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Democracy without human beings?

8:36 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Crowds

Will the rich soon profit without human input?

I think we can be almost grateful for the idiotic crisis in Washington, which even with its possibility of a default which may do heavy damage to the world’s economy, is giving us an ample warning of a far greater crisis looming in the foreseeable future, a crisis of democracy itself.

Reading the snippets below in the order they appear will help give you the shape of what I am talking about:

During the downturn, 78% of jobs lost were either mid-wage or high-wage jobs and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), three out of five newly created jobs are part-time, low-wage jobs. A growing number of Americans are realizing that “good jobs” aren’t coming back, and that for things to get better, they’re going to have to fight to turn their McJobs into something better. Nicole Aschoff – Dollars and Sense

W. Brian Arthur, a visiting researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center’s intelligence systems lab and a former economics professor at Stanford University, calls it the “autonomous economy.” W. Brian Arthur, a visiting researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center’s intelligence systems lab and a former economics professor at Stanford University, calls it the “autonomous economy.” It’s far more subtle than the idea of robots and automation doing human jobs, he says: it involves “digital processes talking to other digital processes and creating new processes,” enabling us to do many things with fewer people and making yet other human jobs obsolete. (…) And, he says, “digital versions of human intelligence” are increasingly replacing even those jobs once thought to require people. “It will change every profession in ways we have barely seen yet,” he warns. McAfee, associate director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management(…) doesn’t see the recently vanished jobs coming back. The pressure on employment and the resulting inequality will only get worse, he suggests, as digital technologies—fueled with “enough computing power, data, and geeks”—continue their exponential advances over the next several decades. “I would like to be wrong,” he says, “but when all these science-fiction technologies are deployed, what will we need all the people for?” MIT Technology Review Magazine

“Insecurity of employment is a new strategy and a tactic for increasing profits by reducing as much as possible the reliance on human labor or by paying employees less. In the modern capitalist economy, the only factor whose productivity cannot be easily increased and whose costs cannot easily be reduced is human beings. There is therefore enormous pressure to eliminate them from the production process. This would be true, whether or not there were global competition. It is more the case that this is the excuse by which this process is justified today.” Eric Hobsbawm – The New Century, pg128

At the same time that Republicans want to increase the influence of the rich on our elections, they want to decrease the influence of the poor at the ballot box by passing a raft of new voter restrictions. This is a sinister, last-gasp move of gangsterism: when you’re losing the game, tilt the table. You must understand this larger plot to fully appreciate the Republicans’ current budget ploy. This is not so much about limiting government as it is about measuring power.   Charles M. Blow – New York Times

So simply put our economic system is fast reaching a point where it can run profitably with very little human input, or put more precisely, to run profitably it must reduce human input to a minimum. Logically this process will make more and more people increasingly unhappy as it unfolds. In a democracy of universal suffrage such unhappiness would naturally have far reaching consequences as it did during the Great Depression, when it led to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” which freed millions of Americans from despair and destitution.

Avoiding the possibility of such a new New Deal is the fundamental raison d’être of the radical so called “conservatives”, who go under the name, “tea party” and their “fellow travelers” in the US Supreme Court.

The simple goal of those who fund all of this is to limit or neuter universal suffrage and to effectively return things to where they were in the early 19th century when only those who owned substantial property were allowed to exercise full citizenship.

This is terrible but it could be worse. In the days of the Wiemar Republic of Germany (1919-1933) the German super-rich, to avoid any danger to their power, wealth and privilege,  funded one Adolph Hitler, who blamed all Germany’s problems on the Jews and led the country into a disastrous war, which  left Germany in smoking ruins with many millions of Germans, Jew and Gentile, soldiers and civilians, dead. However it should be noted that those super-rich German families made money before the war, during the war and even after the war and today, are still the richest people in Germany.

This goes to show that what could be a disaster for everyone else in the entire world would not necessarily be a bad outcome for the super-rich.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com

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Abandon hope all ye who enter here…?

