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

Posts Tagged ‘Transnational Corporations’

Multinational Greed Is Threatening The Stability Of Societies Across the Planet

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

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

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

By Mandeep Tiwana @ Al Jazzera English:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widening income inequality

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

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

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

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

Why So Secretive? The Trans-Pacific Partnership As Global Corporate Coup

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm

A summit with leaders of the member states of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) in November, 2010. Pictured, from left, are Naoto Kan (Japan), Nguyễn Minh Triết (Vietnam), Julia Gillard (Australia), Sebastián Piñera (Chile), Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore), Barack Obama (United States), John Key (New Zealand), Hassanal Bolkiah (Brunei), Alan García (Peru), and Muhyiddin Yassin (Malaysia). Six of these leaders represent countries that were negotiating to join the group.

Oldspeak:The agreement stipulates that foreign corporations operating in the United States would no longer be subject to domestic U.S. laws regarding protections for the environment, finance or labor rights, and could appeal to an “international tribunal” which would be given the power to overrule American law and impose sanctions on the U.S. for violating the new “rights” of corporations… The international corporate tribunal would allow corporations to overturn national laws and regulations or demand enormous sums in compensation, with the tribunal “empowered to order payment of unlimited government Treasury funds to foreign investors over TPP claims…. It contains proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens… The TPP would criminalize some everyday uses of the Internet,…force service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards, and give media conglomerates more power to send you fines in the mail, remove online content – including entire websites – and even terminate your access to the Internet….there can be heavy fines for average citizens online….you could be fined for clicking on a link, people could be knocked off the Internet and web sites could be locked off…. A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and debate. It shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.” While U.S. corporate media is dutifully focused the imaginary “Fiscal Cliff” crisis,   In secret, behind closed doors, with technocrats smiling and waving in public, the transition to a transnational corporate network dominated one world government, a la Buy & Large  is continuing. This current phase of global corporate consolidation follows the previous implementation of the Transatlantic Economic Partnership, focusing primarily again on “trade liberalization”, and  “regulatory convergence” in nearly 40 areas, including intellectual property, financial services, business takeovers and the motor industry. Here we have governments, voluntarily ceding their authority to govern and regulate their nations to multinational corporations via “international corporate tribunals”. A one world government that will govern access to EVERYTHING. All while we shop our way to collapse. This is not sustainable, for the people or the planet.  Please educate yourself about these trade agreements and resist by any means you can.  “Ignorance Is Strength”, “Freedom Is Slavery”

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What “Free Trade” Actually Means

By Andrew Gavin Marshall @ Occupy.com:

he Trans-Pacific Partnership is the most secretive and “least transparent” trade negotiations in history.

Luckily for the populations and societies that will be affected by the agreement, there are public research organizations and alternative media outlets campaigning against it – and they’ve even released several leaks of draft agreement chapters. From these leaks, which are not covered by mainstream corporate-controlled news outlets, we are able to get a better understanding of what the Trans-Pacific Partnership actually encompasses.

For example, public interest groups have been warning that the TPP could result in millions of lost jobs. As a letter from Congress to United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk stated, the TPP “will create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas,” including “those related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.”

In other words, as promised, the TPP goes far beyond “trade.”

Dubbed by many as “NAFTA on steroids” and a “corporate coup,” only two of the TPP’s 26 chapters actually have anything to do with trade. Most of it grants far-reaching new rights and privileges to corporations, specifically related to intellectual property rights (copyright and patent laws), as well as constraints on government regulations.

The leaked documents revealed that the Obama administration “intends to bestow radical new political powers upon multinational corporations,” as Obama and Kirk have emerged as strong advocates “for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.”

In other words, the already ineffective and mostly toothless environmental, financial, and labor regulations that exist are unacceptable to the Obama administration and the 600 corporations aligned with the TPP who are giving him his orders.

The agreement stipulates that foreign corporations operating in the United States would no longer be subject to domestic U.S. laws regarding protections for the environment, finance or labor rights, and could appeal to an “international tribunal” which would be given the power to overrule American law and impose sanctions on the U.S. for violating the new “rights” of corporations.

The “international tribunal” that would dictate the laws of the countries would be staffed by corporate lawyers acting as “judges,” thus ensuring that cases taken before them have a “fair and balanced” hearing – fairly balanced in favor of corporate rights above anything else.

A public interest coalition known as Citizens Trade Campaign published a draft of the TPP chapter on “investment” revealing information about the “international tribunal” which would allow corporations to directly sue governments that have barriers to “potential profits.”

