But poor people are the lazy freeloaders. 😐 Profit is Paramount.”

From Lauren Kelley @ Alter Net:

To hear some Republicans speak of it, you’d think the Medicaid program was designed by the devil himself for the sole purpose of wasting money. It’s been called, pejoratively, “socialist” and “a clear and present danger to the budgets and priorities of the states.”

Not that Democrats spend all their time gushing over the program. It has its legitimate problems, to be sure. But the program does provide, if imperfectly, healthcare access to the country’s poorest citizens. The New Republic senior editor Jonathan Cohn lays out Medicaid’s importance in acolumn for Kaiser Health News:

Medicaid may not provide great access to care. But it does provide access — access its recipients very much need and that, according to research, has measurably improved their health. In what may be the most well-known study of its kind, economists Janet Currie and Jonathan Gruber found large expansions of Medicaid during the 1980s and early 1990s “significantly increased the utilization of medical care, particularly care delivered in physicians’ offices,” leading to “significant” reductions in both infant and child mortality.

Medicaid also provides benefits that its unique population needs, but would struggle to find in the private insurance market. That includes lead screening for low-income children, a fragile population at high risk of toxicity from chipped paint in old, poorly maintained homes. And it includes long-term care, particularly nursing home care, for senior citizens who can’t afford its high expense. In fact, it is the disabled and the elderly — not the stereotypical single mother on welfare — on whom Medicaid spends the majority of its money.

Low-income children. Senior citizens. People with disabilities. Who would oppose helping those demographics gain access to life-saving healthcare services?

Republicans, of course. The latest of many assaults on the program comes from thirty-three GOP governors and governors-elect from across the country whose states’ budgets are crunched in the poor economy. The state leaders have sent letters to the White House and Congress whining about how they’ll be punished under healthcare reform for dropping Medicaid enrollees, which are costing states more and more as the number of people eligible for the program grows. Under the Affordable Care Act, such states would lose the federal dollars that make up about 60% of Medicaid funding.

Essentially, the measure is meant to stop state leaders from punishing their poorest citizens for falling on hard times. If states want to stick it to poor people, they will lose much-needed funding.

Republicans want to kill the measure in large part to make a political point — throwing a wrench into healthcare reform takes the wind out of Obama’s political sails. Also, cutting back on expensive safety-net healthcare services helps states pay for the tax cuts that are oh so popular among Republican voters.

By doing so, they condemn millions of poor Americans — including the growing ranks of the “new poor” created during this economic downturn — to a life in which basic healthcare services are out of reach and medical emergencies spell financial ruin.

Aside from the inhumanity of this position, it seems like it would be a bad PR move, picking on low-income children and the like. To sidestep that issue, the GOP has been working tirelessly for decades to re-brand the destitute and the impoverished as the “lazy,” the “entitled” and the “freeloaders.” There were the “welfare queens” of the Reagan era, for instance, and more recently the spate of hateful and derogatory comments about the nation’s growing pool of unemployed individuals.

“Is the government now creating hobos?” Republican Rep. Dan Heller of Nevada asked, rhetorically, in a discussion of jobless benefits last February. Former Rep. (and soon-to-be prisoner) Tom DeLay also weighed in on the issue around the same time. “You know, there is an argument to be made that these extensions of unemployment benefits keep people from going and finding jobs. In fact there are some studies that have been done that show people stay on unemployment compensation and they don’t look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out.”

Indeed, Republican lawmakers love to infer that people who have lost there jobs and may be living in poverty just need to get off their butts and find work — never mind that there are at least five unemployed Americans for every available job out there. Bootstraps, dammit!

The indefatigable right-wing media, meanwhile, goes beyond inference. Bill O’Reilly in 2005: “[Y]ou gotta look people in the eye and tell ’em they’re irresponsible and lazy….Because that’s what poverty is, ladies and gentlemen. In this country, you can succeed if you get educated and work hard. Period. Period.”

Irresponsible and lazy. There you have it.

This blame-the-victim rhetoric and the profits-before-people attitude toward Medicaid fit neatly into the GOP’s anti-poor agenda. Progressive bloggerRichard Barry sums that agenda up nicely (via the Huffington Post).

[T]he right wing has cleverly twisted the truth to make its case. Health-care reform is well on its way to being successfully re-branded as another entitlement program for a slothful underclass. The Republican leadership talks about unemployment insurance like it’s a reward for laziness amongst the needy. The sub-prime mortgage crisis is explained as poor people wanting a life to which they are not entitled (instead of the result of unscrupulous banking practices). Tax cuts for the über-wealthy are taken to be a reward for obvious virtue, while the “have-nots” are assumed to deserve their meager lot. And lastly, opposition to progressive immigration reform is clearly a part of this narrative.

This should give all of us pause, especially given last week’s news that, even by official measures, there are millions more Americans living in poverty than originally thought. With the safety net eroding at an alarming rate, and Republicans doing everything they can to speed up that process, the new reality is that losing a job or contracting a serious disease could spell financial disaster for any of us. In our new economic and political environment, those “lazy,” “freeloading” poor people aren’t “other,” as Republicans would like you to believe. They could be you.


Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn.

Haiti Transformed into the “Republic of The NGOs”: A Year Later 1 Million-Plus Remain Homeless And Displaced In Haiti

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Oldspeak: “One year after the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti, reconstruction efforts have barely begun. 9 billion in promised international aid has yet to be distributed. “There is a dramatic power imbalance between the international community—under U.S. leadership—and Haiti. The former monopolizes economic and political power and calls all the shots this unequal relationship is reflected in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.” The IHRC is co-chaired by Bill Clinton.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

Guest: Alex Dupuy, a professor of sociology at Wesleyan University. His latest book is The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti.

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AMY GOODMAN: One year later, the words of Dr. Evan Lyon, a professor with Partners in Health, are agonizingly true: Haiti is still in pain. If anything, the situation has gotten worse. A cholera epidemic has spread throughout the country, killing more than 3,600 people, infecting more than 170,000. More than a million people remain homeless, still living in makeshift shelters in hundreds of tent camps. Port-au-Prince is a city of earthquake refugees. There is little food, clean water or sanitation.

Reconstructions efforts have barely begun a full 12 months after the disaster. By some estimates, less than five percent of the rubble has been cleared, and only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built. Less than 10 percent of the $9 billion pledged by foreign donors has been delivered.

Meanwhile, Haitian women and girls are facing an increasing threat of sexual violence. Amnesty International says more than 250 cases of rape in several makeshift camps were reported in the first 150 days after the earthquake.

This all comes amidst continuing political uncertainty following the disputed presidential elections last November. The vote was widely denounced as flawed, with reports of fraud and intimidation at polling stations, and protests broke out when the provisional results were announced in December. On Monday, it was reported the Organization of American States will recommend that Jude Célestin, the governing party candidate, should be dropped from the runoff vote.

Today we spend the hour on Haiti. We’ll speak with four Haitians. We begin by going to Alex Dupuy. He’s a Haitian American professor at Wesleyan University. He is joining us from Middletown.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Dupuy. Your reflections on this first anniversary of this catastrophe of epic proportions?

ALEX DUPUY: Thank you for having me on your program.

Well, you summarized the situation quite well. Most of the pledged—the money that was pledged has not been delivered. Of the money that has been delivered, very little of it has been spent. Most of the rubble around the capital city and in the capital city has not been removed, other than some arteries that lead into the city. And reconstruction, as envisioned by both the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and the Haitian government, has not begun. Most people—most of the homeless, those displaced by the earthquake, are still living in shelters, though the number has dropped to less than a million. From the latest figures that I’ve seen, it seems to be around 800,000. But it’s not clear under what conditions those who have left the camps are still living. Electricity is still in short supply. Water is not available to most citizens of the city, and especially in the camps, where they’re being delivered by aid organizations. Hospitals have not been rebuilt. Healthcare is not being delivered, and so on. So, the condition is pretty much as you’ve described it, that it’s pretty grim a year later, though, of course, given the extent of the damage, reconstruction would be slow. But at least one would have hoped that more progress would have been achieved at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dupuy, you wrote a piece in the Washington Postcalled “Foreign Aid Keeps the Country from Shaping Its Own Future.” Explain what you mean. Lay out your argument.

ALEX DUPUY: Well, my argument is basically twofold. One is to distinguish between the humanitarian aid, the massive humanitarian aid that was given to Haiti immediately after the earthquake, and the long-term—the short- and long-term reconstruction of Haiti as envisioned by the international community. And by the international community, I mean the major foreign powers, such as the United States, Canada and France, and the international financial institutions—the World Bank, the IMF, the USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank. And the problem here, as I see it, is that the strategies that they have devised for Haiti’s reconstruction are no different than the strategies that they had put in place in Haiti for the past three decades or more that have proven to have failed. Those strategies were based on a twofold strategy. One was to transform Haiti into a supplier of the cheapest labor in the region for the garment industry, for export primarily to the United States, and the other was to dismantle all protective tariffs against food imports and other imports into Haiti that resulted in the devastation of Haitian agriculture, to the point where Haiti went from being able to produce up to 80 percent of its food in the mid-1980s to now importing—to producing only 42 percent, and especially rice production, which is a major staple crop in Haiti, where Haiti used to have self-sufficiency in producing rice. Now it’s the largest—the fourth largest importer of U.S. rice in the world. And former President Clinton himself admitted in testimony to the Senate Foreign Committee that the strategies that he himself had pushed on Haiti have not worked. They have benefited his farmers in Arkansas, but they were detrimental to Haitian agricultural production, especially rice. Yet, it is—these are the same policies that are now being pushed again on Haiti by the Interim Haiti Commission, which he and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive co-chair.

