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Why I Wouldn’t be Caught Dead Shopping in Wal-Mart May 29, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis.
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images

$16 billion
Walmart’s Profit

$144 billion
Wealth of Walmart Owners (the Waltons)
(as much as 42% of Americans combined!)

$7 billion
Subsidies and Tax Breaks that Benefited Walmart & the Waltons

< $25,000
Most Walmart Workers Annual Wage

imagesx

 

 

 

Lac-Mégantic Residents Decry Charging of Low-Level Employees Over Deadly Disaster May 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Criminal Justice.
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Roger’s note: JUSTICE: CAPITALIST STYLE.  Those who own capital, also own government, and that includes the so-called justice system.  You can be sure you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (sic)  if you shop lift to feed your children.  But you would be wiser to own a railroad company or be a politician who receives their financial largesse.  That pretty much buys you a free pass … up to and including murder.

“The big boss — he should be first.”

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Image of the deadly Lac-Mégantic, Quebec explosive derailment. (Screengrab from video below.)

Three employees of the rail company behind the infamous Lac-Mégantic train derailment and fireball explosion faced charges Tuesday of criminal negligence for the deaths of the 47 people killed. But for the residents of the small Quebec town, the fact that no executives were charged 10 months after the tragedy brought little sense of justice.

The three Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. employees charged were Thomas Harding, the train conductor; Jean Demaître, manager of train operations; and Richard Labrie, traffic controller.

Harding, whose lawyer, Thomas Walsh, had said would voluntarily appear in court, was arrested on Monday by a SWAT team that came to his house.

Walsh told CTVNews that the police forced Harding, his son and a friend to the ground before cuffing and taking Harding, who reportedly suffers from PTSD, away.

The three face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The charging of the three employees of the now bankrupt MMA, however, brought no joy to the people of the disaster-stricken town. Rather than being gripped by anger, they expressed sorrow and frustration that these low-level employees face charges while the real people who should be charged evade justice.

As the three somber-faced men were led into court, Ghislain Champagne, who lost his 36-year-old daughter Karine in the disaster, shouted, “It’s not them we want!”

Peggy Curran, reporting for the Montreal Gazette, shares similar voices from Lac-Mégantic residents.

Resident Diane Poirier, who lost two nephews in the tragedy, told the Gazette, “To my mind, it is their boss who is responsible,” referring to MMA chairman Ed Burkhardt. “He took his time coming here to see us here. I didn’t like the attitude of that man at all. But I don’t blame them at all — maybe they lacked training.”

That feeling was echoed by Ghislain Champagne’s wife, Danielle Lachance Champagne. “I believe there should be charges, but for the right people,” adding, “The big boss — he should be first.”

But beyond the bosses, said Raymond Lafontaine, who lost friends and family members in the accident, the federal government bears responsibility for inadequate track maintenance.

“We want to know that it can never happen again,” Danielle Champagne said, “but it will.”

Weeks after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, wrote, “Those who do not learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them,” and noted, “How easy it would be to lay the blame for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic on the engineer who ran the train.”

“But the real responsibility lies with the governments on both sides of the border who have deregulated their transport sectors, gutted freshwater protections and promoted the spectacular growth and transport of new and unsustainable fossil fuels,” Barlow wrote.

* * *

The scene of the explosive July 2013 derailment was captured by YouTube user Anne-Julie Hallée in this video below:

_________________________

Putin’ it to Putin: the Russian Oligarchy and the Primitive Accumulation of Capital May 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis, Labor, Marx and Marxism, Russia, Socialism.
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BjCHxNICMAAaVSj.jpg largeMeet the 11 Putin cronies and Ukrainian officials facing U.S. sanctions: http://t.co/0WOAuGtABa http://t.co/30T2yhxH4p

 

I don’t intend to go into the politics and economics of the situation in the Ukraine other than to point out the fact that the threats coming from the U.S. president against the Russian government seem to center on economic sanctions against the friends, associates, colleagues – well, let’s use the correct term: cronies – of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. In other words, the Russian Mafia/Oligarchy. The New York Times reports that Obama’s spies are hard at work to discover Putin’s own fortune. What this circus amounts to then is the government of the nation with the world’s largest collection of parasitic crony capitalists attacking its rival nation’s crony capitalists. Russian Billionaires, take cover!

What his begs, however, is a question that no one seems to be asking: to wit, how did these billionaires come to be billionaires in the first place in Russia’s transition from Soviet “Communism” to Reaganite “Capitalism?” Or, more importantly, what this implies theoretically and philosophically about the very nature of capitalism itself. It indeed takes us to the heart of the origins of capitalism, what is referred to as “primitive accumulation” of capital, which is what this article is all about.

First we have to backtrack with a short discussion of economics. I assert that, despite popular opinion, economics is indeed a science in the sense that its elements can be measured and independently verified. The problem with Economic’s bad reputation is that the vast majority of economists are of the same ilk as biological “Creationists” and atmospheric climate change deniers. What they fail to take into account are the very dynamics that make capitalism what it is (usually in the form of ignoring obvious class divisions or making a fetish of the market place instead of focusing on what is fundamental in any economy, i.e. production).

Definitions are important. A simple but scientifically accurate definition of capital: vast accumulations of wealth (value) that today come in various forms, real estate, industrial and other corporate wealth, high finance, etc. Capital ISM then is the system of producing goods and services based upon the relationship between those who own and manage capital and the rest of us, who do the work that is responsible for the increase in value in the first place; that is, the relationship between capital and labor. It is a relationship that is hierarchic and despotic; that is, inherently undemocratic. A simple, yet accurate definition of socialism (the antithesis to capitalism), then, would be not state ownership of the means of production (as we saw in the former Soviet Union), but economic democracy, that is, direct ownership and control by those who produce the value. Note: it was not Karl Marx, but rather Adam Smith who demonstrated that new value added to land and natural resources can only come from living human labor.

Anyone who has ever had a job knows that the boss is the boss (be it the actual owner or his/her designates). You do not get to vote on what you do. You do what you are told, or you are shown the door (only union organization has mitigated this phenomenon to a degree). There are others waiting to take your place if you don’t like it. You do not get to decide what is produced (be it goods or services), how it is produced, or under what conditions (e.g. safety). But most importantly, you are paid for your creative effort as little as your owner/boss can get away with, and the rest of the value you create goes into his or her pocket (the pockets of heirs, stock holders, bankers, etc., i.e. capitalism’s parasites). This is what Karl Marx called surplus value (and what capitalists call profit), and it is the reason for the reality that we have always been aware of but are coming to see in greater relief more and more every day: the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. One example: the geometric increase in the proportion of CEO salary in relation to worker salary (according to the Washington Post, “The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay is 273-1, down from a high of 383-1 in 2000, but up from 20-1 in 1965.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/26/congrats-ceos-youre-making-273-times-the-pay-of-the-average-worker/). In other words, the average worker has to put in about six weeks of eight hour days to earn what your typical CEO earns in one hour.

 
Forget all the crap that has been that has been shoved down your throat since you came off your mother’s breast (or the bottle) about the wonders of capitalism: the miracle of free enterprise, the invisible hand that makes everything just, the value of competition, capitalists taking all the risk, capitalists creating jobs – as if without capitalists we would all stop working to produce what we need to survive and thrive. Forget about free markets: there haven’t been free markets since Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple. The deck (the economy) is stacked in favor of capital; capital essentially owns government and uses it to maintain its strangle hold on the rest of us – economically and militarily. And this was true long before the US Supreme Court made corporations into people.

