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What We Learned From One Year Of Mitt Romney’s Taxes January 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in 2012 Election, Economic Crisis, LGBT.
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By Judd Legum  on Jan 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm, www.thinkprogress.org

After resisting for months, Mitt Romney finally released one year of his tax returns this week. Here’s what we learned (click to enlarge):


Mitt Romney’s father George released 12 years of his taxes when he ran for president in 1968, stating, “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.” Please sign our petition and help us put the pressure on Romney to follow his father’s example.


Actually, “the Rich” Don’t “Create Jobs,” We Do May 14, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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Roger’s comment: the article below correctly debunks the false notion that capital creates jobs; it is a philosophy that is aggressively promoted by … you guessed it … those who own and control capital.  Interestingly, it was not Karl Marx but rather the founder of capitalist ideology, Adam Smith, who first developed the “the labor theory of value,” that is, the notion that new value is created by human labor.  Marx built upon Smith’s work to show that capitalists who employ living labor skim off from the sale of goods and services what they call profits, what Marxists call “surplus value.”  Since all value is created by labor, this skimming off is nothing less than pure and simple theft.  But what, you ask, of the poor capitalist who takes the risk of starting a business, using his capital to employ workers?  The answer is that the capital owned by the capitalist belonged to the workers who created the value in the first place, what Marx called “dead labor.”  He explained that the present era of capitalist relations in production was ushered in by the “primitive accumulation” of capital.

 Here is how he explained it: “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 Netherlandsfrom 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 Englandat 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. ?,  Chapter 31). 

Adam Smith saw it differently: “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 ofEnglandtowards 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])

It is no wonder that the fat cat capitalists and their running dog Republican pimps love Adam Smith’s way of looking at the picture.  Unfortunately, it is pure unadulterated BS.


Saturday 14 May 2011
by: Dave Johnson, Campaign for America’s Future

(Photo: tom.arthur)

You hear it again and again, variation after variation on a core message: if you tax rich people it kills jobs. You hear about “job-killing tax hikes,” or that “taxing the rich hurts jobs,” “taxes kill jobs,” “taxes take money out of the economy, “if you tax the rich they won’t be able to provide jobs.” … on and on it goes. So do we really depend on “the rich” to “create” jobs? Or do jobs get created when they fill a need?

Here is a recent typical example, Obama Touts Job-Killing Tax Plan, written by a “senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth,”

Some people, in their pursuit of profit, benefit their fellow humans by creating new or better goods and services, and then by employing others. We call such people entrepreneurs and productive workers.

Others are parasites who suck the blood and energy away from the productive. Such people are most often found in government.

Perhaps the most vivid description of what happens to a society where the parasites become so numerous and powerful that they destroy their productive hosts is Ayn Rand’s classic novel “Atlas Shrugged.” …


Producers and Parasites

The idea that there are producers and parasites as expressed in the example above has become a core philosophy of conservatives. They claim that wealthy people “produce” and are rich because they “produce.” The rest of us are “parasites” who suck blood and energy from the productive rich, by taxing them. In this belief system, We, the People are basically just “the help” who are otherwise in the way, and taxing the producers to pay for our “entitlements.” We “take money” from the producers through taxes, which are “redistributed” to the parasites. They repeat the slogan, “Taxes are theft,” and take the “money we earned” by “force” (i.e. government.)

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner echoes this core philosophy of “producers” and “parasites,” saying yesterday,

I believe raising taxes on the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to hire people is the wrong idea,” he said. “For those people to give that money to the government…means it wont get reinvested in our economy at a time when we’re trying to create jobs.”

“The very people” who “hire people” shouldn’t have to pay taxes because that money is then taken out of the productive economy and just given to the parasites — “the help” — meaning you and me…

So is it true? Do “they” create jobs? Do we “depend on” the wealthy to “create jobs?”

Demand Creates Jobs

I used to own a business and have been in senior positions at other businesses, and I know many others who have started and operated businesses of all sizes. I can tell you from direct experience that I tried very hard to employ the right number of people. What I mean by this is that when there were lots of customers I would add people to meet the demand. And when demand slacked off I had to let people go.

If I had extra money I wouldn’t just hire people to sit around and read the paper. And if I had more customers than I could handle that — the revenue generated by meeting the additional demand from the extra customers — is what would pay for employing more people to meet the demand. It is a pretty simple equation: 

you employ the right number of people to meet the demand your business has.

If you ask around you will find that every business tries to employ the right number of people to meet the demand. Any business owner or manager will tell you that they hire based on need, not on how much they have in the bank. (Read more here, in last year’s Businesses Do Not Create Jobs.)

Taxes make absolutely no difference in the hiring equation.

 In fact, paying taxes means you are already making money, which means you have already hired the right number of people. Taxes are based on subtracting your costs from your revenue, and if you have profits after you cover your costs, then you might be taxed. You don’t even calculate your taxes until well after the hiring decision has been made. You don;t lay people off to “cover” your taxes. And even if you did lay people off to “cover’ taxes it would lower your costs and you would have more profit, which means you would have more taxes… except that laying someone off when you had demand would cause you to have less revenue, … and you see how ridiculous it is to associate taxes with hiring at all!

People coming in the door and buying things is what creates jobs.

The Rich Do Not Create Jobs

Lots of regular people having money to spend is what creates jobs and businesses. That is the basic idea of demand-side economics and it works. In a consumer-driven economy designed to serve people, regular people with money in their pockets is what keeps everything going. And the equal opportunity of democracy with its reinvestment in infrastructure and education and the other fruits of democracy is fundamental to keeping a demand-side economy functioning.

When all the money goes to a few at the top everything breaks down. Taxing the people at the top and reinvesting the money into the democratic society is fundamental to keeping things going.

Democracy Creates Jobs

This idea that a few wealthy people — the “producers” — hand everything down to the rest of us — “the parasites” — is fundamentally at odds with the concept of democracy. In a democracy we all have an equal voice and an equal stake in how our society and our economy does. We do not “depend” on the good graces of a favored few for our livelihoods. We all are supposed to have an equal opportunity, and equal rights. And there are things we are all entitled to — “entitlements” — that we get just because we were born here. But we all share in the responsibility to cover the costs of democracy — 

with the rich having a greater responsibility than the rest of us because they receive the most benefit from it.

 This is why we have “progressive taxes” where the rates are supposed to go up as the income does.

