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The World After Democracy

By: sandyt Tuesday January 1, 2013 4:36 pm

Okay, so let’s start out the new year with a little perspective.  The estimable Michael Hudson has a great article up on Counterpunch called “The Financial War Against the Economy at Large”.  Unfortunately, he left it too late to be included in a lot of people’s ‘Best of 2012’ lists.  But it belongs there.  This article is only part two of a series: Part one is here.  At post time, there are no further entries, but watch that space!

So anyway, Hudson gives a really concise and pointed outline of the plans our financial whiz kids have made for the rest of us.  Their plan, which is working brilliantly so far, is to rule the world.  Yeah, you read that right.  It’s bold! It’s impudent!  It’s audacious!

And it’s working.  Here’s how:

First, use tax policy to starve what they call ‘the beast’, that is, the parts of government that serve the public rather than the rich.  The ‘beast’ starvation program was kicked off by Reagan and more or less completed by George W. Bush.  We have now made sure that the wealthy, as individuals and as capitalists, pay almost no taxes (for more on corporate taxes, see the charts here and here.  For tax rates on the wealthy, go here.  A cool animation can be found here, an illustrated history here).  All levels of government, from nation to state to locality – are hurting for revenue.  Government must now go into debt to finance capital to keep running.  The victim is in the water.  The sharks move in.  Let’s let Hudson tell it:

The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society…Tax favoritism for the wealthy deepens the budget deficit, forcing governments to borrow more. Paying interest on this debt diverts revenue from being spent on goods and services. This fiscal austerity shrinks markets, reducing tax revenue to the brink of default. This enables bondholders to treat the government in the same way that banks treat a bankrupt family, forcing the debtor to sell off assets…In an Orwellian doublethink twist this privatization is done in the name of free markets, despite being imposed by global financial institutions whose administrators are not democratically elected…Greece, for example, has been told to start selling off prime tourist sites, ports, islands, offshore gas rights, water and sewer systems, roads and other property.

As Hudson says, this is happening now in Europe, with Greece, Spain, Portugal and others putting their societies on the auction block.  Before that, it happened in East Asia following the 1997-98 financial crisis.  Before that, it happened in Russia and around the Third World, as Simon Jenkins, former IMF chief economist, points out.

But the problem is getting a lot closer to home.  Michigan’s Republican-controlled government can now appoint ‘emergency managers’ for cities (like Detroit) which can’t balance their books.  The emergency managers can overrule elected officials, terminate contracts and sell public assets.  When Michigan’s voters rejected the law in November 2012, the Republicans enacted a new version within weeks.   In other states and cities, the same thing is happening.  We’re still in the early stages, but the trend is clear.

For this whole plan to work you need corrupt, incompetent politicians who will run up huge, irresponsible debts.   Politicians like – oh, I don’t know – maybe certain former US Presidents?

You also need a policy and culture of elite impunity.  Reagan and Bush, for example, tolerated high levels of sleaze, even if you don’t count the war crimes.  But when it comes to keeping hands off financial criminals, guess who takes the cake?

So as this strategy unfolds, there is no more public property, except that which finance capital allows us to keep.  There is no more public policy, except that which finance capital decides not to veto.  No city, county, state or national government may take a step that could potentially impinge on finance capital’s interests.  Ever.  No matter what the voters say.  The European Central Bank and the IMF can tell any Euro-zone country; ‘Go ahead.  Have your little election.  Choose whoever you like.  It won’t make any difference.’  It’s happened in former Communist countries and large parts of the Third World.  It’s on the march in the United States.  The age of democracy, as it has been practiced since the late 1800s, is coming to a close.  Capital – especially finance capital, in large concentrations – will inherit the world.   If we let them.  All we have to do is nothing.  They’ll take care of the rest.  Can they count on our inaction?  Stay tuned…

For a longer version of this post, see suchtimes.net

 

Republican Big Thinkers still need to get their heads out

By: sandyt Sunday November 11, 2012 4:45 am
Republican Elephant

Republican Elephant

I’ve just spend an hour or so looking at stuff from National Review and Weekly Standard sites (I still have Human Events, Powerline, RedState, Instapundit and others to go).  I started where I did because I  was looking for some idea what the ‘big thinkers’ of Republicanism were coming up with, following their decisive defeat this week.

