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Recommended: Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Part II

7:00 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Wage Slavery plus debt peonage — these are the fates awaiting the ‘better off’ members of the 99%, Alan Simpson’s “lesser people.” The ‘worst off’ shall continue to find themselves existing on city streets, squatting in vacant land and buildings, suffering one of the many prisons which pockmark the body politic or dying from untreated illnesses. These fates — wage slavery, debt peonage and social outcast — should not be considered accidents of history. They have obvious systemic causes. The economist Michael Hudson explains in the second of a four-part series:

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury.

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. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

What is truly astonishing about this situation is the nature of contemporary finance capital. In essence, it is functionless. It does not exist to generate capital for investment in the real economy. It does not provide safe storage for pension funds, insurance monies, personal savings, etc. It does not even provide the common investor with rational investment programs. Rather, finance capital today is just a system specific mechanism (or, better, set of mechanisms) which extracts massive quantities of wealth from the world. Profit taking — that is its sole purpose. Moreover, it is omnivorous and perpetually famished. It cannot be satiated. Its appetites thus put everyone at risk. It lacks a home, a national identity. It cares not for people, their cultures, societies and well-being. It is everywhere and nowhere.

It is, in a word, the vampire about which so many Americans fantasize.

Wishing for justice to be done

10:11 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

Recommended: Why the Anti-Mursi Protesters are Right

1:49 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat

In a recent article author Ahmad Shokr persuasively argued that the noisy opponents of the Morsi dictatorship are right to contest his elected government, his dictatorship and the constitution he and his allies wish to impose on Egypt. Shokr develops his critique by rejecting three common claims made by defenders of and reporters on the Morsi coup d’état. They are:

  • “The rival camps in Egypt embody a divide between Islamism and secularism.”
  • “Islamists are authentic representatives of the majority of Egyptians.”
  • “Mursi has made great strides toward civilian democracy and his downfall would mean a return to military rule.”

The first two claims are internally related. Shokr considers false the claim that most of Morsi’s opponents are secularists bent on thwarting the creation of an Egyptian state which legally expresses Islamic Law (or shari‘a). Morsi’s opponents are, according to Shokr, opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, not political Islam as such. The differences between the sides are political, not religious. (Parenthetically, it cannot be stated as a matter of settled fact that political Islam is a kind of anti-democracy or that Islamists necessarily oppose democracy and liberalism. This belief is rapidly becoming a self-serving canard for Islam-haters, and should be rejected as a reality obscuring prejudgment). In other words, the conflict roiling Egypt is not confessional in nature; Morsi’s opponents are, in fact, Muslims.

It follows from the above that the Muslim Brotherhood is not the authentic representative of the majority of Egyptians. Its politics does not exhaust the possible forms political Islam could have in Egypt. It has never won an election with a supermajority.

That said, the origin of the current crisis ought to be obvious:

By granting himself sweeping powers and rushing to call for a December 15 referendum on the new constitution, Mursi has given Egyptians a stark choice between being ruled by an unrepresentative constitution or by a dictator. Many have refused this kind of political blackmail. Leading opposition figures, many of who were dissidents under Mubarak, have called on Mursi to revoke the decree and open the constitution drafting process to broader input. Egyptian human rights groups have almost unanimously echoed these demands. Tens of thousands who joined the protests that brought down Mubarak are back on the streets. Their fight is not for an ill-defined secularism so much as it is for political inclusion and democracy.

As Shokr points out later on, Egypt is diversely composed, and many components therein have refused to accept the dilemma Morsi wants to impose on them: Dictatorship or constitutional imposition. Egypt’s constitution ought to reflect the existence of this diversity if it wishes to avoid generating illegitimate government and another revolutionary spring.

Finally, it cannot be said that Morsi’s actions were meant to secure Egyptian democracy against a military apparatus wishing to directly rule the country. Nor can it be said that the Morsi government gained an electoral mandate to impose its will on the country. What can be said, according to Shokr’s analysis, is that the Muslim Brotherhood has already collaborated with the military to secure the military’s prerogatives under the constitution and to protect the military by providing a political buffer zone between the military and Egyptian civil society. To put the matter in different terms, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government have collaborated with institutions which pose intrinsic threats to Egyptian democracy and the rule of law.