So now let’s go back to “primitive accumulation.” How did there come to be such huge fortunes, such accumulated wealth in the first place; in other words, how did the feudal economy become a capitalist economy?

Here are the contrasting explanations from Adam Smith and Karl Marx:

“In the midst of all the exactions of government, capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement in almost all former times. …

“It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense. … They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.”

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter II
(cited in Toronto Globe and Mail, April 5, 2008)

 
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c. The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive in a systematic combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with the new one. It is itself an economic power.”

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol . I, Chapter 31

Karl Marx was a philosopher, whose primary concern was human freedom. In order to understand the un-freedom that was obvious to him in his age as well as it is to us in our own, he had to and did become a full-fledged historian and economist. He read, digested, analyzed and critiqued not only the famous economists like Adam Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, but the entire body of political economy of his day. Needless to say, with respect to the primitive accumulation of capital, he was aware and demonstrated how it was ongoing; and we see the unbelievably gigantic proportions it has taken in our own time.

The political economists like Adam Smith, showed us how only human labor can create value, then they proceeded to ignore human labor as they obsessed on the market placed and the distribution of goods and services. Karl Marx corrected the fundamental error by show us scientifically the inherent inequality and un-freedom of capitalist economy. It is ironic that Marxism is often criticized for ignoring the individual in favour of the community, whereas it was Marx who demonstrated how capitalist productive relationship created misery for individuals within their community. It was Marx, for example, who showed us that even if a nation’s economy may be thriving, suffering and injustice can abound for the majority of its citizens. It is the notion of the “economy” that is abstract and ignores the individual, not the notion of community. This is a fact that the vast majority of economists ignore completely.

And anyone who believes that “democratic” political institutions in the form of periodic elections can tame this insane and out of control Monster known as capitalism, is either naïve or uninformed (for which we can thank our bought and paid for mass media and institutions of higher learning).

Now we are ready to go back to Boris Yeltsin, Putin and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union had become the opposite of its revolutionary class destroying origins. The Soviet State (brutally tyrannical under Stalin, then reformed and softened under Khrushchev) became the single owner of value, i.e. capital, in what is almost universally recognized theoretically as State Capitalism. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, which resulted from massive popular uprisings (aided and abetted by the democratic and progressive reforms of Gorbachev), things could have gone either one of two ways. All of Soviet capital, all that enormous wealth (value) could have been democratized, that is decentralized and put democratically into the hands of those who worked in the various industries (and who create the wealth in the first place). Any genuine Marxist left in Russia would have reminded the angry masses that the original soviets were democratic organizations made up respectively of industrial workers, peasant workers, and soldiers. With the theoretical and organizational backing of the Bolshevik Party, they were the impulse that overthrew the Tsar and established a union of soviets, which for a few years before the Stalin coup was striving for worker democracy at the same time as it was at war with the rest of the capitalist world, fighting for its very survival.

Alas, things didn’t go in that direction. They went instead in the direction of looting of the state’s enormous resources by those Adam Smith like industrious Communist apparatchiks cum Mafia. We see them everywhere today, as they have moved their newly gained capital around the world. We saw them at the Sochi Olympics and we see them as owners of American professional sports teams.

As with the Spanish Conquistadores and the slave traders of African skin, their wealth is stolen. That is what is meant by the slogan “property is theft.” Hegelian Marxism talks of continuing negations, ongoing revolution, if you will. The overthrow of the former Soviet Union was a first negation; the second one did not happen at the same time. We see the same phenomenon with the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” Egypt’s “Arab Spring,” the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, etc.

But some day, if the capitalists do not destroy the earth first with nuclear or environmental catastrophe, it will happen. The capitalist way of creating and sharing wealth will come crumbling down simply because it is not sustainable. Capital will no longer exist, just working people producing and owning outright what they produce. When and how this will happen no one can say. But if it doesn’t, we are surely doomed.

One more theoretical point. It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent academics and pundits fail to understand the obvious contradiction between political democracy and capitalist economics. It is as if democratic institutions, however primitive, can somehow ensure freedom and justice, while at the same time working people are being systematically bilked by the capitalist Behemoth. Democracy, which is in fact the most highly advanced political notion, is just that, i.e. political. Capitalist economy is just that, i.e. economy. They are two entirely different animals, notwithstanding the fact that they are intimately entwined. Failing to understand this, leftists, progressives, liberals, etc., make a fetish out of the concept of democracy, ignore the economic implications of capital, and end up being entirely irrelevant. Note: capitalism cannot be reformed because it is inherently unjust and undemocratic.

For those who are interested in a truly scientific understanding of capitalist economic relations as outlined in Marx’s Capital, I recommend the first four chapters of Raya Dunayevskaya’s “Marxism and Freedom: from 1776 until Today,” Humanity Books, 2000. Of course, there is no substitute for reading Marx in the original, which I acknowledge is not an easy task. I recommend beginning with the so-called Early Writings or Economic Manuscripts.

 

Marx Was Right: Five Surprising Ways Karl Marx Predicted 2014 February 2, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Marx and Marxism, Revolution.
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Roger’s note: I find it interesting that journalists cannot write positive things about Marx with a caveat to show, I guess, that they are not slavish ideological Marxists.  Marx did not consider himself to be a prophet or a maker of blueprints for the future.  If so much of what he projected has come to be true it is because of his profound intellectual and analytic digging and not because he was some kind of a seer into the future.  First of all Marx was a philosopher, not an economist.  More specifically a philosopher of human liberation.  He realized that he needed a complete understanding of the history of human development and economics (he read and absorbed every one of the political economists of his day, from Adam Smith and Ricardo and Malthus to names you and I have never heard of) in order to develop a philosophy that contained the theory and practice for human individual and social liberation.  Furthermore, it is not untrue but rather misleading to state that “Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with.”  With a particular reference to the Paris Commune, he often wrote of a future of “freely associated labor.”  He wrote about the “withering away of the state” and, of course, his most profound “vision” of a future classless world was described in his classic: “from each according to his/her need; to each according to his/her ability” (I added the gender neutrality of which Marx would have approved).  I found the best introduction to Marx was through his so-called “early writings” or “economic manuscripts” (I have the old Bottomore edition); and for a deeper understanding of Marx, the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism.

From the iPhone 5S to corporate globalization, modern life is full of evidence of Marx’s foresight

January 30, 2014 12:30 PM ET, Rolling Stone
Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images

There’s a lot of talk of Karl Marx in the air these days – from Rush Limbaugh accusing Pope Francis of promoting “pure Marxism” to a Washington Times writer claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an “unrepentant Marxist.” But few people actually understand Marx’s trenchant critique of capitalism. Most people are vaguely aware of the radical economist’s prediction that capitalism would inevitably be replaced by communism, but they often misunderstand why he believed this to be true. And while Marx was wrong about some things, his writings (many of which pre-date the American Civil War) accurately predicted several aspects of contemporary capitalism, from the Great Recession to the iPhone 5S in your pocket.