 

It’s a pretty short list.  Go after Hispanics.  They are immigrant, entrepreneurial, family-oriented, religious, Catholic, socially conservative.

 

Really, that’s all.  If you leave aside the odd gold bug or small-government libertarian, all you have left is the idea of snagging a bigger part of this fast-growing demographic.  According to Mona Charen, “If Mitt Romney had received the 44 percent of the Hispanic vote that George W. Bush obtained in 2004, he’d be moving into the White House in January.”

This is pretty small ball.  More than that, it’s delusional.  Not a single voice was raised to argue that Republicans might want to put some distance between themselves and the demented theocratic reactionaries of the modern Christian right.  No one advocated moderating their stand on abortion (though some observed that blabbermouth morons like Akin and Mourdock should be weeded out).  No one said that perhaps the Republican Party should not stand foursquare for Wall Street.  No one mentioned perhaps raising taxes on the top 1%.  There wasn’t even that much talk about the deficit, except as something Obama was forcing on us.  No one opined that maybe it had been a bad idea to open the floodgates of anonymous dark money, drowning swing states in a torrent of negative ads.  Not a word was said about the lost investment of more than $300 million, or that a different approach might be called for next time around.  Nobody questioned the fact that the Republicans have let their party be hijacked, stolen from the Fortune 500 crowd by a pack of billionaire nutjobs.  Not a word was said that maybe it was a bad idea to try to shrink the electorate by using restrictions on registration and acceptable ID to disenfranchise students, minorities, the poor and the elderly.  And certainly no one brought up the idea of coming to terms with the science behind climate change.

All the arguments were about how to make the smallest possible electoral fixes, and how to keep them small.  As Charles Krauthammer put it: “The country doesn’t need two liberal parties.”  So, as I said, small ball.

And even this argument, that Republicans must embrace Hispanics, is delusional, which is my second point.  One has to suspect that all these people spent the primary season asleep in coffins filled with the earth of their native land (John Galt’s valley in the Rockies, presumably).  How else to explain the fact that they failed to notice the racist wave that stormed through their party?  Several authors faulted Romney for trying to go hard right on immigration after the challenge from Texas Governor Rick Perry.  But none of them accepted the context; that the primary was a frenzied contest of reactionary one-upmanship.  Candidates had to please the primary voting base of the Republican Party, which will have nothing to do with proposals for immigration reform, any more than with women’s freedom to choose regarding their own sexuality and reproduction, or separation of Church and State.

The Republicans have ceded their destiny to the Kochs and every other fantastically wealthy reactionary who thinks they can pound the world into submission with their money.  These are the people who encouraged and financed the Tea Party, which has taken over the Republican freshman (and sophomore) classes in Washington, and which dominates the Republican primary process.

This is not a party prepared to live in the twenty-first century.  That’s not to say that they won’t regain the White House; I’m sure they will.  But if these commentators represent the best thinking the Republicans have to offer, we can count on the GOP remaining the deluded halfway-house it has made itself.

I have to give a special hat-tip to young William Kristol, still trying to be an intellectual after all these years.  In the Weekly Standard, he argues that Republicans should embrace new ideas.

If a senator or a representative has a good proposal on immigration or monetary policy or education or tax reform, he or she should introduce it. If a candidate has an idea, he or she should run on it. Don’t worry about getting the go-ahead from leadership or from power brokers, from donors or from interest groups.

Considering that the modern Republican Party has imposed the most draconian party discipline since the days of Stalin, this is kind of rich.

Cross-posted from SuchTimes

The Rage of Always Playing Defense

By: sandyt Sunday October 28, 2012 4:20 am

These thoughts have crystallized out of various discussions and comment threads I have participated in over the past weeks.  They’re a little rough – sorry!

Point #1 – the Democrats are playing defense in this election.  Forget hope and change; the Donkeys are the party of the status quo.  It is the Republicans who are on offense, across a broad spectrum of issues.

Point #2 – the first point only applies to the dwindling remnant of issues where the parties actually disagree.

Let’s start with #2 first, why not?  There are lots of issues that are omitted, off the table, verboten.  The Center for American Progress listed ten of them awhile ago, which prompted the redoubtable Kevin Gosztola to point out that the Green, Justice and Libertarian parties are eager to discuss these issues and more.  If only they could overcome the major-party framing!

