We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Meaning of Daley

by Russ Baker from Who What Why

Russ Baker is one of America's premier investigative journalists. His sensitive "antennae" points us to some real food for thought on how our government really functions in contrast to the news pablum that mainstream media feeds us. 

In this article he delves into Obama's recent appointment of William Daley for the important position of White House Chief of Staff. Daley comes from the Chicago political machine; but more importantly, Baker reveals all the other interests he is tied to--the real powers behind the throne. This is how American style "democracy" works. 

It is much like any production in the theater or cinema. The stage play, "Democracy in America", always retains the same producers, directors and screenwriters who are always recruited from sections of the ruling capitalist class, but it is performed with different actors.  In the play the latter act out their roles through various scenes of elections, after which they are selected and then play the role of government leaders. The directors and/or the producers always select the actors, and the latter are given their scripts by the screenwriters. Daley's role will probably be that of director and screenwriter, the banking institutions that of the producer.

If, like most Americans, you confined yourself to reading/listening/viewing mainstream media, you would think that these events on stage were reality, not just someone's or some class's version of reality. You would think that elections were important and a sure sign of a real democracy.

WikiLeaks' Most Terrifying Revelation: Just How Much Our Government Lies to Us

by Fred Branfman from AlterNet. (Fred Branfman exposed the U.S. Executive's Secret Air War in Laos, which illegally and savagely murdered tens of thousands of innocent Laotian peasants. See Wikipedia if you wish more details on the author.)

In this article the author brings together all the sordid government lies exposed by WikiLeaks to show "how much our government lies to us."
The purpose of communicating with the public is not to provide them with truthful information but rather to advance “the mission”. People who communicate with the public obtain their jobs and are promoted on the basis of their ability to mislead, deceive, “spin” and lie. There is no recorded case where Executive Branch officials have been rewarded for telling the truth to the American people, and many where they have been punished or lost their jobs for doing so.

What Are Rich People Worried About in 2011?

by Jamie Johnson from Vanity Fair

Today on our brief excursion into the lives of the rich one percent of Americans, the author, who is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, leads us on this tour to find out what is causing the rich to have fear. 

It seems that we have this in common with them as we look ahead to our futures. We worry about paying next month's rent, getting a job, having our unemployment benefits end, having our homes foreclosed, having our company close down and move to Asia, having our son or daughter come back from Afghanistan in a box, etc. Let's see what is so frightening to the rich.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why are so many Americans unemployed and underemployed? And what could we do about it?

by Richard Clark from OpEd News

He has some excellent ideas about what could be done to provide for more employment, but he is very short on why nothing is being done. The best he can offer is that the "powers-that-be" wouldn't like it, or the Republicans and blue dog Democrats wouldn't like it. To hide the fact that both parties work for the same ruling class, political analysts, particularly in mainstream media, often resort to vacuous explanations like this. 

Off the top of my head, I can think of several reasons for the government's lack of progress to solve the unemployment crisis. The ruling class that sponsors and directs the government are supported by their ownership of bonds and stocks. Increasing employment gives labor more bargaining power for increased wages which, of course, cuts into profits. Likewise, unemployment does just the opposite. High unemployment rates keep inflation down which preserves the value of bonds. Last, but not least, the ruling class prefers to invest their money in countries that can supply them with cheap labor and weak environmental restrictions. 

So, you see, the system creates class conflict, and working people face a powerful opponent. It doesn't help when many working people are brainwashed into thinking that the system is good for them.

Irish Leaders Castigated As Greatest Traitors Of All Time

by Gabriel Donohoe from OpEd News.

This guy is becoming one of my favorite internet authors. In this piece he offers a comprehensive report on the bankster-vultures that have descended upon Ireland, explains how this happened, and who benefits, in other words, follow the money. It is the same story everywhere in the West.
One special interest group, the banksters, prevailed spectacularly over the interests of the Irish people. How did the banksters manage to wield such inordinate influence over crucial governmental policy?

The uncomfortable truth about mind control: Is free will simply a myth?

by Michael Mosley from The Independent

This piece offers a good review of the classic psychological studies done by Milgram and others on the willingness of people to comply with authorities. 

