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Shaking the System: A Greek Gift to Occupy USA November 2, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Greece, Revolution.
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Published on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 by Black Agenda Report

 

 

The Greek government, after months of demonstrations by a citizenry that rejects impoverishment for the sake of the bankers, has promised to submit the bailout plan to a referendum. This should be a lesson to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the U.S. public in general: force the issue, or the issue will be forced upon you. “Americans think that backing two political parties who are both eager to work in the interests of banksters is a solution to averting a disaster despite the fact that the disaster never ends.”

The European debt crisis is but one symptom of the crisis in which the capitalist system finds itself. The years of accumulated “fictitious” capital, followed by a succession of ruptured market bubbles, were all signs that the system is like Humpty Dumpty, unlikely to be put back together again.

Greece is the current focus of attention, with American markets rising or falling based on the status of negotiations among the Eurozone leadership. Greece’s “partners” agreed to bail out that nation only on the condition that it impoverish its citizens. Yet because of sustained protest against the austerity measures, the prime minister has promised his people a referendum on the plan, which has thrown domestic politics and international finance into a state of turmoil.

“If only American politicians had to fear their people as much as their European counterparts do.”

The turmoil cannot be confined to Europe either. Former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine is in the news because the commodities firm that he heads, MF Global, was caught up in the European crisis and has now filed for bankruptcy. Corzine is a former Goldman Sachs executive who self-financed his own political campaigns for senator and governor. If there were a poster child for the unholy alliance between money and politics, Corzine should be it.

The fortunes of American firms and European politicians are not looking very promising these days, and that is a good thing. Greek Prime Minister Papandreou can’t close the rotten deal because his people won’t stand for it. As a result of popular actions such as strikes and demonstrations, he must offer a referendum which puts the entire system on notice and across the ocean MF Global and the American markets go in the tank.

“Greece’s ‘partners’ agreed to bail out that nation only on the condition that it impoverish its citizens.”

It is an important lesson for Americans. Greeks and other people around the world aren’t taken in by predictions of doom from the high and mighty. They have declared loudly and clearly that they will not pay a price because of corruption committed without their knowledge and consent.

The Occupy Wall Street movement should sit up and take notice. Their consensus organizational structure and national assemblies upon which it is based began in Europe. The OWS organizers would do well to repeat European actions taken against the 1% and the members of political class who are eager to do their bidding.

It is well and good to say that the OWS movement is finding its way, but if it doesn’t notice what happens when people take mass action, then they aren’t ready for the big leagues. Three years ago the American people were told that they would suffer if Wall Street was not bailed out with their money. The TARP deal went forward with the collusion of both Republicans and the then Democratic nominee, Barack Obama and the rest of his party.

The results of that capitulation have been calamitous. TARP was a band aid solution to a structural crisis and Americans are suffering despite the fact that their resources continue to be sucked into the bottomless pit of the federal reserve. Unemployment numbers are not improving, the housing market remains stagnant, and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.

“Even Social Security, the erstwhile “third rail” of politics, is on the table ready to be butchered by the party that used to at least pretend to defend it.”

If only American politicians had to fear their people as much as their European counterparts do. Instead of cowering in fear when the Wall Street chieftains shout, “Your money or your life,” we might have something to show three years after the big heist. Instead, Americans think that backing two political parties who are both eager to work in the interests of banksters is a solution to averting a disaster despite the fact that the disaster never ends.

The Greeks are bearing a good gift to the people of the United States but only if Americans have the awareness to see it. It would be wonderful to witness Barack Obama and the Democrats having to undo their dirty work with the Republicans because of popular action. Instead, even Social Security, the erstwhile “third rail” of politics, is on the table ready to be butchered by the party that used to at least pretend to defend it.

Prime Minister Papandreou has risked the wrath of European leadership because the people of his country won’t stand for anything else. There is no reason to fear turmoil in the markets and firms going belly up. We ought to let American political leaders know that we too have had enough of the back room deals which never serve our interests.

If democracy wasn’t born in ancient Greece, it is certainly exemplified by the actions of its people today. Their actions have rattled cages in many parts of the globe, and not only should these events not be feared, they should be celebrated.

© 2011 Black Agenda Report

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Margaret Kimberley

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport

Political spectacles cannot hide reality of deranged September 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Verizon workers all across the
U.S. went out on strike for 15 days to force the company to bargain in good
faith. Represented by the Communications Workers of America and the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, they agreed not to strike again
for 30 days. Verizon called for draconian measures that would have destroyed the
union. The workers are ready to resume their strike when
necessary.

by Ron Kelch

www.newsandletters.org, Sept – Oct 2011

At the end of a months-long political spectacle in Washington–manufactured
over irrelevancies concerning what should have been a routine raising of the
national debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline–reality struck with a bombshell:
the anemic “jobless” recovery in the U.S. has stalled. The economy is getting
worse and there is no solution under capitalism. Revised data revealed that the
economy grew at less than 1% in the first half of the year. The 9.1%
unemployment rate is really over 16% when you consider that at 63.9% the level
of labor participation in the economy is the lowest since the Great Recession
started in 2007.
__________

Economists worry that the global economy is poised for a double dip
recession. Most agree that, for the foreseeable future, at best there will be
low or no growth–namely, a prolonged depression in employment.
The government spared no expense in immediately rescuing the finance sector in
the face of a total meltdown in 2008. A completely inadequate stimulus package,
which is about to run out, barely made a dent in mass unemployment. Now, in the
face of a new downturn, there is the highest long-term unemployment since the
Great Depression.