Actually, I think CAP is being too generous.  They list mass incarceration & the drug war; the housing crisis; India/Pakistan; overfishing; global disease & hunger; internet privacy; the national security state and endless war; factory farming; the Congo civil war; and educational segregation.  They could have added several more:

  • Climate change (despite Solyndra, both parties are committed to the fossil fuel industry, as the Newspaper of Record finally got around to pointing out here).
  • Elite impunity (no prosecutions for Wall Street crooks, for telecom warrantless snooping, for banks foreclosing with forged paperwork, on and on and on…)
  • All foreign policy questions (Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya, China, NATO, etc, not to mention impunity for Bush-era cases of torture and other crimes).

To this list, we can add the issues where the parties are only pretending to disagree.

  • The social-contract issues of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Both parties subscribe to the infamous lie that these programs are “going broke” and need to be “reformed”, in the face of obvious factual evidence to the contrary.  The Republicans refused to accept Obama’s offer of surrender last time.  If he survives the election, will they be that stupid again?
  • Mass joblessness.  We used to run deficits to employ people during hard times.  But Wall Street never liked that.  Now the Republicans have dug in their heels and the Democrats meekly submit to their obstruction, so the real debate is over; employment will be suppressed, and mass joblessness is now the new normal.
  • Immigration.  Neither party supports human rights or a citizenship path for people without documents.  The Republicans whip up race hatred and a more aggressive police state, and the Democrats want to continue abusing and exploiting the undocumented in the traditional manner.  That’s not much of a real difference, is it?

So let’s look at point #1.  On the (very few) truly contested issues, it is the Republicans who are playing offense, while the Democrats can’t seem to get off the ropes:

  • Women’s rights to abortion and birth control.  The GOP platform calls for a ‘human life amendment’ and Fourteenth Amendment protections for unborn children.   There are plenty in the party, including presidential hopeful Santorum, who understand that to mean birth control.  I guess coming after abortion and Planned Parenthood isn’t being tough enough anymore.
  • Vote suppression (voter ID laws and related restrictions).  So long, Voting Rights Act.  This is 21st-century Jim Crow, getting ready for the upcoming day when a ‘majority-minority’ America will be governed like a banana republic or the Gaza Strip.  Our hard-won accomplishments on extending the vote, a source of justified national pride, are to be tossed away.
  • Buying elections (Citizens United etc).  Hello to the Gilded Age all over again, on a scale that would have taken Boss Tweed’s breath away.  Forget about all the reforms of the twentieth century.  Ambrose Bierce’s definition of an election – an advance auction of stolen goods – will come back into style.
  • Taxing the rich.  Never mind the blindingly obvious fact that we need that revenue to maintain adequate levels of public investment and services, including, for example, education and public health, not to mention infrastructure.  The nobility are not to be subjected to the impertinence of demands that they help sustain the society that has rewarded them so richly.
  • Human rights for GLBT people.  This is the one and only issue on which the Democrats are trying to move forward.

So how did it come to this?  Where did the hope and change go?  We are confronted with huge, critical issues that weigh the entire human future in the balance.  But we’re not getting to address them.

Instead, we are locked in a struggle over whether a society recognizable as “America” will continue to exist.  The fight in this showdown was picked by the Right.  The Democrats are fighting over issues the Right has picked, and they are accepting the Right’s formulation of the issues.

The Right may be denied its victory this time.  And next time.  But at some point, if things go on as they are, they will hit the jackpot of White House, Senate, and House.  Then the wrecking will start in earnest.

I don’t have the answer.  But one of the things that keeps me coming to FDL is that people here understand the problem, appreciate its scale and difficulty, and are willing to put shoulder to wheel to bend history our way.

The Dems and Reps are not divided. And we’re learning not to be.

By: sandyt Saturday November 26, 2011 3:14 pm
Continental Divided? Occupy! (Photo: kthread, flickr)

Continental Divided? Occupy! (Photo: kthread, flickr)

I was going to write about what I’m thankful for this season; I was focusing on the Occupy movement and how it has generated some appeal to people who call themselves conservatives.  Both sides share concerns around the issues of wealth inequality and, to some extent, militarized and brutal policing.  It occurred to me that this kind of “transpartisan” appeal, that is, appeal to both self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives, depends partly on the fact that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and state legislatures have a kind of “bipartisan” agreement on each issue.  Both political parties, as we know, have eagerly promoted wealth inequality and have helped Wall Street clear away the Depression-era regulations that, for decades, prevented these kinds of financial crashes.  They have also colluded in the militarization of American policing (and of American life generally).

