Sunday, July 27, 2014

As $15 Trillion Slated To Be Dumped in Laps of Wealthy Offspring, You Need To Make Your Plans On How You'll Live (The Children of the Porn?)

So, after all the lights, action(!), and frenzied shouting, it's agreed that Thomas Piketty was just publishing another dull recitation of what everyone respectfully accepts as the current (and likely to continue indefinitely) economic conditions, which we at the bottom of such must deal with to our vast financial delegitimization.

What’s so interesting about this Kabuki dance is just how few commentators at the time bothered to note that Piketty’s findings were never particularly controversial or groundbreaking.

Piketty’s book became such a sensation on the left precisely because it gave weight to what anyone with a pair of eyes in the real world (i.e., not Lower Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or Silicon Valley) can already plainly see:   Wealth inequality grows each and every day, while the middle class keeps getting pummeled by this Glorious Free Enterprise System.

What used to be good, stable jobs are converted into temp positions or contract work — automated, downsized or simply eliminated entirely, they’re replaced in the labor market by the worst-paying, most utterly dehumanizing low-wage gigs that our much ballyhooed “job creators” can imagine and implement.
The consequences for our democracy and our economy are perilous and unlikely to be easily remedied.
Whether or not one is generally convinced by Piketty’s thesis that r > g (or more plainly, that capital tends to grow at a faster rate than income without some form of outside intervention), it should be plain that in our system, the stage has been uniquely well-set for the unbridled expansion of wealth that his book describes.

When the effective tax rates are lower for capital gains than for the incomes of the less affluent; when political processes are legally corrupted and circumvented for a price; when regulatory agencies are gutted, stalled, or simply staffed with careerists eager to make their way through the revolving door — this is not a political or economic system likely to become less unequal over time.
Will this trend toward inequality continue? According to “U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth,” a recent survey of wealthy Americans that aims to “[shed] light on the direction and purpose of the more than $15 trillion that will be passed across generations in high-net-worth families over the next two decades,” it seems increasingly likely.

Bad enough, huh?

Worse to come it seems, and I'm going light here. Too bad education will have very little to do with future well being other than for the few who will be around to fix the ruling gadgets (the new "plumbers").

Those of us who worked so hard to make the following a reality, are now thinking we might have improved on our original thought processes. (But they swore it would mean more free time and better lives for everyone. Bastards.)

Our silicon age, which sees no glory in maintenance, but only in transformation and disruption, makes it extremely difficult for us to imagine how, in past eras, those who would change the world were viewed with suspicion and dread. If you loved the world; if you considered it your mortal home; if you were aware of how much effort and foresight it had cost your forebears to secure its foundations, build its institutions, and shape its culture; if you saw the world as the place of your secular afterlife, then you had good reasons to impute sinister tendencies to those who would tamper with its configuration or render it alien to you.

Referring to all that happened during the “dark times” of the first half of the twentieth century, “with its political catastrophes, its moral disasters, and its astonishing development of the arts and sciences,” Hannah Arendt summarized the human cost of endless disruption:

The world becomes inhuman, inhospitable to human needs — which are the needs of mortals — when it is violently wrenched into a movement in which there is no longer any sort of permanence.
The twenty-first century has only aggravated the political, moral, social, and environmental concussions of the twentieth. There would be reason to applaud the would-be world-changers and start-up companies of Silicon Valley if they made it their business to resist or reverse this process of planetary upheaval, the way environmentalists seek to do with the wounds we have afflicted on nature.

Sadly they have no such militancy in their souls, nor much thoughtfulness. With a few exceptions, our new tech armies rarely take the time to think through what they are doing. Or if they do, they tend to think in ways that only add to the turmoil and agitation.
Silicon Valley, and everything it stands for metonymically in our culture, has indeed affected billions of people around the planet. The innovations have come fast and furious, turning the past four decades into a series of “before and after” divides: before and after personal computers, before and after Google, before and after Facebook, iPhones, Twitter, and so forth. In the silicon age, “changing the world” means at bottom finding new and more ingenious ways to turn my computer or smart phone into my primary — and eventually my only — access to “reality.”
In truth Silicon Valley does not change the world as much as it changes my way of being in it, or better, of not being in it. It changes the way I think, the way I emote, and the way I interact with others. It corrodes the worldly core of my humanity, leaving me increasingly worldless. (I do not consider the Internet’s Borg collective, with its endless drone of voices, a world, any more than I consider social media a human society; those who do not see the difference have already been assimilated.)

Thoreau wrote: “Be it life or death, we crave only reality.” If only that were unconditionally true.

Alas, Silicon Valley has enriched its coffers thanks largely to a contrary craving in us — the craving to trade in reality for the miniature screen of the cell phone.

The children of the porn?

The Children of Silicon Valley

Robert Pogue Harrison

A scene from Mike Judge’s HBO series "Silicon Valley"

In the new HBO comedy "Silicon Valley," almost every new start-up representative at a high-tech conference ends his presentation with the programmatic words, “and this will make the world a better place.” When Steve Jobs sought to persuade John Sculley, the chief executive of Pepsi, to join Apple in 1983, he succeeded with an irresistible pitch: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

The day I sat down to write this article, a full-page ad for Blackberry in The New York Times featured a smiling Arianna Huffington with an oversize caption in quotes:
“Don’t just take your place at the top of the world. Change the world.”
A day earlier, I heard Bill Gates urge the Stanford graduating class to “change the world” through optimism and empathy. The mantra is so hackneyed by now that it’s hard to believe it still gets chanted regularly.
. . . In “Change the World,” a splendid New Yorker article published in 2013, George Packer mentions an employee at a high-tech firm who refused to take time away from work to hear what President Obama, who was visiting the campus, had to say. “I’m making more of a difference than anybody in government could possibly make,” the employee reportedly told a colleague.

There are not many places in the world — maybe only one — where an employee can expect an absurd utterance like that to be taken seriously, and where children, metaphorically speaking, believe that adults need their guidance and tutelage. Speaking of the pastoral campuses of companies like Google and Facebook, Packer writes:

A polychrome Google bike can be picked up anywhere on campus, and left anywhere, so that another employee can use it. Electric cars, kept at a charging station, allow employees to run errands.… At Facebook, employees can eat sushi or burritos, lift weights, get a haircut, have their clothes dry-cleaned, and see a dentist, all without leaving work. Apple, meanwhile, plans to spend nearly five billion dollars to build a giant, impenetrable ringed headquarters in the middle of a park that is technically part of Cupertino.
These inward-looking places keep tech workers from having even accidental contact with the surrounding community.
These heterotopias, with their teenage dress codes, situate themselves neither inside nor outside the public sphere. The companies that create such “frictionless” environments for their employees expect them to have an unlimited devotion to their jobs.

Almost everyone who works for one of these companies in fact overworks in optimal working conditions, at the expense of their private, social, and public lives. Villiers de L’Isle-Adam’s famous remark — “As for living, our servants will do that for us” — would make an appropriate motto for many of them.
The high-tech campus is the setting of Dave Eggers’s The Circle, which aspires to be the great dystopian novel of Silicon Valley and its dream of total connectivity. Reading this book makes one wonder whether "Silicon Valley" could ever inspire a good novel.