FANATICAL TEA PARTY POLITICS

Republican Tea Party fanatics, who control the U.S. House of Representatives,
were willing to risk a default on the national debt by refusing to raise the
debt limit. A default would have triggered a “financial Armageddon” and pushed
the already weak U.S. and world economies into an abyss. The
mass misery this would have generated was of no consequence to the Tea Party,
for whom nothing mattered except gutting spending on all social programs and
stopping any tax increases for the wealthy.

The tax structure in the U.S. is so outrageous that billionaire Warren
Buffett pleaded with the politicians to stop “coddling” the rich like him whose
tax burden, at 17.4%, is less than half of the average 36% paid by the other 20
employees in his office. Inequality in the U.S., where the top fifth has 84% of
the national wealth while the bottom two fifths have a mere 0.3%, is one of the
most extreme in the world. One fifth of children in this richest country on
earth grow up in poverty. Thus, as the Aug. 2 deadline approached, without a
care to these facts or the consequences of their actions, the Republicans got
what they wanted. Standard & Poors (S&P) promptly lowered the U.S.
credit rating from AAA to AA+, not because of a U.S. inability to pay its debts,
but because such a deranged political system can no longer be counted on to do
so.

The religious fanatics who control the Republican Party like Michele Bachmann
and Texas governor Rick Perry adhere to “Dominionism,” which holds that certain
Christians should not let anything get in the way of fulfilling their destiny:
to run the government according to their strictures and in turn impose them
throughout society. Dominionist views are totally divorced from reality–whether
on evolution, global warming or the nature of homosexuality–but, when they
include ruining the economy, then many capitalists get scared.
Such a deranged single-minded reach for power on the part of these ideologues
can’t be dismissed, however, precisely because capitalists are still so willing
to use them to force cuts on workers’ pensions, healthcare and education to pay
for deficits from wars, tax cuts for the rich, and speculative excesses that
caused the downturn.

 

KEYNESIANISM AND AUSTERITY-INDUCED DOWNWARD SPIRAL

The capitalist dilemma is that austerity has also revealed itself as a
deranged policy that makes the deficits worse because it drives down economic
growth. In Europe, an austerity-induced downward spiral in employment and living
conditions has been met with mass strikes, riots and “Take the Square” movements
inspired by the Arab Spring and demands for “Real Democracy.” Nationalism is
tearing apart Europe’s economic union as countries like Germany, with financial
prowess due to an export-driven economy, have dictated harsh conditions for
bailouts of other countries. Bailouts became necessary after bond dealers, who
were rescued from their own speculative bubble, forced one country after another
to face exorbitant interest rates on their debt. The contagion spread from
marginal countries like Ireland, Portugal and Greece to Spain and even Italy.
Now economic growth in Germany itself has collapsed to almost nothing.
Economists fear not just another global recession but another financial meltdown
like 2008.

After S&P’s downgrade, far from fleeing from U.S. debt, investors
demanded more of it, making it even cheaper for the government to borrow. The
interest rate on ten-year Treasuries fell to historic lows of under 2%. U.S.
capitalists have a huge cash hoard of nearly $2 trillion that is not being
invested in the real economy. It gets lent to the government for almost nothing.
The near religious faith that capital creates jobs has met the reality
of stalled capital accumulation creating permanent mass
unemployment.

As economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich keep saying, Keynesian
economics arose in the 1930s to deal with a similar deranged moment when
capitalism kept digging itself into a deeper hole. Today is said to be akin to
1937, when President Roosevelt listened to those who wanted to cut the deficit
and the Depression returned with a vengeance.

Only when Roosevelt turned to several years of what would in today’s dollars
be $3 trillion deficits in the buildup and execution of World War II did the
U.S. exit the Depression. Krugman claims the economic impact of the war–the
massive physical destruction of capital, which left the U.S. as the lone
economic superpower–wasn’t necessary for ending the Depression and restarting
capital accumulation.

But total war was not separate from the Depression. War was preceded by the
monstrosity of Nazism arising in an advanced capitalist country. A more
thoughtful evaluation came from another renowned academic economist, Simon
Kuznets, who also saw only “transient difficulties” in the collapse in the rate
of capital accumulation, but nevertheless questioned the capitalist basis of
economic growth if it is “susceptible to such a barbaric deformation”
(Postwar Economic Growth, Harvard University Press, 1964).