Taxes Are The Lifeblood Of Democracy And The Prosperity That Democracy Produces


In a democracy the rich are supposed to pay more to cover things like building and maintaining the roads and schools because these are the things that enable their wealth. They actually do use the roads and schools more because the roads enable their businesses to prosper and the schools provide educated employees. But it isn’t just that the rich use roads more, it is that everyone has a right to use roads and a right to transportation because we are a democracy and everyone has the same rights. And as a citizen in a democracy you have an obligation to pay your share for that.

A democracy is supposed have a progressive tax structure that is in proportion to the means to pay. We do this becausethose who get more from the system do so because the democratic system offers them that ability. Their wealth is because of our system and therefore they owe back to the system in proportion. (Plus, history has taught the lesson that great wealth opposes democracy, so democracy must oppose the accumulation of great, disproportional wealth. In other words, part of the contract of living in a democracy is your obligation to protect the democracy and high taxes at the top is one of those protections.)

The conservative “producer and parasite” anti-tax philosophy is fundamentally at odds with the concepts of democracy (which they proudly acknowledge – see more here, and here) and should be understood and criticized as such. Taxes do not “take money out of the economy” they enable the economy. The rich do not “create jobs, We, the People create jobs

Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California.

Dave has more than 20 years of technology industry experience including positions as CEO and VP of marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. And he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Taxes While GE Paid Nothing April 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Immigration.
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Our guest blogger is Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on twitter at @MikeElk.

This past month, there was much outrage over the fact that General Electric, despite making $14.2 billion in profits, paid zero U.S. taxes in 2010. General Electric actually received tax credits of $3.2 billion from American taxpayers.

At the same time that General Electric was not paying taxes, many undocumented immigrants, who are typically accused of taking advantage of the system while not contributing to it by many on the right, paid $11.2 billion in taxes. A new study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows that undocumented immigrants paid $8.4 billion in sales taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.2 billion in personal income taxes last year. The study also estimates that nearly half of all undocumented immigrants pay income taxes.

ITEP bases its figures of what immigrants pay taxes based on the following factors:

  • Sales tax is automatic, so it is assumed that unauthorized residents would pay sales tax at similar rates to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants with similar income levels.
  • Similar to sales tax, property taxes are hard to avoid, and unauthorized immigrants are assumed to pay the same property taxes as others with the same income level. ITEP assumes that most unauthorized immigrants are renters, and only calculates the taxes paid by renters.
  • Income tax contributions by the unauthorized population are less comparable to other populations because many unauthorized immigrants work “off the books” and income taxes are not automatically withheld from their paychecks. ITEP conservatively estimates that 50 percent of unauthorized immigrants are paying income taxes.

While it’s impossible to estimate exactly how much in taxes undocumented immigrants paid, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are paying more taxes than General Electric, which paid absolutely nothing. This raises the question of who really is leaching off the American system: undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and are typically too afraid of being deported to receive public assistance or corporations that pay nothing while receiving billions in credits

A Taxing Situation: Ontario’s HST June 17, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis, Humor.
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  Sometime soon,  we taxpayers will receive the first of three ‘ HST Compensation” payments. 

This is indeed a very exciting program,  and I’ll explain it by using a Q & A format:
  Q.  What is an ‘HST Compensation’ payment ?
  A.  It is money that the provincial government will send to taxpayers.
  Q..  Where will the government get this money ?
  A.  From taxpayers.
  Q.  So the government is giving me back my own money ?
  A.  Well, only a smidgen of it.
  Q.  What is the purpose of this payment ?
  A.  The plan is for you to use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set,  thus stimulating the economy.
  Q.  But isn’t that stimulating the economy of China ?
  A.  Shut up.
  Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the economy by spending your compensation cheque wisely:              
      *  If you spend the stimulus money at Wal-Mart,  the money will go to China or Sri Lanka …
      *  If you spend it on gasoline,  your money will go to the Arabs.
      *  If you purchase a computer,  it will go to India , Taiwan or China .  
      *  If you purchase fruit and vegetables,  it will go to Mexico , Honduras and Guatemala ..
      *  If you buy an efficient  car,  it will go to Japan or Korea .
      *  If  you purchase useless stuff,  it will go to Taiwan .
      *  If you pay your credit cards off, or buy stock,  it will go to management bonuses and they will hide it offshore.
  Instead,  keep the money in Canada by:
  1)  Spending it at yard sales,  or      
  2)  Going to hockey  games,  or    
  3)  Spending it on prostitutes,  or      
  4)  Beer or      
  5) Tattoos.
  (These are the only Canadian businesses still operating in Canada . )

  Go to a hockey game with a tattooed prostitute that you met at a yard sale and drink beer all day !
  No need to thank me,  I’m just glad I could be of help.



By the Way: A Radically Conservative “Faith-Based Initiative” February 7, 2009

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By Randall Balmer
February 7, 2009

www.religiousdispatches.org, February 7, 2009
Obama’s Bush-era strategy of using taxpayer money for faith-based social services not only risks infusing politics into religion, but also denies religious groups their traditional responsibility for caring for those in need—with their own funds.

President Barack Obama’s plan to more or less continue the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, an innovation of the George W. Bush years, represents a gesture of confidence in the ameliorative efforts of religious groups, as well as a political sop to evangelicals and other religious voters. But it also flirts dangerously with Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state, opening the possibility for all sorts of First Amendment mischief.

It also represents a failure of imagination.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong or unconstitutional about using taxpayer money for “faith-based initiatives.” The rationale behind the program was that religious organizations are better equipped to deliver goods and services than government bureaucrats. No argument there. But the experience of the past eight years also suggests that the disbursement of taxpayer funds can become politicized—perhaps inevitably so.

What happens, for instance, when a church or other religious group receives government money for the dispensing of services, builds those funds into its budget, and then fails to deliver politically? The withdrawal of those funds—or even the threat of withholding the funds—then becomes a powerful tool for ensuring that a pastor, for example, will deliver a bloc of votes for the regnant political party.

That sort of abuse can be monitored, but it requires constant vigilance. And I find it encouraging that Obama has appointed proven church-state watchdogs like Melissa Rogers, formerly of the Baptist Joint Committee, to the advisory panel for the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. They will have their hands full to ensure that the system is not abused.

But the real sadness here is a failure of imagination on the part of the new president, whose stock has never been higher. Rather than using taxpayer funds for the dispensing of social services, the president should seize this moment to offer a new vision for social amelioration, one that is, at the same time, very old.

Historically, churches and other religious groups assumed responsibility for social welfare. To cite just one example, in almost any midsized or larger city in America you will find hospitals that still carry the denominational names of their founders: Iowa Methodist Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, various Baptist hospitals and so on. “Mercy” was a typical name for Roman Catholic hospitals. This reflected the sense of responsibility that religious groups felt for those who were in need.