Arthur Stamoulis, the executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, explained that the draft texts “clearly contain proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens… A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and debate. It shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.”

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a public interest organization, undertook an analysis of the leaked document on investment and explained that the international corporate tribunal would allow corporations to overturn national laws and regulations or demand enormous sums in compensation, with the tribunal “empowered to order payment of unlimited government Treasury funds to foreign investors over TPP claims.”

Even under NAFTA, over $350 million has been paid by NAFTA-aligned governments to corporations for “barriers” to investment “rights,” including toxic waste dumps, logging rules, as well as bans on various toxic chemicals.

Because let’s be clear: for corporations, such regulations and concerns over health, safety and environmental issues are perceived solely as “barriers” to investment and profit. Thus their “government” would sue the foreign government on behalf of the corporation, on the premise that such regulations led to potential lost profits, for which the corporation should be compensated.

The TPP allows the corporations to directly sue the government in question. All of the TPP member countries, except for Australia, have agreed to adhere to the jurisdiction of this international tribunal, an unelected, anti-democratic and corporate-staffed kangaroo-court with legal authority over at least ten nations and their populations.

Further, TPP countries have not agreed on a set of obligations for corporations to meet in relation to health, labor or environmental standards, and thus a door is opened for corporations to obtain even more rights and privileges to plunder and exploit. Where corporate rights are extended, human and democratic rights are dismantled.

One of the most important areas in which the TPP has a profound effect is in relation to intellectual property rights, or copyright and patent laws. Corporations have been strong advocates of expanding intellectual property rights, namely, their intellectual property rights.

Pharmaceutical corporations are major proponents of these rights and are likely to be among the major beneficiaries of the intellectual property chapter of the TPP. The pharmaceutical industry ensured that strong patent rules were included in the 1995 World Trade Organization agreement, but ultimately felt that those rules did not go far enough.

Dean Baker, writing in the Guardian, explained that stronger patent rules establish “a government-granted monopoly, often as long as 14 years, that prohibits generic competitors from entering a market based on another company’s test results that show a drug to be safe and effective.” Baker noted that such laws are actually “the opposite of free trade” since they “involve increased government intervention in the market” and “restrict competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.”

Essentially, what this means is that in poor countries where more people need access to life-saving drugs, and at cheaper cost, it would be impossible for companies or governments to manufacture and sell cheaper generic brands of successful drugs held by multinational corporate patents. Such an agreement would hand over a monopoly of price-controls to these corporations, allowing them to set the prices as they deem fit, thus making the drugs incredibly expensive and often inaccessible to the people who need them most.

As U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman correctly noted, “In many parts of the world, access to generic drugs means the difference between life and death.”

The TPP is expected to increase such corporate patent rights more than any other agreement in history. Generic drug manufacturers in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia would suffer. So would sales of larger generics manufacturers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, which supply low-cost drugs to much of the world.

While the United States has given up the right to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations (hence the exorbitant price for drugs purchased in the U.S.), countries like New Zealand and even Canada to a lesser extent negotiate drug prices in order to keep the costs down for consumers. The TPP will grant new negotiating privileges to corporations, allowing them to appeal decisions by governments to challenge the high cost of drugs or to go with cheap alternatives. Referring to these changes, the U.S. manager of Doctors Without Borders’ Access to Medicines Campaign stated, “Bush was better than Obama on this.”

But that’s not all the TPP threatens: Internet freedom is also a major target.

The Council of Canadians and OpenMedia, major campaigners for Internet freedom, have warned that the TPP would “criminalize some everyday uses of the Internet,” including music downloads as well as the combining of different media works. OpenMedia warned that the TPP would “force service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards, and give media conglomerates more power to send you fines in the mail, remove online content – including entire websites – and even terminate your access to the Internet.”

Also advanced under the TPP chapter on intellectual property rights, new laws would have to be put in place by governments to regulate Internet usage. OpenMedia further warned that, from the leaked documents on intellectual property rights, “there can be heavy fines for average citizens online,” adding: “you could be fined for clicking on a link, people could be knocked off the Internet and web sites could be locked off.”

The TPP, warned OpenMedia founder Steve Anderson, “will limit innovation and free expression.” Under the TPP, there is no distinction between commercial and non-commercial copyright infringement. Thus, users who download music for personal use would face the same penalties as those who sell pirated music for profit.

Information that is created or shared on social networking sites could have Internet users fined, have their computers seized, their Internet usage terminated, or even get them a jail sentence. The TPP imposes a “three strikes” system for copyright infringement, where three violations would result in the termination of a household’s Internet access.