10:18 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Dante's Inferno - Thieves

Dante’s Inferno -  “The Thieves” – Gustavo Doré

“Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source.” — Fareed Zakaria

And so we have arrived at the bizarre juncture where it makes more sense for Mr Obama to talk to the leader of Iran than to talk to Congress. Edward Luce – Financial Times

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been reading Mark Leibovich’s book, This Town, which is a tragicomic, insider’s trek around the astounding frivolity of Washington’s wall to wall corruption. An extraordinary book: not a don’t know whether to laugh or to cry kind of book, but more like a don’t know whether to laugh or to vomit kind of book.

Since reading it, I have found myself facing some sort of “writer’s block”, when trying to comment on the day to day march of world affairs… this lack of enthusiasm is heightened daily while surveying the Tea Party led march to a budget Armageddon. This political Dumb and Dumber would be sad enough if it were occurring in today’s Rome, for example (it is actually) but in a place like Washington, which today wields more power than ancient Rome did, I’m reminded of Caligula making his horse a senator … actually I much more reminded of the corruption and dysfunction of the Gorbachev to Yeltsin period of  the dying USSR, where they proved out the ancient adage, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

In many countries, the level of political dysfunction of the American system would produce a coup d’ état, something which would appear unthinkable in such a huge, complex structure as America’s — I don’t say it is impossible because of the USA’s democratic traditions or institutions, witness the activities of the NSA, Guantanamo and drone warfare — No, it just seems too big a place to pull something like that off.

Really, the only hopeful sign I have seen lately that the USA might be able to regenerate itself has been the sudden, unexpected, spontaneous, one for all and all for one, mobilization of American public opinion, a people’s revolt both on the left and on the right, over the heads of the lobbies, the heads of the gatekeepers and the heads of other managers of consensus, against any military involvement in Syria. Perhaps such a wave of revulsion is building up around America’s systemic political meltdown and the people will rise up as one to change it.

Someone who believes in democracy has a right to hope that Americans can reboot their country from the ground up. It certainly is never going to happen from the top down.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com

Democracy in an age of “unhappy capitalism”: signal and noise

10:13 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

They say that only the good die young. In the short time he lived, it was given to Aaron Swartz to define the principal problem facing public life in the United States of America:

If it was conventional wisdom that a bunch of unelected bankers looking out for rich people were the reason everyone was out of work, politicians would be forced to explain to angry voters why we had this crazy system and might actually consider doing something about it. The late Aaron Swartz

This post is entitled, “democracy in an age of ‘unhappy capitalism’”. What do I mean by that, and what, if anything, does “happy capitalism” mean?

To explain how it works, here is a graph straight from the great vampire squid itself:

 

Corporate Profits versus Wages

 

As you can see in the squid’s graph between 1960 and 1990, wages were up, while at the same time America’s corporations were making good money: I call that “happy capitalism”, because most of the working citizenry were reasonably content and investors were too.

After 1990 (neatly coinciding with the collapse of the USSR?) the relationship wages/profit becomes erratic and in the last two years corporate profits have shot up and wages have fallen dramatically.

What does this mean?

It means that you can make a lot of money without paying even skilled people very much. People are no longer used to make you rich, only to serve you in low paying jobs once you are rich. Most of the jobs being created now are low-paying service jobs.

That could be a problem because in a democracy “unused” and underpaid people can still vote and if they understood the mechanisms impoverishing them, this could cause problems for the “users” because as Aaron Swartz said, “politicians would be forced to explain to angry voters why we had this crazy system and might actually consider doing something about it“.

“Unhappy capitalism” then, is when articulate, educated, middle class people like Aaron Swartz, begin to question the system. In this way the “conventional wisdom” that Swartz talks about is created: in a national “conversation” of a great number of articulate, educated voters. Topic of the day: something has gone wrong, let’s all get together and fix it.

Making that conversation difficult, hopefully impossible, is a major objective of the users facing the formerly used.