The stakes are high, and can be encapsulated in this predicament: Will Egypt complete the transition from Mubarak’s authoritarian regime to a consolidated democracy or will it eventually — soon — produce another authoritarian regime, this one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, its allies and the military?

As of this moment, Egypt’s military has already suggested that “disastrous consequences” (read: martial law) may result if the conflict continues. To be sure, this tacit threat benefits Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

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Lunatics at the Pentagon

8:10 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Back in the 1950s, they wanted to blow up the moon! Their goal: To intimidate the Soviet Union.

The Air Force would not comment on this report. Their refusal should surprise no one. After all, who would want defend a truly stupid idea like this one?

Birth of dictator

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

It has been widely reported that Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, has claimed new and extensive powers, doing so, it has been stated, in response to impasse of Egypt’s Second Constituent Assembly and to persistent street violence. An English language version of Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration can be found here. His subsequent explanation for his deed: “He told… [his followers] he was leading Egypt on a path to ‘freedom and democracy’ and was the guardian of stability.” We should interpret his actions while remembering that coups affirm neither democracy nor stability. They do, however, affirm the coercive power of the state.

Morsi’s auto-golpe will replace the rule of law with rule by decree and, to be sure, Egypt’s transition to democratic governance with a putatively limited dictatorship. Obviously, secularists and those groups who wish for or need social and political pluralism fear the instauration of a constituent dictatorship serving the interests of Egypt’s Islamists or the sectarian interests of the Freedom and Justice Party. Some have already taken their opposition to Morsi’s recent coup to the street. We should recall here that Egypt’s revolution originated in a divided society and that Morsi gained the Presidency with a thin victory margin in a runoff election. He has, at best, only weak popular support, although we might suspect that the recently purged Egyptian Armed Forces affirmed the November 22 coup. So far, the United States has only faintly criticized the coup.

Situations like this can end badly, as recent history has so often demonstrated.

Egyptians oppose their new dictator

 

Recommended: The Limits of Israeli Belligerence

10:18 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

In this worthy article, Dina Jadallah wrote:

One can watch the latest Israeli assault on Gaza and become overwhelmed with the enormity of the destruction, the loss of human life (one-third of whom are children), and the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of asymmetric power by an occupying state against one million and seven hundred thousand people (mostly refugees) living under an embargo for several years.

On the other hand, one can watch the latest assault and marvel at the resistance, the power of human will, the high morale of a steadfast population that is determined to return to their usurped lands. More importantly, one can be reassured because the people in Gaza are ahead of their leaders, while their resistance is inflicting real damage on their enemy.

The latest conflict might be an inflection point in the struggle, especially if its achievements are employed wisely in order to achieve politically strategic goals such as the lifting of the embargo, a halt to colonies / “settlements, and so forth.

Despite the skewed balance of raw muscular power in Israel’s favor, how is it that it cannot even win what was (wrongly) projected to be a brief and spectacular skirmish that would boost the political fortunes of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak.

Zohan, like his good friend, Uncle Sam, possesses a vast and ever-increasing military advantage over those he would dominate. But also like Uncle Sam, Zohan mostly fails to achieve the political goals he seeks. Zohan has already lost his latest battle. The imprisoned Palestinians refuse to yield. In this they are akin to the Afghanis, who stubbornly defend their land when invaders threaten it. The Gazan Palestinians continue to fight back, to resist the compelling force Zohan musters whenever he butchers the unarmed. That is his defeat in a nutshell. Zohan now needs a cease-fire settlement as much as the peopled interred in his Gaza prison-land.

Whenever we consider a situation like this one, when we find the weak successfully resisting the powerful, we should always keep this thought in mind: “You can do anything with bayonets except sit on them,” a maxim attributed variously to Talleyrand, Thomas Hardy, Napoleon I and Bismarck. In the last instance, Zohan will accept defeat and a two-state solution to this permanent crisis or he will exterminate the Palestinians.