It can inspire good comedy, as in Mike Judge’s HBO series "Silicon Valley," whose caricatures are highly effective. People who work in Silicon Valley tend to love this show precisely because its over-the-top portrayals of the most infantile and socially dysfunctional aspects of the tech start-up culture are eerily on the mark. "Silicon Valley" captures a truth that masquerades as farce, yet farce and truth in this case are almost indistinguishable.
Eggers’s transpicuous allegories in The Circle have no such cutting edge. As one perceptive employee at Google remarked to me, it is hard to tell whether the novel wants to parody Silicon Valley or the clichés of its critics. Eggers is otherwise an excellent writer, which makes one wonder why this particular novel is so flat. 
From a literary point of view it seems colonized by the totalitarianism of transparency that its fictional high-tech company, with its presumptions of a higher moral mission, seeks to impose on its workers, and on the world at large, which of course it wants to change. Eggers’s story suffers from a similar syndrome as its protagonist, Mae Holland, a young college graduate who lands a desirable job at The Circle. 
She believes that her life is full of excitement, yet in truth the more engrossed she is in her work the more vapid she gets. When Mae’s childhood friend Mercer chides her at a family gathering for not being able to tear herself away from her cell phone, he infuriates her by pointing out something she refuses to believe: “Mae, do you realize how incredibly boring you’ve become?”  
It’s not Mae’s fault. Becoming a boring human being is the fate of most people who keep the tech economy’s lights burning deep into the night. These industries may be among the most vibrant and dynamic in the world, yet those inside the hive are among the most tedious people in the room, endlessly plugging into their prosthetic devices. The bad news is that their employers excel at finding ways to make those devices, in their continuously updating versions, universally available. 
You shall know them by their fruits, Jesus says in Matthew 7:16. From the point of view of the world we share in common, the fruits in question are altogether tasteless. I have seen young teenagers who just yesterday were ebullient, verbal, interactive, and full of personality turn into aphasic zombies within three months of getting a smart phone or an iPad. The new wine is dying on the vine, and Dionysos, the telluric god of ecstasy, is nowhere in sight. It is unlikely that the next big digital innovation will lure him back.

At this stage of our "development," I'm thinking Zeus not Dionysos.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Third-World USA USA USA Strikes!!! Austerity Zombie Still Mild-Mannered Response from Rich to Poor:  Name Is Being Changed To Protect the Malevolent (Are the Authoritarians Winning?)

Actually, the third world came to the USA USA USA just about the same time that chant did.

Remember after 9/11 when the America-first (and not-guilty) propagandists went into overdrive?

Remember this story every time you read about political representatives voting to get rid of environmental protections (and workers' rights).

It's back to feudalism time, baby!

Last year, at age 36, I started having bad coughing spells at night. I don’t smoke, and there wasn’t any obvious reason why I should be sick.
Then one evening after work, I came home from picking up my two little boys from my sister’s house and suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe. I rushed outside for fresh air but that didn’t help, so I told the boys to get in the car and went to urgent care at the hospital, where they kept me for two days.
Doctors told me I have asthma — and I’m not the only one who has it at the auto parts factory in Selma, Alabama, where I work. On the production line where we make foam seat cushions for Hyundai cars, one of the chemicals we work with is TDI, which causes breathing problems and can even cause cancer. And as a recent investigation shows, it is making many of us sick. 
When I came back to work, the company refused to admit that they needed to do something to keep people from having to breathe that TDI. Instead, they charged me discipline points for being in the hospital. If you get too many points taken off, you get fired. They also made me take vacation days if I wanted to get paid for the time. 
Now I take two inhalers and a nasal spray to the plant. Like many of the other people who work there, these are part of the tools we need just to do the job. I even bought paper masks with my own money to try to keep from breathing TDI – though that’s not the kind of real respirator that would make much difference.

I have two small boys to support, so I have to protect my health, but I also have to keep doing the work. There aren’t a lot of other jobs available in Selma, and I don’t want to go back to working at a gas station for minimum wage like I was before I got this job at the plant. 
We’re working six or seven days a week, and every other day my shift is 12 hours long. That means we’re breathing even more of the TDI that is making us sick. The company could hire more people so we wouldn’t have to work such long hours, but they aren’t willing to do that. In fact, if you say you won’t work the extra time, you get points taken off for that too. And at only $11.33 an hour, my family needs the money. 
Most people think that auto manufacturing jobs are good jobs. But that’s not the case anymore. Three out of every four auto workers now work in parts plants, where the jobs are closer to those in McDonald’s and Wal-Mart than to those that helped build America’s middle class.  
Hyundai can do better. The Korean company, which made $8.8 billion in profits last year, came to Alabama promising to create good jobs. I know the company could get rid of the TDI in the air if it wanted to.

The Koch Brothers and others of their dishonorable tribe (ilk) have invested milllions so far to eviscerate the environmental protection laws in this country (their businesses in energy and resource plundering profiting immeasureably).

Still hating on the mere existence of "Obamacare" and not because of the fact that your side has defeated the part of it that was intended to give much-needed health care to the desperate at the bottom of that beckoning wealth pyramid in states where neoconning Governors have refused to expand Medicaid to help care for their poor?

Tuesday’s Halbig ruling, in which a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court employed suspect legal reasoning to invalidate some of the Affordable Care Act’s health care subsidies, hasn’t had a tangible impact on health care policy. The subsidies are still going out to people who need them, and the White House has said it will petition for a review before the full D.C. Circuit Court, which observers tend to believe will shake out in the administration’s favor. So for all the apocalyptic and over-the-top rhetoric hinting at Obamacare’s coming demise, the law is no less whole than it was last week.

But Republicans and conservatives are no less jubilant, and they’ve spent much of the past few days popping corks and telling anyone who will listen that Halbig is the magic bullet that will finally, after years of frustration, kill Obamacare once and for all. “ObamaCare in death spiral after federal appeals court strikes down some subsidies,” blared a Fox News Op-Ed by longtime ACA fabulist Betsy McCaughey.
The unseemly side to all this celebrating is the fact that these conservatives are, in effect, throwing a party over a judicial ruling that would strip millions of people of their health coverage. “The next time Republicans are wondering why so many people think their party is cruel and uncaring and will gladly crush the lives of ordinary people if it means gaining some momentary partisan advantage, they might think back to this case,” wrote Paul Waldman in the American Prospect.

As usual, Sardonicky socks it to them.

And then some.

For US.

July 23, 2014

Gene Sperling's Advice to the Wealth-Lorn

 Or: "How the zombie idea of privatizing Social Security can be reanimated by a concern-trolling Wall Street Democrat."

Former Clinton-Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling, who brought you such populist hits as the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the Sequester, has now written an op-ed in the New York Times, purporting to give advice to the struggling masses in this Age of Inequality:

Share Our Wealth! Invest in 401(k)s! We'll do all the paperwork!

Sperling, a former Goldman Sachs consultant who allegedly left the Obama administration this spring, is now affiliated with the Milken Institute, a think tank in Santa Monica, California. You may remember founder Michael Milken as the "junk bond king" who went to prison in the 90s, back when prosecutors actually prosecuted crooked financiers.

Milken has since recouped his billions and has gained respectability in Democratic centrist circles as a political fund-raiser, fixer and philanthropist. And why not? The Age of Inequality is also the Age of Legalized Corruption. Banksters don't go to jail. They simply make deals with prosecutors to stay out of jail and continue victimizing the working stiffs of America.

But I digress. In his Times op-ed, Sperling cynically and ham-handedly bemoans the fact that poor people get less return on their savings than rich people. So what they should do is, hand over all their loose change to Wall Street. He doesn't actually come right out and call for privatizing Social Security, of course, but that's what he's ultimately suggesting within his double-talking verbiage:

A government-funded universal 401(k) would give lower- and moderate-income Americans a dollar-for-dollar matching credit for up to $4,000 saved annually per household. Upper-middle-class Americans could get at least a 60 percent match — doubling the incentive they get today.

The match would be open to workers even if their employers were already matching, which would encourage employers to keep contributing to savings. The match would also be available through I.R.A. contributions for those who were self-employed or who wanted to keep saving even while they were temporarily not working.
Employers would have to provide automatic payroll deductions for their employees (while allowing those who still wanted to opt out to do so). Setting the default at “opting in” would ensure that workers did not miss out on the match provided by a universal 401(k). The government could set requirements for low fees, transparency and safety to allow for vigorous competition in the private sector while allowing individual savers access to a version of the plan that members of Congress use for their own retirement savings.
This proposal is very similar, if not identical to, President Obama's own cynical "MyRA" scam that he rolled out to thundering silence at his State of the Union address this year. So it appears that the name is being changed to protect the malevolent. Sperling lumbers on for awhile before finally cutting to the chase:

Costs need not be a roadblock. Among many ways to do it, moderate reforms to the estate tax could allow married couples to leave up to $7 million to their heirs tax-free (instead of the current $10.7 million) while generating over $200 billion in resources over the next decade, which could be used to help tens of millions of savers build their own estates.