Signal and noise

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The “Cliff”

9:08 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

This is the perfect occasion to resurrect one of my favorite rants, that political paralysis in America is not a byproduct of ideological struggle but the principal objective of the billionaire front, that in the interest of economy I call, the “Tea-Fox-Koch-Murdoch-Beck-Limbaugh-Party”.

A lone figure stands on a cliffside.

Who benefits when we go over the fiscal cliff?

Are they incredibly, devilishly smart to pull this? Not really.

You don’t need to be very smart. You need to have a lot of money. There are people who are getting so much rent off their capital that the mere act of bending over to pick up a hundred dollar bill off the pavement would literally be a waste of their time.

With that kind of wealth comes freedom and the fear of losing it. They pay to create an environment that protects them, people are falling all over themselves to help them do it.

Brains are cheap when you have that kind of money, politicians are cheap, journalists are cheap, think tanks, etc. People are lining up to serve them, the crumbs from their table can buy a home, send kids to college. Things are often much simpler than they appear…. making them seem complicated costs a lot of money.

The good thing about this crisis is that more and more people can see who owns the world they live in.

There are people who can put $100,000 into the offshore account of a politician as easily as you or I can give a beggar 50 cents. They are the the 0.01%.

Since the fall of the USSR, these people have enjoyed a freedom and untrammeled power unknown since the post-Civil War period known as the “Gilded Age.” They are trying to avoid losing any of that freedom and power at any cost to the rest of us.

The method is to create so much ideological “noise” that rational thought and dialog is impossible. That was what the Krupps and the Thyssens did in Germany to stop the communists from taking over in the 1920s. Their boy blamed all the country’s troubles on the Jews and took the heat off the Krupps and the Thyssens, but the thing got out of hand and cost Germany several million dead and left the country in smoking ruins, but, hey, the Krupps and the Thyssens made money hand over fist all the way through the process from beginning to end, and are still today some of the richest families in Germany.

As Fitzgerald said to Hemingway, “the rich are different from us Ernest.”

Action and reaction, just as in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the grotesque abuses of the system brought forth a muscular reform movement to tame the beasts of the Gilded Age, today the feeling is growing all over the world that this new Gilded Age must also be brought under some sort of rational control and regulation. As the center of the world economic system, any general reform and regulation of globalization logically must begin in the United States of America.

That is what the one-percent are afraid of and that is why they fund and promote the paralysis of the American political system:

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What the Tea Party billionaires are really afraid of

12:43 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Before starting off on the Tea Party’s craziness, I would like you to examine some images from two nearly identical tragedies that occurred over a hundred years and several thousand miles apart. Later in the post I hope to make a connection between these twin horrors and the strange metamorphosis of the American right. Please bear with me.

Compare this Reuters photograph of the Tazreen Fashions Fire, Bangladesh – 2012 with the photograph below of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire:

Interior view of the tenth-floor work area in the Asch Building after the Triangle fire
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York – 1911
Drawing "The Locked Door!" refers to the Triangle fire and depicts young women throwing themselves against a locked door in an attempt to escape the flames.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York – 1911

The great mystery of American politics, a mystery which no one in the world can fathom, not even most Americans, is why so much money, hot air and spittle is being spent on literally paralyzing the American political system and making it impossible, not just to negotiate solutions, but to even have an intelligent conversation about solving the problems facing everyone, everywhere today. For that is what the Tea Party is really about: making first thought, then negotiation, and finally action impossible.

What is all this sound and fury covering up?

In my opinion it has much to do with where contemporary globalization is leading, the forces that it is setting in motion, which for historically minded Americans could elicit a bit of dèjá vu.

It seems to me that the globalization of today is in many ways similar on a world scale to the explosion of growth, power and sophistication of the US economy in the period after the Civil War, commonly called “The Gilded Age“. This was the period of the “robber barons” and viewed nostalgically by many of the American right as a paradise of anarcho-capitalism. This was a period of immense growth and innovation, but also one of enormous inequality, suffering and exploitation and financial crisis, all of it interpenetrated by an ubiquitous political corruption as the enormous new wealth so recently created set about purchasing and deforming to its benefit the institutions of American government: federal, state and local.