This idea led me in some unexpected directions, which I would like to share.  I wound up with more to be thankful for than I had originally imagined.

Take a trip with me on a little train of thought…

The “Gridlock” Lie, First Take

We are accustomed to hearing the story that our political parties are in “gridlock”, that they are indulging in “partisan bickering”, that they cannot agree about anything of importance to the country (we also hear the ‘he said, she said’ narrative that Ds are as much to blame as Rs, but that’s another story).  As I considered the transpartisan appeal of the Occupy movement on the issues of wealth inequality and police brutality, I began to realize how false this story is.

On almost all issues that face our country, the two political parties are quite impressively united.  They agree wholeheartedly that they are going to do nothing to lessen the worst problems that burden the lives of our people; quite the contrary, they are going to collude to make them even worse than they already are.  This may seem hard to fathom, but it is amply supported by the evidence; so much so that I think there can be no controversy on the facts.

Occupy Seattle: Random Shots

By: sandyt Tuesday October 18, 2011 4:52 am

Most of these are from Seattle’s 3000-5000 person march last Saturday.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, this is my biggest post so far…

Some signs showed a lot of work…

What do you value?
OccupySeattle_111015_WhatDoYouValue

 

Others, maybe a little less…

Valley Forge? Don’t let it happen!

By: sandyt Friday October 14, 2011 3:02 pm

This is being written in too much haste and perhaps too much emotion. But I am getting vexed. I am concerned about a lack of support for the #Occupy movement from their natural allies (and purported supporters).

I live near Seattle, and I have been trying to support the occupy folks there at Westlake Park. Run to the thrift store, deliver bags of jackets, gloves, hats and ponchos. Run to the grocery store or pizza place and get stuff to eat and drink. Find out what’s happening, send emails.

This morning the cops had forced them to take down their tent. Permit “revoked”, they say. There was no food, hot or otherwise. So got some food & drink from grocery store, we organized to share it out.

So far, so good. It’s rainy but not freezing. But the bad weather is coming. And if our occupiers don’t get more support than civilians like me can provide individually and informally, they will have a hard time sustaining. This will be even more true in other cities; Pacific Northwest winters are pretty mild.

So – the unions, the churches, the liberal groups with reasonably-well-heeled supporters – maybe it’s time to step up. They say they support the occupy movement.

If they mean it, there are concrete things they can do. Union halls and churches can offer a place to sleep so folks can get out of the weather every few nights. If the cops get tough and revoke permits, supportive organizations can drive up with a van with food, coffee, etc. Supportive organizations can also generate political pressure – that’s what they are optimized for!

Of course, this is not to say there shouldn’t be mobilizations when needed, to get demonstrators on the scene to prevent intimidation and repression. But we’ve been having those; they won’t do the job by themselves.

But with organized backup, the occupiers can use adaptive logistics to get through any kind of weather. Without it, they are in Valley Forge, all alone.

Both Barrels from the New Aristocracy

By: sandyt Friday September 23, 2011 10:29 pm

Wow – a double-barrel news day for American pensions and retirement security.

Barrel One, from the Private Sector
First up, everybody’s favorite job creators and patriotic Americans, the CEO class (AKA the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class, MOTUs, bloodsucking vampires). It seems that sending our jobs overseas, smashing the labor movement, and laying us off by the millions isn’t enough for this crowd. No, that would be leaving too much money on the table. So they have to loot our pensions as well. That money didn’t disappear, though; it was magically transformed into profits or, in some cases, executive paychecks. Salon’s Thomas Rogers wrote about it here; his article is based on a conversation with Ellen Schultz, the author of “Retirement Heist

She draws out some salient points.
First, these pension benefits, at a lot of companies, were negotiated in lieu of cash wages. That is, they were a form of deferred compensation belonging to the employees but managed by the company. It’s not the company’s money, and when they take it, it’s theft.
Second, these corporations knew what they were doing. Court documents show the executives discussing how to disguise the changes so employees wouldn’t know it was happening.
Third, these companies snuck in the changes to their pension plans during the 1990s. Why then? It’s not as if American business was hurting during that decade. I would suspect that it had to do with opportunity. The 1990s were the decade of “rightsizing”, “downsizing”, “streamlining” and “globalization”, all code words for dumping American workers in favor of overseas workers as fast as possible. It was the decade when the white-collar workforce caught the hell that had been hitting the blue-collar workforce since the 1970s. If you’re going to kick millions of loyal people off the payroll, you don’t want to get stuck paying them what you promised them, do you? I mean, what would Wall Street think about that?