CAPITALISM’S FALLING RATE OF PROFIT

Karl Marx showed that the collapse in capitalist growth is no “transient
difficulty,” but is rather a reflection, despite many countervailing tendencies,
of an overall tendency for the rate of profit to decline. (See “Deep recession, rate of profit and the supreme
commodity, labor power
“.) A financial meltdown reveals a dramatically lower
rate of profit in the real economy where capitalists balk at investment and
produce not jobs but a growing army of unemployed and mass pauperization.

Profit can only come from surplus value extracted from living labor, and the
rate of profit falls when there is relatively less living labor in proportion to
dead labor or capital. Capital’s self-contradictory motivation is to diminish
living labor as much as possible–this goose that lays their golden eggs–by
constantly revolutionizing production with new dead labor or machines. With a
given level of technological development and ratio of capital to living labor,
the only way to boost profit is to lower the cost of labor through a class war
on labor rights, wages, benefits and pensions.

The capitalist system will not collapse on its own, but will continue as long
as it can in a protracted painful decline. There are persistent new revolts on
the ground searching for a new path as when mass demonstrations and sit-ins in
Wisconsin confronted Governor Walker–not only because of his huge take-backs
but because of the repeal of public workers’ basic labor rights. The opposition
to Walker also came within one vote of taking control of the State Senate in
recall elections and effectively ended his majority for the most extreme of his
agenda items. The political arena of elections, however, is where capitalists
have infinite cash to spin facts in the media according to their inverted
reality.

President Obama, who was elected on a promise of change that inspired masses
of new people to work for his election, behaves as if he also believes fervently
in the political process that operates on a different plane than the conditions
of life and labor of those who elected him. Obama kept exclaiming that high
unemployment is unacceptable and a prime concern, but the political process,
divorced from the aspirations of those who elected him, revolved around deficit
cuts that undermined employment. His new promise to introduce a jobs program has
little credibility.

Workers experience the process of accumulating capital as an alien one, where
the object, capital in the form of a machine, dominates the subject, the living
laborer. The capitalist begins from total costs and views labor not as the
source of value but only as an expense. In this way, says Marx, “the extortion
of surplus-value loses its specific character.” For the capitalists it
always appears as though an increase in value results from technology.

New technology lowers socially necessary labor-time and makes those commodities
issuing from it temporarily sell above their value, which is determined by the
average socially necessary labor-time. The “crisis” hits when all capitalists
get the same technology (or are driven out of business) and all commodities sell
for their now lower value, the amount of labor-time “in” them. What pervades the
totally dysfunctional political system is the capitalist’s fantasy thinking that
treats capital as the generator not only of jobs but of value itself.

The appearance of creating value from nothing through speculative finance
capital is twice removed from the “specific character” of creating value in
production and greatly amplifies the hallucinatory thinking of capitalists and
their political allies. Production is the source of both profit and the
illusions of finance capital.
Under finance capital, as Marx put it,
“the way that surplus-value is transformed into the form of profit…is only
further extension of that inversion of subject and object which already occurs
in the course of the production process itself. We saw in that case how all the
subjective forces of labor present themselves as productive forces of capital”
(Capital, Vol. 3, Fernbach trans, p. 136).

DIGGING HUMANITY OUT OF A MENTAL HOLE

Ideologues never tire of projecting anew this disordered consciousness in
which humans begin from reality not as our own creative powers in metabolism
with nature, but bow to technology as capital. In Foreign Affairs
(July/August, 2011), Michael Spence warns of “structural underpinnings” driving
a divergence between “growth and employment,” which means “the United States
should brace itself for a long period of high unemployment” because of the
impending loss of even “high-value-added” jobs that revolutionize technology.
“Value-added” fantastically becomes “capital and labor that turn the inputs into
outputs.” Capital produces no new value. Only living labor, whose proportion
diminishes relative to dead labor, creates new value even as it transfers the
value of the machine over its lifetime in production.

Apple Corp. came to be the iconic center of high-tech jobs and briefly the
company with the largest market capitalization in the world based on an
abundance of alienated, sweated labor. Foxconn, which employs a million workers
in China manufacturing high-tech gadgets for Apple and others, has an
ignominious reputation for workplace injuries and a rash of suicides from long
hours and high production quotas. Workers, who make at most $200 a month, must
sign a promise to not commit suicide. Safety nets have been placed outside
factory windows. Foxconn chairman Terry Gou wants to deal with these erratic
humans by replacing as many as possible with a million robots by 2013. This is
in the name of wanting his employees to move “higher up the value chain” (“Cheap
Robots vs. Cheap Labor”, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2011) in a country
which still has 300 million peasants. Nothing will stop China, rife with worker
revolts, from a reckoning, not only with speculative excesses in finance, but
with its own internal barriers to accumulation.