So, why all the secrecy? Corporate and political decision-makers study public opinion very closely; they know how to manipulate the public based upon what the majority think and believe. When it comes to “free trade” agreements, public opinion has forced negotiators into the darkness of back-room deals and unaccountable secrecy precisely because populations are so overwhelmingly against such agreements.

An opinion poll from 2011 revealed that the American public has – just over the previous few years – moved from “broad opposition” to “overwhelming opposition” toward NAFTA-style trade deals.

A major NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from September of 2010 revealed that “the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree,” with 86% saying that outsourcing jobs by U.S. companies to poor countries was “a top cause of our economic woes,” with 69% thinking that “free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs.” Only 17% of Americans in 2010 felt that “free trade agreements” benefit the U.S., compared to 28% in 2007.

Because public opinion is strongly – and increasingly – against “free trade agreements,” secrecy is required in order to prevent the public from even knowing about, let alone actively opposing, agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And this, as U.S. Trade Representative Kirk explained, is a very “practical” reason for all the secrecy.

With Corn Feed Scarcer, Costlier Than Ever, U.S. Farmers Feed Cookies, Marshmellows & Fruit Loops To Cattle

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2012 at 11:37 am

Oldspeak:”In the mix are cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops, orange peels, even dried cranberries. Cattlemen are feeding virtually anything they can get their hands on that will replace the starchy sugar content traditionally delivered to the animals through corn. “-Carey Gillam Is there a more perfect descriptor of the utter and complete absurdity of industrial scale agriculture? Rather thank let their cattle graze on grass, as farmers have done for the bulk of human history, BigAg farmers in a desperate attempt to cut feeding costs, are feeding their cattle even more unnatural,  less healthy & nutritious junk food. America, as the most gluttonously obese nation on the planet literally is what it eats. Junk.  Junk in, Junk out.  A junk economy. Junk politics, Junk science. Junk education. Junk spirituality. Junk laws. Etc etc etc… This is a perfect illustration of the madness that Casino Capitalism begets.  Poisons Proliferate. Profit is Paramount. Wall Street “Speculators” gamble with the global food supply. Greed defies logic. It skirts safety. It makes human and animal health mere “externalities”.  This is unsustainable. We will reap what we sow.”

By Carey Gillam @ Reuters:

Mike Yoder’s herd of dairy cattle are living the sweet life. With corn feed scarcer and costlier than ever, Yoder increasingly is looking for cheaper alternatives — and this summer he found a good deal on ice cream sprinkles.

“It’s a pretty colorful load,” said Yoder, who operates about 450 dairy cows on his farm in northern Indiana. “Anything that keeps the feed costs down.”

As the worst drought in half a century has ravaged this year’s U.S. corn crop and driven corn prices sky high, the market for alternative feed rations for beef and dairy cows has also skyrocketed. Brokers are gathering up discarded food products and putting them out for the highest bid to feed lot operators and dairy producers, who are scrambling to keep their animals fed.

In the mix are cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops, orange peels, even dried cranberries. Cattlemen are feeding virtually anything they can get their hands on that will replace the starchy sugar content traditionally delivered to the animals through corn.

“Everybody is looking for alternatives,” said Ki Fanning, a nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting in Eagle, Nebraska. “It’s kind of funny the first time you see it but it works well. The big advantage to that is you can turn something you normally throw away into something that can be consumed. The amazing thing about a ruminant, a cow, you can take those type of ingredients and turn them into food.”

PRICING VARIES

Feed is generally the largest single production expense for cattle operators. Whatever is fed needs to supply energy and protein levels that meet the animals’ nutritional needs. High prices for soy has operators seeking alternatives for both corn and soy.

Corn alternatives are in particular demand as supplies are so tight that in some areas of the country, feed corn is not available at any price.

Pricing and availability of the many different “co-products” as they are called, varies from place to place, but buyers report savings of 10 percent to 50 percent.

The savings for operators are shrinking, however, as savvy resellers tie pricing for their alternative offerings to the price of corn, which surged to record highs this summer due to drought damage.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last month the harvest now underway will yield the smallest corn crop in six years due to the drought that is still gripping more than half of the nation.

“They are using less corn in a number of these rations, but as corn prices go up, prices for really every other co-product go up too,” said Greg Lardy, head of the animal sciences department at North Dakota State University.

Operators must be careful to follow detailed nutritional analyses for their animals to make sure they are getting a healthy mix of nutrients, animal nutritionists caution. But ruminant animals such as cattle can safely ingest a wide variety of feedstuffs that chickens and hogs can’t.