Even if a universal 401(k) ended up costing the government more than expected, it would still increase national savings overall if the public incentives led to additional private savings.
The Reagan zombie is resurrected. It's all trickle-down, all the time. Why didn't Sperling just say so in the first place?  My published comment (which, in retrospect, was more polite than this charlatan deserves):

Since Gene Sperling was touting cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal with the GOP as recently as last fall, his universal 401(K) proposal sounds suspiciously like a Wall Street gateway drug to the privatization of FDR's great social insurance program.
Given that 75% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have any savings simply because there's no money left after they eat, heat and barely survive, this op-ed is a tad disingenuous. And that's putting it kindly.
The part about lowering the cap on the estate tax to $7 million to help the savers of the future is a dead giveaway that this advice column is not meant for the average working stiff or unemployed person - who's lucky to have two nickels to rub together after robbing Peter to pay Paul every month.
Sperling does not explain how the $200 billion generated by estate tax reform would help anybody but the trust fund kids.
Here's a thought. How about sending a stimulus check to every man, woman and child in America to spend or save as they see fit? It would provide an immediate boost to the economy. How about raising or scrapping the cap on FICA contributions to ensure the solvency of the trust fund into perpetuity?
How about letting students borrow at the same low rates as banks? How about a guaranteed national income or living wage law?
Enough of these Very Serious and immodest proposals from economists who pretend to care about wealth inequality in an election year.
Speaking of the Krugmanism "very serious people," I suspect that Sperling's op-ed is just part of the vast muffled, orchestrated cry of the wealthy who are being unfairly ignored in this election year.... because politicians don't dare talk about cutting entitlements and immiserating the poor when their own political hides also are contingent upon pretending to care for the voters. The sadism has to be euphemized. Or in this case, Sperlingized. They won't rob you with a six-gun. They'll do it under cover of darkness....  with a Fulgor Nocturnis.

Sperling was among the plutocratic culprits sounding the false alarm over the debt and deficit crisis, debunked soundly in Paul Krugman's last column. So they have to come up with ever newer ways of saying the exact same thing. The latest way is smarmy concern-trolling as a means of stealing from the public and getting even more for themselves.

As I wrote in my comment to the Krugman piece,

If the debt crisis is such a crock, why are we still saddled with austerity? Correction: why are we still saddled with austerity that exempts the bloated war machine, the surveillance state, and corporate welfare for the super-rich?
It's been estimated that the $398 billion wasted on the F-35 fighter alone could buy each of the 600,000 homeless Americans a $600,000 home. And the GOP is having meltdowns over a paltry $10.10 minimum wage? They'll only fix our roads if employers can delay paying into pension plans?
Deficit hysteria might currently be on "mute," but signs of its undeadness are still out there. Surviving at the White House website is a braggy blurb about the trillions already achieved in deficit reduction, but how "we" still have a ways to go toward "living within our means." Chained CPI for Social Security might be officially gone this election year, but then-Press Sec. Jay Carney assured us that it's still on the table should the GOP ever choose to join the feasting on the old, the sick, and the poor.
Paul Ryan is merely resting his hysterical voice, reclining on his elite hammock of dependency during his Ayn Rand summer reading break.
Meanwhile, even the progressive caucus's proposed "Better Off Budget" devotes $1 trillion more to deficit reduction than it does to investments over the next decade
The austerity cult refuses to die. Could it be because the only people who care about the debt and the deficit are the fat cat plutocrats running the place?
Sperling (left) Joins Obama At the Feast

Are the Authoritarians Winning?

Michael Ignatieff

In the 1930s travelers returned from Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany praising the hearty sense of common purpose they saw there, compared to which their own democracies seemed weak, inefficient, and pusillanimous.
Democracies today are in the middle of a similar period of envy and despondency. Authoritarian competitors are aglow with arrogant confidence. In the 1930s, Westerners went to Russia to admire Stalin’s Moscow subway stations; today they go to China to take the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, and just as in the 1930s, they return wondering why autocracies can build high-speed railroad lines seemingly overnight, while democracies can take forty years to decide they cannot even begin. The Francis Fukuyama moment — when in 1989 Westerners were told that liberal democracy was the final form toward which all political striving was directed — now looks like a quaint artifact of a vanished unipolar moment.
For the first time since the end of the cold war, the advance of democratic constitutionalism has stopped. The army has staged a coup in Thailand and it’s unclear whether the generals will allow democracy to take root in Burma. For every African state, like Ghana, where democratic institutions seem secure, there is a Mali, a Côte d’Ivoire, and a Zimbabwe, where democracy is in trouble.

In Latin America, democracy has sunk solid roots in Chile, but in Mexico and Colombia it is threatened by violence, while in Argentina it struggles to shake off the dead weight of Peronism. In Brazil, the millions who took to the streets last June to protest corruption seem to have had no impact on the cronyism in Brasília. In the Middle East, democracy has a foothold in Tunisia, but in Syria there is chaos; in Egypt, plebiscitary authoritarianism rules; and in the monarchies, absolutism is ascendant.
In Europe, the policy elites keep insisting that the remedy for their continent’s woes is “more Europe” while a third of their electorate is saying they want less of it. From Hungary to Holland, including in France and the UK, the anti-European right gains ground by opposing the European Union generally and immigration in particular. In Russia the democratic moment of the 1990s now seems as distant as the brief constitutional interlude between 1905 and 1914 under the tsar.
The recent handshake between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping celebrated something more than a big gas deal. It heralded the emergence of an alliance of authoritarian states with a combined population of 1.6 billion in the vast Eurasian space that stretches from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan frontier.
This zone includes recalcitrant client states like North Korea and patriarchal despotisms like the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. It also includes less willing subjects, states like Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova, whose publics aspire to democratic independence but are being told by their authoritarian leaders—partly through the lesson being inflicted on Ukraine—to put their dreams aside.
Ukraine is where the battle for influence has been joined between the demoralized democracies of the West and the rising authoritarian archipelago of the East. If Ukraine is not allowed to choose its own democratic path, some of the states that border Russia, and especially those with Russian-speaking minorities, will also be prevented from doing so.
The conflict between authoritarianism and democracy is not a new cold war, we are told, because the new authoritarians lack an expansionary ideology like communism. This is not true. Communism may be over as an economic system, but as a model of state domination it is very much alive in the People’s Republic of China and in Putin’s police state.
Nor does this new authoritarianism lack an economic strategy. Its goal is a familiar form of modernization that secures the benefits of global integration without sacrificing political and ideological control over its populations. Its economic model is price-fixing state capitalism and its legal system is rule by (often corrupt) fiat in place of the rule of law.

Its ethics rejects moral universalism in favor of a claim that the Chinese and Russian civilizations are self-contained moral worlds. Persecution of gays, therefore, is not some passing excess, but is intrinsic to their vision of themselves as bulwarks against Western individualism.

Russia’s and China’s strategic visions may draw on different historical experiences, but the messages they take from their histories are similar. Both dwell on the humiliations they have received at the hands of the West. Both explicitly refuse to accept liberal democracy as a model. Both insist that their twentieth-century experience of revolution and civil war necessitates centralized rule with an iron fist.
The Chinese and Russian variants of authoritarian modernization draw upon different resources, and they remain geostrategic competitors, one rising, the other trying to halt its decline, but both see good reasons to align their interests for the medium term. This commonality of interest is striking — they vote together on the Security Council, persecute their own dissidents, and jointly stick up for exterminatory dictatorship in Syria. In their shared resentment toward the American world order, they have spoken as one since the day the Americans bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
The new authoritarians offer the elites of Africa and Eurasia an alternate route to modern development: growth without democracy and progress without freedom. This is the siren song some African, Latin American, and Asian political elites, especially the kleptocrats, want to hear.
Faced with these resurgent authoritarians, America sets a dismaying example to its allies and friends. For two centuries, its constitutional machinery was widely admired. Now, in the hands of polarizing politicians in Washington and in the two parties, it generates paralysis.

America’s admirers overseas accept that money talks in Washington politics, since money talks in everybody’s politics. It is the energetic ideological justification of the dollar’s power in Washington that seems perverse. To citizens of other liberal democracies, the Supreme Court doctrine that money in politics deserves the protections accorded speech seems like doctrinal insanity. For other Western democrats money is plainly power, not speech, and needs to be regulated if citizens are to stay free.
It’s difficult to defend liberal democracy with much enthusiasm abroad if it works so poorly at home. This thought leads Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to argue in Foreign Policy Begins at Home that the US needs to put its own house in order before it promotes its values and institutions abroad.