My hunch is that all class structured societies rely on the obedience of their subordinates to follow orders. It is so much more efficient than having to threaten people with harm to follow the orders of ruling classes. Hence, education and general socialization of children strongly emphasizes obedience to authority figures. And many people, in my opinion, really never grow up and out of this training. They simply transfer their obedience from their parents and teachers to bosses, political figures, media "experts", etc.

Extreme weather events help drive food prices to record highs

from Climate Progress
...the combination of peak oil and extreme weather are likely to create growing food insecurity this decade, particularly since the nation and the world have decided to take no action to address either problem.

Obama Appoints Ultimate Wall Street Insiders to Top Posts ... Again

from Washington's Blog.

This is only for those who still cling to the delusion that Obama represents change. He is employed by the same crowd that hired the Bushes, Clinton, Reagan, etc. 

The little red book that swept France

by John Lichfield from The Independent

A 93 year old French resistance fighter in WWII is fighting back against the system. We must ask ourselves, "am I doing enough?"
Indignez vous! (Cry out!), a slim pamphlet by a wartime French resistance hero, Stéphane Hessel, is smashing all publishing records in France. The book urges the French, and everyone else, to recapture the wartime spirit of resistance to the Nazis by rejecting the "insolent, selfish" power of money and markets and by defending the social "values of modern democracy".


Everything is OK Montage [8:02m video]

from BackBurnerNews

This is great therapy to help you survive one more day of capitalism. It shows that the Brits are very creative in the methods they use to fight back against the system.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The urge to surge: The US's 30-year high

by Tom Engelhardt from Asia Times Online

This is one of the best critical reviews of Empire polices, particularly in relation to the nine year war in Afghanistan-Pakistan, that I have seen. The author weaves together the many strands of the push to Empire, or as he expresses it, the "urge to surge" that has created this monstrous, power-drug addicted Empire. 

The author almost always provides a penetrating analysis of political events, but he is always careful not to stray beyond the limits of tolerance imposed on writers by all significant media outlets. Permit me to stray for him.

To be sure, domination over others is a powerful drug, but he fails to mention the other drug--probably the primary drug because it also provides power--the accumulation of wealth. The engine of this accumulation is the capitalist system, a system that is supported by the twin pillars of the  rights of private ownership of socially produced wealth and the inviolability of contracts, both of which are enforced by state military-police forces. 

The parallels that he describes between the Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan and the Empire's is useful, but only to a point. There are significant differences which reveal differences in the social-political structures of the former Soviet Union and the United States. 

The Soviet Union was a centralized bureaucratically dominated system with public ownership of all significant parts of the economy. Under Stalin's leadership it was never an expansionist country. But because of the constant threats, invasions, and occupations of their territory by Western capitalist countries in the 20th century, their leaders were understandably extremely protective of its borders. Afghanistan was right on their border, like Canada is on our border. They simply could not allow the CIA funded subversion of their neighboring country to succeed.

The US, on the other hand, is a country under the leadership of the capitalist class whose primary agenda is always the accumulation of more wealth, and with that wealth comes more power which also contributes to the accumulation of more wealth. 

After WWII the ruling class in the US was "king of the hill". It had the only industrial plant that was still intact, a huge military force, and tremendous wealth. It absorbed what was left of the British Empire, enforced their class interests in shaping the setup of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the US dollar as the currency used in international trade. 

It was primarily at this point in time that the ruling capitalist class in the US became really drunk on power. The most significant part of the globe that stood in their way of world domination was the Soviet Union. They declared (an informal) war, albeit a limited one, on the Soviet Union. It started off as containment because their were many countries on the border of the Soviet Union that wanted strong labor oriented governments. Hence the CIA subversion of these movements in France, Italy, Greece, Korea, and many other countries. Soon the policy evolved into "rollback" that resulted in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world was wide open to capitalist exploitation. There were only a few remaining areas that they couldn't control or strongly influence: mostly the Middle East or Eurasia, North Korea, and China. The latter country offered cheap labor for US companies, so it was largely left alone. North Korea wasn't very important. But the Middle East had most of the oil and other resources. Hence the need to come up with an excuse to invade that area. 9/11 provided that excuse.

The threat to world peace and social justice has always been the capitalist system. Nowadays, we are faced with the most ominous threat of all--the threat to our planetary ecosystem and human life. 