But I should point out that within the commission, even though there are equal numbers of Haitians and foreign members on the committee, that the foreign members of the committee call all the shots. And the Haitians have, in fact, openly complained that they are being excluded from meetings and from decision-making processes. Moreover, when the commission was being set up and the Action Plan for Reconstruction of Haiti was being developed, Haitian grassroots organizations, organizations from civil society that represented a cross-section of the Haitian population, were systematically sidelined. They were ignored. Their voices were ignored. And yet, they are the ones who have been proposing meaningful alternatives for a more progressive, more just, more equal reconstruction of Haiti. So the point that I was trying to make in the op-ed in theWashington Post was precisely that the objectives of the foreign community, so to speak, the international community, is not so much about Haiti as it is about helping their own firms, their own farmers, their own—you know, their own exporters and their own economies, rather than that of Haiti and the Haitian—and the needs, meeting the needs of the Haitian people.

The other point that I raised in the piece was that Haiti has now been transformed into what has been correctly called the “Republic of the NGOs.” And this is a strategy that was started about, oh, three decades ago whereby foreign donors would systematically bypass the Haitian state and fund instead non-governmental organizations to provide services to the Haitian population, in effect rendering the state even weaker than it was before and making it less able to respond to the needs of its citizens. Now, the Haitian state has a long history of neglecting the needs of the majority of Haitians, but rather than working with the Haitian government and compelling it to respond to the needs of its citizens, in terms of healthcare, jobs, housing, education and so on, by bypassing the state and funding NGOs directly, it sapped even further the capacity of the state to face up to its responsibilities and weakening it even further. So, the point is that—the point I was trying to make is that the foreign community has a direct role to play, in collaboration with the Haitian elites, to create a situation in Haiti where the vast majority of the population continued to live in poverty, and their basic needs and their basic rights are being ignored. That was the point of the article.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to ask you to stay with us. But when we come back, we’re going to go directly to Haiti to speak with Patrick Elie, who we spoke to when we were last in Haiti six months ago, a longtime Haitian democracy activist. We’re speaking with Wesleyan University professor Alex Dupuy. This isDemocracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, on this first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Ti Rosemond, he won the equivalent of the American Idolcompetition in Haiti. We saw him when we first went to Haiti right after the earthquake. He was traveling with a large family, making his way out of Port-au-Prince, escaping, as so many Haitians were trying to do, to get away from the terror. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

It’s the first anniversary of the tè tremblé, the earth trembles. That’s Creole for the earthquake. And we go directly to Port-au-Prince, where we’re joined by Patrick Elie, a longtime Haitian democracy activist, Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security. He’s speaking to us from downtown Port-au-Prince in front of the Champ de Mars, just opposite the National Palace, where thousands of Haitians continue to live in a massive tent camp.

It’s good to see you again, Patrick Elie. Can you share your reflections on this first anniversary of the earthquake, especially just where you stand, what you’re looking out over?

PATRICK ELIE: Well, I’m looking at the end of an era, the end of politics for tens of years, if not centuries. And I’m looking at the defeat of that vision. But I’m also looking at the incredible will to live that exists in this country. And to tell you the truth, even though I’m sad today, but I’m not giving up, I’m not discouraged. And I believe the Haitian people will once again surprise the world precisely by its creativity and its will to live, that is unshakable, even by such a monstrous earthquake.

AMY GOODMAN: When we last spoke, we were standing on the rubble of the Montana Hotel, where people were buried underneath. You’re standing in front of the Champ de Mars. Thousands of people remain there. I think this is very hard for people outside of Haiti to understand how still a million people are displaced in Haiti, this after the catastrophe of a quarter of a million at least killed, and now you have cholera on top of this. What has happened in this year?


AMY GOODMAN: Why hasn’t aid come, Patrick?

PATRICK ELIE: Well, first of all, you know, you were dealing with a country that was in very bad shape to start with. And you were dealing with a state that was weak for the mission it must execute. And the earthquake—and paradoxically, the outpour of solidarity—has not made things better in terms of the ability and the will of the state to rise up to the challenge. So, of course, one year later, I believe everybody would have expected to see better result, a more pronounced improvement of the situation. But really what I’m seeing is, if you want, question me, but it’s not at all as bad as it is usually described. I don’t think, truly, that the Haitian people have to be pitied or mourned. They have to get true solidarity in their endeavor to rebuild, and not to rebuild the same.

You know, Port-au-Prince is a city, and a city is a living organism. And Port-au-Prince, as we speak, is trying to relive the same way it was, and that would be a catastrophe for the country. Port-au-Prince has been strangling the rest of this nation, the rest of this country, for decades. It’s time, after the earthquake, to question the whole vision of how Haiti was built. It is time, if you want, to—I don’t want to say to destroy Port-au-Prince, but to put it in its right place in this country. We must resist the impulse to rebuild Port-au-Prince the way it was: a city of exclusion, of hyper-concentration and of shanty towns, which, if you want, contributed very, very much to the high toll that we’ve paid after the earthquake. So, we definitely have to break away from the course we seem to have been taken, which has been to do more of the same. We must do that; otherwise, it’s going to be worse than before.

AMY GOODMAN: Who controls Haiti now? Who is in control of the reconstruction? We were just speaking with Professor Alex Dupuy, who talked about the IHRC, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by Bill Clinton and the Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

PATRICK ELIE: I believe that at the moment Haiti is controlled by a foreign government and foreign interests, the so-called international community. And I’m afraid that in the month or maybe years to come, it’s going to get even worse, because, as you know, the election did not, if you want, mobilize the Haitian people, and whoever gets elected is going to be a very weak government, very weak president, with very little popular legitimacy. So, the ability of this new leadership to actually mobilize Haitians for reconstruction and be able to engage the international community on a partner-to-partner basis is going to be very, very small.

So, it’s going to take time, but I do believe that the earthquake is also a signal for us to build Haitian democracy on sound foundations, which means the neighborhood committees, the grassroot organization, instead of trying to build a democracy from the top down. That’s how we built our houses in Port-au-Prince, and you saw what happened. So, I believe it’s time for serious soul searching for the nation and to do an assessment of what has been the latest episode in Haiti’s search for democracy, which has lasted at least a quarter of a century with very poor result, as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in Jean Saint-Vil and then get your response, Patrick Elie. We’re turning to Canada. He’s in Ottawa, the Haitian writer and activist, his website, godisnotwhite.com.

On this first anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, now more than a million—and the country is only 10 million people—and cholera ravaging through the country, Jean Saint-Vil, your thoughts?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Well, I was listening attentively to Alex Dupuy and Patrick, and they’ve really covered a lot of my thoughts. And I think one of the things that is common in what they’ve said is that there is not evidence that we’ve made that shift. Patrick mentioned that Port-au-Prince is trying to rebuild itself on the same principle that it had built itself before and is—has collapsed. The same thing with the way Alex Dupuy described the international community.

I think that another Haitian author described it pretty well: Edwidge Danticat, who published in the Miami Herald earlier this week an article titled “Haitians Are Tired, But We Are Not Defeated.” I would add that we are sick and tired, but not defeated. As you mentioned, we have lost more than 3,700 Haitians through the cholera brought to Haiti by U.N. troops.

And what we are seeing is, instead of resources being mobilized to deal with protecting human lives, building infrastructures for a new Haiti, instead we’re seeing the international community, which includes the United Nations, mobilizing resources to maintain the status quo. So, my perspective on this is that one year after the earthquake, we are seeing the Haitian population being treated and seen as a threat, rather than as an asset. And to me, that’s the major paradigm shift that must occur if we have to get out of this mess.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Alex Dupuy, before we go back to Port-au-Prince with Patrick Elie, about the U.S. official who was in charge of relief efforts following Haiti’s devastating earthquake who has accused a major contractor of shortchanging him for his assistance in securing more than $20 million in reconstruction deals. It was the Haiti Recovery Group he’s suing, and it was Lewis Lucke that the Associated Press was reporting on.

ALEX DUPUY: Well, I don’t know all the specifics of that suit, but what is known is that, of the contracts that have been given out by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, most of those contracts have gone to U.S. firms. Only two of them went to Haitian firms. And a significant percentage of the contracts that went to U.S. firms went to two firms, according to news reports, with no-bid contracts. So, I am not sure if this is what the suit is targeting, but—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask—let me ask Jean Saint-Vil. Are you familiar with this case?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Yes, I have read the report on the web about this. And if I am not mistaken, Mr. Lewis Lucke is actually a former U.S. ambassador to Swaziland, and he was working with the USAID in Haiti. And he’s suing the Haitian company led by Bigio, the Bigio Group [GB Group], which—actually, Bigio is described as the richest man in Haiti, part of the small Haitian elite that controls basically the economic life of Haiti. What’s interesting in this article is that it’s describing that the work that Lewis Lucke has done is really lobbying former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush for contracts that he was securing for American companies. To me, this is an example of exactly what is wrong with the current model, where non-Haitians have more power than Haitian leaders in Haiti, and the corruption that has been treated in Haiti as if it was, you know, a genetic disease that only affects the Haitian players.