When the social ills of the Great Depression overwhelmed religious groups, the government—of necessity—stepped in, thereby relieving religious groups of that responsibility. Sadly, churches and other religious institutions never reassumed that role in society.

What if the new president stepped forward and challenged religious groups to come up with a plan to reassert their traditional roles in social amelioration: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for those Jesus called “the least of these”? (I want to bracket health care out of this equation; those issues are far too large and intractable.) Moreover, these religious groups should reassume these responsibilities using their own funds, not taxpayer money.

The rationale behind this proposal is that religious groups, by virtue of their tax-exempt status, already receive what amounts to massive subsidies from the federal, state, and local governments. By not paying corporate or state or property taxes, these tax-exempt organizations are already provided with massive subsidies, money that must come from either a diminution of services or increased taxes from other sources.

So Obama’s challenge to religious groups across the nation would look something like this: Devise a plan to address the social needs of this nation using your own funds, not taxpayer money. Such a plan, of course, would have to be comprehensive and nondiscriminatory. And that part of the federal budget now allocated for such services would be reduced accordingly.

Imagine the effect! Rather than using their funds to stock clergy pension funds or to build still more megachurches and parking lots, churches and other religious groups would redirect their efforts toward nobler ends. And maybe, in so doing, they would rediscover their true mission.

Such a plan would avoid entirely the brambles of First Amendment issues. And it would indeed make for a true “faith-based” initiative, one infinitely superior to the program now in place.

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, and a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School. He is currently on sabbatical and teaching at Dartmouth College. His most recent book, God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, was released by HarperOne in January 2008.

Allowable Discrimination? February 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Religion.
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Jonathan L. Walton, www.religiousdispatches.org, February 6, 2009 

On the campaign trail this past summer in Zanesville, Ohio, President Obama committed his administration to extending the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships while maintaining the appropriate boundaries between church and state. Part of this boundary, he then asserted, involved undoing President Bush’s policy that allowed religious organizations funded by the federal government to discriminate in hiring. President Obama was adamant that the federal government could not subsidize discrimination.

But yesterday when the president announced the revamped office and introduced his ideologically diverse advisory council, he failed to repeal his predecessor’s unjust executive order. There are reports that President Obama will order the Justice Department and the new advisory board to wrestle with the constitutional implications of this policy of allowable discrimination. To many this is somewhat surprising and disheartening. There are few with the “constitutional law bona-fides” of the president, a former law professor at the University of Chicago. And he has made it clear in the past that if you get a federal grant, it is unconstitutional to discriminate against the folks you serve or the people you employ.

Let’s hope this is just a political ploy insofar as the president would rather do away with this discriminatory allowance behind closed doors rather than announcing it at yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast. Because appropriating tax dollars to bigoted faith groups is hardly, “Change We Can Believe In.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich on His Battle With the Banks December 15, 2008

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Dec 15, 2008

Dennis Kucinich
AP photo / Kevin Wolf

By Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Once they were as gods, but the deities of the American banking system are now in ruins, plunged from their pedestals into the maw of taxpayer largesse. Congress voted to give the banks $700 billion, lifting them temporarily out of their sepulcher of debt, while revealing a deep truth about the condition of America’s financial powers:

They never had the money they said they had as they constructed their debt-based monetary system which now lies in ruins. Their decisions on behalf of depositors, shareholders and investors were lacking in basic integrity and common sense. Green gods bailing out with their golden parachutes. 

There was a time when their power was real. Come with me to Cleveland 30 years ago today.

Dec. 15, 1978, Cleveland, Ohio

I awoke to find a curt payment demand that was dropped on my front step by a grandfatherly man who supplemented his Social Security delivering the morning newspaper. The headline plastered across the front page:

Cleveland Trust: Pay Up. Bank would relent if Muny Light were sold, Forbes believes.

One of America’s largest banks, Cleveland Trust, led local banks in demanding immediate payment from the city by midnight, Dec. 15, of $14.5 million in short-term loans.

I regarded the headline skeptically. Having lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple of cars, I had come to an encyclopedic knowledge of dun letters, sent to my parents by battalions of bill collectors seeking immediate payment for televisions, cars and a variety of household appliances that never seemed to work. I first came to regard these credit alarms with trepidation, later with impassiveness, with the expectation that as our family grew to two adults and seven children it would soon be on the move again, incurring new delinquencies with each new address. Lack of access to money, housing and credit seemed to be a permanent condition.

Now, having fought through a thicket of consequence to become America’s youngest mayor, elected on a promise to stop the privatization of the city’s electric system, I was faced with paying off loans taken out by the previous mayor, for the financing of municipal projects of dubious value.

The banks refused to extend terms of payment and connived with City Council members to block alternative payment plans, such as the sale of city land or tax revenues. The banks knew the city couldn’t otherwise pay. They demanded instead the sale of the city’s electric system, Muny Light, to an investor-owned electric company, the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (CEI).  The president of the Cleveland Council, George Forbes, had met with the head of Cleveland Trust bank, who insisted on the sale of Muny Light as a precondition for extending the city credit. This was a case of the bank blackmailing the city, pure and simple.

The alternative to accepting the bank’s blackmail was default. Cleveland could become the first city since the Depression to default on its financial obligations. Cities rely on credit for everyday operations and for meeting long-term financial obligations, such as infrastructure improvements. If banks called in their loans, the city would head toward dire straits. No one knew that better than the law firm of Squire Sanders and Dempsey, which had served as bond counsel for the city of Cleveland while the city entered fiscal peril and was simultaneously, though not coincidentally, the principal law firm for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. Through Squire Sanders and Dempsey, CEI had access to the intricacies of the city of Cleveland’s financial records.

Under the previous administration, the city began using bond funds for general operating purposes. As mayor, I inherited $40 million worth of debt that had to be refinanced before the end of my first year in office. Under my predecessor, the city had illegally spent money it did not have, and yet it had the key to every bank in town and the confidence of the bond rating houses, at precisely the same time it was preparing for the sale of the municipal electric system to CEI.



Cleveland Trust and another bank demanding the sale of Muny Light, National City, were principal stock owners in CEI. Several members of CEI’s board sat on the boards of local banks as interlocking directorates. There was a myriad of bank-utility business relations. Cleveland Trust bank, which handled CEI’s demand deposits, pension funds and other assets, would directly profit from the sale of Muny Light. In a way, the banks were the private utility. With the sale, CEI would have an electricity monopoly in Cleveland and would be able to name its price for electricity and get it. Everyone in the Muny Light territory would receive at least a 20 percent rate increase as the rates would be raised to CEI’s levels.