Here are five facts of life in 2014 that Marx’s analysis of capitalism correctly predicted more than a century ago:

1. The Great Recession (Capitalism’s Chaotic Nature)

The inherently chaotic, crisis-prone nature of capitalism was a key part of Marx’s writings. He argued that the relentless drive for profits would lead companies to mechanize their workplaces, producing more and more goods while squeezing workers’ wages until they could no longer purchase the products they created. Sure enough, modern historical events from the Great Depression to the dot-com bubble can be traced back to what Marx termed “fictitious capital” – financial instruments like stocks and credit-default swaps. We produce and produce until there is simply no one left to purchase our goods, no new markets, no new debts. The cycle is still playing out before our eyes: Broadly speaking, it’s what made the housing market crash in 2008. Decades of deepening inequality reduced incomes, which led more and more Americans to take on debt. When there were no subprime borrows left to scheme, the whole façade fell apart, just as Marx knew it would.

2. The iPhone 5S (Imaginary Appetites)

Marx warned that capitalism’s tendency to concentrate high value on essentially arbitrary products would, over time, lead to what he called “a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites.” It’s a harsh but accurate way of describing contemporary America, where we enjoy incredible luxury and yet are driven by a constant need for more and more stuff to buy. Consider the iPhone 5S you may own. Is it really that much better than the iPhone 5 you had last year, or the iPhone 4S a year before that? Is it a real need, or an invented one? While Chinese families fall sick with cancer from our e-waste, megacorporations are creating entire advertising campaigns around the idea that we should destroy perfectly good products for no reason. If Marx could see this kind of thing, he’d nod in recognition.

3. The IMF (The Globalization of Capitalism)

Marx’s ideas about overproduction led him to predict what is now called globalization – the spread of capitalism across the planet in search of new markets. “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe,” he wrote. “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” While this may seem like an obvious point now, Marx wrote those words in 1848, when globalization was over a century away. And he wasn’t just right about what ended up happening in the late 20th century – he was right about why it happened: The relentless search for new markets and cheap labor, as well as the incessant demand for more natural resources, are beasts that demand constant feeding.

4. Walmart (Monopoly)

The classical theory of economics assumed that competition was natural and therefore self-sustaining. Marx, however, argued that market power would actually be centralized in large monopoly firms as businesses increasingly preyed upon each other. This might have struck his 19th-century readers as odd: As Richard Hofstadter writes, “Americans came to take it for granted that property would be widely diffused, that economic and political power would decentralized.” It was only later, in the 20th century, that the trend Marx foresaw began to accelerate. Today, mom-and-pop shops have been replaced by monolithic big-box stores like Walmart, small community banks have been replaced by global banks like J.P. Morgan Chase and small famers have been replaced by the likes of Archer Daniels Midland. The tech world, too, is already becoming centralized, with big corporations sucking up start-ups as fast as they can. Politicians give lip service to what minimal small-business lobby remains and prosecute the most violent of antitrust abuses – but for the most part, we know big business is here to stay.

5. Low Wages, Big Profits (The Reserve Army of Industrial Labor)

Marx believed that wages would be held down by a “reserve army of labor,” which he explained simply using classical economic techniques: Capitalists wish to pay as little as possible for labor, and this is easiest to do when there are too many workers floating around. Thus, after a recession, using a Marxist analysis, we would predict that high unemployment would keep wages stagnant as profits soared, because workers are too scared of unemployment to quit their terrible, exploitative jobs. And what do you know? No less an authority than the Wall Street Journal warns, “Lately, the U.S. recovery has been displaying some Marxian traits. Corporate profits are on a tear, and rising productivity has allowed companies to grow without doing much to reduce the vast ranks of the unemployed.” That’s because workers are terrified to leave their jobs and therefore lack bargaining power. It’s no surprise that the best time for equitable growth is during times of “full employment,” when unemployment is low and workers can threaten to take another job.

In Conclusion:

Marx was wrong about many things. Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with – which left it open to misinterpretation by madmen like Stalin in the 20th century. But his work still shapes our world in a positive way as well. When he argued for a progressive income tax in the Communist Manifesto, no country had one. Now, there is scarcely a country without a progressive income tax, and it’s one small way that the U.S. tries to fight income inequality. Marx’s moral critique of capitalism and his keen insights into its inner workings and historical context are still worth paying attention to. As Robert L. Heilbroner writes, “We turn to Marx, therefore, not because he is infallible, but because he is inescapable.” Today, in a world of both unheard-of wealth and abject poverty, where the richest 85 people have more wealth than the poorest 3 billion, the famous cry, “Workers of the world uniteyou have nothing to lose but your chains,” has yet to lose its potency.

 

Nelson Mandela, Free Market Capitalism and the South African Crisis December 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, South Africa.
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Roger’s note:

“Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor.

Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.”

If you want more than that feel-good notion of Nelson Mandela as a champion of non-violent (i.e non. revolutionary) change, then read the article below.  Although I believe the author mistakes nationalization  for socialism, the article does give a credible analysis of why the South African masses, post-Apartheid, still live in miserable poverty.  Nationalization may be a necessary step towards socialism, but it is not sufficient.  Genuine socialism is not where the government rather than private interests are the owners of production.  Such as that exists in Vietnam and China and is functionally speaking nothing more than state capitalism.  Single party vanguards such as existed in the former Soviet Union and in China and Vietnam today by nature devolve into state tyranny over labor in order to maximize profit.  Genuine democratic socialism demands direct worker control over production, but that is another and much longer story.

 


by Anthony Monteiro

The veil must be lifted from the deliberations and machinations that led Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to discard the people’s Freedom Charter in favor of an accommodation with white capital, in the early Nineties. Why, at South Africa’s most critical juncture, did the ANC make a pact with the Devil? And why did they keep it?

 

“The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994.”Why and when did Mandela change his mind about nationalization of the wealth of South Africa? And what have been the results? I find the mainstream media’s accounts, citing Mandela’s claim that he changed his mind at Davos, Switzerland, in 1992 implausible. More troubling is why when Mandela and the ANC led government saw things going so badly for the people they didn’t change course? These questions arise as we try to make sense of Mandela’s legacy. This is especially important in light of the catastrophic crisis of poverty, hunger, unemployment, education and health care besetting the South African people. The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994. White economic privilege remains the same, and their wealth exponentially increased, a tiny, rich and mostly parasitic black bourgeoisie and a black middle class have been created. For 90 percent of the African population things have not improved.

The New York Times reported on December 10 that Nelson Mandela’s change of thinking occurred at Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum (the annual meeting of the major bankers, capitalist, entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians and intellectuals tied to the neo liberal globalist model of the world economy) in January 1992. Tito Mboweni, a former governor of the South African Reserve Bank (that nation’s Central Bank), who accompanied Mandela to Davos, says when Mandela and the ANC delegation arrived Mandela had a speech written by the ANC that focused on nationalization. Mboweni says “we discussed this at some length and decided that its content was inappropriate for a Davos audience.” Mboweni drafts another speech that was friendly to the Davos crowd. The speech was vague and filled with clichés and platitudes and assured the audience that they had nothing to fear from Mandela or the ANC.

In a letter to the Sunday Independent last January Mboweni says it was meetings with representatives of the Communist parties of China and Vietnam that changed Madiba’s mind completely. According to Mboweni the Chinese and Vietnamese told Mandela “We are currently striving to privatize state enterprises and invite private enterprise into our economies. We are Communists Party governments, and you are a leader of a national liberation movement. Why are you talking about nationalization?” According to Anthony Sampson, the author of Mandela: The Authorized Biography, Mandela told him “They changed my views altogether. I came home to say: ‘Chaps we have to choose. We either keep nationalization and get no investment, or we modify our own attitude and get investment.’”