We are seeing that the IHRC, led by Bill Clinton and Jean-Max Bellerive, is actually only led by the international players. People have actually been asking, “Where is the Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive?” At the last meeting that took place in Dominican Republic, he wasn’t even there. And that’s where the 12 members of the Haitian participants in this commission were saying that contracts are being signed, major decisions are being made, without them being involved. So, basically, the Clinton Global Initiative and Bill Clinton himself, not to talk about all the conflict of interest being the husband of the U.S. Secretary of State—I mean, Haiti is not being led by Haitians, and that’s basically what’s been wrong with the situation since 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Elie, I want to come back to you, as you stand there in front of the Champ de Mars, where so many people remain in these refugee camps. And I was wondering if you could give us a history lesson, for those not familiar with Haiti, in its birth out of a slave rebellion, and then what you think needs to happen right now concretely on the ground, as you say your country is being controlled by foreign interests, by foreign governments.

PATRICK ELIE: It is indeed a huge challenge that we’re facing as a people, maybe as big as the one we did face successfully in 1804. And as for, if you want, the vultures descending on Haiti, I believe we evoked that the last time we met on the Montana. And the only people that can prevent that are the Haitians themselves, with the help of foreign friends that keep their vigilance high, because, you know, things are going on that are beyond the back of the people of the world that were so generous toward Haiti and beyond the back of the Haitian people. And really what needs to be done is not easy to map out. To tell you the truth, there is no magic wand.

A lot of the people you see out in the Champ de Mars, they were not living any better before in Cité Soleil and in the different shanty towns. The difference is that now they’re making their presence known, they’re in your face, so to speak. And I hope that they will be able to show both the world outside and the Haitian elite that things have to change. And in a way—and I measure my words—to see these people in the Champ de Mars right smack in front of the National Palace is a positive message. It has to remind anyone who find itself in this ruin of a building, anyone who is living in a five million U.S.-dollar mansion, that these are Haitians, and they have to be, if you want, enfranchised and that their needs and their demands have to be met. So, you know, as they say in Haiti, “C’est un bien pour un mal,” we’ve exchanged an evil for a message that had to be heard for years and years.

AMY GOODMAN: What, at this point, do you feel needs to be done? Do you feel that the IHRC, that is run by President Clinton, former President Clinton, and Bellerive, should it continue? Should it be dismantled? You talk about a community organizations that could rise up, a changing of Port-au-Prince, but how will this actually happen?

PATRICK ELIE: I do believe that we need something different from the Haitian state as it is, and as it will emerge from this election, to lead the effort in reconstruction. Obviously, there has to be parliamentary representative of the donors, but mostly the Haitian representation should reflect more the Haitian community as it is. It’s not enough to have big-shot lawyers and technicians. The voice of the communities, both of Port-au-Prince but also in the other parts of the country, which represent our way out of this mess, their voices have to be heard also. And to be frank, I have not heard those voices spoken in the reconstruction. So, for me, personally, one of the very encouraging things that emerged from the earthquake was the birth, or the rebirth, of the neighborhood committees. And many of them, I must admit, you know, just organized so that they could profit for the charity. But some of them have remained, and they are, if you want, sketching their way ahead. And the movement has spread away from Port-au-Prince and away from the cities to what we call the lakou, which are the small peasant communities. In my opinion, there lies the future of Haiti and of its democracy, not up in the fancy hotel or the convention centers.

Million-Plus Remain Homeless and Displaced in Haiti One Year After Earthquake

From Bill Quigley and Jeena Shah:

One year after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, more than 1 million people remain homeless in Haiti. Homemade shelters and tents are everywhere in Port-au-Prince. People are living under plastic tarps or sheets in concrete parks, in encampments that sprawl up to the edges of major streets, in the side streets, behind buildings, in between buildings, on the sides of hills – literally everywhere.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that more than 1 million people – 380,000 of them children – still live in displacement camps.

“The recovery process,” as UNICEF says, “is just beginning.”

One of the critical questions remaining is how many people are still without adequate housing. While there are fewer big camps of homeless and displaced people, there has been extremely little rebuilding. The United Nations (UN) reported that 97,000 tents have been provided since the quake. Tents are an improvement over living under a sheet, but they are not homes. Many families have moved multiple times in the last year, circulating among rough shelters, tents, one or more camps and situations living alongside other families.

It is important to understand that a family may leave the huge, unsupervised camps and still be homeless someplace else, such as a tent in another part of the city or country. Families’ moves from one type of homelessness to another cannot be declared progress against homelessness and displacement.

The key human rights goal is for people displaced by the earthquake to obtain housing, not for them to simply move out of the displacement camps.

One illustration of the housing challenge facing the Haitian people can be found in a recent report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM December report announced a reduction in the number of persons remaining in displacement camps. The IOM then wrongly concluded that the number of people displaced and homeless was reduced accordingly. Why is this conclusion wrong? Because the IOM report does not even try to track where displaced persons go after they leave a particular camp. They equate homeless families moving out of displacement camps with families finding housing.

These types of erroneous conclusions are not only misleading – they also threaten to hinder badly needed relief efforts one year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Careful consideration of the IOM report provides an opportunity to examine some of the many important housing challenges still facing Haitians:

IOM assertion: “We finally start to see light at the end of the tunnel for the earthquake-affected population. … [T]hese are hopeful signs that many victims of the quake are getting on with their lives.” IOM reported that there has been a 31 percent decrease in the number of internally displaced people (IDP) living on IDP sites in Haiti since July.

Fact: Getting on with their lives? Of Haiti’s estimated 1,268 displacement camps, at least 29 percent have been forcibly closed – meaning tens of thousands of people have been evicted, often by violent means. Many who are forcibly evicted from one site move on to set up camp for their families in another, often more dangerous, location. This is not getting on with life; this is searching for less dangerous places for the family tent.

IOM assertion: People with houses labeled red (uninhabitable or extremely dangerous) or yellow (in need of repair) have “chosen to return to the place of origin or nearby to establish a shelter.”

Fact: As of December 16, 2010, only 2,074 of the estimated 180,000 destroyed houses had been repaired and only a small percentage of the rubble had been cleared. Decisions by desperate homeowners to move back into still-destroyed homes is hardly progress.

It is not even possible for large numbers of people who were renters to return to their destroyed homes. The destruction of more than 180,000 private residences, coupled with the influx of international aid workers, has caused Haiti’s rental market to soar. An estimated 80 percent of Haitians rendered homeless by the earthquake were either renters or occupiers of homes without any formal land title. Current rents are unreachable for the majority of displaced Haitians, many of whom lost their means of livelihood during the earthquake. The IOM admits that, “The lack of land tenure and the destruction of many houses in already congested slums left many of those displaced with few options but to remain in shelters.”

IOM assertion: “Some households rendered homeless after the earthquake left congested Port-au-Prince all-together, going home to the regions. Others sent their children to the countryside for a better life.”

Fact: Rural Haiti before the earthquake was home to 52 percent of the population, 88 percent of which was classified as poor; 67 percent was considered extremely poor. The per capita income for rural residents was one-third of that for people living in urban areas, and rural Haitians’ access to basic services was extremely limited. Disaster response following the earthquake has not tackled the extreme structural violence that exists in rural areas, and Hurricane Tomas further destroyed the livelihoods of rural communities. People moving from displacement camps in the city to tents in the countryside have not really moved out of homelessness – they have just moved.

IOM Assertion: “Surviving in poor living conditions during the long hurricane season has persuaded many to seek alternative housing solutions.”

Fact: Homeless people are always seeking “alternative housing solutions.” Camp conditions even before Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak revealed that displaced Haitians were in camps because they had no “alternative housing solutions.” According to a study conducted by City University of New York (CUNY) professor Mark Schuller, before both Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak, 40 percent of displacement camps did not have access to water and 30 percent did not have toilets of any kind. Only 10 percent of families even had tents, many of which were ripped beyond repair during the hurricane season; the rest were sleeping under tarps, or even bedsheets. A study conducted even earlier by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti found that 78 percent of families lived without enclosed shelter; 44 percent of families primarily drank untreated water; 27 percent of families defecated in a container, a plastic bag, or on open ground in the camps; 75 percent of families had someone go an entire day without eating during one week; and over 50 percent of families had children who had gone without eating for an entire day.

Human rights principles require housing for displaced people, not the forcing away of earthquake victims from displacement camps. Haiti needs practical and sustainable solutions for re-housing, along with services and protections for the people who are still homeless.