Wikileaks: Israelis ‘Intend to Keep the Gazan Economy on the Brink of Collapse’

by Juan Cole from his blog Informed Consent.

Critics of the WikiLeaks leaks have often pointed to the presence of leaks that are supportive of Israeli policies and the absence of leaks that are critical of these policies. One, of course, must see that the gatekeepers of the leaks are largely mass media outlets of NATO countries. It is interesting that this leak was reported by a news agency from a more peripheral member country--Norway.
The Norwegian newspaper Aftenpost has released a March, 2008, US embassy cable describing the Israeli blockade and siege of Occupied Gaza as an attempt to reduce the society to the lowest possible level of functioning without provoking a “humanitarian crisis” (presumably mass starvation).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

While Washington pursues CEOs, they snub U.S.

by Robert Reich from SF Chronicle

The former Secretary of Labor under the Clinton administration reveals how both US political parties pursue the favors of corporate heads:
So the White House caved in on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and is telling CEOs it will be on their side from now on. As the president recently told a group of CEOs, the choice "is not between Democrats and Republicans. [See this] It's between America and our competitors around the world. We can win the competition."
But even better, he writes about how the US corporations, several that have taken taxpayer bailouts, are offshoring most of their production and creating jobs for non-US citizens.
There's only one problem. America's big businesses are less and less American. They're going abroad for sales and employees. That's one reason they've showed record-breaking profits in 2010 while creating almost no American jobs. 
So, as you can see, even the President makes it clear that US elections don't have any relevance. (As if you didn't already know.) The US government representatives, who are sponsored by corporations and their owners, support their sponsoring corporations against other competitors. But, doesn't it get rather confusing for Obama when corporations and their owners are globalized? Maybe it is fairly easy--just add up the contributions and their sources and you will find the US military-industrial complex at the head of the line. See this, and this.

The climate movement is in desperate need of renewal

by Bradley Day from the Guardian
In the final weeks of 2010, 20 individuals – including myself – went on trial after being accused of conspiring to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station. Today we received our sentences. The jury were presented with a wealth of evidence, not seeking to disprove the charge, but to justify it.

Despite hearing terrifying evidence from some of world's leading climate change experts; learning of the millions of pounds spent in their local area as a result of extreme weather conditions; listening to gut-wrenching testimonies from flood victims across the globe; and observing senior politicians explain our crippling democratic deficit, the jury went on to deliver a unanimous guilty verdict.

Capital's war against WikiLeaks

by Mark LeVine from Al Jazeera.
 ...Assange is right that there is something "neo", if not exactly new, in the way the corporate sector is behaving today and its relationship with government. It lies in the embrace - or better, re-embrace - of finance capitalism and militaristic empire and the military industrial complex that sustains it.

Whether preying on unwitting consumers in middle America or preying on suspected insurgents in the Middle East, these are two of the most secretive sectors of the American economy. They depend on the public knowing as little as possible about their inner workings to secure the greatest possible freedom of action, power and profits.
He prefaced his article with the question:
Can the leak phenonomen sustain the continued assault by the corporate sector to prevail in the first ever cyber-war?
He doesn't have an answer, but my answer is that if we, the 99% of the world, do not support the exposure and reporting of truth, we will be defeated. The most important weapon against the Empire is accurate information.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Capitalism and Degrowth—An Impossibility Theorem

by John Bellamy Foster from Monthly Review

The author examines the degrowth orientation that seems to be informing most of "green" thinking in liberal and environmental circles today. 
What is known as “degrowth economics,” associated with the work of Serge Latouche in particular, emerged as a major European intellectual movement in 2008 with the historic conference in Paris on “Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity,” and has since inspired a revival of radical Green thought, as epitomized by the 2010 “Degrowth Declaration” in Barcelona.
He asks and considers this question:
The degrowth concept...forces us to confront the questions: Is degrowth feasible in a capitalist grow-or-die society—and if not, what does this say about the transition to a new society?
If you liked this article, you might wish to read a lengthier, more comprehensive essay on social-economic system arrangements necessary in order to live in harmony with nature: "Ecological Civilization" by Fred Madgoff from Monthly Review.
Given the overwhelming harm being done to the world’s environment and to its people, it is essential today to consider how we might organize a truly ecological civilization—one that exists in harmony with natural systems—instead of trying to overwhelm and dominate nature. This is not just an ethical issue; it is essential for our survival as a species and the survival of many other species that we reverse the degradation of the earth’s life support systems that once provided dependable climate, clean air, clean water (fresh and ocean), bountiful oceans, and healthy and productive soils.