New revolts, emerging outside the familiar players like political parties and
labor unions–including the mass demonstrations that forced the shutdown of an
ecologically disastrous chemical plant in Dalian, China, or the new people’s
assemblies that have filled the public squares in Europe–reveal masses of
people searching for a way out of capitalism’s upside-down thinking. It’s time
to stop digging ourselves into not only deeper economic stagnation but also the
stagnation of the mental hole that just reproduces capitalist illusions. For
Marx, the only way to wipe away those illusions is when production is run by
freely associated laborers, a conceptual guide-rail for all the new spontaneous
and self-organized revolts.

How Abortion Caused the Debt Crisis August 1, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Racism, Right Wing, Women.
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Roger’s note: we shouldn’t, of course, take the title of this article literally.  However, it does give us a fairly clear picture of how the manipulation of misogynist and racist hatred by the lunatic Right has advanced the objectives of the military-industrial complex (which the article does not mention  by name).  The only reservation I have about the article is that it sort of lets the Democratic Party’s complicity off the hook.
Published on Monday, August 1, 2011 by RH Reality Check

Last night, right before the fatal deadline, the U.S. Congress finally came to a deal that allows us to raise the debt ceiling, without which the federal government would basically shut down completely and start to default on its loans, creating a cascade of economic disasters.  Congress came to a deal before we had to learn those Depression-era money-saving skills (sadly, we don’t have flour sacks to make clothes from any longer).  Now it’s time to reflect on how our country has gone so far off track that we can’t even handle the basic responsibility of keeping the country from plunging into a manufactured crisis that nearly led to economic collapse.  There are multiple causes, but one that hasn’t been discussed much is abortion.

Tea Party

Yes, abortion. Or, more specifically, the sustained sex panic that has been going on in this country since the sixties and seventies, when the sexual revolution occurred and women secured their reproductive rights.  If it seems a little strange to argue that sex panic helped bring us to the verge of economic collapse, well, that’s the nature of the circuitous, ever-evolving world of politics.  But it’s sex panic that helped create the modern right-wing populist, and it’s the modern right-wing populist that created the current crisis.

Despite the recent coinage of the term “Tea Party,” what we call the Tea Party has been around under different names forever.  It’s basically right-wing populism, and has been the thorn in the side of democracies for at least the past century.  The modern form of it in the United States really formed in the sixties, in response to two major social changes: desegregation and the sexual revolution/feminism. (Yes, I realize feminism and the sexual revolution are separate things, but for the right-wing, they may as well be one thing, since it’s women’s sexual liberation that really gets them going.)  You had this huge group of socially conservative people who were wound up about these social changes, but not a lot of direction for their anger and hate.  Outside of glowering at Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King Jr., what are you supposed to do to stop widespread social change? They needed direction.

The genius of conservative leadership was that they were able to take all this anger about sexual freedom and desegregation and put the blame on two enemies: Democrats and the federal government.  Democrats were blamed for society getting “out of control” and the federal government’s role in enforcing women’s rights and desegregation made them an easy target.  Once these villains were established, all this right-wing populist anger could be pointed towards generic goals of big business Republicans.  If you hate the federal government for enforcing the Civil Rights Act, it’s easy enough to start hating them for levying taxes, especially if you can be convinced those taxes are going to welfare to pay for what you believe is immoral behavior, such as single motherhood.  If you hate the Supreme Court for Roe v. Wade, it’s easy to get you to support putting more conservative justices up there who will routinely vote for business interests.

The theory is that the Republican Party basically exploited right-wing populist anger and used it towards their economic, corporatist ends.  This is a non-controversial statement, and is the thesis behind Thomas Frank’s famous book What’s the Matter with Kansas?, in which he wrote:

“Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically-correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”

A lot of people, including myself, have been critical of Frank’s cynicism in this formulation, arguing that the leadership actually delivers more on right-wing populist demands than Frank gives them credit for doing.

But what we didn’t argue with was the basic premise that there’s two kinds of conservatives: right-wing populists and country club Republicans, and while liberals may not much like the latter, we at least had the reassurance that they’re not crazy.  Country club Republicans may want less regulation and lower taxes, but they don’t actually believe that federal power is illegitimate, or that liberals are motivated by Satanic forces and therefore can be treated as always wrong.  For the past few decades, the leadership of the Republican Party was able to work with Democrats on commonsense governance such as raising the debt ceiling, precisely because they didn’t believe the wild-eyed rantings from right wing talk radio about how Democrats and the federal government are pure evil.  (And the legality of abortion is example #1 in the right wing pantheon of reasons to believe the federal government is evil.)

What I think Frank and those of us who were mildly critical of him failed to grasp is the right-wing populist beast may not be within the control of the Republican Party forever, and that the populists may become a large enough group of people that they could take over the party and make their obsessions—the evils of sexual liberation, the end of the federal government as we know it—the actual priorities of the Republican Party. They very nearly brought a real end to our country as we know it, defying what what Wall Street wanted, and a major reason is that the populist caucus in the party is more interested in ideological purity than doing simply following the lead of Wall Street.