One year after the quake, it is critically important for the international community to assist Haitians in securing real housing. The one million homeless Haitians – and the hundreds of thousands who have moved out of the large homeless camps into other areas – are our sisters and brothers, and they still need our solidarity and help.




In Kabul, Biden Promises U.S. Support Beyond 2014

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Oldspeak: ” ‘War is a drug.’ -Chris Hedges. Looks like it’s official. The U.S. is never leaving Afghanistan. Last June, Obama hedged on his pledge to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. Today, Biden is saying “It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build….If the Afghan people want it, we won’t leave in 2014.” Riiiiight. “If the Afghan people want it.” The Afghan people want the U.S. out of their country YESTERDAY. They get the shit bombed out of them daily by U.S. troops and Predator drones, while their “government” stands by, complicit in the killing of untold numbers of civilians. The reality is their wants  don’t really matter. Untapped oil, natural gas and mineral deposits, coveted by the U.S. do. Does anyone really believe the obviously corrupt puppet  installed by the U.S. is going to refuse U.S. offers to stay and “support”? C’mon Son.”

From Joshua Partlow and Pamela Constable @ The Washington Post:

KABUL – Vice President Biden on Tuesday pledged long-term American support for Afghanistan, offering a commitment to help the war-torn nation beyond the 2014 target both countries have set to have Afghans fully in charge of their own security.

The day after he arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit, Biden toured a training academy for Afghan soldiers, had lunch with President Hamid Karzai and said he was confident of the effectiveness of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

“We’ve largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas,” Biden said, speaking alongside Karzai. “But these gains – as you pointed out to me, Mr. President – we know are fragile and reversible.”

During the intense Washington debate leading to the dispatch of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan last year, Biden argued for a smaller military footprint, more focused on counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

“It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build,” Biden said. “As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people, and they are fully capable of it.”

But he stressed that the United States would continue to assist the Afghan government. “If the Afghan people want it, we won’t leave in 2014,” Biden said.

NATO, including the United States, has pledged economic and security assistance beyond 2014, and the United States is separately negotiating its own long-term strategic accord with Afghanistan. It is unclear whether any such agreement would involve an ongoing U.S. troop presence.

The vice president arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday for a one-day visit with senior Pakistani officials. Officials at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said Biden would meet separately with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, before leaving late Wednesday to return to the United States.

Pakistani sources in Washington said Biden’s discussions would focus on the Obama administration’s concerns over growing political instability and economic problems inPakistan. The government’s ruling coalition came close to collapse recently, and it was salvaged only after officials agreed to lower fuel prices, a populist concession that has alarmed international lenders and U.S. officials.

Why Is One Terrorist Attack More Important Than The Lethal Violence That Riddles Our Nation Every Day?

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

Oldspeak:” ‘We’re losing eight children and teenagers a day to gun violence… For whatever reasons, neither the public nor the politicians seem to really care how many Americans are murdered — unless it’s in a terror attack by foreigners. The two most common responses to violence in the U.S. are to ignore it or be entertained by it. The horror prompted by the attack in Tucson on Saturday will pass. The outrage will fade. The murders will continue….’ -Bob Herbert ”

From Bob Herbert @ The New York Times:

By all means, condemn the hateful rhetoric that has poured so much poison into our political discourse. The crazies don’t kill in a vacuum, and the vilest of our political leaders and commentators deserve to be called to account for their demagoguery and the danger that comes with it. But that’s the easy part.

If we want to reverse the flood tide of killing in this country, we’ll have to do a hell of a lot more than bad-mouth a few sorry politicians and lame-brained talking heads. We need to face up to the fact that this is an insanely violent society. The vitriol that has become an integral part of our political rhetoric, most egregiously from the right, is just one of the myriad contributing factors in a society saturated in blood.

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, more than a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968, when Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were killed. That figure includes suicides and accidental deaths. But homicides, deliberate killings, are a perennial scourge, and not just with guns.

Excluding the people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. This endlessly proliferating parade of death, which does not spare women or children, ought to make our knees go weak. But we never even notice most of the killings. Homicide is white noise in this society.

The overwhelming majority of the people who claim to be so outraged by last weekend’s shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others — six of them fatally — will take absolutely no steps, none whatsoever, to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. And similar tragedies are coming as surely as the sun makes its daily appearance over the eastern horizon because this is an American ritual: the mowing down of the innocents.

On Saturday, the victims happened to be a respected congresswoman, a 9-year-old girl, a federal judge and a number of others gathered at the kind of civic event that is supposed to define a successful democracy. But there are endless horror stories. In April 2007, 32 students and faculty members at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute were shot to death and 17 others were wounded by a student armed with a pair of semiautomatic weapons.

On a cold, rainy afternoon in Pittsburgh in 2009, I came upon a gray-haired woman shivering on a stone step in a residential neighborhood. “I’m the grandmother of the kid that killed those cops,” she whispered. Three police officers had been shot and killed by her 22-year-old grandson, who was armed with a variety of weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle.

I remember having lunch with Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Children’s Defense Fund, a few days after the Virginia Tech tragedy. She shook her head at the senseless loss of so many students and teachers, then told me: “We’re losing eight children and teenagers a day to gun violence. As far as young people are concerned, we lose the equivalent of the massacre at Virginia Tech about every four days.”

If we were serious, if we really wanted to cut down on the killings, we’d have to do two things. We’d have to radically restrict the availability of guns while at the same time beginning the very hard work of trying to change a culture that glorifies and embraces violence as entertainment, and views violence as an appropriate and effective response to the things that bother us.

Ordinary citizens interested in a more sane and civilized society would have to insist that their elected representatives take meaningful steps to stem the violence. And they would have to demand, as well, that the government bring an end to the wars overseas, with their terrible human toll, because the wars are part of the same crippling pathology.

Without those very tough steps, the murder of the innocents by the tens of thousands will most assuredly continue.

I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Gabrielle Giffords story is big for the time being, but so were Columbine and Oklahoma City. And so was the anti-white killing spree of John Muhammad and Lee Malvo that took 10 lives in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., in October 2002. But no amount of killing has prompted any real remedial action.

For whatever reasons, neither the public nor the politicians seem to really care how many Americans are murdered — unless it’s in a terror attack by foreigners. The two most common responses to violence in the U.S. are to ignore it or be entertained by it. The horror prompted by the attack in Tucson on Saturday will pass. The outrage will fade. The murders will continue.


Trauma: How We’ve Created A Nation Addicted to Shopping, Work, Drugs And Sex

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2011 at 9:54 am

Oldspeak: “Post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed the conditions required for healthy childhood development. Dr. Gabor Mate discusses some of the elaborate ways we’ve avoided dealing with the unhealthy physiological/psychological consequences of our societal and economic systems in our children and ourselves.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: From disease to addiction, parenting to attention deficit disorder, Canadian physician and bestselling author Gabor Maté’s work focuses on the centrality of early childhood experiences to the development of the brain, and how those experiences can impact everything from behavioral patterns to physical and mental illness. While the relationship between emotional stress and disease, and mental and physical health more broadly, is often considered controversial within medical orthodoxy, Dr. Maté argues too many doctors seem to have forgotten what was once a commonplace assumption, that emotions are deeply implicated in both the development of illness, addictions and disorders, and in their healing.

Dr. Maté is the bestselling author of four books: When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease ConnectionScattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It; and, with Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers; his latest is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.

In our first conversation, Dr. Maté talked about his work as the staff physician at the Portland Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, a residence and harm reduction facility in Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood with one the densest concentrations of drug addicts in North America. The Portland hosts the only legal injection site in North America, a center that’s come under fire from Canada’s Conservative government. I asked Dr. Maté to talk about his patients.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: The hardcore drug addicts that I treat, are, without exception, people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. And the commonality is childhood abuse. In other words, these people all enter life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they actually got negative circumstances of neglect. I don’t have a single female patient in the Downtown Eastside who wasn’t sexually abused, for example, as were many of the men, or abused, neglected and abandoned serially, over and over again.

And that’s what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically, in terms of emotional pain relief, and neurobiological development to early adversity.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the title of your book mean, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, it’s a Buddhist phrase. In the Buddhists’ psychology, there are a number of realms that human beings cycle through, all of us. One is the human realm, which is our ordinary selves. The hell realm is that of unbearable rage, fear, you know, these emotions that are difficult to handle. The animal realm is our instincts and our id and our passions.

Now, the hungry ghost realm, the creatures in it are depicted as people with large empty bellies, small mouths and scrawny thin necks. They can never get enough satisfaction. They can never fill their bellies. They’re always hungry, always empty, always seeking it from the outside. That speaks to a part of us that I have and everybody in our society has, where we want satisfaction from the outside, where we’re empty, where we want to be soothed by something in the short term, but we can never feel that or fulfill that insatiety from the outside. The addicts are in that realm all the time. Most of us are in that realm some of the time. And my point really is, is that there’s no clear distinction between the identified addict and the rest of us. There’s just a continuum in which we all may be found. They’re on it, because they’ve suffered a lot more than most of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the biology of addiction?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: For sure. You see, if you look at the brain circuits involved in addiction—and that’s true whether it’s a shopping addiction like mine or an addiction to opiates like the heroin addict—we’re looking for endorphins in our brains. Endorphins are the brain’s feel good, reward, pleasure and pain relief chemicals. They also happen to be the love chemicals that connect us to the universe and to one another.