John Pilger’s The War You Don’t See: An indictment of news reporting as state propaganda

by Paul Mitchell from World Socialist Web Site.

A film review. 
John Pilger has reported on six wars, beginning in Vietnam in 1967, and produced more than 55 documentaries. His new film, The War You Don’t See, examines the media’s role in war and asks whether it has become part of the propaganda machine of the state. The documentary focuses in particular on the practice of “embedding” journalists in military units, which has helped virtually destroy independent war reporting.

Recovery Recedes, Convulsion Looms

by Walden Bello from Foreign Policy in Focus

The author looks at economic trends in the global economy and asks an important question (which he attempts to answer):
The triumph of austerity in the U.S. and Europe will surely eliminate these two areas as engines of recovery for the global economy.  But is Asia indeed on a different track, one that would make it bear, like Atlas, the burden of global growth?

Natural-Catastrophe Losses Rose to $37 Billion Last Year, Munich Re Says

by Jann Bettinga from Bloomberg

With the exception of earthquakes, I think that natural disasters will increase due to climate instability. The world seems to have one extreme weather event after another. Witness the floods currently happening in Australia. Let us pray that we haven't yet passed significant tipping points.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Neo-Colonialism, Imperialism and Resistance in the 21st Century

by Devon DB from Global Research. (Devon DB is 19 years old and studying political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.)

This is a good, brief essay which explains the reality behind the history of the "liberation" of the former colonies by their European masters. However, he seem to miss the distinction between neo-colonialism and neoliberalism.

If you have been wide awake and aware of developments in the last 20 years, you already know that neoliberalism is the application of many of the same methods, especially the use of debt financing, but now used everywhere in the world against working people. Welcome to the world of globalized capitalism!

FG Hemisphere vulture fund’s latest victory against the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

by Renaud Vivien from CADTM.

You may wonder why this article, taking place in far off Africa, has relevance for your life. In this globalized capitalist world we are now living in, financial scam artists are using mostly the same methods everywhere to put all working people in debt to the owning class. This will probably end up, if we don't stop them, with the whole world looking like a modern version of feudalism, or neofeudalism.

Our country (USA) was founded by this class of people who, under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton, perpetrated one of the cleverest schemes to enrich the new ruling class that had taken over the US after the Revolutionary War. To get working people to fight that war, they encouraged authentic patriots like Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry to frame the issues as involving the inherent or natural rights of people. This was reflected in the inspirational wording of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
But after the war was over, the people soon found out that it was a war to establish the independence of the American capitalists from all the restrictions placed upon them by English rulers. Paine then was totally ignored, and ended his life penniless and obscurity. As Robert G. Ingersoll wrote:
One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June, 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.
After the war the Constitution was rammed through a convention that had been billed as a meeting where modifications to the Articles of Confederation were to be discussed. As Charles Beard, the noted historian and political scientist of the early 20th century wrote in his seminal work, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution:
Instead of being a document drawn up by patriotic men for the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the Constitution was the work of consolidated economic groups--...property interests....
Having laid the ground rules to insure the priority of property rights which would be enforced by the new national army, they ran their scam that I will briefly describe. (See the above book for more details and also Beard's book entitled, Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy.)

During the war the soldiers, farmers and working people (as usual) led by members of the local elites, fought the war against the British. It was a grueling war: many defeats were suffered at the hands of the British, long imprisonments in terrible conditions, and soldiers endured long delays in receiving their pay which also caused hardships for their families. Then when they were paid, they were usually paid in paper script (formally debt) issued either by their respective States or the Confederation government. This money depreciated dramatically over time to where it was worth less than 20% of its nominal value and as low as 5%. After the war was over, Hamilton and his capitalist friends quietly went about buying up all this script at their market value. Then after the Constitution was rammed through, they made sure that the new government assumed all of the debts for this old money and other war debts at their face value

Anyway--excuse my digression--as the author of the article explains, these vulture funds will likely be operating in the US as well:
Please note that these attacks are not confined to Africa. For example, Argentina is now prey to two vulture funds, Elliott Capital and EM Limited, who are trying to seize the funds deposited by the Argentine government with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS)- an amount exceeding $ 1 billion. Nothing hinders (for the time being) the vulture funds from attacking the North next, given the speculative practices on their debts. In this context, further measures are needed to take the vulture funds out of harm’s way.
All this illustrates is that the use of debt is a primary weapon in the arsenal of capitalists to accumulate wealth and power at the expense of those who create wealth and fight the wars of capitalists.