I suppose it should have been easy enough to see coming: for decades, a constant stream of propaganda about the evils of federal power, abortion rights, affirmative action, social spending, multi-culturalism, gay rights and other right wing bogeymen has energized the base to keep voting and giving money and running for office.  At a certain point, the populists would have enough power to change the rules of the game.  This crisis was averted, but we should not forget the important lesson learned here.  The constant feeding of the paranoid, sexually and racially panicked right wing extremist imagination does not come without consequences.  In the past, the mainstream media could downplay this because the major victims didn’t have a lot of privilege or power. But increasingly, it looks like the victims could be all of us.

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Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte blogs every day at Pandagon.net, and contributes a weekly podcast to RH Reality Check. She lives in Austin, TX with her two cats, boyfriend, and environmentally correct commuter bicycle.

The Kabuki Play On Capitol Hill Comes Right Before The Deal July 31, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: notice that this was written on July 30, the day before Obama and Boehner made their deal.  I believe writer this was prophetic.  Was there ever a chance that Obama and his fellow Democrats would use their muscle to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid or insist on reduction in the area that takes up nearly 60% or all federal discretionary spending, the bloated Pentagon war machine?  That they would use the 14th Amendment to impose a higher debt ceiling with no drastic cuts?  No way José.
Published on Saturday, July 30, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

Oh, the gnashing of the teeth, Oh, the flamboyant tactics. Oh, all the breaking news excitement on cable news as the debt ceiling countdown saga went down to the wire with an intense political confrontation of a kind we haven’t seen before …

Or maybe we had—in the TARP debate and so-called Obamacare vote, to cite but two moments of high political drama. Once again, all the key players knew the outcome but wanted to keep us guessing because it served everyone’s interests.

For Boehner and the boys on the GOP side it was the great leadership test subplot. He would prove how tough he was, demonstrate his leadership mettle, get equal time with the president, and even look presidential. The orange tan was gone. His moment had in the sunlight had come as he roped the Tea party kids into the politically correct corral. The Congressman from Ohio was now a national force to be reckoned with,

Let’s not forget that he had become Wall Street’s butt boy, had been put on their financial slush fund, had many of the big money lobbyists on his side even as the financiers whined and complained about exaggerated threats to the world economy.

They made some noise but not too much. They well remember the wit and wisdom of ex-White House aide and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel about a crisis being a terrible opportunity to waste.

The Wall Street powercrats are high stakes poker players and this was one game they knew they would win in a political arena dependent on their beneficence.

At the same time, as the media compared the charade to the uncertainty of who would be chosen as this week’s Bachelorette reality TV Show. The Tea Party even got Charles Schumer and Jon Stewart going by reaching into the home video collections for sound bite from Ben Affleck’s flick, The Town, a bank robbery shoot em’ up set in Charlestown MA.

Only the pols on the hill had their eyes set on slightly bigger banks as they served bigger banksters.

Some analysts put their tactics down to “lunacy.” Others to irrationality but this gambit was far more rational than most commentators realized. It reminded me of Richard Nixon’s well-concocted madman strategy to make the Vietnamese think he was crazy enough to blow up their dykes or even drop the big one. It was a well-calculated fear tactic, a shrewd maneuver in a game of psychological warfare.

Paul Krugman understood what was going on, seconding my own analysis of the kamikaze tactics the right was using. He wrote what most of the media obfuscated about:

“The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats – who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether – have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.”

And, oh yes, the President had some big skin in the game. It gave him the posturing moment he needed to show how “balanced” he was, and how centrist he could become.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) argued that Obama talked left to move right, as the Washington Post explained:

Forget about “winning the future”–Barack Obama wants to win the center. That’s what the Washington Post is telling readers (7/25/11):

Obama ‘Big Deal’ on Debt a Gamble to Win the Center


Advisers think securing his plan would ensure general-election victory

The Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb (who can’t be held responsible for the headline) explained that Obama was making Republicans an offer they couldn’t refuse….

He added:

“Obama’s political advisers have long believed that securing such an agreement would provide an enormous boost to his 2012 campaign, according to people familiar with White House thinking. In particular, they want to preserve and improve the president’s standing among independents.”

FAIR dipped into their own archive to reminds of us of an article from September 2009 which showed the President was under pressure even then to drop a focus on jobs to concentrate on the deficit.

In other words, this whole strategy is not new but years in the making:

“Parroting the Republican Party, corporate media have recently devoted much energy to deploring the federal deficit and chastising President Barack Obama for not focusing enough on balancing the budget. Very soon, media warn, either spending must be cut or taxes will need to be raised across the board—an argument that rests on the assumption that deficit reduction is, indeed, the top economic priority”

And, so, White House priorities shifted subtly to please the plutocrats and try to neutralize the Tea Party fanatics by co-opting their program the way Bill Clinton did in 1996, It was called “triangulation” then. Obama’s own supporters call it “betrayal” now; Obama’s pro-Wall Street economic team assured they wouldn’t give the men on The Street too much to worry about.