The city was self-sufficient with Muny Light for many years. Muny provided power to 46,000 homes with low electric rates, which contributed to the economic growth of the city. That was until the late 1960s and early ’70s, when a series of suspicious mechanical failures and power outages diminished the system’s reliability. At that time, under heavy lobbying from CEI, the Cleveland City Council delayed the passage of legislation for $9.8 million in repairs to Muny Light’s generators, thereby forcing the city to purchase power at a premium from its competitor, CEI. The city became increasingly dependent on an interconnection between CEI and Muny Light, a high-voltage line over which power could be transferred from CEI to the city, to ensure reliability. The city’s power system began to experience more unexplained power failures. CEI began to make public overtures to purchase Muny Light. The sale of Muny Light to CEI was soon supported by most of Cleveland’s media, business, political and labor interests. 

In November 1976, the City Council passed legislation authorizing the sale of Muny Light for a fraction of its value. I was clerk of Cleveland’s Municipal Court at the time and I objected to the sale. I was advised that there was no way to stop the sale, but I saw it differently. Cleveland had a long history of municipal power. I could sense a terrible injustice was being visited upon the people of the city by its leading institutions, which were conspiring to deprive the city of its public power system.

I organized a petition drive that attracted support from city neighborhoods served by Muny Light. A full civic campaign was born with an intense effort made under brutal weather conditions to gather the signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot. There was much at stake besides the monetary value of the system: The people’s right to own an electric system. And the historic position of Muny Light, one of America’s first municipal electric utilities, founded 70 years earlier by Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson. Muny Light provided electricity to about one-third of the homes and businesses in the city at a peak savings of 20-30 percent over the rates charged by CEI. Additionally, Muny Light provided millions of dollars annually in savings to taxpayers by serving 76 city facilities. It also provided Cleveland’s street lighting. High electric rates and higher taxes would follow if Muny were sold. The private sector was forcing the sale for its own profit at the expense of the community.

On Jan. 4, 1977, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), in an antitrust review required of any company applying to operate a nuclear power plant, ruled that CEI had conspired to put Muny Light out of business. CEI tried to force Muny Light into price-fixing and blocked Muny expansion, stopped the installation of Muny Light pollution-abatement equipment and forced the city to buy power it didn’t need. In addition, the ASLB uncovered a CEI budget planning report for 1971 that spoke of a five-year plan “to reduce and ultimately eliminate” Muny Light.

The ASLB determined that CEI deliberately caused a Christmas-season blackout on the Muny Light system and sent salesmen into Muny Light territory offering “reliable CEI service.” The private utility illegally tripled the cost of purchased power, thereby driving up Muny Light’s operating costs. CEI illegally blocked Muny Light’s access to power from other companies, all in violation of federal antitrust law. As a condition of receiving its license to operate a nuclear power plant, CEI had to provide Muny Light with access to cheap power. Documents showed that CEI executives believed the purchase of Muny Light would increase CEI’s earnings by $2.732 a share, eliminate a competitive threat, and push the company’s growth rate to 10 percent, further enhancing investment.

Documents in the case also demonstrated CEI’s successful attempts to subvert media editorial policy through cunning use of the company’s large advertising budget. Over the years, several local reporters lost their jobs after writing reports unfavorable to CEI, and CEI bragged internally about placing verbatim company-written propaganda as general media editorial content.

Confronted with the federal finding that bolstered a previously filed $330 million antitrust damage suit, the Cleveland city administration’s response was incredible: “Now CEI has to buy Muny Light!”

At the same time the campaign to sell Muny Light accelerated, a high-powered rifle shot ripped through my house, just missing my head.

A cavalcade of media editorials commenced favoring the transfer of Muny Light to CEI. 

During an ensuing legal battle over the validity of the referendum petitions, I became a candidate for mayor. I promised that if elected I would save the system. I won the election. My first act in office was to cancel the sale of Muny Light. I next had to pay off a $14 million CEI electricity bill that the previous administration owed and wanted to satisfy through the sale of the light system.

I had been in the mayor’s office barely a year, facing a municipal horror story of huge snow storms, massive water main breaks and a police strike. I had cut city spending by 10 percent through eliminating corrupt contracts, payroll padding and attritional cutbacks. Through the year, I struggled with a recall attempt for firing a police chief. The recall was backed by banks, utility and real estate interests with a last-minute appeal printed by the Plain Dealer to sell Muny Light. Credit rating agencies, which had looked the other way while CEI was attempting to gain Muny Light in the previous administration, downgraded the city’s finances.

Another Muny Light-related attempted assassination was averted when I was rushed to a hospital vomiting blood from a profusely bleeding ulcer. Some years later, a congressional investigation produced information from an undercover agent of the Maryland State Police that the assassination attempt was to occur while I was the grand marshal in a local parade. A local television investigative report claimed the assassin’s services were purchased because I refused to sell the electric system.

One month later, I was back at work trying to find a way to save Muny Light. The utility’s financial difficulties, though contrived largely through interference with the system by CEI, were depicted as so overwhelming that only the sale of the electric system itself would save the city from financial catastrophe. I held several meetings with bank officials. and it became clear we were heading for trouble on the question of refinancing. The banks were going to try to force me to sell the electric system. I went public with a plea for an income tax increase to protect the city’s solvency.

On Dec. 15, I made a last-minute appeal to Cleveland Trust. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. I met with Brock Weir, the chairman of Cleveland Trust, Council President Forbes and our host, a local businessman. I had the intention of protecting Muny Light and avoiding a default.

“There’s just one thing you’ve got to do,” said the Council president, who strongly favored the sale.

Weir, the bank CEO with the stern visage: “If you sell Muny Light, we’ll roll over the notes. I can get you $50 million in new financing. We’d get other banks to participate.” It was a bribe.

My thoughts went to the street just outside the boardroom. Some 20 years earlier, a few blocks from where this meeting was taking place, I slept with my brothers and sister and parents in a car, homeless. I remembered an apartment where my parents sat underneath the pale yellow light of a kitchen wall lamp, counting their pennies on an old porcelain-topped table. The pennies dropped, click, click, click. Pennies to pay the utility bills.

It matters how much people pay for electricity. It matters if the public owns its own system and has political and financial control over rates. I could hear the pennies dropping, click, click, click, as Mr. Weir insisted on the sale of Muny Light. I remembered my family and the struggles of people like them. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sell. Not for $50 million, not for anything.