The candy and cookies are only a small part of a broad mix of alternative feed offerings for cattle. Many operators use distillers grains, a byproduct that comes from the manufacture of ethanol. Other common non-corn alternatives include cottonseed hulls, rice products, potato products, peanut pellet.

Wheat “middlings,” a byproduct of milling wheat for flour that contain particles of flour, bran, and wheat germ, also are fed.

And every now and then, there is a little chocolate for the hungry cows.

Hansen Mueller Grain out of Omaha, Nebraska, which markets chocolate bars alongside oats and peanut pellets, said it all comes down to fat, sugar and energy.

“That’s all it is,” said Bran Dill, a spokesman at Hansen Mueller. Demand is high, he said.

But he also said increasing prices are making alternatives less attractive.

“The price of this stuff has gone up so much it’s gotten ridiculous,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

Why The American Empire Was Destined To Collapse

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Oldspeak:“We are at our core a nation of hustlers; not recently, not sometimes, but always. Conventional wisdom has it that America was predicated on the republican desire to break free from monarchical tyranny, and that was certainly a factor in the War of Independence; but in practical terms, it came down to a drive for “more” — for individual accumulation of wealth. The dominant thinking on the left, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.” –Morris Berman. In a totalitarian, consumption-fueled state, “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks”-Tony Judt. This shrinkage inevitably hastens the empire’s collapse. There is no discussion of of fairly viable and sustainable alternative systems (resource based, localization,) to the obviously failing monetary, infinite growth based and globalization-driven systems in corporate approved intellectual discourse. No threats to profit generation can be tolerated. Never mind the surely fatal and entirely avoidable consequences for our planet, our people, and all the living things that share our planet with us. We’ll poison the air, we’ll destroy the soil, contaminate the water, the three essential elements to our survival; in the perpetual quest for “more”.  These are the thought processes of our most dominant and influential ‘citizens’ -transnational corporations. And we flesh and blood people have internalized their self-exterminating values. How long will it be before they drive our ‘civilization’ into the ground? Our Id fueled economic model is unsustainable. We won’t be able to ignore our demise much longer.  “Profit Is Paramount”

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By Nomi Prins @ Alter Net:

Several years after the Wall Street-ignited crisis began, the nation’s top bank CEOs (who far out-accumulated their European and other international counterparts) continue to hobnob with the president at campaign dinners where each plate costs more than one out of four US households make in a year. Financial bigwigs lead their affluent lives, unaffected, unremorseful, and unindicted for wreaking havoc on the nation. Why? Because they won. They hustled better. They are living the American Dream.

This is not the American Dream that says if you work hard you can be more comfortable than your parents; but rather, if you connive well, game the rules, and rule the game, your take from others is unlimited. In this paradigm, human empathy, caring, compassion, and connection have been devalued from the get-go. This is the flaw in the entire premise of the American Dream: if we can have it all, it must by definition be at someone else’s expense.

In Why America Failed, noted historian and cultural critic Morris Berman’s brilliant, raw and unflinchingly accurate postmortem of America, he concludes that this hustling model, literally woven into the American DNA, doomed the country from the start, and led us inevitably to this dysfunctional point. It is not just the American Dream that has failed, but America itself, because the dream was a mistake in the first place. We are at our core a nation of hustlers; not recently, not sometimes, but always. Conventional wisdom has it that America was predicated on the republican desire to break free from monarchical tyranny, and that was certainly a factor in the War of Independence; but in practical terms, it came down to a drive for “more” — for individual accumulation of wealth.

So where does that leave us as a country? I caught up with Berman to find out.

Nomi Prins: Why America Failed is the third book in a trilogy you wrote on the decline of the American Empire. How did this trilogy evolve?

Morris Berman: The first book in the series, The Twilight of American Culture (2000), is a structural analysis, or internal comparison, of the contemporary US and the late Roman Empire. In it, I identified factors that were central to the fall of Rome and showed that they were present in the US today. I said that if we didn’t address these, we were doomed. I didn’t believe for a moment we would, of course, and now the results are obvious.

After 9/11, I realized that my comparison with Rome lacked one crucial component: like Rome, we were attacked from the outside. Dark Ages America (2006), the sequel to Twilight, is an analysis of US foreign policy and its relationship to domestic policy, once again arguing that there had to be a serious reevaluation of both if we were to arrest the disintegration of the nation. Of course, no such reevaluation took place, and we are now in huge economic trouble with no hope of recovery, and stuck in two wars in the Middle East that we cannot seem to win.