The excesses of the Gilded Age gave birth to a mass reform movement in the United States called, “Progressivism“. This movement, in a titanic struggle, bridging decades, among other things brought into effect: the regulation of interstate commerce, the breaking up of the monopolies known as “trusts“, laws regulating the purity of food and drugs, the rise of labor unions, laws eliminating child labor and in 1913, even progressive income tax, something which still causes intense indignation on the American ultra-right.
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Campaign note: Obama or the deluge (no kidding)

3:07 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Readers of mine should not be under the impression that I am a big fan of Obama’s or of the Democrats… I wrote this back in 2008:

I find myself against almost everything that the Republicans stand for, but at least they seem to truly stand for what they say they stand for (although many evangelicals doubt this). I respect that quality, even in a jerk like Bush… He defends his people (the very, very rich) to the bone. But the Democratic Party to use highly technical language, really, really, sucks: with few exceptions, a herd of Judas Goats leading the poor to slaughter, bells a tingling.

Having said that I still say Obama is a better pick than Romney.

Here is what Roger Cohen writes today in the Washington Post:

On the movie screen, Robert F. Kennedy’s appeal is obvious: authenticity. He cared. He showed it. People saw that and cared about him in return. With Obama, the process is reversed. It’s hard to care about someone who seems not to care in return. I will vote for him for his good things, and I will vote for him to keep Republican vandals from sacking the government. But after watching Bobby Kennedy, I will vote for Obama with regret. I wish he was the man I once mistook him for.

I realize that voting for Obama is not an attractive proposition; it’s a little like having your leg cut off to save you from dying of gangrene… but that is the only thing on the menu. The Republican party is now in the hands of rogue billionaires who are stimulating fascism in order to evade taxes and regulation… They want to even go back and repeal the reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. This is really that simple: avoiding a ultra-right coup d´etat.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com

Meditations on Republican craziness

7:23 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

At the center of all the nuttiness of today’s Republicans is their bankrollers’ fear of regulation… The ceaseless culture warfare is merely a tactic to simultaneously attract and confuse a sufficient number of the ignorant to enable the “one-percenters” to paralyze the political process.

Examined under this light their behavior is anything but irrational: they have much to fear, because the globalized world is crying out for regulation.

An illustrative example:

Much of today’s instability, even terrorism and the drug trade, is caused by the growing number of “failed states”, many of them rich in valuable commodities, whose elites, instead of reinvesting their profits in developing their countries, literally loot them, taking the money to opaque, offshore tax havens. What governance remains in these wretched lands consists of totally corrupt political jobbers and armed thugs. These areas often become safe havens for terrorist organizations and state cover for international drug cartels.

This dynamic, so blatantly evident in the third world is also at work in the most developed and sophisticated economies, starving the governments of the money necessary to provide essential goods and services to their populations. This may sound extreme, but if George W. Bush had been a serious man, he could have done a lot more for the wellbeing of the American people, as well as world peace, harmony and the defeat of terrorism, if, in lieu of invading Afghanistan and Iraq, he had invaded Switzerland and the Cayman Islands instead.

Solving all the problems that the future has in store will require money and the money is right there under our noses. In short, bringing the oceans of the world’s black money under state control is an essential first step to achieving the general welfare of humanity.

Although with a less picturesque cast of characters, climate change is also an obvious area where the leading states are going to have to cooperate closely to fashion very strict regulations and enforce them with extreme vigilance and severity.

I am convinced that rather than any sincere questioning of the science involved, it is the simple fear of the mere existence of international and state organizations endowed with the power and technical resources necessary to bring world climate change under some sort of rational control that motivate the massive quantities of money spent on questioning the reality of climate change. It is that “rational control” that the one-percent fear and have reason to fear: that and no other is the coming “revolution”. Theirs is a “counter-revolution” before the fact.