“I’m not going to sell, even if it means my career,” I said, as Council President Forbes looked on in surprise.

“Why do you want to end your career? Sell the system. Get rid of it!” he said.

“Is there some other way we can work this out?” I asked Brock Weir.

He shook his head “No.”

Throughout that day, every media outlet in Cleveland echoed the sentiment of Cleveland Trust’s chairman, including the morning newspaper headline, with such depth of coverage and intensity that it seemed the city itself would crumble unless I agreed to the sale, which also included a provision dropping the $330 million antitrust damage suit. 

The objective condition of the city’s finances received no honest review. The sale of Muny Light was depicted as the only way the city could avoid fiscal disaster. The majority leader of the City Council held a news conference live on the 6 o’clock news. He declared that if I sold Muny Light, “the chairman of the Cleveland Trust bank has informed the council that his bank will purchase $50 million worth of city bonds. So, in effect, we have a plan sitting on the mayor’s desk that will absolutely end the city’s financial problems, if he will put his signature on it.”

The $50 million bribe had been brought out into the open in a manner that now suggested it was a legitimate offer, a fake solution to a fake crisis. I refused to sell.

As Cleveland television stations covered the event live, with a countdown clock that looked like a twisted version of New Year’s Eve, midnight struck. Television networks of several countries recorded the grim event: The city of Cleveland became the first American city to go into default since the Great Depression. The default was over just $14.5 million dollars in credit.

When I called for a congressional investigation a few days later, Cleveland Trust denied it wanted Muny Light, CEI denied it wanted Muny Light, the council president denied the chairman of Cleveland Trust wanted Muny Light, and the majority leader said he was mistaken when he said live on the 6 o’clock news that the bank chairman offered $50 million in credit for Muny Light. Muny Light was no longer the issue. It was the mayor and his obstinacy that caused the crisis. So went the waltz into a netherworld devoid of truth, justice, reality or morality.

Though the people of Cleveland supported keeping Muny Light by a margin of 2 to 1 in a referendum a few months later, and passed an income tax increase by the same margin in order for the city to pay off the defaulted bond anticipation notes, the state of Ohio intervened and put the city into fiscal receivership. I lost the mayor’s race in 1979. The banks renegotiated the defaulted notes, at a profit. The city lost its antitrust suit against CEI in 1981, in a hung jury. An appeal failed.

I was out of major public office for almost 15 years until, in 1993, Cleveland announced an expansion of Muny Light (now called Cleveland Public Power). At that time, the City Council and others decided that I had made the right decision in refusing to sell Muny Light. The city and its residents had saved hundreds of millions of dollars through Muny Light’s reduced electric rates and the savings the taxpayers enjoyed from Muny’s lower-cost power for street lighting and city buildings.

I attempted another political comeback and this time succeeded, getting elected to the state Senate with the motto: “Because he was right.” My campaign literature showed a radiant light bulb behind my name. Two years later, I was elected to Congress, with the slogan “Light up Congress.” Today I am the chairman of the House Government Oversight Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which has broad jurisdiction over most government departments and agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and electric utility matters generally.

The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. is now a subsidiary of First Energy Co., which was fined by the NRC for various safety violations and, a few years ago, was found to have primary responsibility for the 2003 blackout that left 50 million people throughout the northeastern United States without electricity.

Cleveland Trust no longer exists. No other bank involved in the default survives, except for National City, which next week faces extinction through shareholder approval of a takeover by PNC bank. I have spent much time trying to save National City. 

One newspaper, the Cleveland Press, which advocated that CEI be Cleveland’s sole electricity provider, ceased publication. The other strong proponent of the sale of Muny Light, the Plain Dealer, struggles to survive.

The city’s electric system endures and this past year celebrated its 100th anniversary. 

Bush, Rove Tied to Effort to Dismatle Sweden’s Social Welfare Program December 11, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Sweden.
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Democracy Now! December 9, 2009

Amy Goodman

Sweden’s three main left-leaning opposition parties have just announced plans to build a coalition for next year’s parliamentary elections. The Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Left Party say collectively they’ll try to wrest power from the Moderate Party, which leads a coalition of center-right groups. We speak with social anthropology professor Brian Palmer.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re looking at the politics of Sweden. Its three main left-leaning opposition parties—the Left, the Green and the Social Democrats—have just announced plans to build a coalition for next year’s parliamentary elections. They say they’ll collectively try to wrest power from the Moderate Party, which leads a coalition of center-right groups. The Social Democrats were swept out of office two years ago, after dominating Swedish politics for most of the last seventy-five years.


Brian Palmer joins us now, professor of social anthropology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden and a former professor at Harvard University. He joins us here in Sweden.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

BRIAN PALMER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Palmer, talk about the shift that’s going on in politics here—you’ve written a biography of the current prime minister—and how this fits in with the story we just talked about, the story of Alfred Nobel, both the Peace Prizes and his founding of, really, the weapons industry in this country.

BRIAN PALMER: One can begin by saying that the reasons for Sweden’s reputation as a progressive paradise, the strongest labor movement in the world with 87 percent of workers unionized, creating over many decades the strongest welfare state, the one that on the UN Human Poverty Index has the least poverty in the world. And then, what we’ve seen over the last twenty years, but particularly since the 2006 election, is a move away from all of that.

We have a prime minister who in the 1990s wrote a book, The Sleeping People, where he said that the welfare state should only prevent starvation, nothing beyond that, no other standard should be guaranteed. After being elected, Fredrik Reinfeldt, one of his first major visits abroad was to George Bush in the White House, this in spite of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, a visit that many people thought shouldn’t have happened, his coalition then getting—bringing over Karl Rove for advice and support—Karl Rove, the architect of President Bush’s electoral victories.

AMY GOODMAN: They brought Karl Rove here?

BRIAN PALMER: This past summer.


BRIAN PALMER: Because he can offer good advice on how to win the 2010 election. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Is this unusual for Karl Rove to do this kind of international consulting?

BRIAN PALMER: According to his website, it’s his only foreign consulting, for the Moderate Party of Sweden.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t the current prime minister visiting Bush in the White House?

BRIAN PALMER: Yeah, and there was much—many people writing that this shouldn’t happen. He justified the visit, that he would persuade Bush to sign the Kyoto Accord, but people who were there say that he didn’t even really attempt that.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about his politics, the prime minister, and how, after seventy-five years of the Social Democrats ruling—fit it into US politics, how you’d categorize what we’re talking about here, the spectrum.