By the time I sat down to write the third volume, Why America Failed, I was past the point of issuing warnings. The book is basically a postmortem for a dying nation. The argument is that we failed for reasons that go back more than 400 years. As a result, the historical momentum to not undertake a reassessment, and just continue on with business as usual, is very powerful. At this point we can no more reverse our downward trajectory than we can turn around an aircraft carrier in a bathtub.

NP: So you’ve been analyzing America’s decline for over a decade. Was there a particular, specific inspiration for Why America Failed?

MB: I was originally inspired by the historian Walter McDougall (Freedom Just Around the Corner) and his argument about America being a nation of hustlers. The original working title was Capitalism and Its Discontents, the point being that those who dissented from the dominant ideology never had a chance. The crux of the problem remains the American Dream: even “progressives” see it as the solution — including, I have the impression, the Wall Street protesters — when it’s actually the problem.

In my essay collection, A Question of Values, I talk about how we are driven by a number of unconscious assumptions, including the notions of our being the “chosen people” and the availability of an endless frontier (once geographical, now economic and technological). For a while I had The Roots of American Failure as the title, but more to the point would be The Failure of American Roots — for even our success was a failure, because it was purely material. This is really what the American Dream is about, in its essence, as Douglas Dowd argued years ago in The Twisted Dream.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a Native American scouting expedition that came across the starving members of the Donner Party in 1847, who were snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. The expedition, which had never seen white people before, observed the Donner Party from a distance, then returned to base camp to report what they had seen. The report consisted of four words: “They eat each other.” Frankly, if I could summarize the argument of Why America Failed in a single phrase, this would be it. Unless Occupy Wall Street (or some other sociopolitical movement) manages to turn things around in a fundamental way, “They ate each other” will be our epitaph.

I should add that Why America Failed is actually part of a lineage, following the path initially staked out by Richard Hofstadter, C. Vann Woodward and Louis Hartz. Between 1948 and 1955 they all argued something similar; I just updated the argument.

NP: What do you say to people who don’t believe America has failed; who may just see the country as going through a bad patch, so to speak? What evidence have you compiled for the argument that the United States has failed?

MB: The major evidence is, of course, economic, and there is by now a slew of books showing that this time around recovery is not really possible and that we are going to be eclipsed by China or even Europe. These are books by very respected economists, I might add; and even a US Intelligence report of two yrs ago, “Global Trends 2025,” says pretty much the same thing, although it adds cultural and political decline into the mix. The statistics here are massive, but just consider a single one: in terms of collective wealth, the top 1 percent of the nation owns more than the bottom 90 percent. If we have a future, it’s that of a banana republic. And there will be no New Deal this time around to save us; just the opposite, in fact, as we are busy shredding any social safety net we once had.

NP: How does this relate to the rise of the Tea Party, or the Occupy Wall Street movement?

MB: Americans may be very vocal in claiming we’ll eventually recover, or that the US is still number-one, but I believe that on some level they know that this is whistling in the dark. They suspect their lives will get worse as time goes on, and that the lives of their children will be even worse than that. They feel the American Dream betrayed them, and this has left them bitter and resentful. The Wall Street protests are, as during the Depression, a demand for restoring the American Dream; for letting more people into it. The Tea Party seeks a solution in returning to original American principles of hustling, i.e. of a laissez-faire economy and society, in which the government plays an extremely small role. Thus they see Obama as a socialist, which is absurd; even FDR doesn’t fit that description. There are great differences between the two movements, of course, but both are grounded in a deep malaise, a fear that someone or something has absconded with America.

NP: Most political analysts place the blame for our current situation on major institutions, whether it is Wall Street, Congress, the Bush or Obama administrations, and so on. You agree with them to a great extent, but you also seem to place a lot of emphasis on the American people themselves—on individual values and behavior. Why is that? How do you see that as a factor?

MB: The dominant thinking on the left, I suppose, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.

In addition, all of the data over the last 20 years show that Americans are not very bright, and not even the bright ones are very bright—it’s not merely a question of IQ. A Marist poll released on July 4, 2011 showed that 42 percent of American adults are unaware that the U.S. declared its independence in 1776, and this figure increases to 69 percent for the under-30 age group. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t know from which country the United States seceded. A poll taken in the Oklahoma public school system turned up the fact that 77 percent of the students didn’t know who George Washington was, and the Texas Board of Education recently voted to include a unit on Estee Lauder in the history curriculum, when they don’t have one on the first president. Nearly 30 percent of the American population thinks the sun revolves around the earth or is unsure of which revolves around which. Etc. etc. How can such a population grasp a structural analysis of American history or politics? They simply aren’t capable of it.