”The path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.”

It is obvious that the ANC, the South African national liberation struggle and the nation as a whole were at a critical juncture. They were faced with problems of consolidating political power and moving the nation towards economic emancipation. On the other side, the white regime and its backers in the West were concerned with making concessions to black South Africans that would not disturb western corporate control of this mineral rich and strategically located economy. However I find the accounts of Mr. Sampson and Mr. Mboweni implausible. In other words, the path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.

The first question is about the representatives of China and Vietnam. Both nations in 1992 were at different levels of economic development. Vietnam was still in the social and economic reconstruction phase after 25 years of war against foreign aggression. China was a socialist economy that twelve years earlier had entered upon a path of reform within its socialist economy. China at that time had about 80 to 90% of the strategic parts of its economy under state control. Vietnam was similar with the state controlling economic reconstruction. Even today close to 70% of China’s economy is under state control. The most technologically dynamic and profitable sector of the Chinese economy is the state, or nationalized sector. The facts are that China and Vietnam are heavily state dominated economies and each says the objective of their economic planning is to build advanced socialism. Even if we accept that the Chinese and Vietnamese representatives at Davos said what Mboweni says, the next question is who were they and did they represent the official positions of their governments? If we accept the mainstream media’s accounts, they must have been saying, “do as we say, not as we do.” Of course this would have been an instance of unbelievable bad faith, even cynicism. But on this matter, rather than looking to the Chinese and Vietnamese delegates, I think we should question Mr. Mboweni ‘s and Mr. Sampson’s account.

The second point is that when Mandela emerges from prison two of his and the ANC’s most important allies were Cuba and Libya, two nations whose economies were heavily nationalized. Why did Mandela not consult Fidel Castro and Muammar Gadaffi among others to get a more complete view on how well nationalization was working or not working in their nations?

”The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact.”

The third point, any nation emerging from a long period of civil war and national liberation, experiencing a radical transfer of power, necessarily goes through a period of transition. It is ludicrous to think that sober minds, especially those with the training of most of the ANC, could underestimate a transition where something like a New Deal for the people, including a jobs and infrastructure programs, an anti-poverty crusade, health care, housing and political education, would not be considered necessary. No clear thinking person could have imagined an overnight great leap forward from a ravaged apartheid economy to an advanced socialist one. There would be a transition period of at least a decade where the groundwork would be laid for a new democratic and socialist economy. The forms of this transition would have many layers, even ambiguities, but its direction would be firmly established and based on the Freedom Charter and its call for nationalization. The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact and thereby recklessly undermined the future of South Africa.

The more plausible scenario, from my perspective, is that Mandela and a small circle around him, long before Davos, perhaps in the last year or so of Mandela’s imprisonment, cut a deal. As we know Mandela entered into secret talks with the white regime before being released. These talks were kept secret from the ANC leadership. There were others in and outside of the ANC who were involved in secret talks about the economy well before 1990. By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization. The question for Mandela and those in the ANC who supported him, was to get an appropriate time and place for Mandela to announce his change of position. There had to also be a plausible explanation of why such a drastic change. The Davos story fulfills both requirements, an appropriate place and a plausible story.

The fact that Mr. Mboweni, a free market capitalist, accompanied Mandela to Davos and had such power that he was allowed to trash the ANC speech and substitute for it his own, should raise further troubling questions about the behind scenes operations among the ANC elite. Why weren’t other views present in the ANC delegation at Davos? Or were they dismissed as “too radical” even before Davos?

”By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization.”

Not long after the Davos announcement the ANC (or the free market and neo liberal elements within the ANC) announced that the first black government would assume the entire debt of the white regime. A sum of close to $25 billion. The ANC took an IMF loan to pay the debt, which came with severe strings attached that protected white control of the post apartheid economy. (see my article in BAR Dec 11 2013 for a further discussion of this). Mandela’s claim that he was turned around at Davos is questionable and his turn against the Freedom Charter and the aspirations of the masses of South Africa (who cherished the Freedom Charter as their manifesto of freedom and reflective of their freedom aspirations) is problematic.

Winnie Mandela has said repeatedly that when Mandela emerged from prison he was not the same man. She says his revolutionary resolve was different. What she probably meant is his change of heart on economic policy and his willingness to, as she saw it, make unnecessary compromises with white South Africans and Western interests. Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor. Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.

In my BAR article “Nelson Mandela, The Contradictions of his Life and Legacies” I argue there are four stages in Mandela’s life. The fourth is 1990 to 2013. This is the most contradictory in terms of his previous revolutionary activity. However, it is as significant to understanding his legacy and life as the previous ones are. The burning question is in power what did he and his ANC colleagues do to liberate the nation from economic apartheid and foreign corporate control. At this point the answer is in power the ANC failed. The problem is not important only to South Africans or Africans, but for how humanity, especially its impoverished and destitute majority, imagines the future world and how we fight for it.

Anthony Monteiro is a professor of African American Studies at Temple University. He can be contacted at tmon@comcast.net.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek November 16, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution, Russia.
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Roger’s note: I hope you find this correspondence as fascinating as I did.  The left/progressive blogosphere these days is publishing more anti-capitalism analyses than ever.  I am a life-long Marxist Humanist, so the notion of capitalism is something I have been thinking about for years (decades, actually).  What I find troubling is that very few writers either attempt or demonstrate a precise understanding of exactly what capitalism is.  Capitalism is not simply an ideology, although there are more than enough capitalist ideologues; and capitalism is not primarily about so-called free markets, nor is state ownership anything less than pure genuine capitalism (prime example: China).  To understand what a genuine transformation of society will be, it is important to have a historical understanding of how capitalist economic relations developed.  More important is the need to understand exactly what capitalist economic relationships ARE, and that has to do with the basic structure under which goods and services are PRODUCED (again, not marketed).  Karl Marx discovered an entire new continent of thought that takes us into the heart of notions of human freedom and exploitation via capitalist economic relations.  Much too complex for me to go into here; I just want to point out that being anti-capitalist is necessary but not sufficient.  The dialogue below is a good example of revolutionary activist thinking, striving to understand in order to transform.

 

 

Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is currently in a prison hospital in Siberia; here she and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek meet in an extraordinary exchange of letters

 

‘We are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not ­recognising any authority’ … Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot writing to Slavoj Žižek. (David Levene/AFP)

2 January 2013

Dear Nadezhda,

I hope you have been able to organise your life in prison around small rituals that make it tolerable, and that you have time to read. Here are my thoughts on your predicament.

John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: “They are really always saying the same thing. They don’t change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat.” Isn’t this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.

But what is this truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent, not only in Russia? All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous. What is so disturbing about Pussy Riot to the liberal gaze is that you make visible the hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.

[Žižek then explores what he sees as a global trend towards limiting democracy.] Since the 2008 crisis, this distrust of democracy, once limited to third-world or post-Communist developing economies, is gaining ground in western countries. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us?

But the crisis provided proof that it is these experts who don’t know what they are doing, rather than the people. In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.

No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.

Comradely greetings, Slavoj

23 February 2013

Dear Slavoj,

Once, in the autumn of 2012, when I was still in the pre-trial prison in Moscow with other Pussy Riot activists, I visited you. In a dream, of course.

I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.

Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.

We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”

We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the “World Spirit” touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.