The Irish crisis: a complete failure for neo-liberalism

by Eric Toussaint from CADTM

This offers a review of the effects of neo-liberal policies as practiced in Ireland which "for a decade, ...was heralded by the most ardent partisans of neo-liberal capitalism as a model to be imitated." Of course, this is only an example that is being replicated in many parts of the free-market capitalist world. What is so remarkable is that the practitioners of this global scam are undeterred in their efforts to continue the operation.
Far from relinquishing its neo-liberal orientation, the IMF declared that among Ireland’s priorities it is counting on the adoption of reforms to do away with structural obstacles to business, so as to support competitiveness in the coming years. “Socialist” Dominique Strauss-Kahn said he was convinced that a new government after the elections in early 2011 would not change anything: “I’m confident that even if the opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, are criticizing the government and the programme [...], they understand the need to implement the programme.”
Notice the use of the political identifier, "socialist". This is widely practiced in Europe where real socialism was a dream of many and often used by capitalists and fascists, like wolves masquerading in sheep's clothing, to manage, or "manufacture", the consent of the people. Even the Nazis used the term in the name of their party, "National Socialist German Workers' Party", This is identical to the widespread practice in the US of using "democracy" and "democratic" in reference to practices or countries that are likely the opposite. See the Orwellian term, "doublespeak".

Actually, I think that the widespread degradation of political terms and concepts are a deliberate attempt by ruling classes to confuse ordinary people, who want to understand politics, so that they never understand the injustices of class rule.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Corporatization of Social Commons

by Zeynep Tufekci from Technosociology

We are increasingly aware of the erosion of the traditional commons such as public services, public parks, and social safety nets, all of which are being cut back to the bare-bones. Corporations and their governments are replacing these with privately owned "public" spaces such as shopping malls. 

But, as this perceptive writer warns us, there is much more under the radar--the insidious trend whereby corporations are gradually creating our "commons" in the form social network media. This commons is also controlled by private interests, learns everything it can about us, and sells the information to other corporations to better market their products to us. Moreover, corporations likely make all this information available to the government, a "commons" which they own and control as well.
For most people, most of the time, that does not create major issues (even while creating dramatic consequences for few), but the totality of these interactions creates a tragedy of commons – actions that may be reasonable for individuals creates an environment which has dramatic consequences for everyone. In our case, the consequence we are headed for is  a world of near-complete surveillance of everyday actions that is searchable, permanent and public. We are slowly but surely creeping into this world and it is high time for a serious public discussion to take place. 
I think that this article is an important antidote to all the rosy messages emanating from the cheerleaders of localization, like David Korten and Rob Hopkins (see this) who fail to see these encroachments on our diminishing commons, and who portray localization as a romantic journey into blissful independence and social utopia. 

Localization is fine if it localizes and socializes all the 95% of the world's resources owned and controlled by private interests. Otherwise, it will only offer us the opportunity to struggle for  survival on the leftovers and scraps of the Brave New Corporate World.  Unfortunately, these spokespersons of the localization movement and darlings of corporate and government media ignore this reality. Meanwhile, the One Percent continue depleting resources and wrecking havoc on the ecosystem; and localization, as Korten and Hopkins define it, will pose no problems for them.

The drug ad as cultural exemplar

by Djelloul Marbrook from his blog. 
The pharmaceutical advertisement must surely be the exemplar of American culture: this product is a wonderful thing if it doesn’t kill you.

As caveat the pharmaceutical advertisement is a masterwork of satire. It stands as artful metaphor for every political speech, every plank in a platform, every crafty dodge, every piece of tricky legislation cobbled by lobbyists and their elected stooges.