NP: So, basically it’s only a matter of time before students are taking courses in the historical significance of Kim Kardashian? What are the deeper, structural obstacles, in your opinion, to the American public accepting your general argument?

MB: It seems to me that it would involve a complete reversal of consciousness. I remember after the publication of the German edition of Dark Ages America, a major Berlin newspaper, the TAZ, or Tageszeitung, ran a review of the book called “Hopes of a Patriot.” One of the things the reviewer said was that America might be able to save itself if it decided to pay attention to its more serious critics. What would it take for most Americans to regard someone like myself as a patriot, and someone like Dick Cheney as a traitor? Or Ronald Reagan as a simpleton who did the country enormous damage, and Jimmy Carter as a visionary who was trying to rescue it? As I said, this is not a matter of intelligence as IQ, because in America even the bright are brainwashed—just check out the New York Times. It’s more of an “ontological” problem, if you will.

Let me give you a concrete example. A friend of mine who is a dean at one of the nation’s major medical schools was very taken by my discussion of Joyce Appleby’s work, in my book Dark Ages America. He went out and bought her essay, “Capitalism and a New Social Order,” in which she describes how the definition of “virtue” underwent a complete reversal in the 1790s—from putting your private interests aside for the sake of the greater good, to achieving individual material success in an opportunistic environment.

As a dean, my friend interacts with faculty a lot, at department meetings, cocktail parties, or whatever. He took these opportunities to raise the topic of the rapid redefinition of virtue in colonial America, only to discover that within 30 seconds, the eyes of whomever he was talking to glazed over and they would change the subject. Tocqueville said it in 1831, and it is even more true today: Americans simply cannot tolerate, cannot even hear, fundamental critiques of America. IQ has very little to do with it. In an ontological sense, they simply cannot bear it. And if this is true for the “best and the brightest,” then what does this say for the rest of us?

NP: What do you think can be done to reverse the situation? Is there any hope for the American Dream?

MB: At this point, absolutely nothing can reverse the situation. If every American carries these values, then change would require a different people, a different country. In dialectical fashion, it is precisely those factors that made this nation materially great that are now working against us, and that thus need to be jettisoned. What we need now is a large-scale rejection of the American Dream, and an embracing of the alternative tradition I talk about in Why American Failed. These are the “hopes of a patriot,” and they are simply not going to be realized.

NP: Can you mention briefly what some of those alternative traditions are ? You have a chapter that’s attracted some controversy regarding the Civil War – how does that relate?

MB: As I mentioned earlier, the working title of the book was Capitalism and Its Discontents. The reason I liked it (for various reasons, my publisher didn’t) is that it does reflect the thesis of the book: that although there was always an alternative tradition to hustling, with one exception America never took it, and instead it marginalized those alternative voices. The exception was the antebellum South, which raises real questions as to the origins of the Civil War, which were not about slavery as a moral issue, no matter how much we like to believe that. As Robin Blackburn writes in his recent book, The American Crucible, antislavery ideas were far more about notions of progress than about ones of racial equality. That’s a whole other discussion, however, and I have it out in the book for an entire chapter.

But the main narrative here is that from Captain John Smith and the Puritan divines through Thoreau and Emerson to Lewis Mumford and Vance Packard and John Kenneth Galbraith to Jimmy Carter, this tradition of capitalism’s discontents never really stood a chance. It never amounted to anything more than spiritual exhortation. Reaganomics, also known as “greedism,” was not born in 1981; more like 1584. The result is that for more than four centuries now, America has had one value system, and it is finally showing itself to be extremely lopsided and self-destructive. Our political and cultural system never let fresh air in; it squelched the alternatives as quaint or feeble-minded. Appearances to the contrary, this is what “democracy” always meant in America—the freedom to become rich. The alternative tradition, in the work of the figures mentioned above, sought to question the definition of “wealth.” If the dominant culture was following the template of “they eat each other,” the alternative tradition can be encapsulated in that famous line from John Ruskin: “There is no wealth but life.”

NP: Speaking of wars, having just undergone Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration, and actually the Republican candidates as well, have begun to vilify China, and have amped up the volume regarding Iran. You talk about our need as a country to have an external enemy. In what way do you believe that need will manifest itself in any coming military actions?