Laurie Anderson sang: “Only an expert can deal with the problem.” It would have been nice if Laurie and I could cut these experts down to size and take care of our own problems. Because expert status by no means grants access to the kingdom of absolute truth.

Two years of prison for Pussy Riot is our tribute to a destiny that gave us sharp ears, allowing us to sound the note A when everyone else is used to hearing G flat.

At the right moment, there will always come a miracle in the lives of those who childishly believe in the triumph of truth over lies, of mutual assistance, of those who live according to the economics of the gift.

Nadia

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in a single confinement cell at a penal colony in Partza on 25 SeptemberNadezhda Tolokonnikova in a single confinement cell at a penal colony in Partza on 25 September 2013. (Ilya Shablinsky/AFP) 

4 April 2013

Dear Nadezhda,

I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.

You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.

For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?

The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”

But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.

With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!

Slavoj

A Pussy Riot protest in Red Square in Moscow January 2012. A Pussy Riot protest in Red Square in Moscow in January 2012. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters) 

16 April 2013

Dear Slavoj,

Has modern capitalism really overtaken the logic of totalising norms? Or is it willing to make us believe that it has overpassed the logic of hierarchical structures and normalisation?

As a child I wanted to go into advertising. I had a love affair with the advertising industry. And this is why I am in a position to judge its merits. The anti-hierarchical structures and rhizomes of late capitalism are its successful ad campaign. Modern capitalism has to manifest itself as flexible and even eccentric. Everything is geared towards gripping the emotion of the consumer. Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.

You should not worry that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the “real hardship”. I value the strict limits, and the challenge. I am genuinely curious: how will I cope with this? And how can I turn this into a productive experience for me and my comrades? I find sources of inspiration; it contributes to my own development. Not because of, but in spite of the system. And in my struggle, your thoughts, ideas and stories are helpful to me.

I am happy to correspond with you. I await your reply and I wish you good luck in our common cause.

Nadia

Link to video: Pussy Riot on Putin, ‘punk prayers’ and superheroes

10 June 2013

Dear Nadezhda,

I felt deeply ashamed after reading your reply. You wrote: “You should not worry about the fact that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the ‘real hardship’.” This simple sentence made me aware that the final sentiment in my last letter was false: my expression of sympathy with your plight basically meant, “I have the privilege of doing real theory and teaching you about it while you are good for reporting on your experience of hardship …” Your last letter demonstrates that you are much more than that, that you are an equal partner in a theoretical dialogue. So my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched is male chauvinism, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue.

It is the crazy dynamics of global capitalism that make effective resistance to it so difficult and frustrating. Recall the great wave of protests that spilled all over Europe in 2011, from Greece and Spain to London and Paris. Even if there was no consistent political platform mobilising the protesters, the protests functioned as part of a large-scale educational process: the protesters’ misery and discontent were transformed into a great collective act of mobilisation – hundreds of thousands gathered in public squares, proclaiming that they had enough, that things could not go on like that. However, what these protests add up to is a purely negative gesture of angry rejection and an equally abstract demand for justice, lacking the ability to translate this demand into a concrete political programme.

What can be done in such a situation, where demonstrations and protests are of no use, where democratic elections are of no use? Can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but also to offer the prospect of a new order?

The Pussy Riot performances cannot be reduced just to subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of their acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. In some deeper sense, it is today’s society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense and measure, and it is Pussy Riot that de facto provides a stable ethico-political point. The very existence of Pussy Riot tells thousands that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.

So I also wish you good luck in our common cause. To be faithful to our common cause means to be brave, especially now, and, as the old saying goes, luck is on the side of the brave!

Yours, Slavoj

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in court in April this yearNadezhda Tolokonnikova in court in April this year. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA  

13 July 2013

Dear Slavoj,

In my last letter, written in haste as I worked in the sewing shop, I was not as clear as I should have been about the distinction between how “global capitalism” functions in Europe and the US on the one hand, and in Russia on the other. However, recent events in Russia – the trial of Alexei Navalny, the passing of unconstitutional, anti-freedom laws – have infuriated me. I feel compelled to speak about the specific political and economic practices of my country. The last time I felt this angry was in 2011 when Putin declared he was running for the presidency for a third time. My anger and resolve led to the birth of Pussy Riot. What will happen now? Time will tell.

Here in Russia I have a strong sense of the cynicism of so-called first-world countries towards poorer nations. In my humble opinion, “developed” countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights. The European and US governments freely collaborate with Russia as it imposes laws from the middle ages and throws opposition politicians in jail. They collaborate with China, where oppression is so bad that my hair stands on end just to think about it. What are the limits of tolerance? And when does tolerance become collaboration, conformism and complicity?

To think, cynically, “let them do what they want in their own country”, doesn’t work any longer, because Russia and China and countries like them are now part of the global capitalist system.

Russia under Putin, with its dependence on raw materials, would have been massively weakened if those nations that import Russian oil and gas had shown the courage of their convictions and stopped buying. Even if Europe were to take as modest a step as passing a “Magnitsky law” [the Magnitsky Act in the US allows it to place sanctions on Russian officials believed to have taken part in human-rights violations], morally it would speak volumes. A boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 would be another ethical gesture. But the continued trade in raw materials constitutes a tacit approval of the Russian regime – not through words, but through money. It betrays the desire to protect the political and economic status quo and the division of labour that lies at the heart of the world economic system.

You quote Marx: “A social system that seizes up and rusts … cannot survive.” But here I am, working out my prison sentence in a country where the 10 people who control the biggest sectors of the economy are Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends. He studied or played sports with some, and served in the KGB with others. Isn’t this a social system that has seized up? Isn’t this a feudal system?

I thank you sincerely, Slavoj, for our correspondence and can hardly wait for your reply.

Yours, Nadia

• The correspondence was organised by Philosophie magazine in cooperation with New Times. Longer versions can be found in German at philomag.de or in French at philomag.com. Tolokonnikova’s letters were translated from Russian by Galia Ackerman

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is a Russian performance artist, political activist, and member of the protest punk band Pussy Riot. On August 17, 2012, she and two other members of the group were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and sentenced to two years of hard labor in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Largest Civil Disobedience In Walmart History Leads To More Than 50 Arrests November 8, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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Roger’s note: welcome to wage slavery in capitalist America, the land of freedom.  Freedom to vote.  Freedom to watch your children starve.

 

Posted: 11/08/2013 1:04 am EST  |  Updated: 11/08/2013 2:21 am EST

Walmart arrests


Surrounded by about 100 police officers in riot gear and a helicopter circling above, more than 50 Walmart workers and supporters were arrested in downtown Los Angeles Thursday night as they sat in the street protesting what they called the retailer’s “poverty wages.”

Organizers said it was the largest single act of civil disobedience in Walmart’s 50-year history. The 54 arrestees, with about 500 protesting Walmart workers, clergy and supporters, demonstrated outside LA’s Chinatown Walmart. Those who refused police orders to clear the street after their permit expired were arrested without incident. Those who fail to post $5,000 bail would be jailed overnight, Detective Gus Villanueva, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman, told The Huffington Post.

Their primary demand to Walmart: pay every full-time worker at least $25,000 a year.

One of the protesting Walmart workers, Anthony Goytia, a 31-year-old father of two, said he believes he will make about $12,000 this year. It’s a daily struggle, he said, “to make sure my family doesn’t go hungry.”