His commonsense agenda at home — getting public finances under control, reforming campaign and electoral laws, investing in education — is meant to be a call to action, but getting these basics done seems a remote possibility in the current climate of party enmity. Democracy can only work if politics is conducted between adversaries. Right now, America’s Constitution is stymied by a politics of enemies.
For Barry Posen, a distinguished political scientist at MIT, the American problem is not democratic dysfunction at home, but overreach overseas. In pursuit of the chimera of “Liberal Hegemony,” he argues in his new book, Restraint, America has recklessly plunged into wars it should not have waged and promoted goals like human rights, democracy, and nation-building that it could not achieve. In outspending friends and rivals alike on defense, it has allowed free riding by European allies and “reckless driving” (mostly settlement-building) by Israel.
Were the US to cut its defense spending back from 4.5 to 2.5 percent of GDP, he argues, America could force its allies to defend themselves and set free $75 billion a year to spend on rebuilding America at home.

This is a surprising recommendation coming from a conservative realist, but it indicates just how much the critique of bloated military spending and hubris overseas now unites conservatives and progressives alike. Both ends of the political spectrum, it seems, are converging on “restraint” as the right organizing principle for American strategy.
Restraint means triage. It means rationing the use of American military force to protect vital national interests; staying out of other people’s civil wars or humanitarian disasters, no matter how strongly these may stir the conscience; refusing to promote democracy or human rights in places where they are unlikely to take root anyway; forcing allies like Japan, Israel, and the Europeans to shoulder more of the burden of their own defense; and giving up grand hopes of shaping global public goods and global public order.
President Obama’s recent address at West Point suggests that he is listening to a new doctrine of restraint. He still gives notional credence to the promotion of human rights and democracy abroad, but the real focus of his foreign policy is to get the troops home, reduce foreign entanglements, and concentrate on nation-building at home. Whether this emerging consensus around restraint is sober realism or just isolationism that dares not speak its name, as a mood it captures a sense, among conservatives and progressives alike, that America no longer has the power to shape the international order as it once did. In particular, it no longer can imagine itself as the vanguard democracy of an advancing global order of democracies.
This is the gloomy setting in which the editor in chief of The Economist, John Micklethwait, and its managing editor, Adrian Wooldridge, have brought out The Fourth Revolution, an account of the rise of the state over five centuries and the current struggle of democracy with its authoritarian competitors. They take aim, primarily, at the sheer incompetence of the modern state:

The modern overloaded state is a threat to democracy: the more responsibilities Leviathan assumes, the worse it performs them and the angrier people get — which only makes them demand still more help.
The only way for liberal democracy to respond to the authoritarian challenge from without and rising discontent from within, they argue, is for the state to slim down, to do less but do it better.
As one might expect, The Fourth Revolution has all the virtues — and some of the vices — of The Economist itself. Its virtues are an insatiable curiosity and an enthusiasm for reform. Its vice is breathless haste. In barely fifty pages, the authors rush the reader through three revolutions in the history of the modern state: the absolutist one, created in 1650 with Thomas Hobbes as its chief ideologue; the liberal constitutional version with John Stuart Mill as its characteristic spokesman; and the modern welfare state, created, so they argue, by Beatrice and Sydney Webb, the British Fabian socialists.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher came to power promising a fourth revolution to tame Leviathan, but they failed to dismantle the welfare state. The state’s size, whether measured by the number of bureaucrats or by the percentage of national income it absorbs, continued to rise throughout their period in power.

The conservative counterrevolutionaries discovered that the expectations and entitlements modern states serve are incorrigibly resistant to change. Many Tea Party Republicans would abandon their libertarian nostrums in a second if these led to cuts in their own Medicare or Social Security.

Sean Hemmerle/Contact Press Images Detroit’s once-grand Michigan Theatre, which opened in 1926 and is now a parking lot
Are contemporary politicians, on either side of the aisle, actually taking action to make the state more just and more efficient? The editors of The Economist do find some democratic heroes, here and there, mostly big-city mayors trying to make government more effective, but by and large they paint a scathing picture of democratic dysfunction at the national level.

When conservatives win elections, corporate interests often take control. When progressives win back power, they only succeed in making the state more domineering. When conservatives are restored to office, they cut back. And so it goes, a continuing dynamic of political alternation that leaves the state unreformed and, worst of all, ever more intrusive.

Both sides of modern democratic politics say they want to protect the freedom of citizens, and both end up increasing the state’s powers of surveillance.
Battered by this ever more futile political alternation, the liberal state is ever less liberal and ever less capable of controlling the interests it is supposed to regulate. Its tax and benefit systems are so distorted by special interests that it has lost the capacity to redistribute.

Far from reducing inequality, the modern state is making the problem worse. As Micklethwait and Wooldridge observe, “If you put spending and taxes together, including all the deductions, the government lavishes more dollars overall on the top fifth of the income distribution than the bottom fifth.”
For all their critique of Leviathan, the authors have no patience with libertarian fantasies of dismantling it. The powerful state turned out to be the West’s critical invention. Imperial China had a Leviathan state too, but it created order while suffocating invention. The Western state was unique in that it provided coercive order without stifling individual creativity.

The West’s signal achievement, the one that made every other success possible, was governance constrained by individuals’ rights, in which power was held in check by an independent judiciary, a free press, parliaments, and the rule of law.
In their search for ways to revive the liberal state, the editors of The Economist urge Western democrats to learn from their authoritarian competitors. So they dash to Singapore to learn how Lee Kuan Yew’s people have cut entitlements and lowered taxes, but managed to keep the poor from falling through the safety net. Instead of going to the Harvard Kennedy School or the École Nationale d’Administration, they fly out to the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong to learn how the Communist Party has adapted the imperial mandarin tradition in order to create an efficient and meritocratic bureaucracy.
The fact that Singapore and Shanghai are better governed than Detroit or Los Angeles is hardly news. The issue is whether authoritarian governance is sustainable in the face of demands by the middle class to be treated like citizens, and whether such governance is capable of dealing with radical shocks like a long-term economic slowdown of the kind currently predicted for China.
The authoritarian archipelago is arrogant but it is brittle: it must control everything, or soon it controls nothing. The saving grace of democracy is its adaptability. It depends for its vitality on discontent. Discontent leads to peaceful regime change, and as regimes change, free societies can discard failed alternatives.
Democracy’s adaptability will be tested, especially in India, where Narendra Modi has just been given a huge popular mandate to reform the corrupted Gandhian state. At stake is the central question of whether democracy can compete with the authoritarian modernization of China. Xi Jinping has an anticorruption campaign underway in China, together with an attempt to reduce the weight of state control over the economy. Will he or Modi prove the more successful?
Micklethwait and Wooldridge resist the hard luster of authoritarian modernization, but like the free-market liberals who founded the original Economist in the 1840s, they call for a Fourth Revolution that returns to the limited government of the Victorian era.

They want democracies everywhere to simplify their tax systems, eliminate loopholes, and reduce the burden of taxation; the same democracies should make families and charitable networks stronger so that there is less dependence on the welfare state. They want to liberate the market from vexatious and paternalistic regulation so that it can get on with its work of creative destruction. But they also want to regulate capitalism so that the power of money is kept in check. The details are vague but the direction is clear.
William Ewart Gladstone, four-time Liberal prime minister, is their hero: by “saving candle-ends and cheese-parings,” Gladstone was able to lower taxation and stimulate rapid growth. His “lean government liberalism” was a partnership, adversarial but productive, between private enterprise and a reforming state. Private enterprise built the great cathedrals of Victorian life — the railway stations — while the state provided the frugal public order — sanitary reform to raise up the working class, franchise reform to include them in politics, and the bobby on the beat to keep them in line.
How can one resist Gladstone’s frugality, his love of invention and reform, and his noble-hearted internationalism? It’s not obvious, however, that Gladstone offers a relevant guide for modern states today. They are locked into demands for health care, employment insurance, and retirement pensions that Gladstone could not have imagined, still less endorsed; nor did he face such long-range problems as climate change.
It is not at all apparent that “governance innovation,” a bauble Micklethwait and Wooldridge chase across three continents, watching innovators at work making government more efficient in Chicago, Sacramento, Singapore, and Stockholm, will do the trick. The problem of the liberal state is not that it lacks modern management technique, good software, or different schemes to improve the “interface” between the bureaucrats and the public.