MB: I deal with this issue in A Question of Values. America was founded within a conceptual framework of being in opposition to something—the British and the Native Americans, to begin with—and it never abandoned that framework. It doesn’t really have a clear idea of what it is in a positive sense, and that has generated a kind of national neurosis. I mean, we were in real trouble when the Soviet Union collapsed; in terms of identity, we were completely adrift until the attacks of 9/11 (just think of how frivolous and meaningless the Clinton years were, in retrospect). War is our drug of choice, and without an enemy we enter a kind of nervous breakdown mode.

Hence the saber rattling against Iran now, or the foolish decision to set up an army base in Australia to “watch” China. What bothers me is that we are doing all of this unconsciously, and we always have. Mr. Obama, like most of his predecessors, is little more than a marionette on strings (Mr. Carter being the only postwar exception to this pattern, in a number of significant ways). Once again, true intelligence is ontological, and as a nation, we are sorely lacking in that department.

NP: But haven’t we heard all this before? After all, there is a long history of the so-called “declinist” argument, that the country is in permanent decline and has no future. Such books come and go; meanwhile, the country goes on. What makes your book, or books, different from previous assertions that “it’s all over”?

MB: Decline takes time; an empire doesn’t come to an end on August 4, A.D. 476, at two in the afternoon. Similarly, declinist analysis also takes time: the books you are referring to form a continuous argument, from Andrew Hacker’s The End of the American Era in 1970 to George Modelski’s Long Cycles in World Politics in 1987 to Why America Failed in 2011. And there have been a good number of declinist works in between. These books are not wrong; rather, they are part of an ongoing recognition that the American experiment is finished. Even then, we can go back to before Professor Hacker to Richard Hofstadter (1948), who called the US a “democracy of cupidity”; or to C. Vann Woodward (1953), who wrote that we were probably doomed because we had put all of our eggs in one ideological basket, namely laissez-faire economics. During these years the country hasn’t just “gone on”; what it has done is progressively fallen apart, and these writers have made it their business to document the process.

NP: Finally, you moved to Mexico a number of years ago. Is all this why? Do you ever see yourself coming back to America?

MB: There are a lot of answers to that question, and yes, some of the reasons can be found in the above dialogue. You know, the air is really “thin” in the United States, because the value-system is one-dimensional. It’s basically about economic and technological expansion, not much else; the “else” exists at the margins, if it exists at all. I first discovered this when I traveled around Europe in my mid-20s. I saw that the citizens of those countries talked about lots of things, not just about material success. Money is of course important to the citizens of other countries, Mexico included, but it’s not necessarily the center of their lives.

Here’s what the US lacks, which I believe Mexico has: community, friendship, appreciation of beauty, craftsmanship as opposed to obsessive technology, and—despite what you read in the American newspapers—huge graciousness; a large, beating heart. I never found very much of those things in the US; certainly, I never found much heart. American cities and suburbs have to be the most soulless places in the world. In a word, America has its priorities upside down, and after decades of living there, I was simply tired of being a stranger in a strange land. In A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis and his colleagues conclude that happiness is achieved only by those who manage to escape the American value-system. Well, the easiest way to escape from that value-system, is to escape from America.

Nomi Prins is a journalist and senior fellow at Demos. She is the author of Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America and Jacked: How “Conservatives” are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted For Them or Not).

Revealed: The Transnational Corporate Network That Runs The World.

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm

The 1318 transnational corporations that form the core of the economy. Superconnected companies are red, very connected companies are yellow. The size of the dot represents revenue (Image: PLoS One)

Oldspeak:”1318 Multinational Corporations control 80% of global operating revenue. Of those 1318 an even smaller network of 147 super-connected corporations; less than 1% of all 43,060 transnational corporations control 40% of global operating revenue. The top 50 are banking and finance corporations. In short: A small International Banking Cartel controls a large majority of the global economic system. They are highly invested in maintaining the current economic network. They’ve bought and paid for political systems worldwide to achieve that end. What does that mean for the billions of people, animals and ecosystems that aren’t linkedin to this highly concentrated network? If recent history is any teacher one understands that this cabal doesn’t represent the interests of the vast majority of people on this planet. Their interest in only enriching themselves, usually at the expense of others. They fashioned as system that makes this anti-social, anti-human behavior acceptable, and emulated as model of ‘success’. This system is clearly unsustainable. It is essentially global fiefdom. The people of the world are beginning to see this.  This cabal will do everything in its power to maintain the current system. It has to change. It’s become clear we can’t rely on the political class to enact change. Real change will only come from the people. If recent event are any indication, change is coming.”