“The power went out at my house yesterday because I couldn’t afford the bill,” Goytia told HuffPost. “I had to run around and get two payday loans to pay for my rent from the first” of the month. “Yesterday we went to a food bank.”

To make ends meet, Goytia said he sometimes participates in clinical trials and sells his blood plasma. He has been asking his managers for full-time employment for a year and a half. Instead, he said, they hire temporary workers, who can be fired at any time.

Goytia was one of several dozen Walmart workers in Southern California who went on strike Wednesday and Thursday, calling for an end to low wages, unpredictable part-time hours and retaliation for speaking out. They were joined by other employees on their days off and dozens more who rode buses from Northern California.

The strike, protest and arrests are the latest in a series of worker actions across the country coordinated by OUR Walmart, an advocacy organization with ties to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The strike and protest in Los Angeles this week are the first in what organizers said would be a series of protests leading into the holiday shopping season.

The protesters said Walmart can afford to pay every worker at least $25,000 a year — pointing to Walmart’s $17 billion profit from the latest year and the founding Walton family’s fortune, which equals the wealth of the bottom 42 percent of American families.

Walmart CEO Bill Simon disclosed in a presentation recently that 475,000 Walmart workers are paid more than $25,000 a year. That leaves 525,000 to 825,000 Walmart workers earning less than $25,000. House Democrats seeking to boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour have criticized Walmart for its low wages.

Walmart invited HuffPost to speak to a couple associates working in the Chinatown store during the protest Thursday. In the presence of a consultant working for Walmart, two employees — Do Nguyen, 29, and Aldo Hernandez, 55 — said that they are treated well at Walmart. Nguyen, who has worked for Walmart for almost a year, said that asking for a minimum of $25,000 is “a national issue, not a Walmart issue.”

Hernandez, who has worked for Walmart for almost five years, said he gets good health benefits through Walmart and doesn’t struggle to support himself and his son. Both Nguyen and Hernandez declined to say how much they make.

Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart, said that the company has hundreds of thousands of associates who earn $25,000 or more and that others have the opportunity to do so.

“There are unparalleled opportunities at Walmart,” Lundberg said. “We’re going to be promoting 160,000 associates this year. That’s larger than the total workforce of most companies out there.”

“Folks can come in as entry level or whatever level they’re at and can work up as far as they’re willing to go,” Lundberg said. “That’s one of the things we’re proudest of.”

After working full time at Walmart in Paramount, Calif., for 10 years, Martha Sellers, 55, makes $25,400 a year. In the last few years, she said, her managers have been cutting her weekly hours, sometimes to as few as 12 hours a week.

With that income, she said, she has to pay her rent in pieces. “If I pay all my rent at one time, then I have $12 to live on and put gas in my car until I get paid again,” Sellers, who attended Thursday’s protest, said.

“I have a very nice neighbor who lends me money. But then the next month, I’m short again,” Sellers said. “I never get caught up.”

LA’s Chinatown Walmart, about one-fifth the size of the company’s regular stores, opened in September despite thousands of Angelenos protesting it during the summer. It is the retailer’s first store in central LA.

In October 2012, for the first time in Walmart’s history, some workers went on a one-day strike, even though Walmart jobs have never been protected by a labor union. More than 70 LA Walmart workers from nine stores walked off the job, followed by over 80 Walmart workers walking off the job in a dozen other U.S. cities.

Last year, through online organizing, OUR Walmart coordinated strikes on Thanksgiving and Black Friday in 46 states and 100 stores. The actions put a spotlight on the world’s largest retailer during one of the biggest shopping periods of the year. Walmart had its best Black Friday ever, according to the company.

Regarding associates being required to work earlier on Thanksgiving, Lundberg said, “Folks understand that when they come to work for Walmart, that we’re a 24-hour store, and Thanksgiving is one of those days that we serve our customers.”

Sellers went on strike on Black Friday last year and said she plans to do so again this year. “Walmart claims to be a family-oriented company,” she said. “But where’s the family time? They took away Easter too.

“Where is the American economy going if we’re all working poverty wages?,” Sellers said. “There will be no working class. We’ll all be in a poverty class.”

Pope Francis Takes Aim At Ideologically Obsessed Christians, Says They Have Illness (VIDEO) October 23, 2013

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Roger’s note: There is definitely something strange going on in the universe when I find the Pope’s remarks relevant (although I will not forget that as Bishop he at best kept quiet during the era of atrocities under the military dictatorship in Argentina). What he says about the church and ideology also applies to the world of Marxism, where the continent of thought created by Marx’s brilliant mind and his political activity has been ossified into a materialist and economic ideology by many who call themselves Marxist rather than a living and dynamic philosophy of human liberation that needs to be re-worked out for each generation.

 

Based on past statements, Pope Francis’ remarks were aimed mostly at the Christian Right.

While Pope Francis did not specifically mention Christian right-wing ideology during the Mass, his past remarks suggest he was talking about that ideology most of all.

In September, Pope Francis attacked “savage capitalism” and took up the plight of the unemployed against a system that worships money. Earlier that month, the Pope also criticized conservative Catholics for focusing so much on abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. And in July, Pope Francis put the brakes on hating gay people, saying that we shouldn’t judge or marginalize them.

Clearly, Pope Francis isn’t fond of the extreme ideals of the Christian Right. He supports helping the poor. He believes in economic fairness. He denounces hatred of gay people. He thinks the war against abortion and birth control has gone too far. Considering all of these things, it’s pretty obvious that Pope Francis was mostly talking to right-wing Christians on Thursday. Their ideological fanaticism has damaged religion. They have abandoned the true teachings of Jesus to pursue an extremist agenda. And Pope Francis just called them out for it. Cue right-wing rage in 3, 2, 1…

 

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

How Inequality is Killing Us September 3, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Health, Poverty.
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Mon, Sep 2, 2013

How Inequality is Killing Usby Susan Rosenthal

BOOK REVIEW: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by R. Wilkinson & K. Pickett (2009/2011)

If a book’s value can be measured by its ability to antagonize right-wing ‘think-tanks,’ then this book is priceless.

The Spirit Level challenges everything we’ve been told about why people get sick and what it takes to be healthy.

While public campaigns lecture us to eat right, stop smoking, exercise more, etc., in fact, our well-being has very little to do with our individual choices and everything to do with how society is structured. Put simply, inequality is extremely bad for our health.

The United States ranks as the world’s most unequal nation, far outstripping all other nations. The top one percent of Americans have a combined net worth that is more than triple the net worth of the other 99 percent combined. And the bottom 40 percent of Americans own less than nothing, because they are sinking in debt.(1) (See the two charts below)

The high cost of inequality

Wilkinson and Pickett compare income inequality within 23 of the world’s richest nations and all fifty US states. They found that, at every income level, people living in more unequal nations and states suffer:

• lower life expectancy

• higher infant mortality

• more homicides

• more anxiety

• more mental illness

• more drug and alcohol addiction

• more obesity

• higher rates of imprisonment

• less social mobility

• more teen pregnancies

• more high-school dropouts

• poorer school performance

• more school-age bullying

And the extent to which people at every income level suffer these problems is directly related to how unequal is the society in which they live.

In contrast, people living in more equal societies and states enjoy better mental, physical and social health – at every income level. And the more equal their societies, the more they enjoy these benefits.

