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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.

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.

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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Boogeyman dead, Boogeyman live forever

9:05 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

The New York Times loudly and proudly proclaimed:

USA, USA, USA!!!!

The United States as it looks to a German writer

11:15 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Writing for Der Spiegel, Jakob Augstein paints a dismal but accurate picture of the United States today:

The word “West” used to have a meaning. It described common goals and values, the dignity of democracy and justice over tyranny and despotism. Now it seems to be a thing of the past. There is no longer a West, and those who would like to use the word — along with Europe and the United States in the same sentence — should just hold their breath. By any definition, America is no longer a Western nation.

How so?

The US is a country where the system of government has fallen firmly into the hands of the elite. An unruly and aggressive militarism set in motion two costly wars in the past 10 years. Society is not only divided socially and politically — in its ideological blindness the nation is moving even farther away from the core of democracy. It is losing its ability to compromise.

America has changed. It has drifted away from the West.

America’s national disintegration sits aside the disintegration of the west.

The country’s social disintegration is breathtaking. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz recently described the phenomenon. The richest 1 percent of Americans claim one-quarter of the country’s total income for themselves — 25 years ago that figure was 12 percent. It also possesses 40 percent of total wealth, up from 33 percent 25 years ago. Stiglitz claims that in many countries in the so-called Third World, the income gap between the poor and rich has been reduced. In the United States, it has grown.

Economist Paul Krugman, also a Nobel laureate, has written that America’s path is leading it down the road to “banana-republic status.” The social cynicism and societal indifference once associated primarily with the Third World has now become an American hallmark. This accelerates social decay because the greater the disparity grows, the less likely the rich will be willing to contribute to the common good. When a company like Apple, which with €76 billion in the bank has greater reserves at its disposal than the government in Washington, a European can only shake his head over the Republican resistance to tax increases. We see it as self-destructive.

Political disintegration sits aside social disintegration.

The same applies to America’s broken political culture. The name “United States” seems increasingly less appropriate. Something has become routine in American political culture that has been absent in Germany since Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik policies of rapprochement with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc (in the 1960s and ‘70s): hate. At the same time, reason has been replaced by delusion. The notion of tax cuts has taken on a cult-like status, and the limited role of the state a leading ideology. In this new American civil war, respect for the country’s highest office was sacrificed long ago. The fexact that Barack Obama is the country’s first African-American president may have played a role there, too.

Augstein concludes his article with a call for Germans and Europeans to avoid America’s fate, a sentiment that would shock many Americans were they to know of it but which is all too appropriate given the circumstances of the day. America, we need to remind ourselves, is now a low-growth, high-unemployment economy. Its economic and political elite prey on the “lesser people,” and the lessers have nary a jot of political clout within America’s rigid and unresponsive polity. This powerlessness exist by design. Indeed, the Constitution was written to secure this outcome. Moreover, every level of government in the United States today is committed to participating in a security-surveillance system that is utterly lacking in external and internal military threats. This system exists as a tool to be used by the government for political and social control. Because of these facts, that is, because of America’s elitism, militarism, economic decline, etc., one may rightly fear the direction in which the United States now travels. I would not find it surprising if the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” were to end with the creation of a novel form of authoritarian government. I believe this kind of government is the telos present within current political and economic trends. The many will be economically, socially and politically disenfranchised.

It is ironic that the “greater people” in the United States may have learned one lesson from the support they long gave to dictators like the Samozas, Pinochet and Shah, namely, they learned that they do not need the support of their subjects. The irony, I believe, issues from the fact that so many of these dictators were ruined by their unruly subjects. They just would not tolerate tyranny forever.

Someone gave a proper order to a few very current events

10:22 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Chris Floyd had the honor:

The uprising in Egypt on Tuesday is of infinitely greater importance than the goon show staged by the corporate-lackey-in-chief and the great mooing herd of cud-chewers in Congress the same night. For decades, the remarkably brutal — and rottenly stagnant — dictatorship in Egypt has been one of linchpins of Washington’s never-ending effort to “project dominance” over the Middle East. If the Cairo regime falls to a popular revolution, it will send shock waves all through the world-spanning tentacles of the American Empire.

So, while Barack Obama exhorted Americans to suck it up and to firmly grab their bootstraps — “The future is ours to win.” and “It [the future] has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle and meet the demands of a new age.” — parts of the world were then forcing the American Eagle to retract his claws.

Blowback? Yes, indeed! Expected? Yes, at least by some. Welcomed? Yes, by many, for retrenchment of this kind is both inevitable and timely. It’s inevitable because the United States cannot afford to engage forever in wars of conquest and pacification, especially since these will remain wars which it will never truly win. This incapacity can be explained by the fact that both global political and military power presuppose a globally significant economic power by the country that would be a world power. Yet having economic power of this magnitude is something which America can only watch dissipate while this economic power passes eastward from its hands to China and India’s. It’s timely because, for decades, America’s global empire garroted America’s modestly democratic institutions while it has also wasted the lives of millions of Americans and millions more of those targeted by Uncle Sam’s juggernaut. Americans should never forget that the United States was the Rogue State in the world, one that was too powerful to resist by most of the Lilliputians who confronted it. Fortunately, successfully resisting the Rogue Power has since become a feasible goal for those willing to fight and die for their political project. This is their moment. This is America’s descent to a condition of unexceptional existence.

As his speech neared its conclusion, Obama the myth-monger (on which, see this, this, this, this, this) exclaimed, “We do big things.” Indeed, America has done many big things over the course of its history. In making this claim Obama clearly meant to convey to his audiences that he was hopeful about the future. Nevertheless, America will fail spectacularly simply because it does so many things in a very big way, as Floyd suggests in his conclusion:

Poor Barack. Not that long ago, he was taking the world stage in Cairo, with a speech that offered a “new start” in relations to the regions — empty words which have long since proved to have been just another part of the vicious deceptions currently being exposed by al Jazeera. Now Cairo is ablaze with the promise of a genuine new start, driven by the needs of ordinary people, not the greeds of the elite. More than ever, Obama looks like yesterday’s man, abandoned by history as it sweeps forward, leaving him mired with the goons and the loons, fighting a rearguard action to save the pomps and privileges of a rotting empire.

This article was cross-posted at All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go