An example of the tactics that the “counter-revolution” uses to avoid approaching the issue of common sense regulation: regulating the sale of assault rifles, weapons whose only purpose is enabling a lone individual to kill a large number of human beings in a short space of time.

Now, an active and focused one-percenter can take decisions with his money, and the influence that money brings, that can affect the lives of thousands, even millions of his fellow human beings; all his life he lives with the sensation of empowerment just as a fish lives with the sensation of water, he breathes it and swims in it, it is his element, often since birth… just like the fish.

For the average poor slob, probably the only feeling of comparable empowerment available to him in the midst of his general powerlessness is having an AK-47 in his closet with a few banana clips and a couple of thousand rounds of soft-nose bullets… just in case. Threatening that “empowerment” with regulation is a very efficient way of getting him on the same wavelength of the Kochs, Trumps and Romneys of this world.

This is just one example; there are dozens and dozens of others. In the future we might discuss the mental Kama Sutra that allows the supposedly devout Catholic, Paul Ryan, to bed Ayn Rand with Jesus of Nazareth, a blasphemous and perfectly surreal union, which is the proof, if any were needed, of how shameless this counter-revolution is. The “revolution” it counters is, of course, nothing more and nothing less than applied common sense.

Bottom line: America’s ultra-right and the moneyed individuals that empower them are at war with simple common sense… and from their point of view that makes all kinds of sense.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com

Why vote for Obama? Let me count the whys – 2

7:58 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

Why vote for Obama?
Obama must be doing something right

 

Look, American politics is like Woody Allen’s restaurant, you know the one with, “such bad food and such small portions”. The best you can realistically hope for as President of the United States is a kinder, gentler, mafia don. That is more or less what we have got.

Despite kowtowing to Wall Street, Netanyahu and the NRA and using drones to kill innocent children, Barack Obama makes the Tea Party people and assorted rednecks froth at the mouth; Commentary Magazine loathes him; Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and other assorted rogue billionaires are spending millions upon millions to remove him from power…  somehow all of these folks are lacking gratitude and you might wonder why they attack Barack Obama so savagely… why is this?  This is going to be the dirtiest campaign in history… Obama must be doing something right. Every time I open the Drudge Report my desire to see Obama stay in the White House grows. It’s “tribal” I guess.

He is a war criminal?

Every US president in my lifetime (and I go back all the way to Truman, who dropped the atom bomb on helpless civilians) have been war criminals. So it’s safe to say that nobody that the starry eyed former Obamite would deign to vote for is ever going to inhabit the White House.

However, either Obama or Romney is going to live there in 2013, and frankly, with all his defects I think Obama is a better choice than Mitt. Back in 2008 Obama was an unknown quantity, we only had his own highly embroidered story to go on. But after four years in the White House, I think we know Obama pretty well and he is a vast improvement on his predecessor. Mitt Romney on the other hand has been in public life for a long time, but the more we see of him, the less we seem to know and frankly, I have no desire to know him any better. Compared to Bush junior, at least Obama speaks well and doesn’t look stupid. He has left Iraq and although he hasn’t ended Afghanistan, he as yet has not started any new wars of his own.

I am not trying to sell Obama now as any messiah.  Four years ago I was afraid he was a fraud, which at that time in a sense he was, now he has proven to be a reasonably competent president, during a very, very difficult period… Obama designed himself to harmlessly drain off the progressive energy that Bush created. But… anybody that really believed he would be anything different was naive. I took tremendous shit for pointing this out in 2008. The alternative today is Mitt Romney, who seems to me a caricature of himself.

You wont vote for Obama?

Enjoy Romney. I was not fooled by Obama in 2008 and I’m not fooled now, but John McCain is Abraham Lincoln compared to Mitt Romney, even Sarah Palin has a certain goofy consistency compared to Mitt.

Yeah, character counts, these turkeys have the atom bomb, open carry. I am not an Obama loyalist I wasn’t before and I’m not one now. He is however, no less than the President of the United States and I think with all his defects that he is vastly superior to Romney, who is the only realistic alternative.