Once everyone has the basic necessities of life, your health and social well-being is determined less by how rich you are than how unequal is the society in which you live. In other words, poorer people in more equal societies are healthier and happier than richer people in more unequal societies.

The difference is significant. A 1990s study of 282 metropolitan areas in the United States found that the greater the difference in income, the more the death rate rose for all income levels, not just for the poor.(2)

Researchers calculated that reducing income inequality to the lowest level found in those areas would save as many lives as would be saved by eradicating heart disease or by preventing all deaths from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infection, suicide and homicide combined.

Inequality divides us

Why would inequality, in and of itself, have such a profound impact? The answer lies in our mammalian biology. As the most social animals on the planet, we are hard-wired to function best in an embracing community.

More than 95 percent of human existence has been spent in egalitarian societies. Because the survival of the group depends on collaboration, all primitive societies developed rules and customs to prevent anyone from rising too high or sinking too low.

However, for the past 10,000 years, most people have lived in class-divided, hierarchical societies. We have adapted to social inequality, but we pay a terrible price.

Consider this statement, “Most people can be trusted.” Would you agree or disagree?

The probability that you would disagree is directly related to the level of income inequality in your society. Wilkinson and Pickett show that people in the most equal nations, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, are six times more likely to trust each other than those in the most unequal nations – Portugal, Singapore and the United States. In short, inequality makes people distrustful.

When society does not take care of us, when we are abandoned to struggle individually, then we distrust others and fear for our safety. As a result, more unequal societies are characterized by more inter-personal competition, more emphasis on individual status and success, less social security, more envy of those above and more disdain for those below.

Fearful distrust compelled George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin. Fearful distrust prompts us to warn our children about strangers, suspect those who are different, install security systems, view the poor and unemployed as ‘cheaters,’ applaud more spending on police and prisons, and support harsher penalties.

Fearful distrust provides a mass audience for TV shows and movies about traitors, torturers, rapists, sadists, and serial killers. When I asked one person why she followed a particularly gruesome TV serial about psychopathic murderers, she replied, “I want to know what’s out there.” Fearful distrust keeps us isolated and unable to recognize our common interests.

The Spirit Level is rich in information about the benefits of greater equality – enough to convince anyone who cares about human welfare. For that reason, I recommend it most highly. (The book’s facts, charts, and more resources can be found at The Equality Trust).

Unfortunately, the book falls short when it comes to solutions.

Could inequality be legislated away?

The book’s primary weakness is revealed in Robert Reich’s Foreword,

“By and large, ‘the market’ is generating these outlandish results. But the market is a creation of public policies. And public policies, as the authors make clear, can reorganize the market to reverse these trends.” (p.xii)

In reality, capitalism is based on a fundamental inequality: the capitalist class owns the means of production and all that is produced, so it has the power to shape society. The rest of us, who do the actual work of producing, get virtually no say in how society is run. This two-class system cannot be legislated away, any more than the systems of slavery or feudalism could be legislated away.

Most important, the capitalist system is based on the accumulation of capital which, by its very nature, increases inequality.

Every capitalist is committed to raising productivity – increasing the amount of capital that can be squeezed from each worker and confiscated by the employer. As more wealth is extracted from the working class and concentrated in the hands of the one percent, society becomes increasingly unequal. Counter-measures can slow the twin process of capital accumulation and growing inequality, but it can be stopped only by eliminating capitalism.

Could we all live in Sweden?

As Wilkinson and Pickett explain, there are two ways that countries offset rising inequality: by capping higher incomes; and by imposing higher taxes on the rich to pay for social programs. In other words, by holding the very rich down and by elevating everyone else. So it might seem that the solution to inequality could lie in redistributive public policies. However, wanting and needing such policies has never been enough – it’s always required a fight. As the authors point out,

“Sweden’s greater equality originated in the Social Democratic Party’s electoral victory in 1932 which had been preceded by violent labor disputes in which troops had opened fire on sawmill workers.” (p.242)

The book offers more examples of governments that implemented social programs for fear of revolution if they didn’t: the New Deal in the 1930s, the revolutionary wave that struck Europe in the 1840s, the post-war ‘social contract’ in England, the radicalism of the 1960s, etc.

Wilkinson and Pickett recount how income inequality in the United States reached a peak before the Great Crash of 1929. Beginning in the later 1930s, income inequality decreased as workers organized and fought to divert more social wealth to the people who produced it.

Beginning in the 1970s, income inequality began to rise again. This change was marked by an employers’ offensive against unions. As the proportion of workers in unions fell, income inequality rose until it is now similar to the level of inequality that preceded the 1929 crash.

The authors explain that the American example is not unique,

“A study which analysed trends in inequality during the 1980s and 1990s in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States found that the most important single factor was trade union membership…[D]eclines in trade union membership were most closely associated with widening income differences.” (p.244)

The lesson from these examples is clear: when the working class is ascendant, inequality decreases and society becomes more fair; when the capitalist class is ascendant, inequality increases and society becomes less fair.

Despite their own evidence, the authors do not call for a working-class uprising to reduce, if not eliminate, class inequality. Instead, they state that,

“The transformation of our society is a project in which we all have a shared interest.” (p.237)

This is a fundamental error, because we do not all have a shared interest. Greater equality would require the capitalist class to give up a substantial amount of its wealth and power. History shows that they never do this willingly.

Individual capitalists might see the value of a fairer society, but any who chose to slow the rate of capital accumulation would be replaced by others with no such concern. Moreover, those who accumulate the most capital can ‘buy’ as many politicians as necessary to shape public policies.

Instead of challenging the two-class capitalist system, the authors want to make it more humane by building a network of worker-co-operatives.

“The key is to map out ways in which the new society can begin to grow within and alongside the institutions it may gradually marginalise and replace. That is what making change is really about…What we need is not one big revolution but a continuous stream of small changes in a consistent direction.” (p.236)

Mondragon Corporation in Spain is offered as an example. Mondragon encompasses 120 employee-owned co-ops, 40,000 worker-owners and sales of $4.8 billion US dollars. However, despite being home to one of the world’s largest co-op networks, Spain ranks midway between the most equal and the most unequal nations. And it has recently implemented severe austerity policies that dramatically increase inequality.

Despite their many benefits, worker-owned co-operatives cannot transform society. As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out more than 100 years ago,

“Producers’ co-operatives are excluded from the most important branches of capital production — the textile, mining, metallurgical and petroleum industries, machine construction, locomotive and shipbuilding. For this reason alone, co-operatives in the field of production cannot be seriously considered as the instrument of a general social transformation…Within the framework of present society, producers’ co-operatives are limited to the role of simple annexes to consumers’ co-operatives.” (3)

And one cannot imagine the global military-industrial complex becoming a worker-owned co-op.

To their credit, the authors acknowledge,

“The truth is that modern inequality exists because democracy is excluded from the economic sphere. It needs therefore to be dealt with by an extension of democracy into the workplace.” (p.264)

Realistically, there’s only one way to achieve workplace democracy across the whole of society – a global working-class revolution that takes collective control of production and eliminates the two-class system of capitalism. Then we could build a truly cooperative society in which everyone is equally worthy to share life’s work and life’s rewards.

References

1. Wolff, E.N., “The asset price meltdown and the wealth of the middle class” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 18559 (2012)

2. Lynch, J.W. et. al. (1998). Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States. Am J Public Health. Vol. 88, pp.1074-1080.