By focusing on government innovation, Micklethwait and Wooldridge assume that the problem is improving the efficiency of government. But what is required is both more radical and more traditional:  a return to constitutional democracy itself, to courts and regulatory bodies that are freed from the power of money and the influence of the powerful; to legislatures that cease to be circuses and return to holding the executive branch to public account while cooperating on measures for which there is a broad consensus; to elected chief executives who understand that they are not entertainers but leaders.
The Economist editors want to put the liberal state on a starvation diet. Theirs is a diagnosis that identifies symptoms, but if applied as policy medicine might just kill the patient. The problem needs to be understood differently.

The modern state may be too large in some areas, like the US military, because legacy commitments have not been examined in the light of emerging strategic requirements; or because, in a few countries, still powerful public sector unions retain a hammerlock on human resource budgets; or in others because predatory elected elites are siphoning revenues into their own pockets. But in other liberal states, honest and well-administered governments are staggering along without the resources to provide citizens with valuable and needed services.
The Economist editors offer us no real analysis of the resource problems of the modern state — the fiscal crisis that results when states meet rising demand for services with declining or stagnant revenue. A polemical but persuasive analysis of this problem is to be found in the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s new white paper for the Roosevelt Institute.

Stiglitz argues that the fiscal crisis of the liberal state is to be attributed squarely to three interrelated phenomena:  rising income inequality, money power in politics, and systemic tax avoidance by the superrich and globalized corporations.
As inequality rises, Stiglitz argues, it suppresses effective demand. Unequal societies hoard wealth at the upper end instead of spreading consumption and investment through a broad middle class. When inequality holds back demand, corporations sit on large cash hoards, unwilling to invest or consume. As the rich become ever more ingenious in avoiding taxes, the cost of carrying the liberal state falls on a middle class forced to shoulder the burden alone.

It is hyperinequality that is choking off demand and starving the liberal state.
Stiglitz’s solution is comprehensive. He proposes a 40 percent income tax rate for those who control the top 25 percent of national income; followed by a 20 percent rate on those who hold the next 25 percent, with tax reductions for everyone in the bottom 50 percent.

That tax structure would take care of the national debt problem. He also proposes “a combination of tax rates and investment incentives” that would impose a tax of 15 percent on corporate incomes, and a value-added tax on consumption of 5 percent. Finally, an unspecified carbon tax would move American society toward clean energy innovation and lower-carbon lifestyles.
This new tax structure raises the state’s take of the national income to 26 percent. These measures, he calculates, would solve the liberal state’s fiscal crisis, moderate inequality, and stimulate growth, since the state would spend wealth now locked away in corporate cash accounts — some overseas — and private savings.
Stiglitz’s remedy will strike some as confiscatory, while others may suspect he wants the tax system to accomplish more than it ever can, but his analysis does identify the problem of the modern state more clearly than the editors of The Economist.

The liberal state is in crisis, basically, because its regulatory, legal, and political institutions have either been captured, or have been laid siege to, by the economic interests they were created to control. While the liberal state was never intended to enforce distributive equality, it was always supposed to keep the power of big money from suffocating competition and corrupting the political system. This is the task it struggles to perform today and must recover fully if it is to regain the confidence and support of the broad mass of its citizens.

There is nothing new about this challenge. Inequalities of wealth have recurrently threatened to overwhelm the rough and ready political equality without which a liberal state cannot function fairly. Recurrently, defenders of the liberal state, in the Progressive era, the Roosevelt New Deal, and the dawn of the European welfare state responded to the challenge and restored the state as the guarantor of the order and freedom of market society.

Where Micklethwait and Wooldridge are surely right is that the genius of the West lay in its invention of rights respecting limited government, grounded in the revocable trust of ordinary people. It was this set of robust and enduring institutions that made us what we once were and what, if we restore their constitutional vigor, we can be once again.

My first tomato - hope the deer don't eat it!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why We Don't Want Politicians Who Have To Be Cajoled (I'm Looking At You!) FBI Creating Terrorists? Robots Taking Over?

If you thought progressives were out of ideas or luck, you couldn't be more mistaken.  Keith Ellison shows us a group of collaborators on a path with integrity and real results.

I see the Progressive Caucus as the legislative wing of the progressive movement. I see the Progressive Caucus as willing to take the aspiration and the inspiration and boil it down to a policy and a law. At the end of the day, the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott had to be converted into the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We don’t want politicians who’ve gotta be coaxed, cajoled and protested. We want them on our side from the beginning. We want them to know that the power is with the people, and we have expectations that must be met: delivering legislation and law that reflects the will of the people. That’s how I see the Progressive Caucus fitting in.
And we have made it a primary initiative of the Progressive Caucus to solidify our relationship with the progressive movement. So, we did some work that we’re really proud of on our budget. The last one, we called it the Better Off Budget. We didn’t write that budget by ourselves. The Economic Policy Institute helped us write it. The AFL-CIO people helped write it. All types of people helped write it. It was a collaborative effort.

We were very proud of some of our work on getting the president to sign an executive order to raise the pay of people who work for federal contractors. Well, that was Good Jobs Nation who brought us that idea. Right now, we’re in the middle of using the appropriations process to exclude proven wage thieves from getting federal contracts, and we’ve been successful on several appropriations bills.
And that one was in collaboration with some Republicans, right?
Yeah. We got about 25 Republicans. We had a vote on the defense appropriations bill where all the Dems voted for it and about 25 Republicans voted for it. Because they don’t favor wage theft. I mean, God bless them, right? So my point is that the Progressive Caucus, we didn’t come up with that. Our collaborative partners said, why don’t you do this? So we’re not claiming any kind of genius here. We’re playing our role, we’re doing our part.
So when it comes to carbon, we’re working with Green for All, on trying to protect the carbon rule. On net neutrality, we’re working with our partners who understand the Internet better than we do. And so we see ourselves as an extension of the progressive movement.
On gun legislation, on immigration reform and the unaccompanied minors issue, Raul Grijalva worked with our progressive partners and brought forth a white paper which we adopted that said children first. Children first. And we  want nothing to do with, in fact I firmly oppose, this hateful idea that we’re going to throw kids who could be victims of trafficking back to the wolves. We won’t do it. We’re going to be aggressive and robust in defending this idea of kids first.
Let’s say more about that. This has been elevated to a huge issue now. It does look like the Obama administration wants to use some public relations example to stop the flow up the border by saying you’re not going to stay here, you’re going to have to be put back. What is the caucus willing to do to stop that?
We’ve already taken our position on this issue. We believe that the president should be engaging in intense diplomatic efforts to reduce the level of violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And to the degree that our war on drugs is contributing, we should stop contributing. So, you know, a PR campaign, I believe has limited hope of success if the material conditions propelling these children to leave are not going to change.
And of course they’re leaving to every country in the region, not just the United States.
Right. But the bottom line is, if these children, caught in the crossfire of desperately poor countries fighting over scraps from criminal gangs, they’re not going to not come because they heard a radio ad saying don’t come. They’re going to say, OK, am I going to run the risk, the likelihood, of being murdered, or am I going to try to leave? If they can leave, they’re going to leave. So what we’ve got to do is impact the material conditions on the ground in those countries, which I think is the proper role of the president.
But we need to reevaluate our role in the war on drugs. Do we have a policy, does our drug consumption here in America, and our criminalization of what I think is fundamentally a medical problem, contribute to madness and chaos? It created madness right here in America; why shouldn’t it create madness and chaos south of the border?
I want to talk about another issue where you’re partnering, with Americans for Tax Fairness, about this inversion issue. It’s kind of a wonky issue; you have to give the ordinary person a lot of information so they understand it.
You got to give them some, but it’s very understandable.
You think so? You think it can be something that plays as a campaign issue?

I think it certainly can; I think it probably will. Because people know that these companies, they benefit from our courts, our military, our cops, our food inspection, everything, and yet they’re willing to reincorporate with another company in another country so they can pay lower taxes.