Now, that circuitry in addicts doesn’t function very well, as the circuitry of incentive and motivation, which involves the chemical dopamine, also doesn’t function very well. Stimulant drugs like cocaine and crystal meth, nicotine and caffeine, all elevate dopamine levels in the brain, as does sexual acting out, as does extreme sports, as does workaholism and so on.

Now, the issue is, why do these circuits not work so well in some people, because the drugs in themselves are not surprisingly addictive. And what I mean by that is, is that most people who try most drugs never become addicted to them. And so, there has to be susceptibility there. And the susceptible people are the ones with these impaired brain circuits, and the impairment is caused by early adversity, rather than by genetics.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “early adversity”?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the human brain, unlike any other mammal, for the most part develops under the influence of the environment. And that’s because, from the evolutionary point of view, we developed these large heads, large fore-brains, and to walk on two legs we have a narrow pelvis. That means—large head, narrow pelvis—we have to be born prematurely. Otherwise, we would never get born. The head already is the biggest part of the body. Now, the horse can run on the first day of life. Human beings aren’t that developed for two years. That means much of our brain development, that in other animals occurs safely in the uterus, for us has to occur out there in the environment. And which circuits develop and which don’t depend very much on environmental input.

When people are mistreated, stressed or abused, their brains don’t develop the way they ought to. It’s that simple. And unfortunately, my profession, the medical profession, puts all the emphasis on genetics rather than on the environment, which, of course, is a simple explanation. It also takes everybody off the hook.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, it takes people off the hook?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, if people’s behaviors and dysfunctions are regulated, controlled and determined by genes, we don’t have to look at child welfare policies, we don’t have to look at the kind of support that we give to pregnant women, we don’t have to look at the kind of non-support that we give to families, so that, you know, most children in North America now have to be away from their parents from an early age on because of economic considerations. And especially in the States, because of the welfare laws, women are forced to go find low-paying jobs far away from home, often single women, and not see their kids for most of the day. Under those conditions, kids’ brains don’t develop the way they need to.

And so, if it’s all caused by genetics, we don’t have to look at those social policies; we don’t have to look at our politics that disadvantage certain minority groups, so cause them more stress, cause them more pain, in other words, more predisposition for addictions; we don’t have to look at economic inequalities. If it’s all genes, it’s all—we’re all innocent, and society doesn’t have to take a hard look at its own attitudes and policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this whole approach of criminalization versus harm reduction, how you think addicts should be treated, and how they are, in the United States and Canada?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.

The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very—there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m curious about your own history, Gabor Maté.


AMY GOODMAN: You were born in Nazi-occupied Hungary?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, ADD has a lot to do with that. I have attention deficit disorder myself. And again, most people see it as a genetic problem. I don’t. It actually has to do with those factors of brain development, which in my case occurred as a Jewish infant under Nazi occupation in the ghetto of Budapest. And the day after the pediatrician—sorry, the day after the Nazis marched into Budapest in March of 1944, my mother called the pediatrician and says, “Would you please come and see my son, because he’s crying all the time?” And the pediatrician says, “Of course I’ll come. But I should tell you, all my Jewish babies are crying.”

Now infants don’t know anything about Nazis and genocide or war or Hitler. They’re picking up on the stresses of their parents. And, of course, my mother was an intensely stressed person, her husband being away in forced labor, her parents shortly thereafter being departed and killed in Auschwitz. Under those conditions, I don’t have the kind of conditions that I need for the proper development of my brain circuits. And particularly, how does an infant deal with that much stress? By tuning it out. That’s the only way the brain can deal with it. And when you do that, that becomes programmed into the brain.

And so, if you look at the preponderance of ADD in North America now and the three millions of kids in the States that are on stimulant medication and the half-a-million who are on anti-psychotics, what they’re really exhibiting is the effects of extreme stress, increasing stress in our society, on the parenting environment. Not bad parenting. Extremely stressed parenting, because of social and economic conditions. And that’s why we’re seeing such a preponderance.

So, in my case, that also set up this sense of never being soothed, of never having enough, because I was a starving infant. And that means, all my life, I have this propensity to soothe myself. How do I do that? Well, one way is to work a lot and to gets lots of admiration and lots of respect and people wanting me. If you get the impression early in life that the world doesn’t want you, then you’re going to make yourself wanted and indispensable. And people do that through work. I did it through being a medical doctor. I also have this propensity to soothe myself through shopping, especially when I’m stressed, and I happen to shop for classical compact music. But it goes back to this insatiable need of the infant who is not soothed, and they have to develop, or their brain develop, these self-soothing strategies.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think kids with ADD, with attention deficit disorder, should be treated?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, if we recognize that it’s not a disease and it’s not genetic, but it’s a problem of brain development, and knowing the good news, fortunately—and this is also true for addicts—that the brain, the human brain, can develop new circuits even later on in life—and that’s called neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to be molded by new experience later in life—then the question becomes not of how to regulate and control symptoms, but how do you promote development. And that has to do with providing kids with the kind of environment and nurturing that they need so that those circuits can develop later on.

That’s also, by the way, what the addict needs. So instead of a punitive approach, we need to have a much more compassionate, caring approach that would allow these people to develop, because the development is stuck at a very early age.

AMY GOODMAN: You began your talk last night at Columbia, which I went to hear, at the law school, with a quote, and I’d like you to end our conversation with that quote.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Would that be the quote that only in the presence of compassion will people allow themselves—


DR. GABOR MATÉ: Oh, oh, no, yeah, Naguib Mahfouz, the great Egyptian writer. He said that “Nothing records the effects of a sad life” so completely as the human body—“so graphically as the human body.” And you see that sad life in the faces and bodies of my patients.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gabor Maté, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. He’s a bestselling author. He’s a physician in Canada.

In that first interview, we touched briefly on his work on attention deficit disorder, the subject of his book Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It. Well, just about a month ago, we had Dr. Maté back on Democracy Now! to talk more about ADD, as well as parenting, bullying, the education system, and how a litany of stresses on the family environment is leading to what he calls the “destruction of the American childhood.”

DR. GABOR MATÉ: In the United States right now, there are three million children receiving stimulant medications for ADHD.


DR. GABOR MATÉ: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And there are about half-a-million kids in this country receiving heavy-duty anti-psychotic medications, medications such as are usually given to adult schizophrenics to regulate their hallucinations. But in this case, children are getting it to control their behavior. So what we have is a massive social experiment of the chemical control of children’s behavior, with no idea of the long-term consequences of these heavy-duty anti-psychotics on kids.

And I know that Canadians statistics just last week showed that within last five years, 43—there’s been a 43 percent increase in the rate of dispensing of stimulant prescriptions for ADD or ADHD, and most of these are going to boys. In other words, what we’re seeing is an unprecedented burgeoning of the diagnosis. And I should say, really, I’m talking about, more broadly speaking, what I would call the destruction of American childhood, because ADD is just a template, or it’s just an example of what’s going on. In fact, according to a recent study published in the States, nearly half of American adolescents now meet some criteria or criteria for mental health disorders. So we’re talking about a massive impact on our children of something in our culture that’s just not being recognized.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what attention deficit disorder is, what attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, specifically ADD is a compound of three categorical set of symptoms. One has to do with poor impulse control. So, these children have difficulty controlling their impulses. When their brain tells them to do something, from the lower brain centers, there’s nothing up here in the cortex, which is where the executive functions are, which is where the functions are that are supposed to tell us what to do and what not to do, those circuits just don’t work. So there’s poor impulse control. They act out. They behave aggressively. They speak out of turn. They say the wrong thing. Adults with ADD will shop compulsively, or impulsively, I should say, and, again, behave in impulsive fashion. So, poor impulse control.

But again, please notice that the impulse control problem is general amongst kids these days. In other words, it’s not just the kids diagnosed with ADD, but a lot of kids. And there’s a whole lot of new diagnoses now. And children are being diagnosed with all kinds of things. ADD is just one example. There’s a new diagnosis called oppositional defiant disorder, which again has to do with behaviors and poor impulse control, so that impulse control now has become a problem amongst children, in general, not just the specific ones diagnosed with ADD.

The second criteria for ADD is physical hyperactivity. So the part of the brain, again, that’s supposed to regulate physical activity and keep you still just, again, doesn’t work.

And then, finally, in the third criteria is poor attention skills—tuning out; not paying attention; mind being somewhere else; absent-mindedness; not being able to focus; beginning to work on something, five minutes later the mind goes somewhere else. So, kind of a mental restlessness and the lack of being still, lack of being focused, lack of being present. These are the three major criteria of ADD.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to this point that you just raised about the destruction of American childhood. What do you mean by that?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the conditions in which children develop have been so corrupted and troubled over the last several decades that the template for normal brain development is no longer present for many, many kids. And Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, who’s a professor of psychiatry at Boston—University of Boston, he actually says that the neglect or abuse of children is the number one public health concern in the United States. A recent study coming out of Notre Dame by a psychologist there has shown that the conditions for child development that hunter-gatherer societies provided for their children, which are the optimal conditions for development, are no longer present for our kids. And she says, actually, that the way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being in a moral sense.