3. Luxemburg, R. (1900/1908). Reform or revolution. London: Bookmarks, p.66.

See also Inequality: The Root Source of Sickness

 

3-graphs-re-wealth-distribution3-1024x559 

 

Profiting From Human Misery February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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1 comment so far
 
Posted on Feb 17, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
AP/Mel Evans
A row of beds inside the Elizabeth Detention Center.

 

By Chris Hedges

 

Marela, an undocumented immigrant in her 40s, stood outside the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J., on a chilly afternoon last week. She was there with a group of protesters who appear at the facility’s gates every year on Ash Wednesday to decry the nation’s immigration policy and conditions inside the center. She was there, she said, because of her friend Evelyn Obey.

Obey, 40, a Guatemalan and the single mother of a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, was picked up in an immigration raid as she and nine other undocumented workers walked out of an office building they cleaned in Newark, N.J. Her two children instantly lost their only parent. She languished in detention. Another family took in the children, who never saw their mother again. Obey died in jail in 2010 from, according to the sign Villar had hung on her neck, “pulmonary thromboembolism, chronic bronchiolitis and emphysema and remote cardiac Ischemic Damage.’ ”

“She called me two days after she was seized,” Marela told me in Spanish. “She was hysterical. She was crying. She was worried about her children. We could not visit her because we do not have legal documents. We helped her get a lawyer. Then we heard she was sick. Then we heard she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave. We did not go to her burial. We were too scared of being seized and detained.”

The rally—about four dozen people, most from immigrant rights groups and local churches—was a flicker of consciousness in a nation that has yet to fully confront the totalitarian corporate forces arrayed against it. Several protesters in orange jumpsuits like those worn by inmates held signs reading: “I Want My Family Together,” “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Education not Deportation.”

“The people who run that prison make money off of human misery,” said Diana Mejia, 47, an immigrant from Colombia who now has legal status, gesturing toward the old warehouse that now serves as the detention facility. As she spoke, a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System belted out a protest song. A low-flying passenger jet, its red, green and white underbelly lights blinking in the night sky, rumbled overhead. Clergy walking amid the crowd marked the foreheads of participants with ashes to commemorate Ash Wednesday.

“Repentance is more than merely being sorry,” the Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, the executive director of Casa de Esperanza, a community organization working with immigrants, told the gathering. “It is an act of turning around and then moving forward to make change.”

The majority of those we incarcerate in this country—and we incarcerate a quarter of the world’s prison population—have never committed a violent crime. Eleven million undocumented immigrants face the possibility of imprisonment and deportation. President Barack Obama, outpacing George W. Bush, has deported more than 400,000 people since he took office. Families, once someone is seized, detained and deported, are thrown into crisis. Children come home from school and find they have lost their mothers or fathers. The small incomes that once sustained them are snuffed out. Those who remain behind often become destitute.

But human beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons—as they do education, health care and war—as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined.

The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible.

The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says that for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all of the new prisons built between 2000 and 2005. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which imprisons about 400,000 undocumented people a year, has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. ICE is planning to expand its operations by establishing several mega-detention centers, most run by private corporations, in states such as New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois. Many of these private contractors are, not surprisingly, large campaign donors to “law and order” politicians including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

In CCA’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission for 2011, cited by the ACLU, the prison company bluntly states its opposition to prison reform. “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws,” it declares. CCA goes on to warn that “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration” could “potentially [reduce] demand for correctional facilities,” as would “mak[ing] more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior,” the adoption of “sentencing alternatives [that] … could put some offenders on probation” and “reductions in crime rates.”

CCA in 2011 gave $710,300 in political contributions to candidates for federal or state office, political parties and 527 groups (PACs and super PACs), the ACLU reported. The corporation also spent $1.07 million lobbying federal officials along with undisclosed funds to lobby state officials, according to the ACLU. CCA, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), lobbies legislators to impose harsher detention laws at the state and federal levels. The ALEC helped draft Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070.

A March 2012 CCA investor presentation prospectus, quoted by the ACLU, tells potential investors that incarceration “creates predictable revenue streams.” The document cites demographic trends that the company says will continue to expand profits. These positive investment trends include, the prospectus reads, “high recidivism”—“about 45 percent of individuals released from prison in 1999 and more than 43 percent released from prison in 2004 were returned to prison within three years.” The prospectus invites investments by noting that one in every 100 U.S. adults is currently in prison or jail. And because the U.S. population is projected to grow by approximately 18.6 million from 2012 to 2017, “prison populations would grow by about 80,400 between 2012 and 2017, or by more than 13,000 additional per year, on average,” the CCA document says.

The two largest private prison companies in 2010 received nearly $3 billion in revenue. The senior executives, according to the ACLU report, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million. The for-profit prisons can charge the government up to $200 a day to house an inmate; they pay detention officers as little as $10 an hour.

“Within 30 miles of this place, there are at least four other facilities where immigrants are detained: Essex, Monmouth, Delaney Hall and Hudson, which has the distinction of being named one of the 10 worst detention facilities in the country,” Phipps, who is an immigration attorney as well as a minister, told the gathering in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center. “The terrible secret is that immigration detention has become a very profitable business for companies and county governments.”

“More than two-thirds of immigrants are detained in so-called contract facilities owned by private companies, such as this one and Delaney Hall,” she went on. “The rise of the prison industrial complex has gone hand in hand with the aggrandizing forces of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which, by the way, has filed suit against the very government it is supposed to be working for because they were told to exercise prosecutorial discretion in their detention practices.” [Click here to see more about the lawsuit, in which 10 ICE agents attack the administration’s easing of government policy on those who illegally entered the United States as children.]

There is an immigration court inside the Elizabeth facility, although the roar of the planes lifting off from the nearby Newark Airport forces those in the court to remain silent every three or four minutes until the sound subsides. Most of those brought before the court have no legal representation and are railroaded through the system and deported. Detainees, although most have no criminal record beyond illegal entry into the United States, wear orange jumpsuits and frequently are handcuffed. They do not have adequate health care. There are now some 5,000 children in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported, according to the Applied Research Center’s report “Shattered Families.” The report estimates that this number will rise to 15,000 within five years.

“I am in family court once every six to eight weeks representing some mother who is surrendering custody of her child to somebody else because she does not want to take that child back to the poverty of Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador,” Phipps said when we spoke after the rally. “She has no option. She does not want her child to live in the same poverty she grew up in. It is heartbreaking.”

We have abandoned the common good. We have been stripped of our rights and voice. Corporations write our laws and determine how we structure our society. We have all become victims. There are no politicians or institutions, no political parties or courts, that are independent enough or strong enough to resist the corporate onslaught. Greater and greater numbers of human beings will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the children will go first. And those of us watching helplessly outside the gates will go next.

 

Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges’ original columns in Truthdig by naming the author the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011. The LAPC also granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”

Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.

Hedges began his career reporting the war in El Salvador. Following six years in Latin America, he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the bureau chief there for The New York Times. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and later reported the war in Kosovo. Afterward, he joined the Times’ investigative team and was based in Paris to cover al-Qaida. He left the Times after being issued a formal reprimand for denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

He has written twelve books, including “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012),  “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In 2011, Nation Books published a collection of Hedges’ Truthdig columns called “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”

Hedges holds a B.A. in English literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. Hedges speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows ancient Greek and Latin. In addition to writing a weekly original column for Truthdig, he has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and other publications.

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