You can vote for whomsoever you want to, but it’s either going to be Obama or Romney that fills the next vacancy on the Supreme Court… Chew on that for a while.   Again I repeat: there is going to be an election and either a Democrat or a Republican is going to win it. I think the Democrats would want to change the Supreme Court ruling, because without superpacs they have a distinct demographic advantage that the Republicans don’t have.  I think it is important that nobody influenced by the Tea Party get to choose any new Supremes for at least 16 years. Campaign financing and the “personhood” of corporations are the whole ballgame.

Anybody that thinks you can reform the US system from the top down, without several billion dollars to spend is (fill in adjective of choice). The only way it can be done is like MLK did it back then. Thousands upon thousands of totally committed people demonstrating, sitting in, writing talking, going to jail, getting their heads busted… The Civil Rights movement changed America radically: nobody who didn’t know America before it came along could ever know how much it changed America. The way to influence mainstream politics from the grassroots has been developed, no need to reinvent the wheel. That is the model, that’s how it’s done.  Study it and like the fella said, “Go ye and do likewise”.

It is not the same for a Martin Luther King to be pressuring an LBJ than to imagine him pressuring Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush… or president Romney.

It seems to me that the people who were starry eyed about Obama in 2008 and consider him some sort of antichrist today were dumb coming and are now dumb going.

The White House is an ugly place, where ugly things happen, but there still are important differences. The Republican Party is now in the hands of genuine fascists and should be kept out.

Really, there are no “fine points” in this election. The choices are not attractive. You can vote for Obama, who is a jive-ass, bullshit artist, but intelligent, prudent and lucid. Or you can vote for Romney, who is a joke without a punchline. Or you can vote for somebody who isn’t going to win even one state or you can take your ballot and put it on a nail next to the toilet. That is all there is on the menu.

The bottom line is that one of the two men is going to be president and any democrat is going to be more beholding to the unions and to minorities than any Republican… and so it is, hold one’s nose and vote Democrat like my grandparents and my parents did. Tribal.

 

Cross posted: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com

 

 

Looking on the bright side of life

8:41 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

“When you’re chewing on life’s gristle

Don’t grumble, give a whistle”

Eric Idle

Things are looking pretty dismal at the moment. The economic situation is the worst in my lifetime, and I was born at the end of WWII.  The bad news comes fast and furious.

When I am subjected to an information overload, I occasionally experience some sort of intuitive flash connected to images, a sudden understanding/epiphany/gestalt.

The other day the Tea Party movement revealed itself to me in a poetic metaphor that put them into a different perspective. Something that although just as grotesque, is at the same time touchingly human in its vulnerability. Read the rest of this entry →

The “Big Lie”… How it works and what it is for

2:53 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

I am recently arrived here at FDL and thus in the process of introducing myself, so I thought that some new readers might appreciate a little context to see exactly what I mean when I emphasize the importance of the OWS movement.

I consider this highly original political phenomenon,  in essence, as an awakening or “satori” of the American people. I believe it is an American political, social, ethical, moral and one by one personal, awakening from what seemed to me a sort of drug induced slumber of Jacksonian (Michael not Andrew) proportions. With a view to providing that context I am re-posting something I wrote on October 18th 2010. Re-reading it, I find the lineaments of its sinister implications are even more visible now than when I wrote it.  David Seaton


Shortly before leaving for the US to report on the midterm elections, a respected colleague told me that: “Obama’s problem is that he is trying to govern a nation where half the population is insane.” Gideon Rachman – Financial Times

Today lets look at the “big lie”: the art of calling black white and white black and making it stick, how it works and why it works.

I will cut directly to the chase: to me it is obvious that the Tea Party has been evoked, like a political poltergeist, from the shadowy magma of the American earth by people like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch in order to terrorize moderate Republicans and keep them from moving to the center and cooperating with president Obama in a time of national emergency.

How bad are things?

Maybe even a bit worse than we think they are. Read the rest of this entry →