And so what happens now? The Republicans get their bill, unify their ranks even though it’s just more show and tell. As Reuters explains, its all a prelude to coming back to the bargaining table at the 11th hour to make a deal that both sides can use to political advantage.

Read this and as you do, read between the lines;

“The House of Representatives approved a Republican deficit plan on Friday that has no chance of becoming law but could pave the way for a last-ditch bid for bipartisan compromise to avert a crippling national default.”

This was the scenario—more akin to a Kabuki play than a real political fight. It’s more like professional wrestling of the kind they perform at the Capitol Arena not far from Capitol Hill.

The audience is hyped. The wrestlers pretend to hate each other, and arouse the crowd with acts of physical aggression. The match looks fierce, but, as everyone knows, it is fixed and scripted.

They musclemen throw each other around the ring, sometimes even gushing blood. The big bruisers denounce each other until it’s over to the count of 1-2-3; the bad guy always goes down.

The match ends, imagine that, just in time for a commercial break. Here it will end at the debt ceiling deadline. Each side will claim victory.

There is no ceiling on these political shenanigans. It’s just part of fast-paced game designed to keep the public on the sidelines and on the edge of uncertainly while the media keeps the politicians in the spotlight and excites the base in both parties,

In the end, the media will salute both sides for putting country above party. The only deficit here is one of political morality and honesty.

You tell me: am I too cynical, or is this the way what some call politricks has become?

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Danny Schechter

Mediachannel’s News Dissector Danny Schechter investigates the origins of the economic crisis in his book Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal (Cosimo Books via Amazon). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

How Shadowy Right-Wing Front Groups Engineered Our National Embrace of Debt Reduction Over Job Creation July 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: repeat after me, “political democracy without economic democracy is not democratic.”  Economic democracy is synonymous with (gasp!) Socialism.  Under capitalist economic relations, money always trumps the interest of living breathing human beings.  Right wing money is taking things to the extreme, but it is corporate money — left, right or center — that controls education, information, news and therefore public opinion.  Has been that way since day one.  What we are seeing today is the slow and steady collapse of world capitalism.  You can’t get blood from a stone.

 

Friday 29 July 2011
by: Lee Fang, ThinkProgress                 | Report

(Photo: Vanessa Arn / Flickr)

For the entire year, as a sluggish economy sputters by and states continue to struggle with falling revenue, the conversation in Congress has centered solely on spending reduction. Earlier this year, we witnessed looming government-showdown duels between competing spending reduction plans. Now with the debt ceiling debate, the only two options are a choice between a package of painful cuts and a package of deeply draconian cuts. There has been no lively discussion of new policy ideas for job creation, foreclosure mitigation, or how to spur demand, the key driver of economic recovery.

Earlier this week, Politico published a piece outlining the vast disparity in the ad war over the debt ceiling. Republican-aligned groups have run over $21.2 million in attack ads highlighting Democrats as irresponsible drivers of the national debt, and elevating the debt ceiling as a top priority. Meanwhile, groups on the left have spent about $30,000 on ads calling out Republicans on the debt, with one hitting lawmakers for “recklessly risking default.” Some Democratic leaning groups have even run ads casting Democrats as better at cutting than Republicans.

Since the end of the Bush presidency, shadowy right-wing groups, many of them formed for this very purpose, have primed the public with a sophisticated public relations campaign to shift the national discourse to a focus on debt reduction. Many of these groups do not appear partisan, and have figured out ways around registering their activity with the Federal Elections Commission (so the true extent to their ad-buying is rarely recorded):

– Founded in 2010 by former Bush admin flak Gretchen Hamel, the group Public Notice has quietly pumped millions into advertising about debt reduction: Public Notice sponsored at least $3 million on a debt ad called “Shovel” that falsely claims the spending doesn’t create jobs, an undisclosed amount for online ads promoting a highly produced web series on the evils of government spending, a debt pledge that features pop singer Justin Bieber, and what is believed to be another multimillion dollar ad buy recently for a commercial, appearing like a PSA, that warns that government spending is akin to cocaine addiction. To warp elite opinion, the group sponsored billboard ads at Reagan National Airport and on buses and bus shelters near Capitol Hill. Although Hamel does not reveal her donors, she is connected closely with the Koch network of billionaire and investors. Last year at a right-wing donor conference attended by top hedge fund manager Steve Schwarzman and Charles Koch, Hamel gave a presentation on “Framing the Debate on Spending.”

Retired investor Pete Peterson has dedicated $1 billion of his personal wealth to reducing government spending; much of that money has gone to a multifaceted marketing campaign: The Peterson Institute has spent $1 million underwriting a movie about the debt, at least $1,010,232 developing a children’s debt sports game that also directs users to a Econ4U, a front group created by infamous lobbyist Rick Berman, millions more for a TV ad campaign called “Hugh Jidette,” an MTV-U cable television series that misleadingly conflates personal debt with the national debt, a newspaper partnered with the Washington Post, and even a program at Columbia University to develop a national debt-related K-12 curriculum.