Now, they want all the stuff our taxes provide, but they don’t want to pay their fair share of providing them by some accounting trick that they do. People get that. I mean, when I go and tell folks that, they get that, they understand that, and they explain it back to me in a way that I know they get it. They’re shocked that it happens.
OK, you’ve been co-chair of the Progressive Caucus what, three years now?
Three years.
What are you doing in order to make the caucus more effective?
We’re doing three things. One is working together more cohesively than ever. We’ve done several job tours, we do our Better Off Budget, we’re circulating, members introduce these amendments in appropriations, we’re doing peace and security, we’re making a new case for diplomacy and development as opposed to war. We’re making a strong case about NSA spying, for a humane immigration system. We’re working together, we’re leveraging the talent of our members.
And then, we’re strengthening our partnerships. So in the past, Progressive Caucus members might come and give a speech at Netroots and then they leave. Here, we’re cultivating relationships with partners we have been working with. You know, I’ve done two workshops here, with progressive partners, who I have ongoing sustainable relationships with.
So we believe the real strength of the Progressive Caucus is in its partnership with the progressive movement. That’s why I said we see ourselves as the legislative arm. So Frank Clemente has an awesome idea on how to make taxes better. We want to work with him on doing that. He has come to our meetings, shared with us his ideas.

So if Joe Giovardi and Paco Fabian from Good Jobs Nation are working on how to raise the pay of people, leveraging public dollars to get good jobs, they’re not just in our meetings, we’re on their picket lines. Our people are marching on their picket lines.
And finally, we have this PAC and we fundraise for it. And we’re trying to support progressive candidates, to populate Congress with progressive activists who then have to take on the mantle of being a member of Congress. But you know, they’re fundamentally organizers. See, I don’t see myself as a member of Congress, that’s just a job I’m doing now. I might do something else, you know? But I will go to my grave doing progressive politics.
Last thing. We almost have this disease in the media around Presidentialism.
We’re now talking about 2016, I’m surprised we’re not talking about 2020 right now.
We will be soon.
So what is the role of someone who is a member of Congress, who sees themselves as an activist, who’s deeply concerned with policy, how do you shift this from people wearing hats for President Warren, pouring all their dreams into one vessel, how do you shift that conversation into, it’s time to build policies that can help people and build a movement around it?
It almost feels like we went through a metamorphosis sometime between 2004 up until when Obama was elected. We started out with Si se puede, we moved on to Yes We Can, after he got elected we said Yes You Can, and then he said Yes I Can Sometimes. Look, you gotta align your movement around principles and not people. If you align your movement around principle, then people have to adhere or not to your principle. If you align it around people, they’ve got to be your everything or they’re nothing, right?
The truth is Obama has done a lot of progressive things. I know it’s kind of the order of the day to talk about our progressive disappointment. But wait a minute, what about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, what about the fact that the Affordable Care Act is better than what we had before, what about the fact that we are hopefully going to stay out of Iraq? I mean there are things we can point to.
But we have to have a cultural shift within the progressive movement that the power is with the people. We say it as a slogan, but do we really mean it? If we’re up here talking about which president is going to carry our dream for us …  I mean, I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Warren, love her to death, mostly because of her fidelity to progressive ideas around fair pay, equal treatment, fair treatment, consumer justice. That’s why I love Elizabeth Warren. I’m not into anybody’s personality. And we’ve got to stay that way. And we’ve got to really institutionalize principled action.
I mean, because look, the Netroots Nation has become the progressive CPAC, right? This is what we got. It may need to be more, it may need to be less, but it is what we have. And now, whether you’re Biden or Warren, you’ve got to come here. Which is great. So what we need to do is say, we’re about this, are you, aspirant for the presidency? And not expecting. We don’t want our candidate for the president to be some Rorschach test, where they seem charismatic so we figure they’re for us, but maybe they are and maybe they’re not.

Read the entire article here.

Sting: Two New Reports on How the FBI Creates Terrorists

Our New Robot Overlords: The Terrifying Uncertainty of Our High-Tech Future

Whether or not you buy Frey and Osborne’s analysis, it is undeniable that something strange is happening in the U.S. labor market. Since the end of the Great Recession, job creation has not kept up with population growth. Corporate profits have doubled since 2000, yet median household income (adjusted for inflation) dropped from $55,986 to $51,017. At the same time, after-tax corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product increased from around 5 to 11 percent, while compensation of employees as a share of GDP dropped from around 47 to 43 percent. Somehow businesses are making more profit with fewer workers.
A lot more than might have been expected.

The chilling reason our government wants to erase this man from history

And read these from Salon. Dave Dayen just keeps getting hotter!

This man made millions suffer: Tim Geithner’s sorry legacy on housing

Jamie Dimon’s sinister P.R. ploy: What’s really behind JPMorgan’s Detroit investment

Financial criminals’ cushy scam: How Credit Suisse gamed the system

“Awesome in its evilness”: How to make GOP pay for its Medicaid nightmare

The left’s existential dilemma: How Joe Biden’s Netroots speech revealed his party’s crossroads

Worst rip-off since banking fees: Behold an infuriating money-sapping scheme

Elizabeth Warren faces right-wing stooge: Here’s who’s quietly funding her top critic

Wall Street’s wily front group: Inside story of a rental scheme’s secret facelift

Massive new fraud coverup: How banks are pillaging homes — while the government watches

Supreme Court’s out-of-control spiral: Ideologues rewriting their own laws

And just for fun (since I adore Wally Shawn):

Wallace Shawn: I wish people knew me as a radical playwright instead for “The Princess Bride.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

(We Are An Empire - We Do What We Please?) Will Admission of Blatant Lies Spell End of American Empire? (Or Will U.S. Hug Violence Embrace Tighter?) Sanctions and Airliners

With at least 24% of the people of the world believing that the U.S. is “the greatest threat to peace in the world today,” isn't it time to put an end to the idea of the conquering American Empire?

People Are Mobilizing to Finally Put an End to the Disastrous U.S. Empire

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
July 21,2014
The historian who chronicles US Empire, William Blum, issued his 130th Anti-Empire Report this week. In it he notes that the US, by far, is seen by the people of the world as “the greatest threat to peace in the world today” with 24% taking that view. Only 2% see Russia as such a threat, and 6% see China.
This should not come as a surprise since, as this map shows, much of the world has been bombed, had their democratically chosen government overthrown and has been occupied by the United States. Blum follows these interventions closely and has reported that since the end of World War II, the United States has:

It seems the people of the world are factually correct when they label the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world.
Yet, despite this mass public opinion about the United States, US leaders seem oblivious. As Blum points out, Secretary of State John Kerry said:   “In my travels as secretary of state, I have seen as never before the thirst for American leadership in the world.”
And, potential future leaders show support for the path of military intervention. The Republican Vice Presidential candidate in 2012, Paul Ryan (R-WI) said: “We need to be reminded that the world needs American leadership.” And the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton has said “The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century.”
A more accurate appraisal comes from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Vietnam era when he said: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world:   My own Government, I cannot be Silent.” The people of the United States must follow the lead of Dr. King and work to end the interventionist violence of the United States Empire.
Reviewing the Hottest Spots in US Empire
The US is involved in military disputes around the globe, conflicts which could lead to a much broader war. The US role seems to encourage violence, rather than minimize it; to intervene, rather than allow people in the country or region resolve disputes. The breadth of Empire is costly in financial and human terms as well as to the respect of the United States and its people. Is the US Empire spread so thin at a time of a struggling economy that this is a moment where people can come together and build a movement to end Empire?
There are multiple hot spots where US Empire is participating, supporting and approving of escalating violence. Here’s a quick review:
Even before its founding Israel was entangled with violence – the violence of removing Palestinians from their homes to create the “Jewish State.” Former Secretary of State and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Alexander Haig perhaps most honestly described what Israel is to the United States when he aptly called Israel America's “unsinkable battleship in the Middle East.”
The US battleship Israel is now involved in another slaughter of the Palestinian people of Gaza. We could write this entire article on the atrocities of this attack and the lies on which it is based, but we will be brief (for more see here). As we write this article, Israel is expanding the ground invasion of Gaza moving from the “iron dome to the iron fist.” The last time there was a ground attack on Gaza was January, 2009 during Operation Cast Lead when 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, were killed.
The government of the United States supports Israel at all costs. Even when Israel kills children playing on a beach, the United States incredibly blames the Palestinians. The US never talks about the people of Gaza defending themselves from daily brutalization by Israel – that has gone on for decades – but always talks about Israel having the right to defend themselves. Social media is helping to show the reality of this manipulated and lopsided conflict. The veil is lifting.
As is common in military intervention hot spots, the US and Israeli public are treated tofalse, inaccurate and biased reporting. One recent effective propaganda ploy reported widely in the US was the so-called cease fire brokered by the anti-Hamas government of Egypt with Israel. The Palestinians were not part of the negotiations and it would have reduced their rights, but Israel used the failure as an excuse to expand their war to a ground invasion.
Imagine if the tables were turned and Syria negotiated a cease fire with Hamas that gave Hamas all it asked for – would Israel agree? Here’s the truth about the phony propaganda cease fire.
Major media outlets have been caught in lies and misrepresentations. ABC News may have been the most blatant when it showed video of Palestinians running for their lives and said they were Israelis.
ABC was forced to admit the obvious lie, but that does not change their bias. The NY Times was caught changing the headline about the horrific killing of four young Palestinian boys playing on the beach.
The pro-war bias of the Times is evident on many fronts of war. NBC has also become embroiled in controversy around its reporting as it removed a journalist who has been reporting on what is occurring in Gaza, and who witnessed the four children being killed by Israel at the beach just before the ground invasion began. The pressure grew so quickly that NBC was forced to reinstate the reporter.
It is evident the US media cannot be trusted when it comes to their reporting on what is actually occurring in Palestine.
There have been protests throughout the United States (see e.g. Boston, Detroit, Washington, DC at the White House as well as the Israeli Embassy) and around the world. This week, when local politicians expressed their fealty to Israel in New York City, protesters showed up to express a different viewpoint. In addition, students are organizing protests across the country and the international boycott and divestment movement against Israel grows.
We have been reporting on developments in Ukraine for over a year. And, as with Israel there have been many instances of biased reporting in the US media. Robert Parry writes that “MSM outlets have been feeding Americans a highly biased narrative of the crisis non-stop from the beginning.”
He points to the failure of the media to report on the right wing extremist role in the new Kiev government, describing the Russian “invasion” of Crimea – an invasion where no troops crossed the border, the harsh austerity plan agreed to by the new US supported leaders, the failure to report a secret visit to Ukraine by the head of the CIA among other false narratives and omissions.
Another important item not reported in the corporate media is that since the US supported and funded the coup of an elected president to ‘bring democracy to Ukraine,’ the two leaders chosen are consistent with US wishes. A Wikileaks document describes the president as “Our Ukraine (OU) insider Petro Poroshenko,” and shows how he has been working as an agent of the US government since 2006. And, former intelligence official, Ray McGoven, points out how US officials were caught on a telephone call saying the current Prime Minister, Arseniy Petrovych Yatsenyuk, a former banker, was the US choice. These two leaders have gotten Ukraine deeply into debt with Western bankers and have done as Western powers wanted including accepting major austerity requirements.
The horrible shooting down of a passenger plane seemingly by a missile is causing controversy now.
We published two stories on the event, one from the NY Times and the other from Russia Today to show the stark contrast. RT reports that Kiev moved missiles that could shoot down a plane to the region and ten years ago shot down a Russian aircraft to demonstrate Kiev has the technology. This is not being reported in the US media which has ruled out the possibility that Kiev fired the missile and is debating whether Russia or the Eastern Ukrainian separatists fired the shot.
Both Kiev and the Eastern Ukranians have denied the shooting. Vladimir Putin has blamed the catastrophe on the ongoing attacks by Kiev against Eastern Ukraine and has urged a ceasefire. Obama joined in the call for a cease fire a day later. There have been aerial bombardments of Eastern Ukraine by Kiev. All the facts have not come in as we write this, so at this stage we just note the disparity in reporting. It would be wise not to make any assumptions but to wait for the evidence and certainly not use this as an excuse for direct involvement by the United States or escalation of hostilities. Putting in place a cease fire and finding a peaceful solution to the conflict is the approach we hope Ukraine takes.
Also notable is the lack of reporting on Ukraine. There are some incredible stories in the Russian media about atrocities being conducted by right wing extremists in Eastern Ukraine. We have not seen any western media deny the stories. One horrible story is of a child who was allegedly crucified by Ukrainian extremists while his mother was forced to watch and then she was dragged through the square by a tank until she died. Some describe what is occurring as genocide with the targeting of civilian buildings. International lawyer, Francis Boyle, said in an interview that the US was aiding and abetting genocide.
After military attacks and economic embargoes of Iraq by Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the country is a mess. The government is in chaos, a new Muslim group, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), has taken many of the major cities by military force and there is talk of dividing the country into multiple parts. Obama has already sent hundreds of troops to Iraq, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Martin Dempsey, has not ruled out a large US troop presence saying if “our national interests drive us there” we will send more troops. Too many in government do not realize that the cause of the problems in Iraq was the US invasion and occupation and that more of the same will not solve the problem, but is likely to make it worse. As Chris Hedges writes, ISIS is “the final answer to the collective humiliation of an occupied country, the logical outcome of Shock and Awe…”
There is growing bi-partisan opposition to military involvement in Iraq by members of Congress who are urging Obama to get authorization from Congress as required by the Constitution. This letter, authored by Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Scott Regall (R-VA) had 103 members of Congress sign on.
Once again the corporate media played its usual role of propagandizing Americans to drum up support for another war in Iraq. They consistently aired people who advocated prior attacks and occupations of Iraq while never allowing war opponents on the air. The media also exaggerated sectarian divisions, divisions the US made worse to control the population during the occupation. Despite mass propaganda, a majority of the American public opposes military intervention in Iraq and only 20% support it.
Those who oppose another Iraq War quickly organized protests throughout the country. Usually war propaganda works long enough to start the attack. For a new war with Iraq and an attack on Syria, the public has shown greater immunity to propaganda.
As William Blum notes, Hillary Clinton now admits she made a mistake in voting for the authorization for the use of force in Iraq. But, she is equally wrong on its outcome. Blum reports that in 2007 Clinton said, “The American military has done its job. . . the American military has succeeded.” Can the American public trust someone who is so mistaken in her hawkish, pro-militarist judgments?
The longest war in US history is supposedly winding down at a very slow rate.
President Obama agreed to draw down troops in 2016. This slow draw down may change now that a president who is friendlier to the US has been elected in Afghanistan. And, the leading candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, says she would be open to keeping US military forces in Afghanistan past 2016. Clinton notes that with the new president there might be a “legal basis” for the US staying.
One thing that has not closed is the secret Bagram prison in Afghanistan officially known as the Detention Facility in Parwan. This prison, informally known as the Afghan Guantanamo, holds 40 secret “detainees.” These prisoners are held without charges, many for years. The prison is reportedly believed to be holding Pakistanis, Yemenis, Tunisians, Uzbeks and Russians. Bagram prisoners have even less rights than prisoners at Guantanamo and much less is known about their conditions. They do not have a right to a lawyer or to challenge their detention. This week it was reported that the prisoners in Bagram have been on hunger strikes which indicates there are serious issues at the prison. If the US presence in Afghanistan continues, these prisoners are likely to continue to be held.
The Asian Pivot:
The centerpiece of President Obama’s foreign policy is the pivot to Asia. This massive shift of forces to Asia is meant to focus the US military on China, which the United States sees as its only economic rival; and a country that presents an alternative to big finance capitalism.
The pivot has led to major changes in many countries in the region as well as increasing tensions. Japan may be the most important as it is the third largest economy and has a long history of militarism. Japan has a large military and has worked with the United States for decades, buts its “pacifist” constitution has a clause that forbids it from engaging in foreign war.
Article 9 of the Constitution says: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
Ret. Col. Ann Wright points out that the US has been pressuring Japan to change that restriction. The United States wrote Japan’s constitution, but once China became a communist nation, the US wanted Japan to participate in militarism in the region. As William Blum reports, on July 1, Prime Minister Abe gave the US its wish. Without changing a word, he reinterpreted the constitution to mean that Japan could not attack another nation on its own, but it could do so in allegiance with another nation. (Hmm, we wonder what country he had in mind?) This unilateral change was made despite strong opposition in Japan, including a protester who burned himself to death.
Already there have been tense moments between China and Japan with its ally, the US. Last November there were multiple challenges as Japan and the US violated the “Air Defense Zone” of China resulting in China scrambling fighter jets over the East China Sea in response. Tensions will likely rise as the US has now brought drones into the Asian Pacific which are housed on military bases in Japan.
The United States has also entered into new agreements with Australia, resulting in former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser warning his country may be drawn into a war against China as a result of how intertwined the US and Australian military’s have become. Similarly, new military agreements between the Philippines and the US, protested by the Philippine people, create a situation where some see their country as once again becoming a US colony.
There have also been ongoing protests in South Korea as that country becomes more entangled with the Asia Pivot. The “Peace Island” of Jeju, South Korea has been a special focus as the country which was devastated by a US puppet government is being forced to accept a naval base that is inconsistent with the nonviolent views of the population.
Bruce Gagnon, who has worked with the people of Jeju Island to stop the navy base and who is active with Veterans For Peace, warns that the US is looking for trouble with China. And Nile Bowie warns that the peace movement should spend more focus on China. There are a lot of hot spots in the world, but the future of military conflict is likely to emanate from Obama’s Asian Pivot.
These are just the current hot spots. The US is also increasing it militarism in Africa. AfriCom has rapidly grown under President Obama.
Tom Dispatch reports the US military is active in Algeria and Angola, Benin and Botswana, Burkina Faso and Burundi, Cameroon and the Cape Verde Islands, Senegal and the Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. “From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the US military is at work. Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion — except at US Africa Command.”
Then, of course, there is Iran where things seem to no longer be on the edge of war, but Iran is a nation the United States has been at odds with since the CIA put in place the Shah in a coup in 1953 and was thrown out in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Since that time there has been constant conflict. While there are tenuous nuclear negotiations right now, Iran always has the potential to become a hot spot as it has rejected becoming part of the US Empire.
Is US Empire Collapsing?
The US Empire is the largest in world history with more than 1,100 military bases and outposts around the world. To put that in perspective, compared to two other large empires, there were 37 Roman bases at that empire's peak in AD 117 and 36 British bases at empire's peak in 1898. Not only is the US Empire the largest in history but it has been the most destructive.
Each of the conflicts described in this article could escalate into a much larger war, but that would lead to further austerity and go against public sentiment. The faltering US economy can no longer afford the expensive US military. The people of the United States no longer support war and the people of the world are rebelling against US rule. As US Empire stretches to the breaking point, people are mobilizing (see. e.g. World Beyond War) to finally put an end to US militarism and Empire.
(Kevin Zeese, JD and Margaret Flowers, MD co-host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC, co-direct Its Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Read other articles by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers. This article is produced by Popular Resistance.)