So what’s really going on here now is that the developmental conditions for healthy childhood psychological and brain development are less and less available, so that the issue of ADD is only a small part of the general issue that children are no longer having the support for the way they need to develop.

As I made the point in my book about addiction, as well, the human brain does not develop on its own, does not develop according to a genetic program, depends very much on the environment. And the essential condition for the physiological development of these brain circuits that regulate human behavior, that give us empathy, that give us a social sense, that give us a connection with other people, that give us a connection with ourselves, that allows us to mature—the essential condition for those circuits, for their physiological development, is the presence of emotionally available, consistently available, non-stressed, attuned parenting caregivers.

Now, what do you have in a country where the average maternity leave is six weeks? These kids don’t have emotional caregivers available to them. What do you have in a country where poor women, nearly 50 percent of them, suffer from postpartum depression? And when a woman has postpartum depression, she can’t be attuned to the child.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about fathers?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the situation with fathers is, is that increasingly—there was a study recently that showed an increasing number of men are having postpartum depression, as well. And the main role of the father, of course, would be to support the mother. But when people are—emotionally, because the cause of postpartum depression in the mother it is not intrinsic to the mother—not intrinsic to the mother.

What we have to understand here is that human beings are not discrete, individual entities, contrary to the free enterprise myth that people are competitive, individualistic, private entities. What people actually are are social creatures, very much dependent on one another and very much programmed to cooperate with one another when the circumstances are right. When that’s not available, if the support is not available for women, that’s when they get depressed. When the fathers are stressed, they’re not supporting the women in that really important, crucial bonding role in the beginning. In fact, they get stressed and depressed themselves.

The child’s brain development depends on the presence of non-stressed, emotionally available parents. In this country, that’s less and less available. Hence, you’ve got burgeoning rates of autism in this country. It’s going up like 20- or 30-fold in the last 30 or 40 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Say what you mean by autism.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, autism is a whole spectrum of disorders, but the essential quality of it is an emotional disconnect. These children are living in a mind of their own. They don’t respond appropriately to emotional cues. They withdraw. They act out in an aggressive and sometimes just unpredictable fashion. They don’t know how to—there’s no sense—there’s no clear sense of a emotional connection and just peace inside them.

And there’s many, many more kids in this country now, several-fold increase, 20-fold increase in the last 30 years. The rates of anxiety amongst children is increasing. The numbers of kids on antidepressant medications has increased tremendously. The number of kids being diagnosed with bipolar disorder has gone up. And then not to mention all the behavioral issues, the bullying that I’ve already mentioned, the precocious sexuality, the teenage pregnancies. There’s now a program, a so-called “reality show,” that just focuses on teenage mothers.

You know, in other words—see, it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how the drugs, Gabor Maté, affect the development of the brain.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: In ADD, there’s an essential brain chemical, which is necessary for incentive and motivation, that seems to be lacking. That’s called dopamine. And dopamine is simply an essential life chemical. Without it, there’s no life. Mice in a laboratory who have no dopamine will starve themselves to death, because they have no incentive to eat. Even though they’re hungry, and even though their life is in danger, they will not eat, because there’s no motivation or incentive. So, partly, one way to look at ADD is a massive problem of motivation, because the dopamine is lacking in the brain. Now, the stimulant medications elevate dopamine levels, and these kids are now more motivated. They can focus and pay attention.

However, the assumption underneath giving these kids medications is that what we’re dealing with here is a genetic disorder, and the only way to deal with it is pharmacologically. And if you actually look at how the dopamine levels in a brain develop, if you look at infant monkeys and you measure their dopamine levels, and they’re normal when they’re with their mothers, and when you separate them from mothers, the dopamine levels go down within two or three days.

So, in other words, what we’re doing is we’re correcting a massive social problem that has to do with disconnection in a society and the loss of nurturing, non-stressed parenting, and we’re replacing that chemically. Now, the drugs—the stimulant drugs do seem to work, and a lot of kids are helped by it. The problem is not so much whether they should be used or not; the problem is that 80 percent of the time a kid is prescribed a medication, that’s all that happens. Nobody talks to the family about the family environment. The school makes no attempt to change the school environment. Nobody connects with these kids emotionally. In other words, it’s seen simply as a medical or a behavioral problem, but not as a problem of development.

AMY GOODMAN: Gabor Maté, you talk about acting out. What does acting out mean?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, it’s a great question. You see, when we hear the phrase “acting out,” we usually mean that a kid is behaving badly, that a child is being obstreperous, oppositional, violent, bullying, rude. That’s because we don’t know how to speak English anymore. The phrase “acting out” means you’re portraying behavior that which you haven’t got the words to say in language. In a game of charades, you have to act out, because you’re not allowed to speak. If you landed in a country where nobody spoke your language and you were hungry, you would have to literally demonstrate your anger—sorry, your hunger, through behavior, pointing to your mouth or to your empty belly, because you don’t have the words.

My point is that, yes, a lot of children are acting out, but it’s not bad behavior. It’s a representation of emotional losses and emotional lacks in their lives. And whether it’s, again, bullying or a whole set of other behaviors, what we’re dealing with here is childhood stunted emotional development—in some cases, stunted pain development. And rather than trying to control these behaviors through punishments, or even just exclusively through medications, we need to help these kids develop.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned you suffered from ADD, attention deficit disorder, yourself—


AMY GOODMAN:—and were drugged for it. Explain your own story.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, I was in my early fifties, and I was working in palliative care at the time. I was coordinator of a palliative care unit at a large Canadian hospital. And a social worker in the unit, who had just been diagnosed as an adult, told me about her story. And as a physician, I was like most physicians who know nothing about ADD. Most physicians really don’t know about the condition. But when she told me her story, I realized that was me. And subsequently, I was diagnosed. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And what was that story? What did you realize was you?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Oh, poor impulse control a lot of my life, impulsive behaviors, disorganization, a tendency to tune out a lot, be absentminded, and physical restlessness. I mean, I had trouble sitting still. All the traits, you know, that I saw in the literature on ADD, I recognized in myself, which was kind of an epiphany, in a sense, because you get to understand—at least you get a sense of why you’re behaving the way you’re behaving.

What never made sense to me right from the beginning, though, is the idea of ADD as a genetic disease. And not even after a couple of my kids were diagnosed with it, I still didn’t buy the idea that it’s genetic, because it isn’t. Again, it has to do with, in my case, very stressed circumstances as an infant, which I talked about on a previous program. In the case of my children, it’s because their father was a workaholic doctor who wasn’t emotionally available to them. And under those circumstances, children are stressed. I mean, if children are stressed when their brains are developing, one way to deal with the stress is to tune out.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about holding on to your kids, why parents need to matter more than peers.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Amy, in 1998, there was a book that was on the New York Times best book of the year and nearly won the Pulitzer Prize, and it was called The Nurture Assumption, in which this researcher argued that parents don’t make any difference anymore, because she looked at the—to the extent thatNewsweek actually had a cover article that year entitled “Do Parents Matter?” Now, if you want to get the full stupidity of that question, you have to imagine a veterinarian magazine asking, “Does the mother cat make any difference?” or “Does the mother bear matter?” But the research showed that children are being more influenced now, in their tastes, in their attitudes, in their behaviors, by peers than by parents. This poor researcher concluded that this is somehow natural. And what she mistook was that what is the norm in North America, she actually thought that was natural and healthy. In fact, it isn’t.

So, our book, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, is about showing why it is true that children are being more influenced by other kids in these days than by their parents, but just what an aberration that is, and what a distortion it is of normal human development, because normal human development demands, as normal mammalian development demands, the presence of nurturing parents. You know, even birds—birds don’t develop properly unless the mother and father bird are there. Bears, cats, rats, mice. Although, most of all, human beings, because human beings are the least mature and the most dependent for the longest period of time.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the importance of attachment?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Attachment is the drive to be close to somebody, and attachment is a power force in human relationship—in fact, the most powerful force there is. Even as adults, when attachment relationships that people want to be close to are lost to us or they’re threatened somehow, we get very disoriented, very upset. Now, for children and babies and adolescents, that’s an absolute necessity, because the more immature you are, the more you need your attachments. It’s like a force of gravity that pulls two bodies together. Now, when the attachment goes in the wrong direction, instead of to the adults, but to the peer group, childhood developments can be distorted, development is stopped in its tracks, and parenting and teaching become extremely difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: You co-wrote this book, and you both found, in your experience, Hold on to Your Kids, that your kids were becoming increasingly secretive and unreachable.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, that’s the thing. You see, now, if your spouse or partner, adult spouse or partner, came home from work and didn’t give you the time of day and got on the phone and talked with other people all the time and spent all their time on email talking to other people, your friends wouldn’t say, “You’ve got a behavioral problem. You should try tough love.” They’d say you’ve got a relationship problem. But when children act in these ways, we think we have a behavioral problem, we try and control the behaviors. In fact, what they’re showing us is that—my children showed this, as well—is that I had a relationship problem with them. They weren’t connected enough with me and too connected to the peer group. So that’s why they wanted to spend all their time with their peer group. And now we’ve given kids the technology to do that with. So the terrible downside of the internet is that now kids are spending time with each other—

AMY GOODMAN: Not even in the presence of each other.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s exactly the point, because, you see, that’s an attachment dynamic. One of the basic ways that people attach to each other is to want to be with the people that you want to connect with. So when kids spend time with each other, it’s not a behavior problem; it’s a sign that their relationships have been skewed towards the peer group. And that’s why it’s so difficult to peel them off their computers, because their desperation is to connect with the people that they’re trying to attach to. And that’s no longer us, as the adults, as the parents in their life.