BRIAN PALMER: The first piece to notice is really in the electoral campaign, when he tried very hard to appeal to working-class voters, described his party as the new workers’ party. And after one speech, he was asked by a journalist if it wasn’t a speech inspired by Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” And he answered that it was, to some degree. Bush was so successful at winning the white working class, especially in 2004, where white working-class voters favored him by 23 percent. Reinfeldt brought over only a small percent of working-class voters to his coalition, but enough to tip the balance.

And then, we have a real kind of silent war on the labor movement, where it’s been made much more expensive to be part of a union, where the legal prerogatives of unions have been made much less. We have a rather dramatic change in the tax system, abolishing the inheritance tax and property tax—most property taxes, cutbacks in social welfare institutions, some changes that will be very hard for future regimes to undo.

AMY GOODMAN: Can talk more about the starvation index, the measure that the prime minister here has laid out?

BRIAN PALMER: That was in his book, The Sleeping People, from 1993, where he wrote—I quote—“We do not want to see a society where people starve, but beyond that, no particular standard should be guaranteed by tax money.” And then he was asked on television after the book’s publication what he meant by that, and he said the boundary for social support should be the starvation boundary. That’s, of course, not his policy now, but it shows the danger of electing someone who is a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher to the highest post in the land.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ve been very interested in the social welfare system here, as the United States deals with greater unemployment, the crisis of healthcare. You have a social welfare system where healthcare is free in Sweden. And yet, you’re seeing increasingly private hospitals and private insurance?

BRIAN PALMER: Yeah, many small changes to, in some way, make it harder for the general welfare state to function—for example, creating—allowing the creation of a private children’s hospital in Stockholm only for paying customers and people with—

AMY GOODMAN: “Paying,” as opposed to “pain,” customers?

BRIAN PALMER: “Paying,” yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Paying customers in pain.

BRIAN PALMER: Indeed, who will pay the full cost of their children’s care, or people who have private insurance to do that. What this will do is start to create this kind of thing, will start to create groups of middle-class people who no longer have such a stake in the general welfare system, because they feel, well, I’m buying it anyway privately, and that will gradually erode middle-class support for the general welfare system that up to now has had very high levels of support from the middle class.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the health insurance companies that are coming in?

BRIAN PALMER: They are very, very eager for this business. And it’s a tremendous irony that, just at a moment when Americans, some of them discussing Michael Moore’s film Sicko, see the very unethical behavior of different kinds of health insurance and health management companies, many of those same companies are getting the opportunity to buy pieces of Swedish healthcare clinics, parts of hospitals—according to a new law, even entire university hospitals can be sold out to private companies—so that as Americans have mostly become skeptical of these companies, they’re being invited to Sweden to do damage here.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Brian Palmer, the issue of the left parties, or at least the left-of-center parties, now challenging the right in this country, the current government, what is the significance of the Social Democrats, and what is the Left Party joining with the Green Party, in this?

BRIAN PALMER: The Social Democrats are the largest opposition party now. The Left Party’s smaller, an ecological-, feminist-oriented labor party, and they have been excluded from previous coalitions. They’ve tacitly supported them, but not allowed—not been allowed to have minister roles. Now, for the first time, as of two days ago, the Social Democrats have accepted that the Left Party and the Green Party would be part of their coalition government—

AMY GOODMAN: Ruling coalition.

BRIAN PALMER: —if they win in the 2010 election.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, as people can hear from your accent, you are an American, a citizen who is now a Swedish citizen. You taught at Harvard and have an interesting story to tell about someone who’s become a significant national figure now, Larry Summers, who is the former president of Harvard. In your class in 2004, you invited him to your class to address the class and to answer questions from the students. Tell us what class you taught. This was the most popular class at Harvard, elective class at Harvard. You had 600 students in the class. You won the—was it the Livingston Prize?


AMY GOODMAN: Levinson Prize for teaching. But you ended up having to leave in 2004, shortly after your encounter with Larry Summers—


AMY GOODMAN: —who’s now going to become, if—the chief economic adviser to Barack Obama.

BRIAN PALMER: Larry Summers was then Harvard’s president, and the 600 students and I invited him to be interviewed by us. And I think that in the environments in which he traveled, he wasn’t—

AMY GOODMAN: The name of your class?

BRIAN PALMER: Personal choice and global transformation—that he wasn’t used to getting very probing questions. For example, one student asked President Summers, “As a champion of meritocracy, how can you defend Harvard’s policies of giving an edge in admissions to the children of alumni?” And he became so irritated by these questions that he really fell into quite a bad mood and began to declare to the class that my ideas were “silly,” as he put it. And this was the souring of our relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: Your contract was not renewed?


AMY GOODMAN: Despite the fact that you had the most popular elective class at Harvard.


AMY GOODMAN: And had won the teaching prize.

BRIAN PALMER: But as a consolation, I got to move to Sweden, which has its plus sides.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Professor Brian Palmer—

BRIAN PALMER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —teaches at University of—how do you pronounce it?


AMY GOODMAN: Uppsala, here in Sweden. He’s a professor of social anthropology.

Starving for a change November 25, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
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Posted on Nov 24, 2008


AP photo / Kiichiro Sato, file

Leah Poare visits a food pantry in Columbus, Ohio. Even with the help of free groceries, Poare and her husband limit themselves to one full meal a day, usually in the evening, so that their three children, ages 6, 7 and 17, can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

By Chris Hedges

Elba Figueroa worked as a nurse’s aide until she got Parkinson’s disease. She lost her job. She lost her health care. She receives $703 a month in government assistance. Her rent alone costs $750. And so she borrows money from friends and neighbors every month to stay in her apartment. She laboriously negotiates her wheelchair up and down steps and along the frigid sidewalks of Trenton, N.J., to get to soup kitchens and food pantries to eat.

“Food prices have gone up,” the 47-year-old Figueroa said, waiting to get inside the food pantry run by the Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton. “I don’t have any money. I run out of things to eat. I worked until I physically could not work anymore. Now I live like this.”

The pantry, which occupies a dilapidated three-story art deco building in Old Trenton, one of the poorest sections of the city, is one of about two dozen charities that struggle to provide shelter and food to the poor. Those who quality for assistance are permitted to come once a month and push a shopping cart in a U shape around the first floor where, clutching a piece of paper with allotted points, they can stock up on items using the pantry’s point system according to the number of people in a household. The shelves of the pantry hold bags of rice, jars of peanut butter, macaroni and cheese and cans of beets, corn and peas. Two refrigerated cases hold eggs, chickens, fresh carrots and beef hot dogs. “All Fresh Produce 2 pounds = 1 point,” a sign on the glass door of the refrigerated unit reads. Another reads: “1 Dozen EGGS equal 3 protein points. Limit of 1 dozen per household.”