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, as usual, has even more background on this situation for us, and even though events have moved on since he wrote this essay, he seems to be on the right path.

Sanctions and Airliners

In the 21st century distrust has been growing of Washington. Washington’s lies, such as Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” “Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” and “Iranian nukes” are recognized as lies by other governments. The lies were used by Washington to destroy countries and to threaten others with destruction, keeping the world in constant turmoil. Washington delivers no benefit that offsets the turmoil that Washington inflicts on everyone else. Washington’s friendship requires complying with Washington’s demands, and governments are concluding that Washington’s friendship is not worth the high cost.
The NSA spy scandal and Washington’s refusal to apologize and desist has deepened the distrust of Washington by its own allies. World polls show that other countries regard the US as the greatest threat to peace. The American people themselves have no confidence in their government. Polls show that a large majority of Americans believe that politicians, the presstitute media, and private interest groups such as Wall Street and the military/security complex rig the system to serve themselves at the expense of the American people.
Washington’s empire is beginning to crack, a circumstance that will bring desperate action from Washington. Today (July 17) I heard a BBC news report on National Public Radio about a Malaysian airliner being shot down in Ukraine. The reporting might have been honest, but it sounded like a frame-up of Russia and the Ukrainian “separatists.” As the BBC solicited more biased opinions, the broadcast ended with a report from social media that separatists had brought down the airliner with a Russian weapon system.
No one on the program wondered what the separatists had to gain by shooting down an airliner. Instead, the discussion was whether once Russian responsibility was established, would this force the EU to endorse tougher US sanctions against Russia. The BBC was following Washington’s script and heading the story where Washington wanted it to go.
The appearance of a Washington operation is present. All the warmongers were ready on cue. US Vice President Joe Biden declared that the airliner was “blown out of the sky.” It was “not an accident.” Why would a person without an agenda be so declarative prior to having any information? Clearly, Biden was not implying that it was Kiev that blew the airliner out of the sky. Biden was at work in advance of the evidence blaming Russia. Indeed, the way Washington operates, it will pile on blame until it needs no evidence.
Senator John McCain jumped on the supposition that there were US citizens aboard to call for punitive actions against Russia before the passenger list and the cause of the airliner’s fate are known.
The “investigation” is being conducted by Washington’s puppet regime in Kiev. I think we already know what the conclusion will be.
The probability is high that we are going to have more fabricated evidence, such as the fabricated evidence presented by US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN “proving” the existence of the non-existent Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction.” Washington has succeeded with so many lies, deceptions and crimes that it believes that it can always succeed again.
At this time as I write, we have no reliable information about the airliner, but the Roman question always pertains:  “Who benefits?” There is no conceivable motive for separatists to shoot down an airliner, but Washington did have a motive – to frame-up Russia – and possibly a second motive. Among the reports or rumors there is one that says Putin’s presidential plane flew a similar route to that of the Malaysian airliner within 37 minutes of one another. This report has led to speculation that Washington decided to rid itself of Putin and mistook the Malaysian airliner for Putin’s jet. RT reports that the two airplanes are similar in appearance.
Before you say Washington is too sophisticated to mistake one airliner for another, keep in mind that when Washington shot down an Iranian airliner over Iranian air space, the US Navy claimed that it thought the 290 civilians that it murdered were in an Iranian fighter jet, a F-14 Tomcat fighter, a US-made fighter that was a mainstay of the US Navy. If the US Navy cannot tell its own workhorse fighter aircraft from an Iranian airliner, clearly the US can confuse two airliners that the RT report shows appear very similar.
During the entire BBC frame-up of Russia, no one mentioned the Iranian passenger airliner that the US “blew out of the sky.” No one put sanctions on Washington.
Whatever the outcome of the Malaysian airliner incident, it demonstrates a danger in Putin’s soft policy toward Washington’s ongoing hard intervention in Ukraine. Putin’s decision to respond with diplomacy instead of with military means to Washington’s provocations in Ukraine gave Putin a winning hand, as evidenced by the opposition to Obama’s sanctions by the EU and US business interests. However, by not bringing a quick forceable end to the Washington-sponsored conflict in Ukraine, Putin has left the door open for the devious machinations in which Washington specializes.
If Putin had accepted the requests of the former Russian territories in eastern and southern Ukraine to rejoin Mother Russia, the Ukrainian imbroglio would have come to an end months ago, and Russia would not be running risks of being framed-up.
Putin did not get the full benefit of refusing to send troops into the former Russian territories, because Washington’s official position is that Russian troops are operating in Ukraine. When facts do not support Washington’s agenda, Washington disposes of the facts. The US media blames Putin as the perpetrator of violence in Ukraine. It is Washington’s accusation, not any known facts, that is the basis for the sanctions.
As there is no act too dastardly for Washington to undertake, Putin and Russia could become victims of a devious machination.
Russia seems hypnotized by the West and motivated to be included as a part of the West. This desire for acceptance plays into Washington’s hands. Russia does not need the West, but Europe needs Russia. One option for Russia is to tend to Russian interests and wait for Europe to come courting.
The Russian government should not forget that Washington’s attitude toward Russia is formed by the Wolfowitz Doctrine which states:
“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”
(Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts' latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West and How America Was Lost.)

His memory lives on.