Digby covers this with her usual excellence. She goes on to point out that these shenanigans leave the taxpayers on the hook. The 1974 ERISA law created the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is supposed to step in when private pensions “fail”. The rate of pension failure has outrun the PBGC’s funding. The fund is facing $102.5 billion in obligations with $79.5 billion in assets. Who is supposed to make up the difference? Why, the corporations, of course! Since they have trillions on hand in cash, that should be no problem.

Right?

Barrel Two, from the Public Sector
Next up, our own elected representatives at statehouses across the nation. This is discussed in a cover story in today’s USA Today.

It seems that state legislators in quite a few states have been inserting crafty language into the laws to allow themselves to really clean up on their own pensions (at the same time as they slash pensions for other state employees). A few of the tricks include: calculating their pay as if they worked 365 (or, in one case 372) days per year, allowing retirement at an earlier age, increasing the multiplier on which their pension is calculated, including pay they receive for other work into their state pension, allowing themselves to start drawing pensions while they are still working, basing their pension payments on the salaries they pay state judges, creating extra stipends for holding leadership positions, and on and on. Some legislators get pensions worth 17 times more than their legislative salaries!

Needless to say, none of the dodges engineered by these legislators to benefit themselves are available to “the voters they serve or the workers they direct”. It also goes without saying that these pension payments are on top of whatever consideration these individuals may be receiving from lobbyists, whatever business opportunities may conveniently open up to them as a result of their positions, etc.

And on the receiving end…
I think we’ve been asleep at the switch a little too long in America. In the nineteenth century, the United States was infamous around the world for the corruption of our political system. Generations went into the streets, onto the picket lines, and into the voting booths to change that. We managed to create, by our own efforts, a social contract that obliged our capitalists and elected representatives to behave to a certain standard.

Since Nixon, and especially Reagan, a counterattack has been underway, brilliantly managed and lavishly financed, and these outrages are just a few of its fruits.

So remember all this the next time you hear calls for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. Remember this when you hear called for shared sacrifice. This is sacrifice, all right, but the only ones sharing it are the American people. Our new master class is doing just fine (thanks so much for asking!)

Scientific integrity: a comparison

By: sandyt Thursday September 22, 2011 5:48 am
"Topography of Greenland" by NASA Goddard Photo & Video

"Topography of Greenland" by NASA Goddard Photo & Video

The climate denial crowd would have us believe that the world’s climate scientists are deliberately misleading the public about climate change. These alarmists are in cahoots with government funders and are locking out their opponents. There is no global warming; it is all a lie.

The Times’ Greenland Maps – Off by a Factor of 300
Anyone who believes that would have to be stunned at the recent flap over the Greenland ice maps. Last week saw the publication of the thirteenth edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World (“The world’s most prestigious and authoritative atlas…a benchmark of cartographic excellence”). Its maps of Greenland incorrectly showed large areas as ice-free. The ice loss it depicted, if it were true, would amount to about 15% of Greenland’s ice cover.

This was seriously misleading information. But it did promote the “myth” of global warming, and it certainly suited the alleged agenda of those lying scientists. So naturally they would have let the error stand, right?

And an error it was indeed. Greenland holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 7 meters (24 feet); if it had lost 15% of its ice over the last 12 years (since the last edition of the atlas), sea levels would have risen by one meter. In fact, sea level has risen by 3 millimeters over that period, or three tenths of one percent of the atlas’ claim.

And the first people to jump on the error were scientists at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Although the Times has tried to defend its error, they are pretty lame. The NSIDC denies being contacted. Presumably – we don’t know yet – someone at the Times extrapolated from the NSIDC’s data without consulting the scientists who could have helped them understand it.