Corporate astroturf lobbyist Rick Berman has spent large amounts orchestrating a scare-mongering campaign over the national debt. Along with his connections to the Peterson network mentioned above, Berman has set up a campaign called “Defeat the Debt” to push the public into believing the national debt is the country’s top priority. He has run ads on television, purchased billboards throughout the Washington D.C. metro area, and aggressively marketed his campaign to Capitol Hill staffers. Last year, Berman purchased an ad during the Super Bowl — spending approximately $3 million — that showed schoolchildren pledging allegiance “to America’s debt, and to the Chinese government that lends us money.”

A network of other right-wing groups have used a series of public relations gimmicks — like barnstorming bus tours filled with highly paid GOP operatives posing as Tea Party activists — to orchestrate an astroturf effort to build support for cutting spending over creating jobs. Groups like Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform sponsored a group called Spending Revolt that toured the country organizing debt-related rallies with Republican candidates last year. The group, which has organized events with the Ohio Coal Association, gained countless local press hits appearing as a genuine citizens groups, despite the fact its sponsors are corporate lobbyists. This year, Americans for Prosperity has continued a separate effort to organize debt-themed rallies. American Majority, a group founded after Obama’s election by two GOP operatives, has quietly provided training efforts across the country to mobilize around the issue of the national debt.

This is only a snapshot of the debt-related public relations campaign; millions more have been spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, and other big business advocacy groups.

The incredible resources the right has amassed for its debt campaign are unmatched by progressives. Moreover, at a time when solving the unemployment crisis should be our national priority, only the very wealthy and privileged have the money to direct national ad campaigns of any real impact. In an era of unlimited corporate money in politics, the unemployed and the Middle Class have a quickly disappearing voice in public life.

      Originally published on ThinkProgress

Debt Madness Was Always About Killing Social Security July 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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3 comments
Published on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 by TruthDig.com

This phony debt crisis has now passed through the looking glass into the realm where madness reigns. What should have been an uneventful moment in which lawmakers make good on the nation’s contractual obligations has instead been seized upon by Republican hypocrites as a moment to settle ideological scores that have nothing to do with the debt.

Hypocrites, because their radical free market ideology, and the resulting total deregulation of the financial markets, is what caused the debt to spiral out of control this last decade. That and the wars George W. Bush launched but didn’t have the integrity to responsibly finance. The consequence was a banking bubble and crash leading to a 50 percent run-up of the debt that has nothing to do with the “entitlements” that those same Republicans have always wanted to destroy.

Even Barack Obama has put cuts in those programs into play, warning ominously that a failure to lift the debt ceiling could cause the government to stop sending out Social Security checks. Why, when the Social Security trust fund is fully funded for the next quarter-century and is owed money by the U.S. Treasury rather than the other way around? Why would we pay foreign creditors before American seniors? The answer, offered as conventional wisdom by leaders of both parties, is that we cannot endanger our credit by failing to back our bonds, even though the Republicans have aroused the alarm of the main U.S. credit rating agencies by their brinkmanship on the debt.

What a topsy-turvy world when the same credit rating agencies that gave the thumbs up to the bankers’ toxic mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps now threaten the AAA rating of U.S. Treasury bonds. According to them, it will not be enough to merely lift the debt ceiling—what had been assumed by both Republican and Democratic presidents to be a routine act. In addition to that, as the credit agency Standard & Poor’s has insisted, more than $4 trillion has to be cut from programs that mostly benefit the victims of the banking meltdown. Otherwise the agencies will downgrade the U.S. credit rating, leading to higher interest rates that will destroy what remains of the U.S. housing market, dim the prospect for any improvement in employment and further enrich the Chinese government and other holders of U.S. debt.

President Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership are clearly poised to cave in to those demands in the spirit of “compromise,” Obama’s favorite word, but the Republicans keep upping the ante. The GOP is shameless: Speaker John Boehner has sanctimoniously responded to Obama’s plea for a bargain that gives up almost everything to the right wing by rebuffing the president on the grounds that the Republican Party is the last line of defense against big government.

Boehner dared blame Obama for “the largest spending binge in American history,” which he attributed to the health care reform, most of which has yet to be enacted, and a stimulus program that was an underfunded effort to save American jobs. Not a word from Boehner or the other Republicans about the banking collapse that resulted from their deregulatory policies, the real cause of the inflated debt.

Boehner’s slogan, “I’ve always believed, the bigger government, the smaller the people,” is downright bizarre coming from someone who supported the Bush tax cuts for the rich, the banking bailout and the highest war spending since World War II, all of which is what caused government to get this big. Was it job stimulus spending that kept GM jobs in this country that made people smaller, or the loss of their homes and jobs as a result of the policies that are at the core of the Republican program?