The swelling numbers waiting outside homeless shelters and food pantries around the country, many of them elderly or single women with children, have grown by at least 30 percent since the summer. General welfare recipients receive $140 a month in cash and another $140 in food stamps. This is all many in Trenton and other impoverished areas have to live on.

Trenton, a former manufacturing center that has a 20 percent unemployment rate and a median income of $33,000, is a window into our current unraveling. The financial meltdown is plunging the working class and the poor into levels of destitution unseen since the Depression. And as the government squanders taxpayer money in fruitless schemes to prop up insolvent banks and investment houses, citizens are callously thrown onto the street without work, a place to live or enough food. 

The statistics are already grim. Our banking and investment system, holding perhaps $2 trillion in worthless assets, cannot be saved, even with the $700 billion of taxpayer money recklessly thrown into its financial black hole. Our decline is irrevocable.  The number of private sector jobs has dropped for the past 10 months and at least a quarter of all businesses say they plan to cut more jobs over the next year. The nation’s largest banks, including Citigroup, face collapse. Retail sales fell in October by the largest monthly drop on record. Auto companies are on the edge of bankruptcy. The official unemployment figures, which duplicitously mask real unemployment that is probably now at least 10 percent nationwide, are up to 6.1 percent and headed higher. We have lost 1.2 million jobs since January. Young men of color have 50 percent unemployment rates in cities such as Trenton. Twelve million houses are worth less than their mortgages and a million people will lose their homes this year in foreclosures. The current trends, if not swiftly reversed, mean that one in 33 home owners will face foreclosure.

There are now 36.2 million Americans who cope daily with hunger, up by more than 3 million since 2000, according to the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C.  The number of people in the worst-off category—the hungriest—rose by 40 percent since 2000, to nearly 12 million people.

“We are seeing people we have not seen for a long time,” said the Rev. Jarret Kerbel, director of the Crisis Ministry’s food pantry, which supplies food to 1,400 households in Trenton each month. “We are seeing people who haven’t crossed that threshold for five, six or seven years coming back. We are seeing people whose unemployment has run out and they are struggling in that gap while they reapply and, of course, we are seeing the usual unemployed. This will be the first real test of [Bill] Clinton’s so-called welfare reform.”

The Crisis Ministry, like many hard-pressed charities, is over budget and food stocks are precariously low. Donations are on the decline. There are days when soup kitchens in Trenton are shut down because they have no food.

“We collected 170 bags of groceries from a church in Princeton and it was gone in two days,” Kerbel said. “We collected 288 bags from a Jewish center in Princeton and it was gone in three days. What you see on the shelves is pretty much what we have.”

The largess of Congress to Wall Street bankers and investors does not extend to the growing ranks of the poor. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance Program donated $240 million in surplus food in 2003 to food banks and other programs. Those donations fell last year to $59 million.

States, facing dramatic budget shortfalls, are slashing social assistance programs, including Medicaid, social services and education. New Jersey’s shortfall has tripled to $1.2 billion and could soar to $5 billion for the next fiscal year. Tax revenue has fallen to $211 million less than projected. States are imposing hiring freezes, canceling raises and cutting back on services big and small, from salting and plowing streets in winter to heating assistance programs. Unemployment insurance funds, especially with the proposed extension of benefits, are running out of money. Governors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and David A. Paterson in New York have called special legislative sessions to deal with the crisis.

If Barack Obama continues to turn to the elites who created the mess, if he does not radically redirect the nation’s resources to assist the working class and the poor, we will become a third-world country. We will waste gargantuan amounts of money we cannot afford on our military, our national security state and bloated corporations while we damn the middle and working class to the whims, idiocy and greed of an entrenched, corporate oligarchy. Obama’s appointments of Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary and Lawrence Summers as director of the National Economic Council are ominous signals that these elites remain entrenched.

Dolores Williams, 57, sat in the cramped waiting room at the Crisis Ministry clutching a numbered card, waiting for it to be called. She has lived in a low-income apartment block known as The Kingsbury for a year. Two residents, she said, recently jumped to their deaths from the 19th floor. She had a job at Sam’s Club but lost it. No one, she says, is hiring. She is desperate.

She handed me a copy of The Trentonian, a local paper. The headline on the front page read: “Gangster Slammed for Bicycle Drive-By.” It was the story of the conviction of a man for a fatal drive-by shooting from a bicycle. The paper, as I flipped through it, was filled with stories like these, the result of social, economic and moral collapse. Poverty breeds more than hunger. It destroys communities. There was a report about a 56-year-old woman who was robbed and pistol-whipped in the middle of the afternoon. There was an article about the plight of four children whose two parents had been shot and seriously wounded. “Libraries OK Now, but Future Is Murky” a headline read. Another announced: “Still No Arrests in Hooker Slayings.”

“It is like this every day,” Williams said. 

So while our nation crumbles, physically and morally, while our empire implodes, while our economy tanks, the bankrupt elites who got us here play the merry-go-round game of power in Washington. They will continue to oversee our demise, including the obscene drain of our military and security budget, which now accounts for half of all discretionary spending. Pentagon officials have reportedly asked the Obama transition team for $581 billion, an increase of $67 billion. This increase does not, of course, include the $3 trillion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We will pay these loans later.

Banks, automotive companies and investment firms, all sinking under the weight of their own incompetence and greed, head to Washington, usually in private jets, to engage in the largest looting of the treasury in American history. And Congress doles out our money without oversight in the greatest transference of wealth upwards in modern times.

As this pitiful march of folly rolls forward, children in Trenton and across America go to bed hungry. 

An Important Argument in Favor of Voting for Nader November 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in U.S. Election 2008.
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Despite the fact that I agree with just about everything Chris Hedges says below, I voted for Obama.  I am posting this because it is an honest and heartfelt plea for more than the marginal (and, in the long run, mostly inconsequential) improvements that Democrat presidents achieve as compared with Republican retrogression.  In the case of the Clinton presidency, for example, he implemented more of a traditional Republican agenda than a Democrat one (as mild as they are).  I voted for Obama because I believe that another eight years of neo-Fascist Republican rule could put the world on the brink of a major holocaust.  But I understand where Chris Hedges is coming from.  In essence, the United States has, in effect, a single party system. The Republicans and Democrats are simply the left and right wings of the single party that serves the interest of  militarized Corporate America.  For me a key question arises out of Hodges’ demonstration that we serious leftists would agree with Nader over Obama an almost every issue, and therefore the election is not about issues.  That question is: what is it about the economic/political reality of the United States that makes this so?  This is too deep and complicated question to go into here in any great detail; but in simple terms, I am convinced that it is impossible to realize genuine democracy (one that really does reflect the will of demos — the people) in a capitalist world.