The irony in American history

7:03 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Glenn Greenwald noticed and wrote about a bit of this with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan:

It is ironic indeed that the US is demanding that the practice of due-process-free indefinite detention be continued in Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries it invaded and then occupied while claiming it wanted to bring freedom and democracy there. But on one level, this is the only outcome that makes sense, as a denial of basic due process is now a core, defining US policy in general.

Indeed, the Nobel Laureate, whenever he acts as Commander in Chief of America’s security-surveillance apparatus and when he governs its global empire, can claim and use prerogative powers to achieve his ends. Simply put, the rule of law does not apply to him when operating in this domain.

To be sure, the Nobel Laureate and proposed conscience of the nation defends the President’s lawless powers:

The Obama administration not only continues to imprison people without charges of any kind, but intended from the start to do so even if their plan to relocate Guantanamo onto US soil had not been thwarted by Congress. At the end of 2011, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act which codifies the power of indefinite detention even for US citizens, and — after an Obama-appointed federal judge struck it down as unconstitutional — continues vigorously to fight for that law. And, of course, the power to assassinate even its own citizens without a whiff of due process or transparency — the policy that so upset Afghan officials when it was proposed for their country — is a crowning achievement of the Obama legacy.

With the Great Betrayal at hand, a deed only a Democratic President can commit, I can confidently assert that Barack Obama is proving to be a worthy competitor for the Worst President in History prize.

Recommended: Epitaph for a Four Star

8:32 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Colonel Douglas Macgregor, Ret. addresses the now dispirited aura surrounding General David Petraeus, Ret., an officer who surely was the product of corrupt, ineffective and wasteful institutions — the Pentagon specifically and the security-surveillance establishment generally. Macgregor uses conclusive evidence to make his point: The United States has known defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Petraeus notably led the failed efforts to pacify both countries while also consolidating America’s power in the region. These failures were costly, of course, wasting American lives, money and prestige. The empire is weaker now because of these ventures. Despite his personal failures, Petraeus received promotion after promotion, eventually reaching four star rank and subsequently finding a post-retirement spot atop the CIA, a job which gave him a public platform from which to launch his presidential campaign.

Let us hope that the militaristic component of America’s civil religion also takes a hit from the Petraeus Affair.

First they came for welfare….

10:33 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

In Obama’s America, each day is Halloween. The “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) should be afraid, very afraid! Why? Uncle Sam is bankrupt. He lives merely on the kindness of strangers. Only painful actions can remedy this situation.

Uncle Sam, you see, has long suffered from Affluenza. While the condition is often mistaken for a state of healthy well-being, the illness can be terminal. There are limits. They need to be respected. Austerity looms. The open question before Americans today: What kind of austerity will we have? The common answer amounts to this: Uncle Sam’s Affluenza would be fatal but for the remedies which a public commitment to fiscal austerity can provide.

The medicine is harsh and drastic, but necessary.

Or, so it is often claimed by a large fraction of America’s political and economic elite. Bob Urie, on the other hand, points out that:

The scare tactics being used to cut social insurance depend on the public’s misunderstanding of several related issues. In the first, the U.S. isn’t ‘broke’ because it can create money as needed — ask yourself: how were the bank bailouts funded? Next: what is an ‘entitlement’ when existing government policy overwhelmingly benefits the rich through favorable tax treatment, cost-plus government contracts, Federal Reserve bailouts and government guarantees of the banks. ‘Free markets’ have nothing to do with how the wealthy became so. The fight over ‘entitlements’ is over how government expenditures are allocated, not over their ‘scarcity.’