AMY GOODMAN: So how do you change this dynamic?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, first we have to recognize its manifestations. And so, we have to recognize that whenever the child doesn’t look adults in the eye anymore, when the child wants to be always on the Skype or the cell phone or twittering or emailing or MSM messengering, you recognize it when the child becomes oppositional to adults. We tend to think that that’s a normal childhood phenomenon. It’s normal only to a certain degree.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, they have to rebel in order to separate later.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: No. They have to separate, but they don’t have to rebel. In other words, separation is a normal human—individuation is a normal human developmental stage. You have to become a separate, individual person. But it doesn’t mean you have to reject and be hostile to the values of the adults. As a matter of fact, in traditional societies, children would become adults by being initiated into the adult group by elders, like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah ceremony or the initiation rituals of tribal cultures around the world. Now kids are initiated by other kids. And now you have the gang phenomenon, so that the teenage gang phenomenon is actually a misplaced initiation and orientation ritual, where kids are now rebelling against adult values. But it’s not because they’re bad kids, but because they’ve become disconnected from adults.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Maté, there’s a whole debate about education in the United States right now. How does this fit in?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, you have to ask, how do children learn? How do children learn? And learning is an attachment dynamic, as well. You learn when you want to be like somebody. So you copy them, so you learn from them. You learn when you’re curious. And you learn when you’re willing to try something, and if it doesn’t work, you try something else.

Now, here’s what happens. Caring about something and being curious about something and recognizing that something doesn’t work, you have to have a certain degree of emotional security. You have to be able to be open and vulnerable. Children who become peer-oriented—because the peer world is so dangerous and so fraught with bullying and ostracization and dissing and exclusion and negative talk, how does a child protect himself or herself from all that negativity in the peer world? Because children are not committed to each others’ unconditional loving acceptance. Even adults have a hard time giving that. Children can’t do it. Those children become very insecure, and emotionally, to protect themselves, they shut down. They become hardened, so they become cool. Nothing matters. Cool is the ethic. You see that in the rock videos. It’s all about cool. It’s all about aggression and cool and no real emotion. Now, when that happens, curiosity goes, because curiosity is vulnerable, because you care about something and you’re admitting that you don’t know. You won’t try anything, because if you fail, again, your vulnerability is exposed. So, you’re not willing to have trial and error.

And in terms of who you’re learning from, as long as kids were attaching to adults, they were looking to the adults to be modeling themselves on, to learn from, and to get their cues from. Now, kids are still learning from the people they’re attached to, but now it’s other kids. So you have whole generations of kids that are looking to other kids now to be their main cue-givers. So teachers have an almost impossible problem on their hands. And unfortunately, in North America again, education is seen as a question of academic pedagogy, hence these terrible standardized tests. And the very teachers who work with the most difficult kids are the ones who are most penalized.

AMY GOODMAN: Because if they don’t have good test scores, standardized test scores, in their class—

DR. GABOR MATÉ: They’re seen as bad teachers.

AMY GOODMAN:—then they could be fired. They’re seen as bad teachers, which means they’re going to want to kick out any difficult kids.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s exactly it. The difficult kids are kicked out, and teachers will be afraid to go into neighborhoods where, because of troubled family relationships, the kids are having difficulties, the kids are peer-oriented, the kids are not looking to the teachers. And this is seen as a reflection. So, actually, teachers are being slandered right now. Teachers are being slandered now because of the failure of the American society to produce the right environment for childhood development.

AMY GOODMAN: Because of the destruction of American childhood.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s right. What the problem reflects is the loss of the community and the neighborhood. We have to recreate that. So, the schools have to become not just places of pedagogy, but places of emotional connection. The teachers should be in the emotional connection game before they attempt to be in the pedagogy game.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program,Democracy Now!.

China’s Economy Not Looking So Hot

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Oldspeak:”UH OH. Not good. China is holding a significant portion of U.S. debt, and has basically replaced the U.S. Manufacturing sector that provides many U.S. retailers with ever more sweatshop consumables for sale here. Unfortunately, it seems as though much like in the U.S., the Chinese Gov’t has been captured by powerful corporate business interests that influence economic policy. Something has got to give, and with Business as Ususal in full effect on Wall St. and other financial markets world wide, it’s probably gonna be you; the taxpayer. The kicker is bailouts only serve to put off for a short time, the inevitable total economic/financial system failure that is sure to come. The Chinese are getting caught up in the same greed driven casino capitalism that has infected the U.S.”

From Paul Krugman @ The New York Times:

These days, China seems to play much the same role in American public discourse that Japan did two decades ago.

We Americans look at our own economic follies — which are immense — and then at the Chinese and their expanding economy, and ascribe to them all the virtues of foresight and determination that we lack.

But Japan’s conventional monetary policy failed in the 1990s and the nation got stuck in a deflationary trap. The Chinese are also making mistakes, their policy makers subject to the same confusion and inability to make hard choices that everyone else is.

China’s current macroeconomic policy will someday be the basis of a cautionary tale. Basic economics says that when they decided to undervalue the renminbi, the Chinese put themselves under inflationary pressure, and sure enough, inflation is rapidly becoming a serious problem in that nation.

China’s economy has been growing at a fast pace and banks are widely lending money; the resulting increases in the costs of labor and materials are reflected in rising consumer prices.

In fact, the government announced in August that consumer prices were 3.5 percent higher than a year ago.

But domestic political considerations seem to be ruling out all options for reasonable responses to this problem, including the revaluation of the renminbi.

The Chinese won’t increase the value of their currency because that would hurt politically influential exporters. And while the government announced on Dec. 25 that it was immediately raising interest rates — for the second time in a little over two months — it had been reluctant to make this move because raising rates would hurt influential real estate developers.

Let Truthout send our best stories to your inbox every day, for free.

The government is also trying to impose quantitative limits on credit, but powerful borrowers are able to circumvent the new rules.

Attempts to impose price controls on some agricultural commodities will inevitably come apart at the seams unless policy makers do something about the underlying pressures of accelerating inflation.

It’s an edifying spectacle.

Now, schadenfreude should not lead to any complacency on the part of the United States; China may be corrupt and unable to make sensible short-run choices when it comes to dealing with inflation, but the United States outdoes China in terms of our fundamental inability to deal with long-term problems.

Still, it’s worth remembering that all paragons have feet of clay.

© 2010 The New York Times Company

How The Right’s Rhetoric Fueled The Actions Of Arizona’s Mass Murderer

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Oldspeak:“The U.S. needs to spend less time fear-mongering/fighting nebulous Muslim terrorist groups and “The War on Terror” around the world, and more time fighting/finding the Christian terrorists that live among us, and move about freely, sane and insane. ‘It’s too soon to say what motivated the man apprehended for the shooting. But the Tea Party culture of political intimidation affirmed his violent impulses.’

From Adele M. Stan @ Alter Net:

It’s too soon to say what, exactly, motivated the man apprehended for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and 18 others outside a Tucson supermarket on Saturday. All we really know about Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old alleged shooter, is that he is apparently a profoundly disturbed young man whose paranoia involves some indecipherable notions about the U.S. Constitution.

Some say Loughner regards himself as a leftist, others chart him on the right. But the screen shots of his (now deleted) MySpace page and the incomprehensible videos he posted on YouTube — as well as another videohe named a “favorite” that shows a masked, hooded figure burning an American flag to a soundtrack of a chant, “Let the bodies hit the floor” — seem short on coherent ideology and long on violent impulse.

So to those who would like to attribute Loughner’s actions to the Tea Party, I say, hold up; take a breath. But to those on the far right, and to the more mainstream right-wingers who fail to condemn the poisonous claims of the far right, I say, you’re hardly off the hook.

Had the vitriolic rhetoric that today shapes Arizona’s political landscape (and, indeed, our national landscape) never come to call, Loughner may have found a different reason to go on a killing spree. But that vitriol does exist as a powerful prompt to the paranoid, and those who publicly deem war on the federal government a patriot’s duty should today be doing some soul-searching.

On April 19, 2010 — the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City — Bill Clinton, who was president at the time of the attack, published an op-ed in the New York Times, both commemorating the dead and speaking to his fears of another such attack in the future. Note that the Oklahoma City attack came as right-wing leaders expressed outrage at the actions of federal law enforcement at Waco and Ruby Ridge, but also demonized federal workers as a class.

“As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters,” Clinton wrote, “we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.”