By Andy Coghlan and Debora MacKenzie @ New Scientist:

AS PROTESTS against financial power sweep the world this week, science may have confirmed the protesters’ worst fears. An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.

The study’s assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy. Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable.

The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere (see photo). But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world’s transnational corporations (TNCs).

“Reality is so complex, we must move away from dogma, whether it’s conspiracy theories or free-market,” says James Glattfelder. “Our analysis is reality-based.”

Previous studies have found that a few TNCs own large chunks of the world’s economy, but they included only a limited number of companies and omitted indirect ownerships, so could not say how this affected the global economy – whether it made it more or less stable, for instance.

The Zurich team can. From Orbis 2007, a database listing 37 million companies and investors worldwide, they pulled out all 43,060 TNCs and the share ownerships linking them. Then they constructed a model of which companies controlled others through shareholding networks, coupled with each company’s operating revenues, to map the structure of economic power.

The work, to be published in PloS One, revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What’s more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms – the “real” economy – representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.

When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,” says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.

John Driffill of the University of London, a macroeconomics expert, says the value of the analysis is not just to see if a small number of people controls the global economy, but rather its insights into economic stability.

Concentration of power is not good or bad in itself, says the Zurich team, but the core’s tight interconnections could be. As the world learned in 2008, such networks are unstable. “If one [company] suffers distress,” says Glattfelder, “this propagates.”

“It’s disconcerting to see how connected things really are,” agrees George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, a complex systems expert who has advised Deutsche Bank.

Yaneer Bar-Yam, head of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), warns that the analysis assumes ownership equates to control, which is not always true. Most company shares are held by fund managers who may or may not control what the companies they part-own actually do. The impact of this on the system’s behaviour, he says, requires more analysis.

Crucially, by identifying the architecture of global economic power, the analysis could help make it more stable. By finding the vulnerable aspects of the system, economists can suggest measures to prevent future collapses spreading through the entire economy. Glattfelder says we may need global anti-trust rules, which now exist only at national level, to limit over-connection among TNCs. Bar-Yam says the analysis suggests one possible solution: firms should be taxed for excess interconnectivity to discourage this risk.

One thing won’t chime with some of the protesters’ claims: the super-entity is unlikely to be the intentional result of a conspiracy to rule the world. “Such structures are common in nature,” says Sugihara.

Newcomers to any network connect preferentially to highly connected members. TNCs buy shares in each other for business reasons, not for world domination. If connectedness clusters, so does wealth, says Dan Braha of NECSI: in similar models, money flows towards the most highly connected members. The Zurich study, says Sugihara, “is strong evidence that simple rules governing TNCs give rise spontaneously to highly connected groups”. Or as Braha puts it: “The Occupy Wall Street claim that 1 per cent of people have most of the wealth reflects a logical phase of the self-organising economy.”

So, the super-entity may not result from conspiracy. The real question, says the Zurich team, is whether it can exert concerted political power. Driffill feels 147 is too many to sustain collusion. Braha suspects they will compete in the market but act together on common interests. Resisting changes to the network structure may be one such common interest.

The top 50 of the 147 superconnected companies

1. Barclays plc
2. Capital Group Companies Inc
3. FMR Corporation
4. AXA
5. State Street Corporation
6. JP Morgan Chase & Co
7. Legal & General Group plc
8. Vanguard Group Inc
9. UBS AG
10. Merrill Lynch & Co Inc
11. Wellington Management Co LLP
12. Deutsche Bank AG
13. Franklin Resources Inc
14. Credit Suisse Group
15. Walton Enterprises LLC
16. Bank of New York Mellon Corp
17. Natixis
18. Goldman Sachs Group Inc
19. T Rowe Price Group Inc
20. Legg Mason Inc
21. Morgan Stanley
22. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc
23. Northern Trust Corporation
24. Société Générale
25. Bank of America Corporation
26. Lloyds TSB Group plc
27. Invesco plc
28. Allianz SE 29. TIAA
30. Old Mutual Public Limited Company
31. Aviva plc
32. Schroders plc
33. Dodge & Cox
34. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc*
35. Sun Life Financial Inc
36. Standard Life plc
37. CNCE
38. Nomura Holdings Inc
39. The Depository Trust Company
40. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
41. ING Groep NV
42. Brandes Investment Partners LP
43. Unicredito Italiano SPA
44. Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan
45. Vereniging Aegon
46. BNP Paribas
47. Affiliated Managers Group Inc
48. Resona Holdings Inc
49. Capital Group International Inc
50. China Petrochemical Group Company

* Lehman still existed in the 2007 dataset used