I urge you to get past the question of whether it is “practical” or not to vote for Nader and to listen to Chris Hedges on what is ultimately important.



 www.truthdig.com, Posted on Nov 3, 2008

AP photo / Jose Luis Magana

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader speaks during a news conference outside of the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington.





By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who has covered many wars around the world. His column appears Mondays on Truthdig.

Tomorrow I will go to a polling station in Princeton, N.J., and vote for Ralph Nader. I know the tired arguments against a Nader vote. He can’t win. A vote for Nader is a vote for McCain. He threw the election to George W. Bush in 2000. He is an egomaniac. 

There is little disagreement among liberals and progressives about the Nader and Obama campaign issues. Nader would win among us in a landslide if this was based on issues. Sen. Barack Obama’s vote to renew the Patriot Act, his votes to continue to fund the Iraq war, his backing of the FISA Reform Act, his craven courting of the Israeli lobby, his support of the death penalty, his refusal to champion universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans, his call to increase troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, his failure to call for a reduction in the bloated and wasteful defense spending and his lobbying for the huge taxpayer swindle known as the bailout are repugnant to most of us on the left. Nader stands on the other side of all those issues. 

So if the argument is not about issues what is it about?

Those on the left who back Obama, although they disagree with much of what he promotes, believe they are choosing the practical over the moral. They see themselves as political realists. They fear John McCain and the Republicans. They believe Obama is better for the country. They are right. Obama is better. He is not John McCain. There will be under Obama marginal improvements for some Americans although the corporate state, as Obama knows, will remain our shadow government and the working class will continue to descend into poverty. Democratic administrations have, at least until Bill Clinton, been more receptive to social programs that provide benefits, better working conditions and higher wages. An Obama presidency, however, will make no difference to those in the Middle East.

I can’t join the practical. I spent two decades of my life witnessing the suffering of those on the receiving end of American power. I have stood over the rows of bodies, including women and children, butchered by Ronald Reagan’s Contra forces in Nicaragua. I have inspected the mutilated corpses dumped in pits outside San Salvador by the death squads. I have crouched in a concrete hovel as American-made F-16 fighter jets, piloted by Israelis, dropped 500- and 1,000-pound iron-fragmentation bombs on Gaza City. 

I can’t join the practical because I do not see myself exclusively as an American.  The narrow, provincial and national lines that divide cultures and races blurred and evaporated during the years I spent in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Balkans. I built friendships around a shared morality, not a common language, religion, history or tradition. I cannot support any candidate who does not call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and an end to Israeli abuse of Palestinians. We have no moral or legal right to debate the terms of the occupation. And we will recover our sanity as a nation only when our troops have left Iraq and our president flies to Baghdad, kneels before a monument to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi war dead and asks for forgiveness. 

We dismiss the suffering of others because it is not our suffering. There are between 600,000 and perhaps a million dead in Iraq. They died because we invaded and occupied their country. At least three Afghan civilians have died at the hands of the occupation forces for every foreign soldier killed this year. The dead Afghans include the 95 people, 60 of them children, killed by an air assault in Azizabad in August and the 47 wedding guests butchered in July during a bombardment in Nangarhar. The Palestinians are forgotten. Obama and McCain, courting the Israeli lobby, do not mention them. The 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza live in a vast open-air prison. Supplies and food dribble through the Israeli blockade. Ninety-five percent of local industries have shut down. Unemployment is rampant. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed. A staggering 80 percent of families in Gaza are dependent on international food aid to survive.

It is bad enough that I pay taxes, although I will stop paying taxes if we go to war with Iran. It is bad enough that I have retreated into a safe, privileged corner of the globe, a product of industrialized wealth and militarism. These are enough moral concessions, indeed moral failings. I will not accept that the unlawful use of American military power be politely debated among us like the subtle pros and cons of tort law. 

George Bush has shredded, violated or absented America from its obligations under international law. He has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, tried to kill the International Criminal Court, walked out on negotiations on chemical and biological weapons and defied the Geneva Conventions and human rights law in the treatment of detainees in our offshore penal colonies. Most egregiously, he launched an illegal war in Iraq based on fabricated evidence we now know had been discredited even before it was made public. The president is guilty, in short, of what in legal circles is known as the “crime of aggression.”

The legacy of the Bush administration may be the codification of a world without treaties, statutes and laws. Bush may have bequeathed to us a world where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, will be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. This new order will undo five decades of international cooperation—largely put in place by the United States—and thrust us into a Hobbesian nightmare. The exercise of power without law is tyranny.

If we demolish the fragile and delicate international order, if we do not restore a world where diplomacy, broad cooperation and the law are respected, we will see our moral and political authority disintegrate. We will erode the possibility of cooperation between nation-states, including our closest allies, and see visited upon us the evils we visit on others. Obama, like McCain, may tinker with this new world, but neither says they will dismantle it. Nader would.

Practical men and women do not stand up against injustice. The practical remain silent. A voice, even one voice, which speaks the truth and denounces injustice is never useless. It is not impractical. It reminds us of what we should strive to become. It defies moral concession after moral concession that leaves us chanting empty slogans.

When I sat on the summit of Mount Igman in my armored jeep, the engine idling, before nervously running the gantlet of Serb gunfire that raked the dirt road into the besieged city of Sarajevo, I never asked myself if what I was doing was practical. Forty-five foreign correspondents died in the city along with some 12,000 Bosnians, including 2,000 children. Some 50,000 people were wounded. Of the dead and wounded 85 percent were civilians. I drove down the slope into Sarajevo, which was being hit by 2,000 shells a day and under constant sniper fire, because what was happening there was a crime. I drove down because I had friends in the city. I did not want them to be alone. Their stories had become mine.

War, with all its euphemisms about surges and the escalation of troops and collateral damage, is not an abstraction to me. I am haunted by hundreds of memories of violence and trauma. I have abandoned, because I no longer cover these conflicts, many I care about. They live in Gaza, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Beirut, Kabul and Tehran. They cannot vote in our election. They will, however, bear the consequences of our decision. Some, if the wars continue, may be injured or killed. The quest for justice is not about being practical. It is required by the bonds we share. They would do no less for me.