On the day that op-ed was published, Clinton joined Janet Napolitano, the current secretary of homeland security, at a ceremony at the memorial erected on the site of the building.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., another sort of commemoration was taking place at the foot of the Washington Monument. There, a couple of thousand right-wing gun-rights advocates gathered to hear from a roster of speakers, several of whom spewed pure venom, including Larry Pratt, president of Gun Owners of America, and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.

From my original report on the gathering:

Broun, a Republican, sees civil war looming on the horizon. “Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution, and they’re right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States — and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us,” Broun told the crowd. “It’s not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It’s not about the ability for me to protect my family and property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it’s all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States.”

Then there’s Pratt:

“I look around: it’s so good to see all these terrorists out here,” Pratt said. “Janet Napolitano, she figured, as governor of Arizona, that we didn’t have a border problem, but she knows who the real enemy is. Ha, ha, ha, ha. And Bill Clinton’s been runnin’ cover for her, too. Watch out how you guys speak out there, you know, words can have consequences. Remember Oklahoma City? Yeah, I do. And I also remember the Waco barbecue that your attorney general gave us. Thanks a lot…We’re in a war. The other side knows they’re at war, because they started it. They’re comin’ for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They’re comin’ for everything because they’re a bunch of socialists.”

Think words such as those don’t matter? Late last week, a package addressed to Napolitano burst into flames at a U.S. Postal Service facility, as did packages addressed to several other public officials.

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told reporters, according to The Huffington Post. “And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Dupnik is a Democrat who is opposed to Arizona’s controversial law that allows law enforcement to demand proof of legal citizenship from anyone at any time. (The law is currently stayed, pending a court decision on its constitutionality.)

Saturday was not the first time that Rep. Giffords, or John M. Roll, the federal district judge who died in today’s attack, faced violence in the course of their work. During the battle for health-care reform, Giffords faced death threats, and after her vote for the health-care bill, her district office was vandalized. Rolls, too, faced death threats for his decision to let a law suit go forward brought by a group of Mexicans against several Arizona ranchers, and spent a month under federal protection by U.S. Marshals.

None of these threats, nor the incendiary packages that combusted in the postal facilities on Friday, are attributed to Loughner. In fact, the U.S. Marshals identified four separate individuals who made death threats against Roll in 2009, according to the Arizona Republic.

Loughner may have severe mental health issues, but his impulses were surely affirmed by a right-wing culture that revels in intimidating tactics and violent rhetoric. Remember Sarah Palin’s mid-term campaign map of congressional districts marked with the cross-hairs of rifle sights — districts where, in Palin’s view, Democrats needed to be taken out (to borrow a term from Harry Reid’s Tea Party-branded opponent, Sharron Angle)? Gabrielle Giffords was named in the key to the map, her district marked as a target. Glenn Beck joked about his desire to poison then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

To call Jared Lee Loughner a Tea Partier is not a credible claim. But the culture of political intimidation that surrounds Democratic politicians is reinforced by more than a few Tea Party-identified leaders. It is not enough for leading Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner and John McCain, the senior Arizona senator and former presidential candidate, to denounce the attack on Giffords, Roll, and 17 other Arizona citizens, six of whom died, including a little girl. They must call on media figures like Beck, political leaders such as Palin, and figures such as Pratt and Broun, to end the gruesome rhetoric. After all, words do have consequences.



Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s Washington bureau chief.

Obama Created More Jobs In One Year Than Bush Created in Eight

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Oldspeak: ” Well Done Mr. President! Leaving aside the facts that most of the jobs were service sector/temp jobs and government doesn’t actually create jobs, businesses do. Goods production and manufacturing are still in the toilet. This really highlights the disastrously incompetent presidency of G. Dubaya, that facilitated the largest transfer of wealth from public to private hands ever, gutted government regulators and the manufacturing sector.”

From Alex Seitz -Wald @ Think Progress:

Yesterday morning, the Labor Department released its employment data for December, showing that the U.S. economy ended the year by adding 113,000 private sector jobs, knocking the unemployment rate down sharply from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent — its lowest rate since July 2009. The “surprising drop — which was far better than the modest step-down economists had forecast — was the steepest one-month fall since 1998.” October and November’s jobs numbers were also revised upward by almost 80,000 each. Still, 14.5 million Americans remain unemployed, and jobs will have to be created much faster in coming months for the country to pull itself out of the economic doldrums.

Responding the jobs report, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted that President Obama and the Democratic Congress have created “more jobs in 2010 than President Bush did over eight years.”

Indeed, from February 2001, Bush’s first full month in office, through January 2009, his last, the economy added just 1 million jobs. By contrast, in 2010 alone, the economy added at least 1.1 million jobs. This chart, produced by Pelosi’s office, demonstrates the difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration on jobs:

As the Wall Street Journal noted in the last month of Bush’s term, the former president had the “worst track record for job creation since the government began keeping records.” And job creation under Bush was anemic long before the recession began. Bush’s supply-side economics “fostered the weakest jobs and income growth in more than six decades,” along with “sluggish business investment and weak gross domestic product growth,” the Center for American Progress’ Joshua Picker explained. “On every major measurement” of income and employment, “the country lost ground during Bush’s two terms,” the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein observed, parsing Census data.

Lego: Is Prisoner Transport Now Child’s Play?

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘An innocent search for holiday gifts confronts one mother with the prison industrial complex — in the form of a Lego toy… parents must decide what kind of world they want their children to accept as normal.’ In a country with the developed world’s highest incarceration rate, this makes sense. 😐 ”

From Rebecca Walker @ The Root:

Believe me, I do not want to cast aspersions on the famous Danish toy company that goes by the name “Lego Group.” My 6-year-old is in love with the little plastic blocks and plays with them for hours at a time, leaving me to tap away blissfully on this keyboard that magically connects me to the Internet. Last week I even made my own first Lego creation and posted it on my Facebook page. It’s called the Taj Mommal.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, while looking for holiday presents and blithely scrolling through the Lego offerings on the site, I came across a set for the 5- to 12-year-old Lego aficionado called — are you ready? — a Prisoner Transport vehicle. It has high user ratings and comes with a prisoner, a policeman and, well, a prisoner-transport vehicle with gated windows. I almost had a coronary. Is Lego normalizing the prison industrial complex to 5-year-olds?

I kept scrolling. Surely there was a tribunal set in which the guards who have been caught raping and abusing juvenile prisoners are held accountable for their actions. And what about a prisoner-DNA set, where our 6-year-old scientist pretends to discover that the prisoner doing the time didn’t actually do the crime? How about the set designed after the peaceful prison strike in December in Georgia, where thousands of inmates — black, white, Mexican and other — put aside their gangbanging to make a statement about the human potential for greater good?

I posted the Prisoner Transport vehicle on my FB page and asked for feedback. Some respondents were outraged, but several likened the vehicle to playing cops and robbers as kids and said it sounded fun. Which frightened and surprised me. I thought we’d deconstructed G.I. Joe and cowboys and Indians, like, two decades ago. Didn’t we all decide at some great collective moment of insight and compassion that war and oppression are not games, toys or other activities to engage in mindlessly as play?

Wikipedia informs us that Legos were named by their Danish creator after the phrase leg godt, which means “play well” and can also be interpreted as “I put together” and “I assemble” in Latin. The company motto is Kun det bedste er godt nok, which means, “Only the best is good enough.” And finally, “While there are sets which can be seen to have a military theme — there are no directly military-themed sets in any line. This is following Ole Kirk Christiansen’s policy of not wanting to make war seem like child’s play.”

Go, Ole. But at a time when more African Americans are in the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850, the mass incarceration of one — arguably targeted — groupis a lot like war, and thus the Prisoner Transport vehicle most definitely qualifies as making “war seem like child’s play.” Or, in this momma’s speak: indoctrinating kids into afor-profit system that often denies citizens adequate legal representation; strips them of basic human rights; criminalizes them for a lifetime; and rarely offers hope of rehabilitation or opportunity for personal, psychological growth.

Because America has the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation (according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in every 32 adults was on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at the end of 2009), I think the Prisoner Transport vehicle, along with all toys normalizing incarceration, deserves a little more scrutiny. Is the vehicle fun, or is it conditioning? Is it fun conditioning? Is it just a game, or a precursor to what will be expected of our children in the future?

As parents, each of us must decide what kind of world we want our children to accept as normal. I don’t want my son to experience elation at the thought of playing God, symbolically or otherwise, with the fates of others. I don’t want him to become inured to a prison system out of control, and thus less likely to have a meaningful critique of it when he comes of age.

I especially don’t want him to think of himself as either victim or victimizer in the precious, intimate space of playtime. Not because these aren’t real representations of real people in the real world, but because there is only so much room on his mental hard drive at the moment, only so long he can truly be a child. Is it too much to want his early impressions to be filled with more productive, hopeful models? Is it too much to want this for all children?

We’ve discussed the racial implications of black Barbie. Now let’s look for an alternative to the pervasive messages of domination and subjugation that are passed without objection to our children, especially boys. I want the Lego set for that.

Rebecca Walker writes frequently for The Root.