Urie suggests that the rich have prevailed in the democratic class struggle and now wish to deepen and intensify their exploitation of the “lesser people,” using the federal state and its fiscal situation as their hammer:

Social Security has an income ‘cap’ of $110,000 above which no deduction is made. A billionaire who became rich by sending jobs overseas — by firing and lowering the wages of labor, pays a smaller proportion of his or her income into Social Security than does the worker whose wages have been reduced. And by reducing the wages of labor, workers are left with less to pay in to these social insurance programs through payroll taxes. The problem with Social Security and Medicare is that a small group of connected plutocrats have ‘entitled’ themselves to far more of what labor produces. How often has the deficit ‘crisis’ been raised when there is a war to be fought for multi-national oil companies or a corporate welfare scheme like the bank bailouts to be paid for?

And this all ties back to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act — if he and his corporate supporters were truly interested in fiscal discipline they would have pushed for far less costly ‘Medicare for all.’ Instead Mr. Obama pursued a deal with private health insurers that includes (sic) a ‘profit’ above the cost of a government program. Those wanting to argue the political infeasibility of Medicare for all are now confronted with a ‘liberal’ Democratic President who believes he can cut the programs that most of us have paid into under known terms for decades. If doing this is politically feasible while building a rational public health care system isn’t, we are truly doomed.

Doomed? Yes….

Ultimately Mr. Obama, like his ‘opponent’ Mitt Romney, is but an apparatchik in a class war launched by the rich against the rest of us. Left out of the contrived nonsense about an ‘entitlement’ society is who exactly is entitled. Were the government spending the rich live off of under the knife there would be no argument of scarcity — we have the wars, the bailouts and corporate welfare to prove it. But social insurance programs stand between over one hundred million of our citizens and destitution. And these are programs we have collectively paid for — they aren’t a ‘gift’ as the rich and their servants in government would have us believe

Even the ‘gifts’ of income transfers, support for education and public transportation, Medicaid, subsidized housing, occupational training, works programs, etc. are not lacking in social benefits which directly and indirectly improve the quality of life enjoyed by every American. Every American would benefit from a fair and humane society, from a better standard of living. Such a society serves a common and public good. Who, after all, wants to watch the homeless die on the street for want of food and medical care? How might the United States compete with the emerging Asian economic powers when its education system, long the envy of the world at large, falters because of a lack of fiscal and political support? Who wants to bring children into the world when they will intimately know insecurity and want?

But the Nobel Laureate Americans just reelected wishes to create neither a fair nor humane society. He is a system politician who serves his various masters. The latter are cruel and greedy. Americans of the lesser kind along with the world at large deserve much better than Barack Obama. They truly need a man much better than him..

Another endgame driven by money

12:44 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

Thomas Ferguson and his collaborators have warned us about an endgame surge by the Romney campaign, a possible leap in his popularity that might eventually bury the Obama presidency. In this respect the Romney campaign may mimic the Bush campaign of 2000. Both have been fueled by massive spending and guided by lying. These, to be sure, are core competencies of the Republican Party. It is because of this late cycle spending that G.W. Bush jumped over Gore in the last days of the electoral season, although his election victory was helped by a corrupted electoral mechanism and a most dubious Supreme Court decision. Additional political disasters followed the constitutional coup d’état of December, 2000. Campaign money brought the country to that situation.

This is the post-Citizen’s United age in American politics, and money collection and spending along with elite ‘generosity and civic mindedness’ are the true stories of the current electoral season. This fact does not distinguish the 2012 elections from its recent predecessors. The defining mark this year issues from the quantities of money spent during the campaign. Billions of dollars will be spent on the presidential race alone. The Romney campaign, according to Ferguson, et. al., lately seems to be spending large sums of this money in the battleground states to win a victory next week. This effort favors Romney, of course.

A Romney victory fueled by big donor cash would certainly prompt outrage by Democratic Party partisans, although their rage would obscure the massive amounts of money raised and spent by the 2012 and 2008 Obama campaigns. The Democratic Party lacks clean hands in this matter. It, like the Republican Party, serves as a tool of Wall Street, the security-surveillance apparatus and, in a word, the empire. Thus the cries of the partisans ought to be considered mere hypocrisy rendered into obscure sounds, wholly without intrinsic importance. The somewhat obscure significance of this kind and degree of campaign spending lies elsewhere. Ferguson and company rightly locate and identify the effect produced by this money:

Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive. In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.

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