What is at stake is a radical Republican agenda to totally reverse the progress in economic justice that began with the great reforms of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. Consider the direct consequence of the economic crisis that unfettered Wall Street greed has wrought, particularly in reversing the gains made by the most underprivileged sectors of the population. As The Wall Street Journal reported, based on a Pew Research Center study from 2005 to 2009, “The wealth gap between whites and each of the nation’s two largest minorities—Hispanics and blacks—has widened to unprecedented levels amid the housing crisis and the recession. … The disparities are the greatest since the government began tracking such data a quarter-century ago. …”

But there is plenty of suffering to go around as a result of the deep recession. The wealth of whites in that period declined by 16 percent, not to mention the ever-greater chasm between the top 2 percent and everyone else. That’s the same 2 percent whose tax cuts the Republicans are determined to preserve.

© 2011 TruthDig.com

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Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

Agile Ecuador government riles friends and foes December 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

W. T. Whitney Jr.
People’s Weekly World, 15 Dec 2008
Pursuing social justice and national independence, the government of President Rafael Correa has gained new adversaries while prodding old foes. Having won a 57 percent majority in a run-off vote, Illinois-trained economist Correa, candidate of the populist Alianza Pais party, became president in January 2007.

Correa, no shrinking violet, is forcing the U.S. military to leave Manta Airbase, advocates “socialism of the 21st century,” and with Venezuelan and Bolivian counterparts resists U.S. imperialism. Last week in Tehran he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
entered into joint banking, energy, trade and scientific projects. Ecuador is requesting loans from Iraq, according to Foreign Minister Maria Elsa Viteri.

In the same vein, Correa responded in kind to a reprimand last week from Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos complaining that Ecuador did little to fight leftist FARC insurgents in Colombia. Diplomatic relations with the U.S. puppet Colombian government were broken last March when Colombia attacked a FARC encampment in Ecuador.

Now, Correa’s government has challenged an ally in the struggle for Latin American unity. Two months ago Ecuador ousted Brazil’s Odebrecht Company because of an unfinished dam project, in the process reneging on four contracts for other company projects worth $700 million. On Nov. 21, Ecuador announced refusal to pay on a $550 million loan provided by Brazil’s state-owned National Bank of Economic and Social Development that had gone directly to Odebrecht.

In response, President Lula da Silva withdrew Brazil’s ambassador in Quito, the first such recall since 1870. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim threatened cessation of trade between the two countries.

International lenders were put on alert in mid-November when Ecuador delayed a $30.6 million interest payment on $3.9 billion in outstanding bonds. A 30-day moratorium period was used to study the possibility of default on all $10.3 billion in foreign debt obligations. Correa and advisors studied a report released Nov. 21 by an international, independent team of debt analysts, a year in the making.

Correa viewed the report as documenting an “illegitimate, corrupt, and illegal debt,” beyond government control. Hugo Arias, one of its authors, indicated that 80 percent of the debt emanated from old debt refinanced, and that $127 billion in principle alone has been paid over decades on loans originally worth $80 billion. Ally Venezuela holds most of the outstanding bonds.

President Correa is following the lead of former Cuban President Fidel Castro who at a conference on foreign debt on Aug. 1, 1985 asked, “Must debts to the oppressor be paid by the oppressed?”
The current debt crisis coincides with a 60 percent drop in oil revenues for Latin America’s fourth largest oil exporter. Ecuador’s government must delve into foreign cash reserves when prices dip below $76 per barrel. Plans to fund social programs through oil earnings inexorably went awry.

A back-up plan to use mining revenues, particularly from gold and copper, to cover state obligations boomeranged. On Nov. 17 demonstrations broke out nationwide led by indigenous and peasant groups opposed to a proposed mining law. Protesters concerned about diminished water and soil quality, land rights and local autonomy rejected promises that mining royalties set at 5 percent would pay for social projects.

Two days later 10,000 indigenous and leftist marchers blocked traffic on the Pan American Highway. Chants and banners called dramatically for water rights. Appealing to the new constitution, community leader Jose Cueva spoke for many marchers: “The president needs to first pass a food sovereignty law, a water law and a biodiversity law. Then we can have a national dialogue over what to do about mining.”

President Correa railed against “romantic notions, novelty, fixations or whatever, to say no to mining,” especially when we are “seated on hundreds of billions of dollars.” Calling for “environmentally, socially and economically responsible” mining, he denounced “infantile” and “fundamentalist” ideas.

The indigenous and social movements had been crucial to the 65 percent popular vote in September putting a new, government-orchestrated constitution into effect, one that embraced indigenous rights. Recently in disarray, CONAIE, the main indigenous federation, has revived.

Under the constitution, Correa and 5,993 other elected officials face re-election in 2009. CONAIE and other social movements have been instrumental over the past decade in overthrowing three presidents.

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